Be honest: would you swap places with an Indigenous Australian?
I have many happy memories of Australia Day, most of them involving sunshine, alcohol, good mates and Triple J’s hottest 100. Living overseas, Australia Day was an excuse to indulge shamelessly in Australiana: to visit the Walkabout pub, sing Cold Chisel songs, re-watch Muriel’s Wedding, buy ridiculously expensive Tim-Tams. But:
We’re celebrating the day a British Naval Officer claimed the East coast of (what is now called) Australia for King George III. That’s’s pretty awful when you think about it.
Imagine if it happened today: a foreign power declares ownership of Australia and decides to turn it into a penal colony. Soon boat and plane loads of people start arriving. People are forced out of their homes and out of the work that fed their families. Some of the existing inhabitants try to get along with the new arrivals, some resist, either way they are completely overwhelmed. The new owners have superior weaponry and technology and they’re prepared to kill to enforce their claim.
They give us no rights, they don’t even recognise us a humans. Men are enslaved, women raped, children taken. Whole communities are destroyed. And then the new guys declare the day it all started a day of national celebration. And we’re all supposed to join in, like our way of life hasn’t been ruined by their arrival.
And what is it we’re supposed to be proud of right now, anyway? I cannot get past the fact that we are locking up children who were fleeing war. We know they are being abused and raped and that they are self-harming and we are continuing to do it. There aren’t many more evil acts than the deliberate harm of children.
We’re also bombing Syria, killing civilians. And we still treat Indigenous Australians appallingly. If anyone out there is reading this and thinking “they get all the handouts”, be honest: would you swap places with an Indigenous Australian? We’re still taking children. We’re still destroying communities.
I’m a people-pleaser, so I’ve never wanted to be the one piously saying they don’t celebrate Australia Day. It’s an excuse for a party and that trumps pretty much everything in anglo-Australian culture. Nobody wants to be the party pooper. But I’m a big believer in treating others the way you want to be treated, and I’d want better if I was in their shoes.
I’d love to see the date of Australia Day changed but in the meantime we should be having a conversation about what we want “Australian” to mean. I don’t like what we’re becoming.