Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021
This week we will be marking our first Australia Day in country in fifteen years. Throughout the decade and a half that preceded April 2, 2020, when we were FIFOing as a lifestyle, we always managed to be absent for the rounds of increasingly strident and mawkish flag-waving and gong-giving that takes place every year on January 26, or has, at least, nationally, since 1994. It wasn’t until 1935 that all Australian states and territories even used the name “Australia Day” to mark that date.
Some Australians prefer to call it Invasion Day – including from this year the national broadcaster, though the ABC would be wiser to stick to its charter and the official name and refer as necessary to other preferences – and from an Aboriginal perspective you can hardly argue. First British Boots in the Mud Day was precisely that: an invasive act of imperial requisition. Never mind the natives, they don’t matter: that was the soupçon du jour in 1788.
There is a lot to celebrate about modern Australia, and we’d be better doing that than continuing to argue by implication that the natives don’t matter. Aside from anything else, such as comprehension, for example, or conscience, or an appreciation of the nuances of history, we are all natives now; of Australia.
Some of the more primitive Birther types among us like to pretend that no one’s a true-blue Aussie unless born within the special biosphere, that bit of the globe that’s both the world’s largest inhabited island and its smallest continent, the bit that’s girt by sea. It’s a fundamentally proto-fascist point of view rather than risible, picture-book nationalism, and it goes well with boots, muddy or otherwise, and a preference for hagiography because it tells the right fairy stories.
But in the context of modern Australia, it’s bullshit, to use a vintage Australianism. The country has been built on constant flows of migration. Over time, it has factually ceased to be the last white colony in Asia, though not yet functionally. It’s worrying that some of its leaders seem still to want to perpetuate that long form of suicide as national policy.
So, we’ll be sitting quietly at home on the big day. We don’t have a flag to wave, or an overwhelming need to chug-a-lug, or a set of corks to sew around our hats, or a sausage sizzle to attend. You go to Bunnings for sizzles these days, anyway.
I might instead revisit the story of Woollarawarre Bennelong, a senior man of the Eora people, who made a name for himself in 1788 and is far more worthy of remembrance than the booted, plumed and beribboned Brit who became the First Jailer of New South Wales.