The UnAustralian Australian (or why Jan 26th isn’t worthy of being called Australia Day)

I’m going to make this quick because it’s painful. And I know it’s likely to ruffle a few feathers.

January 26th signifies the day that Western immigration started in this country. The people who lived here at the time had no say in it. My (our) ancestors just lobbed in on their shores with their nasty diseases, their grog and their funny attitudes toward people of darker colour and set up camp. Pioneering? Yes, I suppose they were. Many were also cruel and inhumane and used their self-entitled whiteness as an excuse to run around slaughtering, raping and enslaving other human beings without due recourse.

Is this the event we really want to base our celebration of national pride on?

In the 220 years that followed some things have changed, but the fundamentals haven’t. It’s a bit tragic that we see fit as a nation to dance around wrapped in our flag (another issue of decorum entirely) singing Aussie, Aussie, Aussie Oi Oi Oi on a day that many Australian’s see as signifying the beginning of the demise of their culture and loss of their freedom. To celebrate the day our people lost their identity, language, self-respect isn’t Australian. There are plenty of words to describe it, but Australian isn’t one of them.

I’m not against celebrating being a part of this great nation. I love it here so much I feel no need to travel far beyond it’s beautiful boundaries. I love the diversity of it, the expanse of it, the irony of it. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating national pride – I just don’t think we should be doing it on January 26th.
So today, Australia Day 2013, I’m not celebrating at all. Which, to me, seems the most Australian thing I can do.

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NAIDOC? Wha’ the?

English: aboriginal site, australia

English: aboriginal site, australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Australia has some great festivals and days of celebration. ANZAC Day, the Woodford Folk Festival (Qld), Moomba (Vic), Melbourne Cup (everywhere) – (NB I’m deliberately avoiding Australia Day for reasons I’ll explain in a minute – bear with me). There’s nothing we Aussies like more than an excuse for a long weekend and a barbie. NAIDOC week should be one of those great festivals. For what it represents it should be celebrated widely on a national scale, but unfortunately it isn’t mainly because not enough of the general population know about it.

National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) has a long history. It started as a ‘Day of Mourning’ in 1935, but dates back as far as the 1920’s & 30’s when groups of Aboriginal people organized formal boycotts of Australia Day, and with good reason. Let me explain.

Imagine how you’d feel if Australia was invaded tomorrow by a swarm of people who saw us as little better than pigs and killed most of us, pushing us out of our homes and off the land we believe we have a right to live on. These people then changed everything about the way we lived. They now control where we go, who we hang out with, who we marry, what happens to our children, where we live, what we eat. We are no longer allowed to speak English or sing Ke Shan or dance like idiots to Midnight Oil. All the festivals we look forward to every year are banned. No more barbies or long weekends. These people, after murdering and separating us from our families, and putting us to slave labour without payment, then announce a national day of celebration – on the very day they first landed here and took everything away from us. Not happy, right? Do they care? Nope.

Just imagine that then goes on for decades and decades, so all the generations that follow us, knowing what has happened to our ancestors as a result of the invasion, must face this national outburst of pride by the invaders, without any apology or acknowledgement of what it means for us as a race, every punishing year. As a day of celebration of all that is Australian, it kind of loses its appeal, doesn’t it?

NAIDOC week (always held in early July) has its roots in the political, in the celebration of survival of Aboriginal culture – that doesn’t mean just a handful of songs, stories, and rituals. Culture defines who you are. Think about it. What nationality do you and your family identify with? What does it mean for you, as a person, to identify with that nationality? It means language – how you express yourself and your feeling and ideas. How do you communicate if you’re not allowed to speak your language? It means rituals and holidays you take for granted – like Easter and Christmas – even if you are not a practicing Christian, growing up in a Western culture means these holidays are part of your family life. It means ways of being and behaving that you simply don’t think about until you are immersed in a different culture and your uniquely Australian cultural characteristics become obvious.

Given Australian Aboriginal people are part of the oldest (that’s 60,000 years compared to the measly 220 years the non-Aboriginal ancestors have been here) living culture in the world – you’d think the entire nation would enthusiastically celebrate its survival wouldn’t you? I mean, that’s really something worthy of a big celebration, don’t you think? But do we embrace it as our own? Nope. It’s a fringe festival, celebrated by those who’ve made personal or professional connections with our Aboriginal community. And yet, there’s a lively and ever-growing calendar of events organized each year by Aboriginal organizations (and lots of other public and private organizations) that anyone can attend. So why don’t many of us go?

Simple. Most of us don’t know about it, and many that do think of it as an Aboriginal festival, not a national one, and I think that’s a shame. As Australian’s we should be so proud of the original culture, and the complex and fascinating history of the land we walk on every day. Our Aboriginal people have survived a terrible and dark history, but the culture born in this country is being preserved and passed on to younger generations. This history, this story of survival, is something worth celebrating – vigorously and on a national scale.

NAIDOC hasn’t reached the mainstream yet – but it’s getting there. Each year it gets a little bigger. This week, all over Australia, Aboriginal people are celebrating their strengths in all kinds of ways. Art exhibitions, musical performances, elders breakfasts and lunches, the NAIDOC ball, flag raising ceremonies, speeches. Everyone is welcome to join in. It’s a warm and welcoming atmosphere with community at its centre. It’s just the kind of festival Australian people love to love. So what are you waiting for? It’s not too late. Go celebrate.

NAIDOC Victorian calendar of events