“The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice.”
– Mark Twain
As Australia Day breaks upon Catani Gardens, St Kilda, the morn “in russet mantle clad” reveals Cook in the pink – not a trick of the light -but the victim of a “paint attack”, a casualty of a culture war we gaily wage each January.
It’s a brief respite from our energy wars or our government’s “humanitarian” war on refugees, asylum-seekers, our workers and our poor. Only IPA stooge, Tony Abbott, a self-styled conservative, a type of Aussie Tea Party martyr to a mindless cause, steps up his war of revenge on Malcolm Turnbull. Hell hath no fury like an Abbott spurned.
An empty vessel makes the most noise, our father used to say. Not that Turnbull is a stranger to vacuity himself.
“I’m disappointed by those who want to change the date of Australia Day,” the PM scolds, driven ever further right, “seeking to take a day that unites Australia and Australians and turn it into one that would divide us.”
The day is not for changing, any more than our constitution will change to recognise first peoples or their right to a voice to parliament. Worse, Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Nigel Scullion claims “not a single Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person has approached him about changing the date of Australia Day”.
He’s the same minister who didn’t bother to read his department’s reports; four briefings on child abuse and breaches of the Youth Justice Act at Don Dale. “Nobody told me” is Turnbull’s code of ministerial responsibility 2.0.
Sack them, says Matthew Guy, the Victorian Opposition leader, whose career will never recover from his lobster with a mobster dinner with Liberal Party donors who included Tony Madafferi, whom, police allege, is the godfather of Melbourne Mafia. An error of judgment, says Guy. So is his call to sack councils who disrespect Australia Day.
Guy’s been inspired by the Federal government’s despotic decision to strip Melbourne’s Darebin and Yarra councils of the right to hold citizenship ceremonies because they’ve chosen another date for Australia Day.
An endangered species, Turnbull’s old, sclerotic, white male, mob must deny the fundamental truths of invasion, dispossession, and subjugation lest the whole edifice of vested interest and ill-gotten privilege, be revealed to be rotten to the core. Our PM calls a halt to all subversive date-changers. Gives them a stiff finger-wagging.
Wimpy Bill Shorten agrees. He’s for “Australia Day staying on January 26”; another vote for the house of cards.
Last August, when Lachlan Macquarie and Cook were tagged with “Change the date” and “No pride in genocide” Malcolm Turnbull’s over-reaction to “this cowardly criminal act” was more bizarrely alarmist. Then, it was “… part of a deeply disturbing and totalitarian campaign to not just challenge our history but to deny it and obliterate it.”
This year, Turnbull’s wrong-headed rhetoric evokes a school principal lecturing Year 9s for their lack of team spirit.
Unites us? Our wholesome, multicultural Australia Day ceremonies unite us by celebrating exclusion, cultural assimilation or token inclusion. How we love to keep outsiders out; and how great our state is at protecting us from the un-Australian and non-Australian are key themes. Next up will be flags with Major-Domo Peter Dutton’s face so we can wave away strangers – and blowflies – on the day; celebrate our intact border, our ring of steel.
Australia Day is set aside for conferring citizenship but numbers are down this year. Typically 16,000 and 17,000 migrants a year became citizens on January 26. This year it’s down to 12,887. Take a bow, Peter Dutton.
Protector Peter’s big on reinstating tough new language tests for prospective citizens but he’s not quite there yet. The old one would inspire anyone. From 1901 to 1958 the following dictation test effectively screened out non-Europeans. Even if you passed, the immigration officer had the right to test you in another European language.
If the land is ploughed when wet the furrows may, and in all probability will, wear a more finished appearance, and will be more pleasant to the eye, but land so ploughed will be more inclined to become set or baked, and when in this state will not produce a maximum yield.
More alarming, however, than language test plans, Australia Day is distorted into something it has never been – a test of loyalty to the state. Fortunately, the PM is upstaged by Melbourne’s Invasion Day protest, a show of support for the pink paint push; doing away with all celebration, as organiser Tarneen Onus-Williams explains,
“People who celebrate Australia Day are celebrating the genocide of aboriginal people, waving Australian flags in our faces. It’s disgusting. We don’t want the date changed. We don’t want to celebrate Australia Day at all.’’
Organisers estimate the Invasion Day Protest may number 60,000, a big turnout paralleled in other major cities. Melbourne’s vastly outnumbers the official Australia Day Parade, despite the State government’s alluring promises of an Official Flag Raising and other, fun, cultural stuff. And, boy, do they know how to sell their show.
After the Official Flag Raising Ceremony, spectators will be treated to a vibrant public display of our diverse community with more than 1,000 participants from over 80 community and cultural groups taking part in Melbourne’s annual Australia Day Parade. Diversity? It’s a veritable fiesta of multicultural efflorescence.
A 21-gun salute at the Shrine of Remembrance at noon helps our adulation for the military, a Coalition fetish which has grown from Howard’s khaki and cricket whites prime ministership through Abbott’s militarisation of compassion, in creating a uniformed Australian Border Force, whose dark blue shirts may as well be black.
Undeterred, or even spurred, by the thunder of big guns in the background, the Invasion Day Melbourne crowd chants “always was, always will be Aboriginal land”. History is on their side. While Fairfax shows new research suggesting only a third of Australians realise the date is offensive, most of us are happy with a change of date.
A year ago, only 15 percent wanted a date change. By September, it was 26 percent. A survey this month finds 49 percent of people agree that Australia Day should not be held on a date Aboriginal people find offensive.
Back in St Kilda, Cook looks as if he’s been anointed with a vat of strawberry yoghurt. Or a chef who’s had a bad accident with an exploding pastry bag. His periwig is plastered pink. Lavender pink daubs his high forehead, cheeks, and nose in unwitting, ironic homage to the Aussie surfer’s iconic slip-slop-slap, ritual face-painting sun-screen.
A mess of thick pink paint dribbles down Cook’s front; dispelling, forever, any hope of gravitas, order or decorum.
What is decried as desecration or vandalism, appears instead as a timely commentary, if not an art form of its own as much as it may offend fans of replicas of early twentieth century British Edwardian academic memorial sculpture? Sculpture buffs will be delighted to know there’s another replica in Hawaii if all pink paint is not entirely removed. Others may be pleased to learn that Hawaii’s obelisk marking Cook’s death is almost inaccessible.
The lava of pink paint also subverts the authority of Cook’s captain’s coat, his embroidered silk waistcoat beneath, the heroic fortitude of his set jaw and his imperious, surveyor’s gaze above. Yet history, as always, is even crueler.
The festive season of Cook’s first visit to Hawaii had ended. He returned early in 1779, left, then was forced back by gales, beyond his, by now, well worn-out welcome, during a time of worship of the god of war Kūkaʻilimoku.
But it was not just bad timing. Cook had also provoked the Hawaiians, killing several men and breaching kapu in a bungled attempt to kidnap their King Kalaniopuu to hold hostage in order to recover a stolen cutter. As you do.
Crew member John Ledyard’s journal‘s entries are not only ominous, they resonate with the cause of today’s Australia Day pink pot culture warriors. “They had been oppressed and were weary of our prostituted alliance…”
Cook was clubbed and stabbed to death on Valentine’s Day 1779 on a wood-fringed shore, lapped by the musical, turquoise waves of Kealakekua Bay, on a return visit to Hawaii’s Big Island. His body was dismembered, cooked and burnt and the long bones returned to his crew, part of Hawaiian ritual respect to any chieftain slain in battle.
The cooking of Cook softened his flesh to allow the bones, in which a man’s power resided, to be more easily cleaned but accounts of his cooking have given rise to the myth that the British navigator and explorer was eaten.
His remaining, unspoiled clothes were sold among the officers, following the Royal Naval tradition after a burial at sea, a practical custom, given any sailor’s rig became threadbare after a three-year voyage, officers and men alike.
Ritual cannibalism is out of vogue today, but “No Pride” in big blood-red letters at the base of Cook’s statue suggests a waning appetite for the mindless veneration of the arrival of Lieutenant Cook, his rank when he came ashore in New Holland, as this land was known in April 1770, and proclaimed the whole east coast for mad King George III, a ruler who not only lost the American colonies, it is said but also his mind.
Modern research, however, suggests bipolar disorder rather than Porphyria, an earlier, popular conjecture.
Cook declared the land Terra Nullius, beginning the legal fiction that Australia was waste and unoccupied, a lie that prevailed until the High Court decided that a form of native title existed in The Murray Islands in a case, (Mabo v. The State of Queensland (1992)) which overthrew Terra Nullius some two hundred years later.
Disaster for indigenous peoples swiftly, inexorably, followed Cook. Populations were rapidly decimated by smallpox, syphilis, TB, measles, typhus, influenza and even the common cold; diseases introduced by sailors and convict settlers for which Aboriginal peoples had no natural immunity. Natalie Cromb for IndigenousX takes stock,
“From that date forward we have been subjected to murders, massacres, mass poisonings, sexual violence, child removal, erasure of rights, decimation of language, identity and the means to collectivise and assert sovereignty.”
Cook also brought sickness and death to Hawaii. University of California’s David Swanson estimates one-in-seventeen Native Hawaiians had died within two years of Cook’s arrival. By 1800, the population had declined by 48% since Cook set foot on Hawaii. By 1820, it had declined 71%; by 1840, it declined 84%.
Smallpox killed over half the indigenous population living in the Sydney Basin in one year. Aboriginal land was then stolen and cleared for settlements and farms. Genocide followed. The Australian frontier wars from 1788 to as late as 1934 saw settlers engage in systematic massacres and other forms of brutal dispossession.
In his 2013 book, Forgotten War, Historian Henry Reynolds estimates that about 30,000 Indigenous people and approximately 5,000 Europeans died. In research published in 2014, two Queensland University researchers suggest the death toll may have reached 60,000 Indigenous people in Queensland alone. Then there was grog.
“Dispossessed of the land that had nourished them for so long, the Aboriginal people became dependent on white food and clothing. Alcohol, used as a means of trade by the British, served to further shatter traditional social and family structures.”
For Tony Abbott, however, and other thinly disguised Aussie white supremacists, Australia Day is a chance to parade populist historical illiteracy, talk more nonsense about “Western civilisation” and to dog-whistle racists,
“What happened on January 26, 1788, was, on balance, for everyone, Aboriginal people included, a good thing because it brought Western civilisation to this country, it brought Australia into the modern world.”
750,000 to a million Aboriginal peoples are estimated to have inhabited this land in 1788, yet only 30,000 were recorded in the British colony’s first national census in 1911. Yet Abbott’s mentor, Howard seized upon Geoffrey Blainey’s phrase others to consign such realities to the “black armband view of history”. Turnbull is not far behind.
All right-thinking Melburnians are outraged to discover yet another act of desecration has been perpetrated upon another statue of an old white male invader. A chorus of disapproval erupts across the nation. It’s sacrilege.
Worse, Burke and Wills are found to be splattered with green paint. “Stolen” is written across their plaque.
“The vandalism is a disgrace,” thunders Alan Tudge, our Federal citizenship minister. “These people are trashing our national heritage by doing what they’re doing and they’re achieving nothing in the process,” he helps make up the minds of listeners to Coalition echo-chamber, Radio 3AW. (He may as well say “these pinkos”.)
“You can’t rewrite our history.”
But of course, you can. History is continuously being re-written; a constant dialogue between the past and present.
Sir John Tweed, R.A., whose original statute at Whitby, the 1914 St Kilda statue replicates, would doubtless be tickled pink at the love and care lavished upon this antipodean copy of his hatless for action Cook, maps in hand.
The Times publishes a photo of a worker giving Cook a facial with a Bunning’s high-pressure water cleaner.
Another image shows a pigeon atop the haughty Yorkshireman’s pink pate completing Cook 2.0, transforming the staid effigy into an installation all its own, a surreal homage to the need for a subversive reading of history.
Above all, it’s an image of profound absurdity – like so much else in our narcissistic national veneration of ourselves, our lazy navel-gazing, our loutish Ocker jingoism, our trumpeting of our achievements and the decoration of heroic Aussies who appear in the Australia Day Honours List who “have contributed so much”.
Or whose forebears have taken so much.
Or, as in Brian Loughnane’s case, being director of the Federal Liberals for twelve years, an exercise in fatuity.
Australia Days of our Lives, a long-running political soap-noir, divides the nation again this week. Some underpaid, underemployed workers may be lucky enough to get a day off from their increasingly underpaid, part-time, uncertain work. Our ABC and other MSM whip up a froth of fluffy, fun stuff. Show us all sinking tinnies; have a splash of the white; enjoying our holiday.
Many, however, rage against a government, whose indifference to Indigenous peoples amounts to contempt in its rebuff of any constitutional recognition, whose failure of human compassion and denial of historical reality can enable it not only to hold a national day on a date that marks an invasion, a day which led to dispossession and genocide, but to strenuously defend its prerogative, its shabby, specious case or “right” to do so .