Australia Day

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.

Cooks' Cottage graffitied

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?

20 thoughts on “Australia Day

  1. I agree with your sentiments FD, but I believe there is a lot of unreported goodwill between people of different ethnic origins. The media concentrate on all that is divisive. One can only hope that the collective power of individuals will overcome the hatred engendered by bigots, religious groups and government policies which lack compassion. Have a happy Australia Day FD…’s still a beautiful country.


  2. thats an interesting question you pose at the end. I struggle right now with my personal and religious belief regarding guns. (I don’t really think the majority of people owning them in the US need to or should). We have seen so many shootings at schools, malls and other places in the last month, that I was thinking today..what is it going to take for our country to accept that some better for of gun control is needed.
    I suppose it is going to take me standing up against it. Yes, I always tell people I am opposed to guns, but..tht clearly has not been enough.


    • I often ponder why Americans need so many guns, and such powerful guns, and then I wonder how that number of guns can be eradicated… then I thank The Big Whatever that it is not my problem.
      I read once that America was founded on fighting with an enemy (The British) and that throughout its history America has always needed an enemy to bond as a nation. Sad that it means treating each other as an enemy too.


  3. I’ve always seen Australia Day less about celebrating ownership/federation and more about just appreciating our country as a whole. We have lovely beaches (maybe not so lovely with the weather today), beautiful bushland, unique animals, great food from all over and I guess it’s a time for families and friends to get together.
    You’re right though. We claim to be so multicultural but there are so many cultural clashes.


    • We have usually celebrated as a family, often with an extended gathering, though this year is quiet. I live in a rural area and not a day goes by when I don’t value my connection to this land and my good fortune in having been born here in the first place (thanks to those German ancestors who braved leaky boats to come here!)


  4. I’m from the US. I’ve worked in Melbourne’s Northern Suburbs from my arrival some 6 years ago. The racism is shocking. But there’s also a lot of love. You can see the Mediterranean immigrants have finally settled in, and I watched as the Aussies have stopped harassing them and turned their attention to the Indians. Naturally, the children of the last wave of immigrants hate the Indian immigrants as much as anyone. Fitting.

    But, as I mentioned, there is a lot of love. People go out of their way to help each other regardless of race. A woman who had previously said all Indian people live like dogs, was the first to ask whether one of the Indian worker’s wives who had just moved there was making friends and adjusting well.

    I think at the base, Aussie’s are very kind and caring people. There’s just a long legacy of racism in this country that a lot of them are still shaking off. It shows up primarily in language. But actions speak louder than words. These processes always take time and are never easy.


    • I work in the catholic education system so I do see a lot of social justice enacted every day, and that makes me proud. I think the lingering elements of our White Australia policy that was with us until the 1970s is still shaping many of our world views. The present Liberal Government makes me fear the views will be returned to our mind set.


  5. Well written post, FD. Thoughtful and yet tentative as one considers how so many nations have evolved into multicultural, multiracial civilizations, often not happily as the violence of faraway wars and civil conflicts and dire poverty have sent people from other countries to already pressured cities.

    One of my friends often sends me these pernicious forwarded emails that make fun of immigrants from Mexico, India, and Muslim nations. I have held my tongue for the sake of our friendship, but it angers me that she herself was a refugee from Eastern Europe who came to the United States following World War II. The welcome that was extended to her in 1949 apparently doesn’t apply to newer refugees.


    • I have noticed a thing I am calling the “everybody but me syndrome”. For example, at our school we all talk about and agree that standards need to be raised, but I can see that everyone thinks it is the other person who needs to life their game. Same for migrants often – a European is better than an Asian, an Asian is better than a Muslim. I always think that once my ancestors were migrants on a board from Germany… people in glass houses.


  6. I was out last night with friends. My girlfriend told us about her sister who went to live in America and her husband who are now moving over here due to the economy. The husband owns about 8 guns and is planning on bringing them over… why I ask… why do we need more here? His answer when asked was he wants to go hunting… I cannot justify or fathom. Excellent post FD, I shall leave the political and religious debate alone however 🙂


  7. I agree with GOF’s comment that the media report all that is divisive. There are some fabulous examples of multi-culturalism out there and some great examples of indigenous inclusion. Australia Day should be a day celebrated by all Australians, no matter their origin for it is a land of freedom and relative peace. Celebrate that there are no bombs falling from the sky and that you can express your opinion without being thrown in jail.


  8. Good post! During the months I lived in Oz, I met so many wonderful, kind and smart Ossies..and quite a few of the shocked me by spewing out racist comments as if they were the norm. When challenged on it, they’d shrug and say it “wasn’t meant like that” – and go out to play footie with their mates from all over the world. The human mind works in mysterious ways.


  9. I have to start this comment y saying that I am not Australian. I am merely an observer, but having spent the past 10 months here and having asked around I find that I am utterly surprised by a documentary I saw on the telly today about the bicentennial Australia Day celebration (1988). The Aborigines in that docu looked healthy and happy and proud. Nothing like the Aborigines I have seen travelling through the outback (Ballarat – Alice Springs – Airlie Beach) and having spent over three months in Northwest Queensland. I couldn’t help but think how fat they are and how unhealthy they looked. I have asked a lot of Australians from different places, backgrounds etc about their opinions about the indigenous Australians, and frankly until the docu today I didn’t quite believe them. If the Aborigines really feel Australia Day is a scam, than they should start acting like it. I have spoken to a Maori woman and a Torres Strait Islander man, never to an Aborigine. Though I have seen many. All I can think at this stage is that the graffiti is ridiculous since the average Aborigine is not acting like it.
    (Please do understand that I have never actually spoken to an Aborigine, but every person I have talked to about Aborigines and it kinda leads me to conclude that at this stage Aborigines are digging their own grave.)


    • Like the Native Americans, after spending eons “chasing down their lunch” and now able to get a fast-food burger, are swelling up in unhealthy fat. Not having to do anything, they don’t. Of course, not true for all, but their metabolisms are evolved so that an ‘easy life’ naturally overloads. Many Native Americans are in charge of their lives, many have become inculturated, but many live on their reservations living off their guilt-pay.
      To say the graffiti is ridiculous is to say that all the Aborigines feel and think the same way, which is as erroneous as to say or think that about any large group of people spread out over an entire continent. The person who wrote that has seen the same things you have, and it is (probably) their people whom you saw, and those same results against which they rail.


  10. Oh my God, I feel the same way being an American! I am so grateful, day in and day out, to have been born here in the USA and have the wonder and splendor of this fabulous and rich land, and yet recognize that our country was stolen by arrogant intruders and murderers who regularly stole peoples’ homelands, then overpopulated by criminals and outlaws, and religious zealots, who felt they had a right and a responsibility to take what they wanted and murder or enslave the inhabitants.


  11. We lived in Melbourne in the 70’s and didn’t notice the aboriginal people. They weren’t featured in the media, they weren’t in any of the schools I went to and apart from a few drunken “abbo’s” outside the pubs, I went 6 years being almost completely unaware of their presence. Nature and current affair programmes managed to focus on flora and fauna and money and crime and keep the indigenous people off camera. At thirteen I was ignorant of their plight. Only when I heard about chieftain skulls being displayed in British museums did I start to glimpse what has been done to exclude a portion of the population. I learned of their migration through China in English texts when we settled back here. Their myth and culture and art are only now being documented and rightfully lauded. Their history has passed down verbally for tens of thousands of years. Stunning.
    Australia Day? A lot needs to be done for these people to fully include them as part of Australia’s culture, an important and historical part, before celebrants can feel comfortable on that day.


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