Today is Australia Day, and I guess I should write something about that.
Today is Australia Day. On Friday night, someone graffitied Captain Cook’s cottage that has been so painstakingly taken apart and transported from its original Yorkshire site in England to the city of Melbourne. Saturday morning I woke to read a text message from a colleague that referred to Muslims. It linked Australia Day, Muslims, naked Australian women and beer drinking Australian males in a manner that was racist towards Muslims, but also, and perhaps this did not occur to my colleague, beautifully illustrated the “ugly” Australian image that so brings on more than just my cultural cringe.
I am not sure what either action means ultimately, but at the very least it shows that there is a lot of anger out there. Australia Day seems to bring that out in our hordes.
Australia Day when I was a child was largely ignored, except for a few communities where, if they had access to a beach, or a creek bank would dress up in replica British uniforms and before 1967 when we started thinking that hey, the indigenous actually do have some rights, force some unlucky local indigenous to play startled and welcoming conscripts to the British Empire as Governor Phillip claimed the east coast of Australia for King and Country.
For a while after that, during the seventies and the division caused by the Vietnam War, I think we tried to forget Australia Day, except for the holiday part. Don’t ever try to part an Australian from their right to a public holiday. Not if you don’t want your kangaroo tied down, mate!
Then we wrestled the America’s Cup (yachting) from the Americans and somehow there was a gradual revival in the big day.
Every year, we are reminded by actions such as the graffiti that many indigenous people call our national day, a day of mourning, or for mourning. Who could blame them? The wide open country is yours, your culture is flourishing, your civilisation quite sophisticated, and along sails a flotilla of boats stacked with smelly, criminals, the great unwanted of the British elites, and illiterate soldiers to take away your world as you know it. Disfranchised is the new black.
A couple of years ago, there were race riots, but not between white and indigenous, but with some of our more recently arrived immigrants, the newly disfranchised. The news showed bare chested Aussie males wearing rubber thongs on tanned feet, Australian flags draped over their shoulders having a stoush with various ethnic groups on a city beach. Add alcohol as it always is, and violence erupted.
What I remember most is feeling intensely ashamed of who and what, we as a nation are. We brand ourselves as multicultural, one of the “best experiments” in multicultural; as if we could return to “before” if the lab results weren’t favourable . Or better still, develop one multicoloured pill and accept each other in the morning.
So, this Australia Day, as I wait to watch the evening news to see how it unfolded. I can only hope that this year the ugly Australian will not dominate. This year, I hope that we can progress in accepting each other, tolerating each other, learning about each other, and being a true multicultural nation. Though with Indonesia lining war ships up along their sovereign ocean borders to fend off those refugee boats that we Australians voted to turn back to Indonesia, where they also do not belong, I doubt that much will change.
And my colleague’s email? I would have hoped that they knew me well enough to know that I wouldn’t find that so humorous. Obviously, they don’t, or they didn’t read the hate and the harm in the context. My action has been to ignore it. No LOLs. It is a response that ever since has left me feeling less like the good guy. Does my not saying something actually seem like a form of acceptance, or agreement? But then again, if I say something, I could harm a very important work relationship. It is like that story that goes something like, “they came for the village next to mine, and I did nothing, they came for my neighbour and I did nothing, and then they came for me…” Where do I draw my line – for me or the other guy?
Am I nothing but an ugly, or at the very least, a weak, Australian as well?