A national day. January 26th. Australia Day. Invasion Day.
Many many times since I have been gone from Australia have I lamented my problematic feelings toward Australia Day. I still feel like I need to acknowledge this, and have it a spoken issue rather than one I would rather ignore. TL;DR: I love, but am frustrated by Australia.
There’s a lot of things I love about Australia. It’s a beautiful and unique country with a rich history of culture and nature. It’s where I’m from, it’s part of my identity and the history of my family, also (I am descended from both convicts and settlers from the UK). This doesn’t trump the issues that I feel passionately about, however, but needs to somehow exist along with them.
I am enormously privileged to have grown up a white Australian. It is atrocious how little education I got during my secondary schooling years about Indigenous culture, the Stolen Generation, deaths in custody. It’s a shameful part of Australia’s history that still plagues it now – I saw and took part in that racism growing up, and have seen it expand to impact the ‘multicultural’ society of modern Australia.
My politics are extraordinarily left and little-L liberal, so it’s no surprise that the political climate federally and also on a state-level makes me cringe. Australia’s PM, Tony Abbott, is an embarrassment to anyone who holds Australia dear and is doing what seemed impossible – making Australia seem even more culturally insensitive and anti-lower class than it ever has before.
I was lucky enough to find myself a path that meant a chance to study anthropology, ethnography and Australian Indigenous culture specifically. It opened my eyes to the fact that there need to be many caveats when you celebrate Australia Day. One important thing I keep coming back to is the historic and modern treatment of Indigenous people.
I reject the idea of Terra Nullius that was imposed legally in the 1800s in Australia, and is still enacted upon Indigenous Australians today through the structure of the social and healthcare systems in Australia. I recognise the claim that all of the unique Australian Indigenous groups have to their land and their culture and understand that although Australia was essentially conquered because of this idea of Terra Nullius, there can be a way that modern Australia can exist while allowing Indigenous Australians the right to proclaim their culture and connect with their land. Take a look and see the incredible richness of culture represented (fairly basically) in this language map (click through for more detail):
There can be no denying that Australia is what it is now, as a modern and multicultural society, tinged with xenophobia and nationalism. There is no reason this modern society can’t acknowledge the importance of pre- and post-European periods, understanding the importance and impact of it all. Yet even the current leader of the country essentially denies the fact there was a rich culture of people living there before Captain Cook arrived and everything changed.
I love Australia, I celebrate it in many aspects. I reserve the right to criticise it and the people who are from there, including myself – I still regularly need to register my privilege and background, especially being transplanted to Canada where there are many almost identical issues with the history and current leadership of the country. There is no point in my hand-wringing white guilt for the things my ancestors perpetrated (like the ‘father of Federation’, pretty racist dude Sir Henry Parkes) – I must acknowledge and feel regret, and hopefully make an impact with discussions like these. I will not be voting in elections at home anymore, unless I return home. I am encouraged by friends of mine who work toward an all-encompassing society that, while it is post-colonial, can recognize and work on fixing its flaws and can become a structure that supports everyone.
Australia, as well as being beautiful and culturally unique should genuinely be “the lucky country“. Stop the xenophobia leading to racial violence, the mistreatment of asylum seekers, and the lack of support for the lower classes and underprivileged that the current Federal Government seems to enjoy perpetrating.
Happy January 26th.