Tag Archives: Australia Day

Let’s all celebrate Australia Day together

It’s Australia Day here in Oz, the day back in 1788 that marked the official founding of the penal colony in New South Wales. It’s a Saturday, as it happens, but after a few years of celebrating the day itself (ie not having a public holiday if the 26th January was a weekend) we’re back to having a long weekend. Monday 28th January will be a public holiday.

Over the last couple of decades Australia Day has become contentious. Some of the ‘indigenous’ people say it’s a time of sadness, marking for them ‘invasion day’ when ‘their’ lands were overrun by white folk from the other side of the world. There are very few pure blood aboriginal people in Australia now. Many people who claim aboriginal descent have only a small fraction of aboriginal DNA. The activists seem to forget the other part of their culture. Young aboriginal leader and Alice Springs councillor Jacinta Price has an aboriginal mother and a Scottish father. She doesn’t support changing Australia Day to a ‘better’ day (whatever that may be). As she says in this article, Australia Day does not celebrate the undeniable brutal treatment of the indigenous people after settlement. It celebrates what this nation has become.

Australia Day has always been one of the more popular dates on which to become a citizen of this country. Some of Australia’s city councils, which carry out citizenship ceremonies, have decided not to perform the ceremony on Australia Day in response to politically correct sensibilities.

You can’t change history. What happened in the past, happened. Only idiots deny that aboriginal people were murdered by white settlers (although there was some tit for tat). Yes, many aboriginal people are still disadvantaged, living on the outskirts of our society. The Australian Government is trying to address that disadvantage.

“In 2015‑16, total direct government expenditure on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians was estimated to be $33.4 billion, a real increase from $27.0 billion in 2008‑09.” [1] That’s for about 800,000 people who identify as indigenous out of a population of about twenty-five million.

But anyone who lives in remote parts of Australia is disadvantaged, regardles of race, religion, or creed. Food, housing materials, consumer goods are all more expensive, employment, education and healthcare are harder to come by.

If Australia were not the country it is today that expenditure would not be possible. Trying to change the date of Australia day is, to my mind, ludicrous. One Australian Prime Minister has apologised to the indigenous people for what was done to them by earlier generations. It’s a bit like asking the French to apologise for the Battle of Hastings, or the Romans, or the Angles, Saxons, and Danes, for setting up settlements in Britain. Etc. It makes not a scad’s worth of difference. They’re just words. These days, we’re all Australians – whether indigenous or immigrant. Or a mix of both. The best we can do is make the country an even greater place to live – for everybody.

In related news, it seems the grave of Captain Matthew Finders, who circumnavigated and mapped the Australian continent, has been found under Euston Station in London. And since I think it’s important that we remember the aboriginal parts of our history, too, read this article about Bungaree, who accompanied Flinders on his epic voyage.

The Big Dry that has replaced our wet season so far this year is biting hard. The farmers are doing it tough and so is the local wildlife. I often post photos of my noisy, colourful little mates. Here’s a littl video I took so you can see and hear the full display.

 

The celebration of a nation

It’s the 26th January, 2018. Today is the 230th anniversary of when Captain Arthur Phillip planted the British flag at the site of what became Sydney in the state of New South Wales. The place is New, it’s in the South, and it’s a bit weird, like Wales. Get it? The Dutch were even less original. They called the whole continent New Holland. What a laugh. I don’t think there’s anywhere in the world that’s less like the Netherlands than Australia.

The 26th January has become Australia Day. When I was young (I must be honest) it didn’t mean much more than an excuse for a long weekend. Whatever day the 26th fell on, the closest Monday became the holiday. That changed not all that long ago. These days the holiday is on the date, whatever day of the week it might be. (Except, I believe, in the Australian Capital Territory (AKA Canberra) where they get a long weekend. [1] Really, as far as we Western Australians were concerned, British colonisation didn’t start until Governor Stirling sailed up the Swan River in June, 1829. WA didn’t have much to do with the Eastern States until the gold rushes in the 1890’s. All the other states were much the same. For quite a while you had to pay taxes to cross the Murray River between Victoria and NSW.

I suppose Australia Day is the equivalent of Columbus Day in the US – the day the White Man arrived. And that is why the date has become controversial to a minority of the population. Some (I stress ‘some’) Aboriginal people contend that it’s invasion day. And I suppose it is – for that tribe in Sydney when Philip arrived with his convicts and marines. (The Eora people) But it wasn’t for the Nyoongah in the area around the Swan River – that came forty-one years later. And so on, around Australia. However, I’ll concede it was the first deliberate landing by white men, with the intention of staying. (A few Dutch people became permanent residents quite by accident).

It constantly amazes me that the young are so ignorant of their own history. Why desecrate a statue of James Cook (who sailed up the East coast in 1770) on Australia Day? Many have no idea why 26th January is celebrated at all.

The REAL Australia Day, when the Commonwealth of Australia was created by uniting the Australian states into a federation, happened on 1st January, 1901. It’s the equivalent, more or less, of the American 4th July. But I think we’d all concede that January 1st is a bit busy already, what with fireworks and such.

What other date might be suitable for Australians to jointly celebrate their nation? Um… how about the date when Australians were no longer counted as British citizens? That was… oh… 26th January 1949. I guess the problem is that unlike the French, the Americans, and the Russians, we didn’t have a rip-roaring revolution to celebrate our nationhood.

It’s tragically true that many aboriginal people were shamefully treated – sometimes not so long ago, as I related in my post on my visit to Rottnest island. But life goes on. European history is a litany of invasions and take-overs. On a largish island off the coast of France, the Danes ousted the Romans who ousted the Celts. The Normans took over from the Danes – with murder, massacres, and repression much more common than we might believe. These days those different elements have all melted together and we call them Poms – okay, British.  I find it refreshing to see Australians who count themselves as aboriginal, supporting retention of the 26th January as our national day. Jacinta Price, who is a half-aboriginal Alice Springs councillor, says ‘aboriginal people have become professional mourners and it’s time it stopped‘.

Well said, Jacinta.

26th January is a historically significant date. But that’s history. I love this country. I wasn’t born here, but it raised me. Today I will be celebrating what makes this nation such a great place to live. Enjoy Dorothea McKellar’s evergreen poem, as read by the author.

As for the history – I must applaud The Australian newspaper for its six-part serial on the voyage of the First Fleet to Australia in 1787/8. It’s a wonderful series of stories, describing the epic voyage from the point of view of various people who took part – willingly or unwillingly. The vignettes are put together from historical sources of the time – letters and journals written by people like Arthur Phillip himself. I’m not the only one who would love to see these essays published in book form. They’re the sort of thing that brings history to life – not dates and names. The convicts, in particular, suffered great hardship on that interminable journey, stuck below decks amongst the rats and the filth. There are tales of attempted escape, attempted mutiny, female convicts trading sex with the sailors and marines for small favours, the birth of a baby during a storm on Christmas day – and more. Look for a book written by Trent Dalton and illustrated by Eric Lobbecke. The Australian is a subscription newspaper, so there’s no point in a link.

And just because it’s so damned entertaining – here are the late great Douglas Adams’s thoughts on Australia. He was wrong about the snakes, though. Oh – and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Terry Pratchett’s wonderful novel The Last Continent. It’s about XXX, not Australia. But… <whispers> it really is about Australia. Sir T took the mickey out of every legend, every icon, every grand old Aussie characteristic. Nothing was sacred. Vegemite, beer, the man from Snowy River, Ned Kelly, Nellie Melba and the pavlova, Mad Max… Recommended.

And to finish, please enjoy a few photos celebrating the wide brown land.

The Great Australian Bight

The south coast

A grey kangaroo

Flinders range

Murchison gorges

Pilbara sand

The road and the sky