By PD Martin
This Saturday is Australia Day. Given I know many (most) of our readers are NOT Australian, you might be interested to know that Australia Day commemorates the arrival of the first fleet in 1788.
It’s a big day here in Oz, yet I’m feeling mixed about it all. There are so many layers to this day. Good, bad, and plain ugly.
First off, at the most superficial level I think most Australians will agree it’s a great day for a BBQ (a national past time, particularly in summer; and Australia Day is one of those days when pretty much everyone either has or goes to an Australia Day BBQ). It’s also a public holiday, and let’s face it, who doesn’t like a day off? In fact, this year because it falls on Saturday, the public holiday is on Monday (in lieu), so we get a long weekend — bonus! Mind you, as a full-time mum public holidays don’t actually mean a ‘day off’ for me, but they do mean a day of family time, which is something I cherish greatly.
There’s also the part of me that’s incredibly proud to be an Australian and so it’s nice to have a day to honour this feeling. I love this country and while Australians generally have a low-key kind of patriotism, it’s still there, bubbling away underneath. You probably got a sense of my pride in Australia during my blog on our gun laws (yes, I think we’ve got it right). Plus our healthcare system is pretty damn good, I think. Then of course there’s the country itself (the cities, the outback, the bushland, the beaches). I also love how multicultural we are these days. And let’s not forget the weather. Having lived in Ireland for a year and a half, I think I appreciate our sunshine even more now. Looking out to blue skies and maybe a few puffs of cloud at least 6-9 months out of the year is extremely important to me. It sets the mood for the day and instantly makes me feel upbeat. Sure, the really, really hot days aren’t my favourites but I’d rather be hot than cold any day.
So, all of the above are incredibly positive things. Go, Australia. Yay, Australia. I love living here. Australia Day rocks. But then…
I think about the actual day it commemorates — the British declaring sovereignty over Australia (then New Holland), and everything that followed in terms of our indigenous population. In fact, most of our Indigenous population call Australia Day Invasion Day. And of course, that’s what it was. It’s all about perspective. Having lived in Ireland and studied some of its history extensively for Grounded Spirits, I often compare the two countries. Ireland is the most invaded country in the world. Its most recent invasion, of course, had massive consequences — consequences that were felt for centuries (and still are). After all, that’s how Ireland became Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. (Note: I realise I have simplified a very complex issue with this statement. And yes, it is/was also very tied up in religion. But what you’ve got to remember, is that traditionally the Catholics were Irish and the Protestants were English.)
Anyway, part of Grounded Spirits takes place in the 1820s, when the Irish weren’t even allowed to own land in their own country. Ireland has been fighting invaders, either in the political arena or physically, for pretty much its entire history. The Irish fought their invaders over the centuries. What would have happened if Australia’s indigenous population had guns? Would a battle between Australia’s indigenous population and invaders (British or otherwise) still be going on today? Would the country be split in half?
The final layer…In terms of Australia Day commemorating the British declaring sovereignty, I’d actually rather Australia was a Republic. I believe that the average Australian actually does NOT feel an affiliation to the UK or the Queen. Problem is, for better or worse we don’t fully understand that burning desire to legally be a Republic. As a result, most Aussies (non-Indigenous) are pretty apathetic about the whole issue.
However, many of the supporters of an Australian Republic believe it would (and should) be linked to Reconciliation. These two issues could be tied together — an Australian Republic that starts afresh, recognising that Australia has been built on the foundations of indigenous Australians, British settlers/invaders and the massive number of migrants that now form our multicultural population. Symbolically, a Republic could be a new start with an acknowledgement of this country’s true history.
Australia Day…see what I mean about the layers? The good, the bad and the ugly?
So, what will I do on Australia Day? I will celebrate all the positives of this wonderful nation, but the history and the need for both Reconciliation and an Australian Republic will also be at the forefront of my mind. We do have friends coming down for a BBQ, but I’ll make sure we talk about the layers of Australia Day.
This reminds me of "Columbus Day" here in the States. In New Mexico, the indigenous people consider that day an invasion, too. It's an uneasy holiday at best.
Happy Australia Day, PD. Sounds a lot like Canada Day. Like Australia, there are a lot of people in Canada who would like to cut ties with the Crown, but for the most part it's not a front of mind issue. Part of the problem for us is that the Constitution would have to be changed and no politician wants to get into that mess, so we muddle along as we always have.
Thanks Larry. Yes there are lots of similarities between Australia and Canada. Political, social, etc. At least you guys don't have the union jack in your flag though.
I lived in Toronto for a year and loved it. Except the winter was a bit cold for me!
Difficult one to comment on, being a NZer it's a thorny issue. It's easy to think of it as just a day off.
I feel fortunate to have people who had a genuine interest in the Treaty of Waitangi discuss various issues, and that further education I did had a more balanced and educational viewpoint than what I had at school. I've had real difficulty commenting though, as it is not a subject I am comfortable with – even within my own family it polarises. When I was visiting Ireland years ago, there was a play that I really wanted to see about how the place names had been changed/Anglicized and how in one fell swoop it altered identity, location and sense of place. Definitely layers within layers…..
Thanks for your post.
Phillipa, this is beautiful– so well said. As I read I found myself thinking of our own history here in the US and how Australia Day seems like a combination of the Fourth of July (Independence Day) and Columbus Day, which many of us call Invasion Day. My family loyalties are very divided on these days, although few turn down the day off from work or school.
My English ancestors from Salem, Massachusetts were loyalists. Some went north to Québec and returned generations later as French Catholic. You would never know that, today, however. It seems that I am the only one in the family who knows this, and I am apparently not to be trusted… given my almost half Irishcatholicishness and all. Throw in my Québec/Nova Scotia-French and French-Indigenous (not strictly Métis, but depending on your point of view… very political) I am totally suspect to all in the family.
My Polish relatives loved everyone, even me, until I pointed out (with documentation of our great-grandparents' declaration on the US Census) they came from Russia and were, apparently, part of the occupation of Poland. Yeah. So. I had my DNA done and I am, it seems, 1/4 Asian. I feel most at home in Salem and Marblehead… so maybe that's my cultural identity. As far as family goes, it won't make a difference.
I LOVE reading your comments – they are always so interesting 🙂
Karen… thank you. Some posts inspire me to carry on, sometimes too much! xo
Thanks Pari. Didn't see your comment earlier. Yes it certainly sounds like a very similar situation. Andof course the North American indigenous populations didn't have guns just like the Aussie indigenous.
Hi Karen. Yes it is a difficult situation even for an Aussie!
In terms of Ireland I'm not sure when it happened but most of the Irish signposts are now in Irish and English. But yes sometimes things that seem minor can actually be huge because of the underlying symbolism. Perhaps at the time the English were trying to rename the cities because they couldn't pronounce the real names. Plus in those days of invasion it no doubt would have been a form of marking the land as theirs.
Ireland did swing back in terms of the language though. Until recently you actually needed to have fluent Irish to join the Irish police!
Reine I agree with Karen!!! Your comments are always interesting and insightful and we love having you here 🙂
What a great mix you have in your heritage! It sounds like some interesting dinner table conversation.
And I'm glad you enjoyed the post.