By Luke Pearson
According to the Australia Day website, it is a day where “we come together as a nation to celebrate what’s great about Australia and being Australian.”
Personally, I don’t see how anyone could think that the 26th of January would ever ‘bring everyone together’, or how it celebrates what’s great about Australia, or being Australian… I just don’t see it.
I think it’s great that Australia is home to some of the oldest living cultures on Earth.
I think it’s great that through years of struggling we have some (albeit not enough) hard won rights for people the introduced laws of this country were never intended to protect.
I think it’s great that we live in a country that has some of the most amazing animals and landscapes on the planet (for now at least).
I think it’s great that Australia no longer has the White Australia Policy, at least not in its legislation.
I think it’s great that more and more Australians are becoming confident enough to stand up to racism in public.
Seriously, great stuff, well done to everyone involved in all that.
None of this has much to do with the 26th of January 1788 though.
The 26th January 1788 is the day the British Empire moved in and began doing what it is does best. Expanding its empire at the expense of everyone else, including its own people.
And even if you think that the British Empire and its colonial rule are great, I still don’t think you can make much of an argument that this date will ever inspire us all to “come together as a nation to celebrate what’s great about Australia and being Australian.”
It celebrates that Australia was originally intended to be a Whites only affair, and that many people today still adhere to this philosophy. (This is despite the fact that there were at least 11 black people who came on the First Fleet, because they have been actively written out of the national narrative, but that’s another story).
The 26th of January is Australia’s oldest Public Holiday, beginning in 1818 but called First Landing Day or Foundation Day, and as we had the White Australia Policy from 1901 through to 1963, it has only had about 52 years out of 197 where it was not so overtly a celebration of ‘White Power’ and colonial expansion. And since we still have politicians talking about there being ‘nothing but bush’ before 1788, and wanting to celebrate our ‘superior Western culture’, it is fair to say that we probably haven’t moved as far away from that history as we might sometimes like to pretend.
So, if we want to celebrate Empire, and colonialism, then okay, the 26th of January is a great choice.
If, however, that isn’t what we are celebrating then I’d like to throw the conversation up for debate about who we are, who we want to be, and what we want Australia to stand for.
A place where there is a fair go for all, or a place where if your skin ain’t fair, you got to go?
A multicultural melting pot, or a Whites only nation defending itself from the ‘onslaught’ of other races?
A place that sticks up for the oppressed, or a place that oppresses them?
Sure, we could just pretend to be one while doing the other. I mean, that seems to be working pretty well for a lot of Australians. They get to benefit from atrocities without any of those nasty bad feelings about committing them or having them committed in their name.
But I take being Australian a bit more seriously than that. I am outraged at what has been, and continues to be, committed in my name as an Australian citizen by our governments. (Settle down Tony haters, I said governments, not government. Plural. None of this starts and stops with Tone.)
Personally, I think the day we ended the White Australia Policy better represents the Australia I love than the day it began.
The day we first gave land back to Aboriginal people better represents the Australia I want to live in than the day it was first stolen.
Even when I think about my white ancestors, I think the day we forced England to stop using Australia as a penal colony is a better reason to celebrate than the day they started sending convicts here.
I think it’s also important to stop and ask, ‘Do we even need a national day?’… Apart from the fact that everyone else seems to have one, what’s the point?
If it is a day to reflect on where we have come from, where we are, and where we are going as a nation, then okay, I can possibly get on board with such a concept.
If it is simply a day to pretend that we are something we are not, then I think we could, and should, probably do without it.
I think possibly the biggest challenge we face when we look through our history books for a day that unites us as one is the simple fact that we have never been united as one. Not racially, culturally, socially, or in any other meaningful sense.
Perhaps instead of looking to our history books for a new day we need to look for our future instead, and strive to create a day, and a nation, that can work to unite us all as one, and that binds us together instead of drives us further apart.
The 26th of January will always be a day that lives in infamy, but it is the worse possible date for our ‘national day’.