For some weeks a Government Social Engineering Department has subjected Australians to the message “We may celebrate Australia Day any way we wish”. This supine edict provides no focus, no theme, no ethos, no sense of common unity or heritage, like children in a nursery school we are to enjoy ourselves for no apparent reason.
With in fortnight of our National Day two young Muslim girls wearing hijabs appeared on a Victorian bill board extending a message of warmth and harmony for Australia Day. Following an objection by a member of the ‘public’ the Victorian Government apparently did not resist the removal of this image from the public domain. Enter Dee Madigan, creative director and author, who immediately crowd funded over $130,000 (The Guardian). This image will now appear round Australia. Like women leaders of yore and up to the present (Boudicca, Golda Meir, Thatcher and Merkel) Dee Madigan has ridden rough shod over the equivalent of Thatcher’s ‘vegetables’ to ensure this image of multicultural Australia will encourage peace, good will and understanding.
Hopefully the image of these two immigrants (as we all are) will promote discussion on the wider significance of Australia Day, unless Australia verges more toward authoritarianism the hijab will become as unremarkable as the national foot ware , the thong.
The Australian Government likes to define our place in the global order. Of the six nations that owe their origin to 18th and 19th century colonial powers, Australia is the outlier, the ugly duckling, the black sheep in terms of National Day origin. Nations with a comparable heritage are Canada, New Zealand, America , Brazil and Argentina.
Canada. On July 1st 1867 the embryonic Dominion of Canada came together to counter French influence under a constitution that joined Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the Province of Canada. This national holiday is one is one of festivity in Ottawa and the regions. There is occasional friction with French Canadians and the native people.
New Zealand. On the 6th February 1840 the British Colonial Government and the Maori tribes met at Waitangi, North Island, to produce a unifying constitutional document. New Zealand did not commence celebrating Waitangi Day until 1934. Since that time there has been frequent Maori agitation for amendments to the Constitution.
America. On the 4th July 1776 the thirteen American colonies promulgated their independence from Great Britain principally due to the restrictive Mercantilist laws. July the Fourth is a National holiday. The Government arranges patriotic displays along with the festivities.
Brazil. Brazil achieved independence from the United Kingdom of Portugal following a twelve year war from 1808 – 1822. Each year September 7th is commemorated with festivities and celebrations.
Argentina. The Spanish colony of Rio de la Plata won independence after a bitter eight year war, 1810 – 1818. Independence was declared on 9th July 1816. Each year this National day is celebrated with patriotic events and family reunions.
Australia. The nation is the odd polity. Among the ex-colonial nations only New Zealand attempted an early integration of the indigenous people under a Constitution. Canada sought to counter a French threat by closer ties of several territories. America, `Argentina and Brazil fought bloody wars to earn independence. All these nations fought ‘frontier wars’, this was normal. Australia, by contrast, celebrates its National Day to coincide with the establishment of a penal colony on Australia Felix, not Australia Nullius on the 26th January 1788.
The origin of Australia i Day is indeed curious. Before WW2 the 26th January was was celebrated as Anniversary Day with a Regatta on Pitt Water. The rest of Australia was not involved. After WW2 the politicians considered it necessary to instil a sense of national unity into the new immigrants arriving from Europe. A pride was fostered in the in the arrival at Sydney Cove, the leadership of Captain Phillip and the achievement of the early settlers. Like topsy the Australia Day has finally been massaged into ‘Enjoy Australia Day any way you like’, with no sense of how this nation was created.
The sensible option would be to consider a National Day commemorating Federation on the 1st January 1901 or Aboriginal suffrage on the 18th July 1962. Entrenched petty politics and commercial avarice would attempt to founder a logical alternative. In addition, there could be a reluctance for Australian people to ‘call Canberra Home’ untill respect for our political system improves.
Australia’s early Colonial history is no different the other nations, the difference now is that these other nations have relegated to history their ‘Frontier Wars’ while Australia still celebrates a period prior to their commencement, namely the possession of Terra Nullius for King George and Empire. We are not accountable for the past but we have inherited the aftermath. In the words of L P Hartley “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there”. (The Go-Between )