Have you ever noticed the only real dates that ever seem to mean anything are the ones that mark birthdays or deaths? My birthday is on January 26, and as someone far more entitled to party on this day than most, I urge Australians to change the date.
On the 26th of January, we come together to celebrate what exactly? To this ‘Australian’ the date not only marks the day many cultures died, but serves as a reminder of how our own complacency continues to stall any chance of a proud future soon. Until we can confront the hypocrisy of Australia Day, we are preventing both our current and future populace from connecting with any ideals of a genuine Australian culture at all.
I was born on Australia Day. Over the years, that has meant a number of different things to me: mostly it means nothing more than a public holiday and a raging drunk time. I suppose one might assume this astrological coincidence makes me proud to be an Australian; that the natal bond I share with this date gives me unwavering devotion to my country.
The truth is, it doesn’t. I think it’s typical that we choose to celebrate this day of ‘settlement’ by acting like a bunch of pork chops, with a full slab of whatever’s on sale. Alcohol-driven antics, it seems to me, are our attempt to cloud the shame that deep down we know but don’t want to accept.
While we have all somewhat acknowledged that Australia Day marks what would in modern times be considered an invasion and genocide of biblical proportions, in 2016 we still felt the need to debate some young boy’s book-week face instead of the fact that Australia is still the only country out of the fifty-two Commonwealth nations that doesn’t have a land or peace treaty with its First Nations people.
When Australia was colonised by Europeans, it was deemed to be terra nullius – “land belonging to no one”– and to this day Indigenous Australian reparations are yet to be established. How, in a country as multicultural as ours, have we ignored the state of indigenous affairs for so long, and why do we still insist on downplaying the need to address them? What sense is there in welcoming new Australians to our country and celebrating freedom on a day that marks our nation’s greatest fall from it?
Growing up in Perth, I never saw a problem with the date. On my fifth birthday, we went down to the foreshore; my mother told me she had organised a whole fireworks show for me – that the thousands of people arriving were coming to celebrate my special day. To me, those fireworks were magic.
Flash back to the very first Australia Day in 1788, where fireworks are replaced with musket blasts from pale men in tights, slaughtering people by the thousands and forcing them to live within the crippled, industrialist society that abolished life as they knew it. Is this a day worth celebrating with pride?
I have lived in this country my whole life. I was born here, my parents were born here, and yet if I’m honest with you, I find myself drawn more to the rooted heritage of my grandparents than to any idea of an Australian culture. Short of some banter-worthy slang and the hunt for lukewarm meat pies, I am offered very little tradition that I can stand behind with pride. Our identity as a multicultural society with a thriving population of happy-go-lucky larrikins each as diverse, carefree and unique as the next is clouded with casual racism and boisterous thuggery.
So just who is the uptight, un-Australian bugger still fighting so hard for a day that brings so much division, on a date most people have to double check anyway, when we could easily and without hassle substitute the date for another?
If we want a culture, isn’t it fair to say we first need to acknowledge where our culture comes from? The relationship between New Zealand and Māori has had the opportunity to flourish from ongoing national policy, ceremonies and customary acknowledgements. Today, Māori traditions, tribal designs and tattoos or moko can be recognised the world over. No culture can thrive if we collectively diminish the existence of it.
Short of some banter-worthy slang and the hunt for lukewarm meat pies, I am offered very little tradition that I can stand behind with pride.
What’s more important now than pride are the facts. The fact that I get to celebrate my life every day – without fear of difference. The fact that my grandparents are all immigrants, but because of my skin my right to be Australian will never be questioned. The fact that this Australia, and this sky show, and these birthday gifts, were designed especially for me and my watered-down, vanilla froghurt culture. And that every year, when I celebrate my right to get drunk on a day that’s pretty much like any other day, except with maybe a few more tac-yacks and tacky Triple J tracks, Australia Day means nothing to me but a public holiday and one year down.
But for others – those whose ties to this land are as deeply entrenched as our nationally practiced ignorance of it – it stands for the exact day that Australian culture died.
An Indigenous treaty for Australia would provide recognition, representation and reform. It would spiral us forward into an age of unwavering strength and consciousness. Maybe then we’d realise that complacency is not a valid argument for celebrating one of the most dividing and oppressive days of our country.
We have been posing with faux political correctness for too long. We cannot adopt a merged, multicultural society if we neglect to acknowledge even the initial reparations the true peoples of this land are owed. We need to listen to the stories of this place and learn where we come from. We need to make a start towards healing this country and we need to do it soon.
We deserve an Australia that can share in experiences – a barbeque at the park with anyone and everyone – because at the end of the day we’re better than this.
Hannah Nissen has appeared in a variety of Perth publications including Box Magazine, Avenoir Magazine and The Ink Grid. In 2015 she was the assistant music editor for Colosoul Magazine.