AUSTRALIA DAY 26 JANUARY2018
HISTORY – ANCIENT AND MODERN
Some 60,000 years ago, the first Australian settlers arrived on this continent and peopled the land, developed resources and maintained lifeways and culture. Around 220 years ago, new waves of settlers arrived and continue to arrive on these shores. These later arrivals multiplied and developed resources that satisfied their lifestyle and culture. Utilising combined knowledge and culture of both waves of settlers, they have created a nation that is the envy of many countries for living standards, democratic principles and the rule of law.
Amongst the post Colonial nations Australia is fortunate or perhaps not, that it did not have to fight for independence or nationhood or confront civil war. Despite this the Australian front line military are among the world’s finest. On this issue, far more attention should be paid to the World War II Papua New Guinea campaigns in 1942 when Australian troops were defending the Australian homeland from Japanese invasion.
The day of celebration should include a reflection on a debt of gratitude to our ancestors and early settlers who endured hardship, privation and danger to create this Australia that we all now enjoy.
We are now living in an enlightened era and, perforce, must recognise 18th and 19th century colonial history. Australia, in common with the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Argentina and Brazil, was settled by waves of European Caucasians who drove indigenous inhabitants from their lands destroying tribes and regional culture. Over one hundred years later, descendants of these Caucasian settlers cannot be held accountable for previous migrations and settlement of indigenous land since this was the accepted imperative of the time. Now that we are aware of the recent history of modern immigrant nations, National Days should acknowledge history which would generate meaningful dialogue. For perhaps one hundred years since Federation in 1901, Australians have preferred to distance themselves from the reality of Colonial settlement – we can do this no longer.
The Caucasian expansion in the 18th and 19th centuries, in terms of migration, was nothing new. For millennia, Empires and armies have threatened and maintained order round the globe replacing or enslaving vanquished people. As recently as the 1940s, if Fascist Germany and Imperial Japan had not been defeated, Europe, East Asia and Australia would today look and sound very different.
THE SOUL OF OUR NATION Over centuries, Australian culture has evolved through corroborees, round the boree log, the Sydney Australia Day Regatta to finally, the many-splendoured event that is now Australia Day. As Australia’s multi-cultural policy matures and the demographic visibly changes, Chinese, Indian and Islamic influence will blur the edges of the Anglo-Saxon traditions. While the emphasis is to be Australian no young nation should become rootless. The soul of a nation will lie in its myths, legends and heroic figures who lived among the early mortals.
While Australia Day Honours quite rightly recognise service and achievement, thought should be given to creating an annual group of Australians who keep alive the ‘soul’ of Australia – protectors of our collective culture. A suggested list for 2018 is proposed:
- Windradyne Windradyne (1800–1829), Resistance fighter, Wiradjuri tribe, NSW.
- David Unaipon (1862–1967), Aboriginal philosopher & author, Adelaide University.
- Paula Travers, Children’s Literature, ‘Mary Poppins’.
- Dorothea MacKeller, Poet, ‘Sunburnt Country’.
- Patrick White, Author, ‘Voss’.
- Fredrick McCubbin, Triptych, ‘The Pioneer’.
- Patrick Durak, Cattle Industry, ‘Kings in Grass Castles’.
- Lang Hancock, Mining Industry, ‘Rush that Never Ended’.
- Dr Anita Hill, Chief Scientist, CSIRO.
- Dr Victor Chan, Heart Surgeon.
This is a list of yesteryear heroes, those who have recorded the hardship of settlement and those who drive Australia today. It is these and similar people who contribute to folklore who deserve incorporation into the ‘soul’ of Australia.
PROGRESS AND THE RULING ELITE Most Australians are fine, industrious, innovative individuals. Unfortunately we are held back by an inept, self-serving political elite who, like the evolving ruling hierarchy of Agrarian Empires before the Common Era, lived on the backs of exploited, reluctant citizens. Tribute-taking elites before and during the Common Era extracted resources in ways that inhibited innovation and depressed productivity. (Dr D Christian, Maps of Time, Macquarie University)
Australians need look no further than the straightened circumstances of the nation’s science and research industry due to a shortage of resources. Parliamentary Library documents show for 2014-15 Government funding was 0.56% of GDP, the lowest since 1978-79. Further, OECD statistics on Government R&D expenditure, show Australia as sixteenth of eighteen with only 0.4% of GDP. With contributions from the States and private enterprise, the ranking improves to ninth with 2.1% of GDP compared to the leaders in the 3-4% range. Australia’s future is no longer ‘on the sheep’s back’ or from ‘the mile that Midas touched’ – it will come from invention and innovation. (The Conversation, Infographic – Science and Research, 22 June 2016)
More emerging problems for Higher Education were announced by Universities Australia (18 December) and by The Week End Australian (13/14 January). Funding cuts of $2.2 billion announced by the MYEFO update will, according to Universities Australia Chair Professor Gardner, leave universities ‘frozen in time’ and regional Austalia will be the hardest hit. Giving force to this statement Peter van Onselen (WEA) claims politicians are responsible for the shortcomings of the Higher Education sector and not academics who are paid below private sector rates.
But for today: “In joyful strains then let us sing”.