Tomorrow is Australia Day. I always have mixed feelings about Australia Day. It commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet and the official beginning of the European Settlement in Australia. It’s our National holiday – the one when we celebrate being Australian, and all things Australian. It’s full of beach, prawns, lamb (courtesy of clever marketing by the lamb board), flags and barbecues, and lots of people having fun together.
It has other connotations however. Some of our Indigenous Australians refer to the holiday as ‘Invasion Day.’ If you’d like to read more about their reasons, this link will take you to an excellent article on the SBS site, which discusses the very real reasons that many indigenous Australians feel very differently about this day, and find it difficult to celebrate. I find myself agreeing with them, and wonder if a different day, celebrating a different beginning – Federation perhaps – might be a better option.
We are now a multicultural nation, made of people from all over our world, all living on the driest continent in the world, living under an elected government, and sharing a unique lifestyle in a wonderfully diverse country.
My mixed feelings are generated in some part by the concept of ‘Invasion Day,’ but having said that, I see nothing wrong about Australians celebrating Australia at all – as long as we do it together.
Some other bits of me struggle with the rise of overt patriotism. If you’re reading this blog from another country, you’re probably wondering what I mean. While Australians are very proud to be Australian, we have a long history of not expressing our pride by clutching our chests, waving flags or singing our National Anthem (or even knowing the words). My generation and my parent’s one have been notoriously restrained in expressing our nationalism overtly. Of course we do cheer our sporting heroes loudly, but that’s because it’s sport, and that’s a completely different kettle of fish.
We can be aggressively smug about our dangerous wildlife, our ability to cope with heat, and nearly everyone regularly observes Anzac Day with vigour and enthusiasm. We enjoy the myth of the ‘Bronzed Aussie’ and our outback heritage while living mainly in cities around the edge of our dry continent. We look upon those who don’t know all the words to ‘Khe Sanh’ and ‘You’re The Voice‘with some derision, and always sing the choruses loudly. But that’s OK, because that’s culture and not patriotism.
Patriotism happens when people place their hands over their hearts when they sing their national anthems and look upon their flags with tears in their eyes. We do sing our national anthem, but fortunately usually only the first verse, or on very special occasions we sing the third one as well. Fortunately we’ve completely ditched the second, fourth and fifth verses in the modern anthem – they’re highly embarrassing. If you really want to, you can check them out here.
I’ve watched with some embarrassment as overt patriotism has slowly grown, because although it’s OK to be passionate about sport and music, it’s weird to be passionate about being Australian, and as Australia Day approaches, nowadays some people put Australian flags up in their front yards, others attach them to their cars, and there’s an explosion of green and gold (our national colours) all over the place. That’s OK, though, I can cope with that.
In every shire there’ll be Australia Day ceremonies where a few people will become Australian citizens and awards for Citizen of the Year, Young Citizen of the Year and other such nicenesses are presented. There will usually be a special guest who speaks and we sing the anthem. (First verse only.) That’s also OK.
But sadly, along with the flags and the clothing, there’s been an increase of what I’d call ‘Ugly Patriotism.’ It’s the kind of patriotism where flags are worn around backs as their wearers stagger around drunk and abusive, yelling “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oy, Oy, Oy…” or some other much nastier slogan. It echoes across our town in drunken shouts, and cars pumping bass, as they drive past flailing their flags while more drunks lean precariously out of the car windows screaming incoherently and aggressively. This is what I struggle with. The idea that being Australian is to be a drunk yobbo. The idea that to be an Australian is to celebrate an inability to speak coherently, and flourish an Australian flag in order to do so.
More and more, there’s a group of Australians who celebrate things we shouldn’t be proud of – alcohol abuse, racism, and ‘stopping the boats.’ That kind of thing makes me ashamed to be Australian, and not even slightly proud.
So tomorrow I’ll celebrate Australia Day with mixed feelings. I am proud to be Australian – proud of our resilience, our ability to stick together when things get tough, and proud of our generosity when the chips are down. I will remember our indigenous people, and think about those we have incarcerated on Manus Island, and contemplate the future, hoping that we’ll get beyond the Aussie yobbo image as something to be celebrated. (And as I press the button to publish this post, I am now resigned to be called out as Un-Australian.)