Today is (officially) Australia Day.
Australia Day is – in theory – a day of celebration.
A time to celebrate our country, celebrate our community and celebrate how lucky we are to be Australian.
Unfortunately, Australia Day is not a day of celebration for all Australians.
The date chosen for this celebration commemorates the establishment of the Colony of New South Wales (at that time that included all of the east coast of Australia – what we now know as Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales – as well as Tasmania, South Australia and even New Zealand).
In celebrating the establishment of the white colonies of Australia, we are also implicitly celebrating the genocide of indigenous tribes that occupied this giant land long before we arrived.
For this exact reason, there has been a growing movement for a number of years to change the date on which we celebrate Australia Day.
Patriotism is an interesting concept in the land of Oz.
To me, it’s always felt a little bit like a dirty word.
I understand how it can be a brilliant, wonderful, uplifting and unifying concept, but the fact that it can unify people also scares me.
Because I know a little about history and I can think of examples of people abusing the patriotism of their own countrymen and women.
I also remember a few years back when some (mostly) boys tried to reappropriate the spirit of the ANZACs (Australia’s most enduring patriotic imagery).
And I remember how badly that went.
As Australians, we do have much to be thankful for and to be proud of.
We are from/live in an amazing country – the size, breadth and landscape alone are second to none.
We are also very much of the American Dream breed…
Sure, we’re not Americans, but our countries were each founded on the backs of people who believed they’d come to a new land where anything was possible and every man could make something of himself if only he worked hard enough.
Yes, sure, the first backs our nation were built on were in chains, but you know what I’m saying…
I’ve just had a tangential thought about Aussies vs. Yanks and the similarities between the cultures and countries… Mental note: Thoughts for another blog…
Unfortunately, as an Aussie, I also feel like we have a lot to be ashamed of.
Each time I count my blessings that my family came to this country, I think of the people who suffered (and still suffer) for me to have this good fortune.
My mother’s family left Russia, fleeing persecution, to settle in a country that was thriving after persecuting its own people.
Its own people.
The same people who were constitutionally regarded as fauna until 1967.
So, as I say, there’s been a movement to try and get the date changed.
No-one is saying that Australians shouldn’t celebrate their nation or their culture or their country, but there should be some respect paid with the celebrations.
I was going to try and explain my sentiments, but it’s been done for me.
Almost exactly as I feel it.
So just watch this.
I started my thoughts about this topic off the back of a video and the accompanying discussions around it.
I have opinions on both sides of that argument.
I was also inspired after reading an article that put to paper (screen?) exactly what I’ve been trying to explain to friends in the UK for a while.
I was going to make points about Australia’s international reputation for racism.
I was maybe even going to try and offer some explanation/excuse for it.
I was going to talk about the continual mistreatment of Australia’s indigenous peoples and the ways in which we’re (as a nation) stuck in a pattern that seems almost impossible to shake.
I mean, who doesn’t love to hear about the percentage of indigenous people of their country living in third world conditions?
I was going to talk about the white privilege that permeates Australian culture, despite the fact that we are a population made up from diverse origins.
But all of that will be here tomorrow.
And every other day thereafter.
Do you know the one thing that has been said to me for my whole life?
In Australia and in the UK?
People look at me and they feel like they have the right to assume I’m not Australian.
Because of how I look.
And I often take offence at this.
Because how do I look any more or less Australian than anyone else?
I do understand how people are programmed to think this way, but it frustrates me nonetheless.
The most offensive part of that assumption though, is that it doesn’t extend to every other non-indigenous Australian.
The only people who look Australian, are the people whose ancestors have been there for anywhere between 40,000 and 60,000 years.
But right now, as I said, I don’t want to talk about all of that other stuff.
Right now all I want is one very simple thing.
I want for Australians – as a collective, as a community, as one people – I want us all to make one small gesture toward one small group of people who used to be mighty and numerous.
One small gesture.
It won’t change our lives.
We’ll continue to live in our privilege.
We’ll continue to misunderstand the desires of those less fortunate than ourselves.
But it could mean a lot to the people who matter.
The people whose claim to our land is far greater than ours.
The people who were robbed and murdered so that we could live where and how we do.
The people who are Australia.
I have some Aussie friends in London who are going out for drinks tonight.
And you know what?
That’s their right.
But I have decided to sit tonight out.
I don’t want to celebrate.
I don’t want to be complicit.
So I’m booking in drinks on May 8.
I’ll celebrate then.
Maybe not with Aussie flag clothing or with a southern cross tattoo, but I’ll raise a glass to all those who’ve allowed me the life I’ve had.
Whether it was with their consent or not.
The lesson here, today, is simple:
All people deserve respect.
PS Just as I publish this post, my facebook, instagram and twitter feeds are flooded with pictures and videos from the massive marches and protests happening in Australia and that makes me proud.