Modia Minotaur

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Friday, January 26, 2007

And So This Is Australia Day

When you think about it, Australia Day is a peculiar sort of national celebration, and its changing perception is a vivid reflection of the political changes of the last two decades. Nobody above a certain age will ever forget the fanfare of the Bicentennary in 1988, yet such an event seems inconceivable now. At the time, the bands of Aboriginal activists who opposed the event were dismissed as little more than spoilsports. Today, a bicentennary-style celebration would at most spark a national debate, or at least, be largely ignored as irrelevant and not particularly worthy of celebration (as was the centennary of Federation a few years back). It's a great thing that the spirit of Paul Keating's famous Redfern Speech has managed to survive despite the stifling climate of the current government, still determined to remain in the past on this issue. However, while Australia Day is now determinedly more inclusive, the fact remains that it commemorates the annexing of a country whose residents were seen as so insignificant as not to be considered real people. `Terra Nullius' does not mean `empty land' but `land belonging to no-one in particular'. It's also still astounding to contemplate that these same people were not recognised for over two hundred years.

Yes, a black arm-band view of history, but whoever could claim a country that was first invaded and then became a dumping ground for what were seen as the scum of the earth had a happy-dappy past? My ancestors - Irish Catholic recusants; political prisoners just like so many convicts - were hardly humming `Happy Days Are Here Again' either. The fact that the `lucky country' was built on such shaky foundations - that we are not riven by ethnic, tribal or religious tensions as are many other nations (and no, Piers Akerman, we're truly not - pop over to Iraq for an idea of what that really means) - seems a minor miracle. After all, Australia was, from the start of its European settlement, a `cultural melting pot', to coin a cliche. Irish, English, Chinese, Afghani - as I said earlier this week, the notion that multiculturalism has been a failure in this country is a joke. European Australia was built on fundamentally multicultural foundations, and has largely made a success of it.

Many might find it inconceivable that I make such an argument of a country that once had a White Australia policy, that rallied to rid the goldfields of the Chinese, that called Italian and German postwar immigrants `dagos', feared the Vietnamese refugees that arrived following the Vietnam War and today holds that Muslims are poised to declare sharia law in Australia. That racial tensions have arisen is undoubtable; but the fact they have usually ebbed away after the first flush of reflexive fear equally true. I've been to many Western countries that are technically as multicultural as Australia, yet I've marvelled at the way they tend to regard their different cultures as grudgingly coexisting with the `real' citizens rather than making a valuable contribution to a greater national character.

It is only lack of political will that prevents us from achieving the aims Keating outlined in his Redfern Speech:

Imagine if ours was the oldest culture in the world and we were told that it was worthless. Imagine if we had resisted this settlement, suffered and died in the defence of our land, and then were told in history books that we had given up without a fight. Imagine if non-Aboriginal Australians had served their country in peace and war and were then ignored in history books. Imagine if our feats on sporting fields had inspired admiration and patriotism and yet did nothing to diminish prejudice. Imagine if our spiritual life was denied and ridiculed.

Imagine if we had suffed the injustice and then were blamed for it.

It seems to me that if we can imagine the injustice then we can imagine its opposite. And we can have justice.

One day, it would be nice to think that seeking and finding this justice - not only for Indigenous Australians, but Australians from all countries and cultures - is what we will celebrate on Australia Day. Sadly, that day seems a long way off. As the current rash of flag-wielding patriotism demonstrates, a lot of Australians are proud of something. They're still not quite sure what.

13 Comments:

At 11:09 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

well said

 
At 4:03 pm, Blogger TimT said...

a lot of Australians are proud of something. They're still not quite sure what.

That one's easy. Democracy, federation, liberal laws, freedom, and the good life.

 
At 12:29 pm, Blogger Minotaur said...

I'd be perfectly happy to celebrate all those things if the government weren't so gung-ho about demolishing all but one of them.

 
At 2:09 pm, Blogger TimT said...

Um, no they're not.

 
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