Rant

Celebrate Australia Day while you still can

This Australia Day I’m doing what I’ve done pretty much every Australia Day since I became a citizen, and what thousands of other Aussies will be doing too: having a barbie with some mates, listening to TripleJ’s Hottest 100 and drinking more than is good for me. There’ll be more than 12 of us, and there’s a high likelihood that we’ll swear and make noise.

In a short time this will be the sort of behaviour that gets you locked up in Queensland.

Seriously.

The Police Powers and Responsibilities and Other Legislation Amendment Bill, currently before Qld State Parliament, proposes jail terms and fines of more than $12,000 for the organisers of events that are deemed to be out-of-control. It defines an out-of-control event as “a gathering of 12 people or more if three of them interfere with the public by swearing, making excessive noise or being drunk in a public place”. It will become law as the LNP have a huge majority here.

This is what we’ve become. Even something as Australian as a BBQ can be twisted into criminal behaviour.

There’s something apt about Australia’s national day being held on the date that whitefellas arrived, looked around and said “Rightio, we’ll have this then”, ignoring the fact that one of the world’s oldest and longest surviving civilisations was already here.

It’s a great reminder of the dark origins of the modern state and the throbbing vein of bile than runs through this nation’s heart.

I became an Australian by choice. I chose this country, an immigrant who already had dual citizenship of two prosperous nations, because I believed the rhetoric about the Australian identity. This was the future: we would throw off our colonial shackles and lead the way: a proud nation where everyone got a fair go, and everyone prospered. By the time I became a citizen, I had been shocked to learn that the first Bill passed by the brand new nation of Australia was the White Australia policy. But that was in the past, I thought. We were making bold steps towards reconciliation with the First Peoples. The same month I became a citizen, I walked in the first Sorry Day. I genuinely believed that we would continue on the trajectory towards true equality.

In those days Australia Day was a lot less jingoistic. Nobody celebrated by buying up foreign made tat and hanging it out the car window. Supermarkets did not pimp inaccurate and offensive t-shirts. There were no race riots. Nobody said “Fuck off, we’re full.”

In those days we didn’t demonise asylum seekers. Even in Qld, the Joh-era anti-association laws were a thing of the past. We embraced multiculturalism, celebrated the fact we had one the world’s biggest Gay Pride celebrations, had young women in high profile political roles.

I don’t think it was a coincidence.

Mean-spirited, ignorant racism was always festering under the skin of the nation. The people who’d excluded Aboriginals and women from bars and called Italian and Greek immigrants wops and wogs were part a long tradition of white men asserting their dominion over women and brown people. The British Empire was built on it. The wealthy threw crumbs to the white working man in order to keep him working for their gain. Two World Wars where ordinary men died in their thousands broke the spell for a while. The myth that the rich were intrinsically superior was destroyed.

But memories fade quickly and unemployment was high. Interest rates were high. Fear of losing what little had been gained needed a target. Pauline Hanson gave it one. John Howard gave it legitimacy.

Since then both Labour and the Liberal National Coalition have been poisoning our national culture with the politics of hate and our press have joined them, amplifying division and silencing dissent. We’re going backwards. This great nation is being sold cheap for the sake of corporate profit and human rights are being trampled in the process.

Those who fought for the end of the White Australia policy, who voted Yes in the referendum that finally gave Indigenous Australians the vote, those of us who are aghast at the things being done in our name need to stand up and be counted, drown out the baying of the hate-filled minority that are determined to turn mate against mate.

So today I’ll be rowdy if I like and have fun with my mates without fear while I can. For the rest of this year I’m going to speak out about the fact that this Australian wants better for Australia. I’m going to take action and fight for the Australia I want, an Australia where all people are free and equal. Before they take that right away from us, too.

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3 thoughts on “Celebrate Australia Day while you still can

  1. As usual, I’m in wholehearted agreement – loving our nation should never mean excluding others … especially those whose historical claim to it can’t be denied. Celebrating our togetherness shouldn’t prohibit altruism and compassion – surely we should welcome others to share this place we hold are so proud to call our home.

    However, your post raises an ongoing issue that continues to baffle me about Australian (and some other) societies. Why must excessive consumption of alcohol be what defines social interaction? I know I’m in the minority but I just plainly don’t understand it. What is it about our culture that we need to anaestheticise ourselves in order to find enjoyment? Why do so many intelligent people bent on a healthy existence feel they must imbibe huge quantities (that could have serious health consequences) to ‘have fun’? Of course, this concern is something that I can never raise directly with other people – I would be seen as ‘wowser’, boring, a spoilsport and worse. I ‘live and let live’ and will never inhibit people’s choices to do what they want in social situations – it’s up to them. But I do often wonder about the culture where the majority seems to feel the need to medicate to be part of a social gathering. Alcohol plays a role in some of the issues of serious concern these days – violence, illness, etc – significantly more so than many drugs classified as illegal. And yet it’s so “Aussie” to write ourselves off on the weekend, have a ‘big night’, skull slabs of coldies … Unlike so many, I can’t celebrate that way. And because of that, I’ve frequently been made to feel ‘unAustralian’.

    So sorry to have hijacked your excellent post but it’s of increasing concern to me. Now I’ll go back into my antisocial burrow and leave you all to celebrate however you choose.

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    1. As you say, a bit tangential to the topic but…

      I’ve always argued that the one thing the anti-drug lobby never acknowledges is that people take drugs (and alcohol is just a drug) because they work…they make life less pain-filled/more fun.

      I think humans in general are very happy to be chemically transported to a better mood, even if only temporarily. Drinking & drug taking are a feature of most cultures and complex cultures especially. Your analogy to anaesthetic is probably on target, but its not just that it dulls pain, it also facilitates social connection. There’s also (informal) ritual that goes along with drinking (or other drugs) which creates social bonds and of course certain behaviours are permitted when you’re inebriated that are frowned on when sober – blokes being able to express their love for their mates, for example.

      In Abu Dhabi I admired the non-drinking Emiratis and migrants: they could party all night with no booze. I joked that they must find their friends a lot more interesting. But they have social conventions to support the non-drinking. Small kids will be out with their families at midnight as part of that. You don’t see that here. Coffee and smoking shisha are both part of that culture and arguably caffeine and tobacco are still drugs.

      In the West, alcohol is a huge business and for any social change to occur the government would have to stop letting the alcohol lobby have so much influence…so I doubt we’ll see any change there.

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      1. Thanks for giving my side issue the attention it didn’t deserve after my hijacking of the topic!! I totally understand why people use alcohol in terms of relaxation, improved mood and emotional expression etc. but what I don’t understand is the culture of excess (that so many feel that they must drink until their body is clearly rejecting it) and, perhaps more so, the pressure that is put on others to match the extreme behaviour. The fact that this is so much a part of social interaction even beyond early adulthood is an interesting/troubling phenomenon to me. And having had the personal experience in the UK of being with people taking cocaine, ecstasy, LSD etc., where what was being taken was offered and declined but I was still as much a part of the social group as I ever was, the contrast with alcohol when I returned to Aus was glaring. I have frequently been given a hard time for stopping after a couple of drinks, so, when I still cared, I had to develop ways to appear to be drinking more than I was. I realised a long time ago that I was never going to be part of the party in Aus and I just wonder how many people conform to the excessive imbibing who might not if it wasn’t a cultural thing and what effect that has on their lives.

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