With Australia Day looming we are being asked to “respect, reflect and celebrate” as we trot out the usual grab bag of ferry races, face painting, pop concerts, vintage cars and citizenship ceremonies (oh yeah, and the inevitable fireworks). The pandemic has certainly put a dampener on the festivities in the last two years and promises to do the same in 2022. Flag flapping nationalism is probably at an all time low.
That’s something that those who see January 26 as ‘Survival’ or ‘Invasion’ Day will welcome as the colonialist takeover of Australia is put into its true historical perspective. But perhaps there’s a new angle we can add to this infamous date when we initiate what could well be called ‘Vive La République Day’.
Firstly this might recognise the role that French explorer La Perouse made in the European exploration of this country. After all his ships arrived off the coast of what became Sydney two days ahead of the First Fleet but missed the opportunity to find a safe mooring. However it’s more the legacy of the French Revolution and the spirit of egalitarianism that we should be celebrating, in the hope that we will one day become a republic.
This might give some comfort to those sections of First Nations people who reflect on ‘Invasion Day’, knowing that the country has finally thrown off the vestiges of the loathsome British Crown. Whether Australia becoming a republic would issue in a new era of recognition and justice for our indigenous population remains to be seen but surely it would be a start.
When it comes to republicanism the French certainly got the jump on us when they disposed of their aristocracy when barbarism was still publicly acceptable in the late 18th century. Decapitating the ultra privileged was one way of getting back for centuries of oppression on the part of the poor and politically disenfranchised.
The British Royal family have long survived any revolutionary sentiment but are now deep in a process of self destruction, with sweatless citizen Andrew about to face the wrath of the American court system. Even the current Tory government appears to have little respect for the Crown given the boozy knees-up of many members on the eve of Prince Phillip’s funeral, when they were supposed to be isolated in mourning.
Whilst it would be symbolic and very much tongue in cheek, I would love to see a series of celebrations on January 26 (aka Vive la République Day) for those sections of the community that despise the British monarchy and long for the day when we become a republic. Health and safety provisions observed, we could build a guillotine out on the La Perouse peninsula and organise a family fun day to recognise the contribution that the French Revolution has made to democracy around the world.
The public would be encouraged to bring paper mache effigies of their least favourite colonial figures as well as members of our monarchy, both current and deceased. To a mass cry of “enlevez leur têtes” and a blast of ‘la marseillaise’ from a local brass band, the heads would roll. Nothing too gruesome here and when the head of one currently disgraced British aristocrat hits the deck, kiddies are overjoyed to find out it’s actually a piñata. There’s also a speed knitting contest in the spirit of Madame La Farge and a storming of the Bastille jumping castle.
Australian relations with France are currently at an all time low following the submarine fiasco, so the event could well go a long way to healing the rift. The French must always wonder how history might have changed had La Perouse beat Captain Arthur Phillip to Port Jackson. The French colonial record in Africa and throughout the world has not been a good one, and our indigenous population must also ponder what might have been.
Regardless the days of the Australian constitutional monarchy, tied to the dysfunctional denizens of Buckingham Palace must surely be numbered. January 26 is certainly an appropriate day to put the jingoism aside and think about giving them the chop.