Tuesday, January 26, 2016

On Australia Day

Despite my general loathing of patriotism, I quite like Australia Day. It's not the kind of thing I like to participate in, but I like the fact it's there. Because for all the great and mighty flaws of this country, there's a lot to like about it. For all the deeply objectionable and repellent aspects of Australian culture, there's much in it to love and admire. And for all the times I despair at the ignorance and malice of the Australian people, there is also courage and kindness and integrity displayed by them every day.

So Australia Day, I think, is a pretty good idea. In fact, it's a lot like Christmas: a welcome holiday, a good excuse for getting together with loved ones, and an opportunity to reflect on what's important to us.

Funnily enough, it's also exactly like Christmas in that holding it on January 26 isn't really right.

This isn't because I think Australia Day is a celebration of an invasion. I don't think the Australians celebrating on January 26 are celebrating invasion. That's the whole problem: we're celebrating the good, the positive, the things we love about our country - but we're doing it on a day that has nothing to do with any of those. We're not celebrating an invasion, but we're celebrating on the anniversary of an invasion, and that seems, to put it mildly, a bit odd.

January 26 doesn't fit the bill for a national day in any respect. It doesn't mark a moment of discovery, or of great achievement, and it certainly isn't the date of any national act of creation. Australia, the modern country, didn't begin on January 26, 1788: what happened on that day was the establishment of an imperial penal outpost on land that quite clearly did not belong to the people doing the establishing. The people who lived here didn't want the colonisers here, and most of the colonisers didn't want to be here either. It was an invasion, and one that not even the invaders would have taken much pride in.

Frankly, there is just no reason for us to feel a passionate connection to the current date of Australia Day. That it was an important moment in Australian history is beyond doubt: that it was a great leap forward for humanity, or an achievement to revere, is an absurd suggestion. So even if you have no personal objection to Australia Day being celebrated on January 26, you can't seriously have any deep and abiding affection for it.

And what that means is that the only people who truly feel strongly about the date are those who are opposed to it. Those who recognise that it's the anniversary of an invasion that kicked off a shameful history, and think that's an inappropriate date on which to celebrate the best in our nation. Those who see it as a day on which to reflect on the wrongs of the past and how they may be avoided in the future, rather than throw a party. And most importantly, those who are made to feel, by the choice of date, that they are being excluded, that by placing the national celebration on a day of sadness Australia is telling them that their people, their heritage and their culture are less Australian than the rest of us.

So if you're a non-indigenous Australian, with no particular attachment to January 26, why would you want to make your fellow Australians feel that way? Why would you not want Australia Day to be more inclusive, a more genuinely all-embracing recognition of our country's best qualities? Why would you prefer to continue the divisiveness and make every Australia Day more combative than celebratory? Why do you care so much about that particular date that you'd rather keep fighting than just pick a date everyone can accept?

There's just no reason. The debate over the date of Australia Day is one between those who feel passionately about the issue, and those who are arguing out of pure pigheadedness.

I like Australia Day, but while it's on January 26, it'll never be the real Australia Day that we should have.

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