If you are bursting with an intense inner jingoism and primal sense of patriotic pride, chances are you will unleash the goddamn lot on Australia Day – like some kind of enormous chunder ‘downunder’. Whether it’s a pair of ragged Southern Cross undies, a massive booze laden barbie in the backyard or a flag worn poncho style like Pauline Hanson, there are numerous ways in which you can celebrate.
Then again if you are one of the original indigenous inhabitants of this land or a relative newcomer you may feel totally alienated from the entire day of strategically contrived hoopla. For my own part, and this probably applies to millions of other Australians, it’s just another public holiday with the ubiquitous outdoor concerts and fireworks thrown in for good luck.
It always surprises me that we are asked to mark the anniversary of the First Fleet in 1788 when it’s generally acknowledged most Australians have a very poor knowledge of their own history, unlike many countries throughout the world. Let’s have an Australia Day quiz on what actually happened between 1788 and 1900 for example and see how many citizens, politicians in particular, score a basic pass mark – let alone what took place in the 20,000 years beforehand.
Long before Australia Day was elevated to the status it enjoys today there was British Empire Day. Originally introduced in 1905 to mark the birthday of Queen Victoria it morphed into Commonwealth Day in the 1950s but was probably best known as ‘cracker night’. You bought your bag of fireworks from Coles or Woolies and headed to the local park where a giant bonfire lit up the evening sky. Any political relevance attached to the event soon dissipated in what was essentially an almost pagan like orgy of pyromania.
Despite its colonial overtones Empire Day did recognise the fact the Australia was part of a larger international community, albeit under the thumb of the British with all the nasty historical baggage that entailed. Australia Day on the other hand seems very much introverted, wallowing in the nostalgia of the past whilst desperately trying to assemble a jigsaw of our national identity.
As such it’s become a grab bag of just about anything an event manager can throw together in an Australia Day program and called it “Aussie.” The same old heritage rock’n’roll stars and children’s performers are trotted out on stages throughout the country and no doubt paid a motza for their services. Ferries race on Sydney Harbour and vintage buses rattle their way around the city. There are the usual official Government functions and on a positive note many new Australians choose to take part in citizenship ceremonies on this very day.
Meanwhile the debate continues as to whether January 26 is really an appropriate date for such an event, considering the impact that it had on the nation’s first people. Do we need a holiday celebrating our nationhood at all? – given that we are still very much a ‘clayton’s’ nation, beholden to the British Royal Family.
Perhaps the truth of the matter is that we have come to expect a certain number of public holidays each year and if it happens to fall on a Friday like this year, it makes for a great long weekend. It’s a democracy of sorts and if nationalists want to let off a bit of steam, who are we, the grumpy set, to deny them.
Then again how about another day dedicated to what we might call “Un-Australian Day” when we pause to ponder our shameful treatment of refugees of Manus island and Nauru, the tragic history of our indigenous people and the continuing disregard for the environment. It doesn’t need to be a public holiday but at least bring out the flags and let them fly at half-mast.