Saturday, 26 January 2013

Australia Day reflection

26th January, depending on your perspective is Australia Day, Invasion Day or Survival Day, or perhaps for many, a good excuse for a long weekend, the last one before the end of the summer holidays!

I remember when I was little being taken to Frankston foreshore to witness a re-enactment of Governor Phillip coming ashore in Sydney Cove and British sovereignty being proclaimed.  Even back then it was a somewhat mangy celebration.  The Bicentennial celebrations in Sydney, the tall ships on the harbour, fireworks (of course!) were much bigger and better produced!

At the same time as the Bicentennial celebrations in Sydney, the aboriginal people held an Invasion Day parade and established the first of many tent embassies, bringing home to us their perspective of what the coming of European settlement had done to their country: dispossess of their land, subject to restrictions on how and where they could live, 'stolen generations' and the impact of 'white man's' diseases. Survival Day takes up this theme in a slightly less confrontational way, celebrating the continuing culture of the indigenous people, particularly in the arts and music.

In an attempt to find a less controversial day to celebrate, ANZAC Day (25th April), commemorating Australia's first major war time battle and Federation Day (1st January) marking the joining of the states to form the Commonwealth have been suggested from time to time but with no real ground swell of popular sentiment.  After all, we already have public holidays on both these days and we couldn't give away another excuse for a holiday!

Looking at events for the holiday in our local paper, I saw several Citizenship Ceremonies.  What a wonderful commitment it is that immigrants make to become citizens, to give their allegiance to this country.  People come here for many reasons: to escape persecution, to make a better life than in their former country, generally meaning the economic and social opportunities, to join family members.  Apart from the indigenous Australians, we are a nation of immigrants, it's just some of our families came so long ago that citizenship ceremonies didn't exist!  It seems to me that there is something rather lovely about pledging allegiance to Australia, something I've never done except in the old Monday morning school ceremonies.  This view seems to be shared by Miriam Margolyes, the British born actor who toured an excellent show about Dickens last year, and will become a citizen on Saturday.  In an interview in the Canberra Times she said 'I want to take all the knowledge and experiences I gained when I was in England and put it at the service of Australia, because I have to bring something to Australia, not just money but myself.'

I'm not patriotic in the sense of believing Australia can do no wrong, nor am I fanatical for Australian sporting teams to win, but this is my home, and has been for many generations.

I like:
  • our landscapes...'sweeping plains', 'ragged mountain ranges', 'far horizons','jewel seas';
  • our way of life, and particularly the variety to food and culture that post-war immigration has brought;
  • our informal attitudes to different people;
  • when government shows a social conscience in its policy and law making;
  • our willingness to 'pitch in' and help in times of disaster;
  • our irreverence about all manner of things that others take seriously eg royalty, political institutions, status...
I don't like:
  • the culture of heavy drinking and consequent violence;
  • racism towards the different ethnic groups that make our community;
  • unrelenting media coverage of sport;
  • increasing poverty which reduces opportunities for people, particularly children, to achieve their potential.
  • the negativity that pervades much public debate, and the lack of a vision for the years ahead for our nation.
Enjoy our day on 26th January, recognise that we still have far to go in our relationship with our original inhabitants and as Paul Hogan once said: 'throw another prawn on the barbie'!

Australian flag image is courtesy of

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