Australia Day for Some, Invasion Day for Others

January 27, 2009 at 9:15 am (Uncategorized)

Yesterday, January 26, was Australia Day. We had a very Aussie kind of day: woke up, went for a swim in the surf, had a late breakfast and a coffee in the courtyard, wandered down the beachfront to the village, stocked up on supplies for the afternoon, and beat our guests to the front door by about 45 seconds. While the barbie was heating up, the four of us (well, three, as T’s allergic) demolished a kilo of tiger prawns with my homemade cocktail sauce (actually I’ve a cheek calling it that when it’s a combo of mayo, tomato sauce, lemon juice and Worcestershire, s & p to taste) before heading over the road for another dip in the big blue. It was their puppy’s first trip to the beach, at the grand old age of 14 weeks, and he was very excited by what he found, especially when he spotted a fetching female of similar vintage. It was definitely love at first sight, and he did not appreciate our efforts to guide him in the opposite direction. Once we were home, the steaks and the onions went on the barbie, the beers were opened, the rolls were buttered and the condiments spread. Dessert? Lamingtons, of course. 

I’d say there were plenty of people right around Australia who enjoyed a day not dissimilar to ours, but the fact remains that not everyone finds something to celebrate in the date. Indeed, some members of the Indigenous community refer to January 26 as ‘Invasion Day,’ and Llew and I spent part of yesterday discussing the suggestion that the date of Australia Day should change, or that the current date should include a more formal acknowledgement of the other side of the January 26 story. In my admittedly unsolicited opinion, both of these options seem worthy of consideration. Unfortunately our Prime Minister does not agree. 

It’s no secret that I was one of many Australians who voted for Kevin07. I was hoping for a change of direction. I was hoping for some decency and transparency and some sense that the country’s leaders were engaged in building a better Australia, so that we might all better manage the on-going business of becoming better Australians and better global citizens. I had, in other words, some high hopes. But one of the things I believed was that the Labor Party would honour its election promise to apologise to members of the Stolen Generation (and I was heartened when it was Rudd’s first act of government at Parliament’s first sitting last year), and it would in general get on with the hard work of reconciling all Australians to the infamy of the past, that we may all live together as Australians of equal promise and obligation now and in the future. So I honestly expected a conversation about Australia Day to be part of that difficult but necessary job of our government – especially because it’s increasingly clear that Australia Day for some (a minor element, to be sure, but oh how they love the limelight) is tantamount to Racism Day, and nothing more than a call to abuse fellow Australians for the colour of their skin or their racial heritage or their religious beliefs. Charming. Is this the Australia Day ‘celebration’ the government has in mind, and is so attached to that it can’t even consider starting a conversation about what’s lacking, and what’s wrong, and what ails us? 

Australian of the Year, Professor Mick Dodson, is pro a conversation about the issues raised by January 26 – and there are issues past and present to be dealt with here – but Kevin Rudd, “respectfully,” is not. There’s an excellent piece on Crikey today about Rudd’s broken promise, and it is the second time in as many weeks that I’ve had a little chill come over me while reading statements made by Rudd. The same shudder that was so, so familiar to me during the long, dark Howard years, and that I thought I might finally be able to retire. That “Uh oh, what’s that you say?” mix of surprise and dismay, when you realise the man in charge doesn’t represent you or your beliefs after all. And that maybe he’s not a man of his word, or a man of action. That nagging voice that whispers that maybe he’s just a politician (and everyone knows a true politician’s sole priority is only ever the next election). Oh, okay, let’s not go too far here – I’m not wholesale jumping ship, I still hope Rudd’s got it in him – but there’s a disturbing dogmatism to his recent comments that is making those Chairman comparisons in the broadsheet cartoons a little too close to the bone (and I don’t mean the funny one).

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2 Comments

  1. Lilian Nattel said,

    The Conservative PM here in Canada apologized to the First Nations. It was lovely, with drumming and everything. But he is still a conservative idealogue who is, additionally, personally — at least by his words and actions — a hard man. Nothing has changed for First Nations people here. The underfunding of education and healthcare for First Nations, not to mention the legacy of racism and residential schools, is as always. It’s shameful. I never thought of the meaning of Canada Day till now. It was just a day off. But you bring up a good point.

  2. doctordi said,

    Yes, unfortunately, Lilian, that is a very familiar tune. I think funding is a particularly interesting part of this equation, because while successive governments in Australia have “thrown plenty of money at the problem,” conditions for Indigenous Australians have, by and large, failed to substantively improve. Certainly the gap remains real and wide across every aspect of life as compared to the rest of the population. So money, in and of itself, clearly isn’t the solution. Funding is crucial, no question, but there seems to be a problem with how it’s being directed, because the statistics on life expectancy and employment opportunities and literacy, and on and on and on it goes, are alarming and shameful. We have First Australians living in third-world conditions in a first-world and abundantly wealthy country – something is very, very wrong with this picture. And if you think about what the arrival of the white man has destroyed in just a couple of hundred years, it is BEYOND IMPERIAL to deny Indigenous Australians – whose ancestors trace back tens of thousands of years – a conversation about what a national day should mean.

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