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  • Australia Day is about today (and has little to do with history)

    • January 22, 2018
    • Neer Korn
    “There’s not much to Australia Day. For most Australians it’s got little to do with history. Many can’t say for sure what it commemorates. That does not mean, however, that it’s not filled with meaning”

    The public love Australia Day, and not just those who were born here. Our greatest regard is reserved for ANZAC Day, but we really like Australia Day, and we’d rather no one messed with it. But Australians do get why Indigenous people may be upset.

    There’s not much to Australia Day. For most Australians it’s got little to do with history. Many can’t say for sure what it commemorates. That does not mean, however, that it’s not filled with meaning.

    Australians are deeply appreciative of where they are lucky enough to live and call home. They love this place. For one thing it’s peaceful and for the most part everyone gets along. It’s a free country where most people feel they are able to express themselves in any way they desire, as long as no one else gets hurt in the process. It’s a land of opportunity where a belief that hard work sees rewards still holds strong. Australians aren’t proud of everything about their country, and easily articulate the nation’s issues, challenges and failings. For example, they feel strongly about the issue of inequality and have much sympathy for its human impact. But they’ve also travelled enough and have been exposed to endless media about wars, dictators, crime, extremism, poverty and all of humanities’ other social ills. And they count their blessings.

    No one feels this more than migrants. Many have arrived from difficult circumstances and some from hell on earth. Whatever their circumstances all new Australians have had to adjust and build a new life. For many of them Australia Day marks the anniversary of their citizenship ceremony, a memory few can recall without choking up a bit. Becoming a citizen symbolised having made it, and the assurance of a better life for their children and grandchildren.

    Australia Day is a celebration of what the country has become. It’s a shared expression of gratitude. Australians can’t help but cringe at the sight of Americans, or any others, who overdo the whole nationalism thing. Whereas they might salute the flag, for example, we are more likely to temporary tattoo it.

    Australians have learnt to love their flag. Yes, it’s got the Union Jack on it and it looks a lot like New Zealand’s, but it’s theirs, it’s familiar and they’d rather it be left alone too. They are content with it as is and, as with the idea of becoming a republic, are in no mood for change. There’s been too much of that going on in the past few years. Australians aren’t feeling enough of John Howard’s “relaxed and comfortable” mantra. They lament that being “laid back” is a diminishing trait.

    Like the flag, while the national anthem may not evoke as powerful and stirring emotions as some anthems do, it’s theirs, it’s familiar and they’d rather it be left alone too. (Most Australians feel fairly confident about the first stanza but flake by the second, when “ums” and “ahs” are interspersed with the odd meaningless but familiar words.)
    There’s not much to Australia Day other than enjoying the outdoors with friends and family or attending one of many public celebrations. Our traditions are few and rituals not taxing. Mostly the day is marked by BBQs, playing backyard cricket and, for some, listening to JJJs Top 100.

    Australians can see why Indigenous Australians might have a very different view of the day. For them it’s got everything to do with history and what Australia Day commemorates.

    Most Australians feel for their Indigenous population. Asked what is UnAustralian and their living conditions are raised and discussed at length. They recognise their lives were traumatised by white settlement and wish the seemingly perennial inequality didn’t exist. They don’t have a solution and, it seems, no one else does either.
    What is striking about Australians in our major cities discussing the challenges facing Indigenous Australians is how little interaction they have knowingly had with any. It’s a theoretical issue rather than a relatable one. They readily admit to not coming across any, other than those who are visible late at night and inebriated. They recall hearing so little about Indigenous success stories, with the public narrative shaped by negative publicity and imagery. Considering how core to Australian identity is the issue of Indigenous disadvantage this is somewhat striking.

    Complicating any discussion on Australia Day is the current climate, where any decisions which impact on the lives of the majority in order to please a minority raises the ire of many Australians, including those from minority groups and migrants. Calls for moving Australia Day are bound to ignite great frustration in them. There’s a strong belief that political correctness has gone too far, that we are being overzealous and overly sensitive to the needs of others. The most often cited example is when schools and councils decide not to celebrate Christmas for fear of offending those who aren’t Christian (for their part those Australians who do not celebrate Christmas can’t understand what all the fuss is about either). Many Australians have become reactionaries to ideas deemed to be driven by political correctness. For example, many who voted “no” in the marriage equality postal vote did so as a protest, because it was politically incorrect.

    The ideal that Australians of all ages and ethnicities aspire to is an Australia Day where all its citizens publicly share their pride and gratitude for the great country they are lucky enough to share. Australians love public celebrations because these show case the country at its best. They wish there was some way Indigenous Australians could feel that too and take their rightful central place in the festivities. Maybe they should have their own day – but it would be nice to share the experience.

    Jan

    22