Drop into your local Coles or Woolies and you’ll see the usual load of flag-adorned garb on sale for Australia Day this coming weekend – tank tops, sun hats, t-shirts and of course good old Aussie flags themselves. For those who remember the iconography of old school Australia, it’s all a bit nationalistic. There are still those who would rather suck on a chocolate paddle pop than drape themselves in the southern cross like Pauline Hanson or a bogan at the Big Day Out.
Whilst some might think that the celebration of Australia Day has been with us forever, it wasn’t until 1994 that all States and territories adhered to the same public holiday and flag-flapping became a national pastime. Unlike America where the stars and stripes are omnipresent, the Australian flag gets a low-key airing for most of the year despite occasionally surfacing at selected sporting events and historic commemorations. On Australia Day however, thanks largely to Coles and Woolies, it’s everywhere and as inescapable as an ibis in Hyde Park.
Whether you’re as Aussie as “Oi Oi Oi” or view patriotism as the last refuge of the scoundrel, a public holiday is a public holiday. Australia Day is certainly a time for reflection and a nostalgia for the past (given the horrible uncertainty of the future). In Sydney this reminiscence of old school Australiana is well catered for, as the old double deck buses trundle down George Street and the classic vintage style ferries race across the harbour.
But does it go far enough? There are many amongst us who see Australia Day as our last chance to assert a national identity, before we are swamped by not only rampant Americanisation but a festering globalisation that turns us all into pawns of Facebook, Apple and Samsung.
“Come on Aussie, come on” – let’s show the world the real Australia, warts and all, and reassert a national pride on Australia Day that transcends the usual flim flam of nationalism, like Sam Kekovich flogging lamb cutlets and those endless lists of Australia Day gongs. We could begin by recognising ‘Invasion Day’ as a legitimate rememberance by Indigenous Australians and by changing the name to Australia/Invasion Day or ‘AI’ day for short.
On a lighter note we could bring back, if only for that one day of the year, some of the cultural artefacts that have long since been obliterated. To give just one example – well before Australia Day we celebrated our sense of nationhood with ‘British Empire’ and later ‘Commonwealth Day’, acknowledging our almost sacred ties to the motherland England. Whilst the sentiments might have been suspect, it did mean you could walk into your local Coles and Woolies (here we go again), and buy a big plastic bag of fireworks full of magical flowerpots, catherine wheels and dynamite-like double bungers.
There was no need whatsoever for a NYE pyrotechnic spectacular when the average suburban backyard was transformed into a wonderland of skyrockets, sparklers and homemade pipe guns. Sure there was the odd kiddies’ finger that went missing and a thousand or more letterboxes that were blown to hell and back, but it was that sense of adventure. That almost visceral thrill of living on the edge (albeit for one glorious cracker night) that inspired and strengthened who we now label as Australia’s older generation.
There will be many for whom this Sunday’s Australia Day will mean applying a set of Aussie flag tattoos, snapping a selfie and tweeting a message of unbridled patriotism to all and sundry. We might be a minority but how wonderful would it be to send a cane toad, emblazoned with the union jack attached to a skyrocket, hurtling towards the heavens like Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Not hard to work out the symbolism there – but you’ll need to move to Darwin if you want to do it.