Does anyone remember ‘celebrating’ Australia Day when they were a child? I don’t. I’m remembering the 1970s and it was not a big deal. Plus farmers don’t get days off.
I do remember thinking how lucky I was to live in Australia and marvelling at the sheer chance, that of all the places to be born, I was born here. ‘My’ Australia in the 1970s was a conservative place. Feminists were not burning bras, the Vietnam war was not being protested, we put flowers on the Anzac memorial and we were all white, mostly only a generation or two from our German immigrant ancestor.
Of course, we can’t have all been white. It is easy to see how I thought this. Primary school history was:
- The explorers: Those clever brave men who set out into the wilderness and found new places for us to farm.
- The convicts who were not so bad.
- ‘The colonial era’ when those stoic men and women fought against the odds to survive in tough isolated ends of the earth.
- The aboriginal people who did not fight back and seemed to mostly stand on the edge of cliffs, balancing on one leg and leaning on a spear.
I have spent much of my adult life ‘unlearning’ the myths I was taught in primary school. Did I mention Cook did not discover Australia?
Australia Day does in fact ‘celebrate’ the commencement of an invasion. The invasion. Whether you sit in the ‘change the date’ camp or not, this is a fact.
Here’s another thing, throughout primary school we sang “God Save the Queen” because Australia did not have a national anthem until 1984. This is the same year Australians ceased to be British subjects. We are constantly changing what it means to be Australian and how we present ourselves to the world.
The best thing about Australia Day is that we are talking about Australia Day.
Australia Day is not Fight Club. We can talk about it and we should talk about it.
In the 1970’s it passed me by as an indication of the new school year. Now, we are arguing over the date, the meaning, to celebrate or to mourn, to politicise or not to politicise.
In process of arguing and debating we inform and educate. No child should grow up believing our indigenous people did not fight back and should know they are still fighting back.
Australia is a young nation and old country. I still feel lucky that I live here. Whether we want to celebrate May8 Day or mourn on Invasion Day or preserve or reinvent or protest Australia Day we live in a place that allows us to have an opinion and to express it. Let’s express it with respect and let’s listen with open hearts and minds.
I do not celebrate today.