January 27, 2016

Horse 2065 - Australia Day: A Day For All Australians?

Yesterday, the Twenty-Sixth of January is the day that two nations celebrated their national day. India celebrated Republic Day which commemorates the day in 1948 that India became an independent republic. Australia on the other hand celebrates the strangely named Australia Day which doesn't commemorate the day Australia gained independence, responsible government or when the states federated into a commonwealth but the day that the Union Jack was raised at Sydney Cove in 1788; stealing a continent through the cunning use of flags.
Other countries celebrate the day which they became a nation, such as the United States' Independence Day on July 4th or Canada Day in Canada on July 1st. France has Bastille Day on the 14th of July which commemorates the day in 1789 when the Bastille Prison was stormed and seven prisoners were freed; which marks the beginning of the French Revolution. New Zealand has Waitangi Day on February 6th, which celebrates the day on which the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the British and the Maori.
All of these and many more represent a point in which either sovereignty or peace was declared. Australia Day on the other hand, is a yearly reminder that the British simply just arrived, stuck a flag in the ground and dumped its undesirables in Australia; with precisely zero regard for the first peoples whatsoever. No other nation that I can think of has a holiday which marks either their surrender or annexation by a foreign power. It would be like France declaring a holiday for the day on which they surrendered to Hitler or Japan declaring a holiday when they surrendered to the Allies.
It is little wonder that protest marches happen every year to mark what many Aboriginal people call Invasion Day or perhaps more optimistically, Survival Day.

I must admit that when I heard the news reporting several celebrations around the country on television and radio yesterday, I couldn't help but feel either shame and or revulsion at the existence of the holiday. I think that it is rather disingenuous to declare that we recognise a group as the "traditional owners of the land" on the day which marks off exactly when those rights were trampled into it. You can't say that "I recognise that you owned this Mars bar" and then eat the Mars bar right in front of their face. You may accuse me of trivialising the issue of land ownership and loss of sovereignty but Australia Day not only does that, it waves a banner over it and then sings patriotic songs over it as if that makes it all right.
Some commentators in the media (and I shan't link to those comments here) ask why people just can't get over it and celebrate the day like everyone else. I could draw a parallel with a loss of sovereignty and self-determination for as much as 177 years at this point and issues to do with established white privilege, but I suspect that people who hold such opinions would immediately trumpet their right to free speech and deny their undeclared racism, which by operation of that free speech is proven.

Yes I understand that there are things like citizenship ceremonies and events which celebrate the nation which is, which let's be honest is a pretty good one, but the reason why we don't mark the day which the Commonwealth Of Australia came into existence, when the states federated together and when the nation achieved sovereignty and responsible government, is because that happened of January 1st; which is already New Year's Day and we already get a holiday for that.

I suspect that Australia will continue to be the insensitive and idiotic thing that it is until Australia becomes a republic. I personally don't like the idea of Australia becoming a republic because of the associated implications of doing so but I think that it's inevitable. If I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else (which would be an excellent name for our head of state - we already have a president; they're in the Senate) then I would set the official date that Australia will become a republic as the Eighth of August. The date 8/8 is an excellent date for three reasons:

1. It is memorable.
2. We don't currently have any holidays in August. The calendar is kind of front loaded with holidays and there's nothing towards the end of the year.
3. Most importantly, it's sufficiently far away enough from January 26 to render the old date useless.

Republic Day would be the new national holiday and Australia Day would pass into disuse, obscurity and hopefully be forgotten.
Of course the first act of parliament on the 9th of August would be the signing of a proper treaty with the first peoples of this nation, which would finally contain a formal apology and alter the constitution to include formal recognition. The 9th would also be a public holiday.

I hate Australia Day as a thing, not because I hate Australia or the idea that we should celebrate what is demonstrably a safe, prosperous and I think overall "good" nation, but because the date is self-defeating. It marks the beginning of something shameful about the history of this nation.
Granted that you can't change the past but you really shouldn't be inadvertently celebrating the worst of humanity either. It makes no sense to celebrate nationhood by marking the day that a whole host of peoples had their sovereignty stolen from them.

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