On Australia Day 2020 I intend to sit that one out, preferably out in the bush somewhere, as far away from the flag-waving and nationalistic hype as I can possibly get. I find the whole charade sickening.
It is not that I have anything against the existence of an Australia Day as such. A stipulated day where we celebrate who we are as a people, celebrate our national hero types, and celebrate our collective achievements in art, science, social progressiveness (there must be some), and industry. There is nothing wrong with that, it is a worthy enough pursuit. But that is not the sort of Australia Day we currently have.
Firstly, the chosen date has insensitivity written all over it, and secondly, it has become a day where the behaviour of Ugly Nationalistic Australia is given permission to reign free. Neither of the two are worth celebrating or being around.
It might help if we developed a greater understanding of the history of the months of January/February 1788 and got the actual date of so-called settlement right.
On 26th January 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip landed in Port Jackson, along with a small crew of marines and oarsmen, and apparently took possession of everything he could see in the name of King George III of England. Perhaps we will grow up as a nation one day and no longer do it, but 231 years later we are still tugging the convict forelock in the direction of those English Monarchs.
But back to Phillip … it all sounds such a stirring landing event but most flag-wavers forget, or have never even bothered to find out, that the actual proclamation ceremony for the formal establishment of the colony of New South Wales, and the investiture of Arthur Phillip as first Governor, did not occur until 7th February 1788.
Before 7th February 1788, Phillip was far too busy protecting the female convicts who had recently been disembarked off the ship Lady Penrhyn from the rum-sodden predations of the male marines and convicts to have any time to formally declare or grab anything in the name of anybody.
And what was it that he formally established on 7th February 1788? He established a penal colony. He established a prison. In some ways, depending on how you look at things, Phillip quite unknowingly to be absolutely fair to him, established the Australian prototype for Manus.
So … on Australia Day we celebrate the formal opening of a prison, and we can’t even get the date right.
Before any sensitive folk tell me to go back to where I came from, I’m a sixth-generation Australian whose ancestors were boat people who got a free ride to the prison of New South Wales because they stole from the wealthy in England in order not to starve. As a progeny of convicts, I’m not inclined to celebrate Australian Prison Day on either the 26th of January or the 7th of February … why on earth would I?
(You cannot make origin statements like that these days without scrutiny, whether you want to get into Parliament or not, so for fact-checker types see the notes after this article.)
Many conservative fear-mongers say that 26th January has always been the date for Australia Day and that it should remain unchanged otherwise the world as we know it will belly-up tomorrow. What a load of nonsense. Prior to 1935, each state celebrated the foundation of the Prison on a different day, and it was only in 1935 that they all agreed to crank up the BBQ on the same agreed date. There are hundreds of other days Australia Day can be celebrated on.
While all the drinks slide down and the nationalistic self-congratulation gushes forth …
Thrust into the background of the celebrations that we currently observe on the 26th of January is an entire culture of human beings, the Aboriginal custodians and owners of this land, who may have a thought or two about what they see paraded before their eyes. And what do they see each and every Australia Day?
They see, on the anniversary of the day Phillip stuck his foot on the shore of Port Jackson, the modern beneficiaries of that invasion of Australia, and that happens to be some of us, swilling beer and waving flags in memory of the day when the rapes, and the poisonings, and the massacres, and the stealing of land, and the dismemberment of a culture, began. They see the dark truth of our own history promoted up as a moment worthy of celebration.
The 26th of January is not a day of national celebration, it is a symbolic day of the memory of a national ugliness that started on that date.
To further compound the supremely insensitive error of judgement that the choosing of the date 26th January was, we still persist in refusing recognition and a voice to the very human beings whose culture and people were raped, poisoned, massacred and desiccated. We throw the hopes of Indigenous people back into their faces, and we walk all over our own much-touted Australian principles of egalitarianism, fairness, and humanity, as the drinks slide down and the self-congratulation gushes forth.
Many people say that oh you cannot say this, or you cannot say that. The problem with modern Australia is that the wrong sort of powerful voices are out there being heard in the political and media spheres, and that not enough of us are prepared to stand up and oppose them with courage.
I oppose the current iteration of Australia Day for a number of reasons given above. And here’s another one. I mention it to simply illustrate a point.
As a Survivor of child abuse, I can assure you that I do not get out there on a particular day and celebrate the anniversaries of those horrific deeds, and I am deadly bloody sure that you would understand why I would not want to do that.
My experiences inform my thinking. So I do find it beyond belief that we as a whole nation get out there on a particularly insensitive day and celebrate what was clearly the beginning of the attempted destruction of an entire Aboriginal people and their culture.
I’m not against the idea of an Australia Day. I’m against the date it is held on.
The date for celebrating Australia Day in 2020 should be changed. If not, I’m borrowing a line from a Jethro Tull song and sitting that one out, I’m boycotting it, and I’m heading for the bush.
Mary Geer (1789-1851) arrived on the William Pitt in 1806. She was sentenced to hang for pilfering but the sentence was changed to transportation for life.
William Davis (1780 -). William was convicted of burglary and sentenced to death by hanging, but this was commuted to transportation for life. He arrived in Sydney Cove in 1800 on the Royal Admiral.
There seems to be a bit of a correlation between the treatment of the poor in England in the 1780s and the treatment of the poor and the disadvantaged in Australia in 2020. If both of my ancestors were alive in modern Australia I’m absolutely convinced that they’d be front line activists for the raising of Newstart.
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