Australians All Let Us Rejoice…
For on the 26th of January, many years ago, our country was invaded, its land claimed by a foreign power and a long running campaign to subjugate and kill its native inhabitants was instigated by a foreign power: The British. Um, actually I was meaning to say something about mateship, the lucky country and crack about us probably failing our own citizenship test, but there’s no way around the fact that historically, Australia Day wasn’t a happy time for a lot of people, much in the same way that Thanksgiving in America is often seen–rightly or wrongly–to commemorate of an indigenous slaughter.
Almost all of us are immigrants to this nation, and we bring with us our cultures, our histories, our food, let’s not forget food, and to some degree we all adopt the cultural cringe and attempt to distance ourselves from Being Lara Bingle and The Shire. That’s not really Australian, we say. January the 26th means a lot of different things to different people, but perhaps the most important thing to do is take what may not have had the most auspicious of beginnings, and reclaim it for the future. We are lucky, having avoided most of the economic crises that have hit other countries in the last two decades. We have relatively low unemployment, a good name internationally for both business and tourism, and a healthcare system that Americans can only dream of—or cringe at if they’re staunch Republicans, I suppose.
We’re lauded as friendly, hard working, and with some notable exceptions (cue the cultural cringe once more) multicultural. Technically, on Australia Day we’re supposed to celebrate the landing of the first fleet. I have no ties to the first fleet. Many of my friends don’t either. But we can and do feel privileged to live in this country and for many Australians, Australia Day is simply a time to celebrate those things that make Australia great—the country that is, not the movie. Clearly the only thing great about that movie was Hugh Jackman shirtless. And I believe we can do that while acknowledging that most of us live on the land of native peoples who have never ceded sovereignty of it to the occupying power that is still here today, that they too are part of our rich—if sometimes bloody—history, and while we count our blessings, I think we should also spare a thought for those who we have not always treated in the spirit we laud ourselves for today. And those people may not be Indigenous Australians. They may have been Greek or Italian, Chinese or Vietnamese, or the more recent immigration waves of Indians and Africans that are now seen as ‘un-Australian’. It may have been those who don’t drink, or vegetarians, or just that weird kid in the corner with the acne and no friends because he or she wasn’t cool.
We Are One, but We are Many
And From all the lands on earth we come
We share a dream, and sing in once voice,
I am, you are, we are Australian
~ I am Australian by Bruce Woodley and Dobe Newton.
We don’t want your huddled masses yearning to be free. We just want you, as you are. She’ll be right. We are Australian. This is our national day. So let’s be proud of what we have done well, and resolve to do better what we may have done less well in the past.
Matthew’s new Australia Day short story, After the BBQ, is available now from MLR Press.