I am an Australian - I became a citizen in 1998. Naturally, there are times when I disagree with the decisions made by our elected leaders. But on the whole this is a great place to live and bring up children. It is a strong democracy which changes its Prime minister whenever the seasons change! I am a dual citizen as well, being a New Zealander by birth. I love both countries for different reasons.
There has been a societal paradigm shift in recent times. People have become aware of the discussion of the credibility of the Australia Day national holiday, and if indeed we should celebrate the day on that date or at all?
Imagine you are in your garden, A space ship lands…You have a big garden! ….A ramp extends and an alien walks down the ramp with a flag, stepping foot on the ground, he plants the flag into the earth and says, “This belongs to me!” This is what happened on 26th January 1788. A man, Governor Arthur Phillip, raised a flag at Port Jackson New South Wales.
This marked the proclamation of British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of Australia. Historically this was not unusual in the days of colonialism. Nor was the British the only European country to do so. Therefore, we need to look back at historical events with understanding of that time and culture of the day. It can be dangerous if we put our morals and feelings onto what was normal back then. Judging people with our modern morality is not appropriate.
The people of Australia had already lived here for more than 60,000 years and they appeared quite primitive to British eyes. They did not recognize the culture nor the art or agriculture; it was so different to their comprehension. Tragically they did not consider the indigenous people as people at all! Savages at best, fauna or sub human at the worst. Middle Australia was labeled Terra Nullius or empty land - 'land belonging to nobody'. So the thousands of aboriginal peoples there were discounted. Many indigenous people died in Australia at the hands of the European colonisers.
What happened in Australia was not so different to other colonial countries. Some treated the indigenous peoples better, many did not. For example, if you look at the Belgian Congo and the treatment of the Africans there, where many were maimed and executed. Here, local indigenous populations were summarily “cleared” from land. Many died from imported diseases or gunshot or lynching. You may ask why there are no aboriginals in Tasmania? Once there were, you can see the bones in overseas museums.
But, we did get better, albeit after some considerable time. Aboriginals were not considered citizens of Australia until 1967. Before this, they were regulated under the Flora and Fauna Laws. The federal constitution, written in 1900, explicitly stated that Aboriginals would not be counted in any state or federal census. Voting and citizenship rights for Aboriginals were written into the constitution with a 1967 referendum, which also removed discriminatory references to Aboriginals from the Constitution and gave Parliament the power to make laws pertaining to Indigenous persons. The referendum set a voting record. Interestingly, the highest percentage of “no” votes were recorded in territories with the highest Aboriginal populations, suggesting that anti-Indigenous racism was still rampant in many areas of Australia.
So it can be understood why the date for Australia Day carries such emotion. A little education into our nation's history can shed some light on the reasons why the indigenous community and likeminded citizens feel uncomfortable about the date of 26th January.
In New Zealand, things were similar, but also very different. The local people in New Zealand at the same time were Maori Polynesians. An amazing race of warriors and seafarers who, whilst the Normans were invading Britain in the 11th century, were navigating and exploring the remote pacific which consisted of thousands of islands and immense areas of sea. The Maori were colonists themselves and they did not take too kindly to these white people turning up. They fought back with violence and passion. Being sent to New Zealand was a common disciplinary threat to soldiers. People were afraid of the Maori.
The British never won the fight and eventually both sides tired of this war of attrition. They came to an understanding and a treaty was signed. The place was Waitangi and New Zealand observes the date as a holiday. Not an invasion day but a day of mutual awareness. There were growing pains. The treaty was ignored and settlers continued to encroach on Maori land and as was usual at the time violence ensued. The Maori believed that the land was theirs and they considered the land "rented" to the “Pakeha” or white-skinned.
Photo courtesy of: gemacd.com
New Zealand today is now one if not the most racially accepting country in the world. Talk to New Zealanders and you will hear spatterings of the Maori language in common use, just one sign of the merging cultures living side by side.
Back in Australia, I think the date for our national celebration is wrong. I am all for a national Day of celebration, a day we all come together and celebrate, but it seems to me that all Australians should celebrate, not just the new ones.
So, what is the answer? Do we re-label the day into something more inclusive? Or do we celebrate on another date all together?
The 26th January is not really a celebration of national federation or even of Australia. Australia was just a concept then. It was a small group of colonies on a huge island and to quote Monty Python, “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.” To paraphrase: “Strange men planting a flag in the sand is no basis for possession or equality.”
SO WHAT IS THE ALTERNATIVE?
I personally would like Australia day to be a celebration of Australia’s growing up and becoming a great nation. Not a remembrance of soldiers and convicts but the day we became a people.
Photo Courtesy of - flickr.com (user: Caitlin Regan)
So if I was to pick a national day of celebration, I have three alternatives!
1. The 1st of January, the day when Australia became a nation. The day of the Federation of Australian states into one country. The day we became self-governing and unified as Australia.
2. The 24th October in 1889 Sir Henry Parkes, the 'Father of Federation, gave his pivotal speech at Tenterfield in NSW, which set the course for federation.
He said in part: “The great question which we have to consider is, whether the time has not now arisen for the creation on this Australian continent of an Australian government and an Australian parliament. To make myself as plain as possible, Australia has now a population of three and a half millions, and the American people numbered only between three and four millions when they formed the great Commonwealth of the United States. The numbers are about the same. Surely what the Americans have done by war, Australians can bring about in peace.”
3. The 27th May. The anniversary of the 1967 referendum to amend the federal constitution which enabled the federal parliament to legislate with regard to Indigenous Australians and allowed for Indigenous Australians to be included in the national census. Which meant RECOGNITION. The public vote in favour was 90.77%.
A national celebration day should bring all its peoples together. Days like the USA’s 4th of July celebrates independence. New Zealand’s Waitangi Day celebrates the meeting and understanding of two races. France has Bastille Day, the day the people rose as one to oust an old and cruel royalty.
What does Australia Day symbolise to you? A day to party? Yes! But also a day that has deep importance to all Australians. Should it not be inclusive of all who call Australia home?
Christopher wants to see equalness in the world and desires to see the doors of Christianity open to all. He feels that, too often, faith and belief are used to promote individual ideologies. Christopher has been a drama junkie for decades. He enjoys reading, theatre, good food and good company. He loves music but can’t play a note, nor sing very well for that matter. He has two adult children and a patient wife. He lives in Melbourne, Australia.
See all previous articles by Christopher Newport