Contributed by Joe Montero
As 26 January approaches each year, the argument over whether this day is the appropriate occasion to commemorate Australia’s nationhood rises. This year is no exception
Over recent times, the number of Australians calling for debate and questioning official ceremonies has been growing. There are those who feel threatened by this and dismiss any questioning as un-Australian and divisive. There is reason behind this and I will dome to this presently.
The bottom line is that if there was no problem there would be no argument.Being unprepared to accept that there is a problem is to silence a significant part of Australia. It is inherently undemocratic and divisive.
One does not have to be a dyed in the wool supporter of the Greens, to realise that the vendetta being waged against Richard De Natali, is part of this silencing of opinion. Last year the Yarra City Council in Melbourne got a beating for transferring its citizen ship ceremony to another date. Two other councils did the same and got similar treatment.
By standing up and breaking the orthodoxy, De Natali and the councils have spoken for many who tre being denied a voice. Throwing mud at them has been a way to avoid mentioning the real issues. It is sad that in the vindictive atmosphere, so many of our political leaders are either joining in the name calling or hiding under the nearest rock.
By the same token, those who dismiss the other important part of Australia, which is at present uncomfortable with the debate, are also wrong. We are in this together. Arriving at a solution requires the answering legitimate concerns.
What is needed is discussion on what it means to be Australian. We nee to talk about a concept of Australian nationhood that brings ordinary Australians together and we need a vision of where we are heading to.Through resolving these issues, we will gain together, a better understanding about the appropriateness of 26 January as Australia’s national day.
However the date is of secondary importance. It is important because it is symbolic. Attention must be paid to what is being symbolised.
Some things need to be appreciated. The present day Australian population is made up of many parts. Even if some are challenged by the notion, the reality is that this is a land of peoples originating from many parts of the world bringing in their own cultures and traditions into the mix. Australia is a multicultural society. Those who bristle against this and claim a multicultural plot, just can’t see that multiculturalism is nothing more than a recognition of reality. They therefore deny reality and cushion themselves in a fantasy world. They need to learn that the denial of reality is not going to change it.
Embracing the reality of multiculturalism provides the opportunity to act in ways that bring us together as a people. Some do have an Anglo heritage and this must be appreciated. Others do not and this must be appreciated too. It means doffing the cap to the British flag and Captain Cook’s arrival is not the way to bring a people together. It categorises a large part of our community, as not being real Australians. It is divisive.
It is very wrong to overlook the taking of this land by force from those who were here first. While it is not the fault of those who are living here now, we do have a collective responsibility to right a wrong. Without doing this, we cannot heal division and properly understand ourselves as a united people.
The first Australians have good reason and the right to be angry over our nationhood being celebrated on the day that an invasion force took their home and decimated their society. Those who deny this right are, in effect, condoning what happened.
Generations of Australians fought against British colonial control and the decisions affecting Australia to be made by Australians. These aspirations gave rise to the early self awareness of being an Australian, bound up in the notions of a “fair go” and opposition to the tyranny of the privileged and born to rule. It should never be forgotten is that for a considerable time, the colonies were ruled under martial law and then administered under the tight control of wealthy landowners linked to the British banking and textile industry. Resistance to control by the privilaged and colonial control, led to the Eureka rebellion.
Eureka was the catalyst to the succession of events that finally led to self government in 1901. This came via an Act of the British parliament and was incomplete. It remains important, because it came about from the pressure of Australians, which compelled Britain to compromise, in order to avoid more far reaching rebellion.
Surely, any celebration of our nationhood should be about embracing the efforts of earlier generations to build an Australia, in the hands of the majority and who lived here and not in the hands of the most privileged. Failure to take this on board is really disrespect, of those who won a great deal of what we now take for granted.
Next to this, re-enactments of the first landing and pretending that this is what created Australia as a nation is off the mark. it is insensitive to position of the first Australians, a denial of our collective history and a misrepresentation of the real nature of Australian society. It looks backwards and does not take us to the future.
Why is this going on then? Because it is being led by today’s privileged descendants of those who were in the past connected to the colonial power.their’s is a mentality of kowtowing to a foreign power and attached to a concept of Australia that maintains their privilege and restricts democratisation as much as possible. This small part of Australia presents itself as the embodiment of what it means to be an Australian and manipulates this and Australia Day, as a means to propagate its own sectional interests. .
Out of it comes a narrow jingoistic and intolerant xenophobia that splits Australians into separate camps. It is divide and rule. This is why so much effort is being put into silencing debate, which comes from an understanding that to allow other voices, might undermine the status quo.
All the more reason why we need to develop further, a collective notion of who we are, and what kind of society we want to become and who should have the decisive say.
Celebrating our nationhood is a part of this. But once we understand who we really are, it is not hard to see that 26 January is not the right time to do it. It would be much better, for example, to choose the anniversary of the Eureka rebellion on the 3 December (1854) or Federation on 1 January (1901). these dates are far more meaningful and do much more to define who we are as a nation.