Australia day is one of the more difficult Australian holidays for me to enjoy. The organised celebrations are often cesspools of jingoism and xenophobia and the date commemorates the beginning of centuries of displacement, dispossession and ethnic cleansing of Aboriginal Australians. In all earnest there is no compelling reason to scorn those who cynically dub the 26th of January, “Invasion Day.” The efforts of non-aboriginal Australians to make amends for the injustices of the past have, whether through misguidance or insufficiency, been thoroughly ineffective. The scars of the invasion have not healed; the indignity, the cruelty and the injustice inflicted upon the oldest continuing culture in human history still threatens the prosperity, the future and indeed the survival of this same culture. The State governments and the Commonwealth government were overseers of these crimes; they are institutions which failed to conduct themselves within the bounds of what might reasonably be considered humane behaviour; they failed to be human. Yet on January 26 those who somehow conclude that there has been an excess of reparations find their voice, accusing these victims of a much older, more brutal form of terrorism of being untoward and in the same breath deriding those who disagree as being “unpatriotic.” It is a destructive form of patriotism which only serves to undermine our national potential and degrade our national spirit.
The great paradox of January 26 is that those celebrants who display the greatest belligerence and fervour in the name of Australian values and Australian spirit seem to live in accordance with values and spirits that are neither commendable nor laudable. They demonstrate contempt for generosity and compassion, completely consumed by their sense of self entitlement and imagined hardships. For these Self-styled “battlers” whose quality of life ranks among the world’s top percentile, Australia Day entails little more than an unmitigated showing of hedonistic luxury. For these “Real Australians” Australia Day is a day to celebrate white, Anglo-European culture and scorn the multiculturalism which forms the bedrock upon which modern Australia culture is built upon. They disparage the virtues of tolerance, selflessness, intellectualism, compassion and commit themselves to the worst excesses of the national psyche. But most extraordinarily they disparage justice and those who seek it.
When a person wrongs another, the Australian Justice system does not mitigate the responsibility of the wrongdoer in accordance with the threshold for wrongdoing of the victim. Yet somehow there are Australians who would propose that the same commitment to justice imbued within our code of tort law should not be extended to combat the greatest injustice to have occurred in our nation’s history. We cannot pretend the tragedy never happened; its effects remain with us today. Nor can we commemorate the rich history of a proud and prosperous multicultural Australia on the 26th of January without paying fair acknowledgment to the original Australian culture.
I don’t wish to change the date of Australia Day, it is my hope that in the future we will have reach a point in our nation’s history where we non aboriginal Australians will be able to look back upon the nation’s history and say with pride that the convergence of the two peoples in 1788 was a good thing. Whilst the atrocities of the past can never be undone; we can build a happy and prosperous Australia for all Australians, indeed I feel we must strive for that for if this is Australia is never realized then the atrocities of the past will be completely without redemption, they will be acts of pure unmitigated evil and to celebrate their origins would be in the worst possible taste. We have great cause to be proud Australians and to celebrate our nationhood on January 26, we lead the way towards women’s suffrage, we are a country that stands resolutely against nuclear proliferation, we are a nation that stands resolutely against capital punishment and much more and the basis for these positions is an underlying sense of compassion and fairness which we must further harness and further cultivate. This is what we should celebrate, to celebrate the nation in its entirety is in poor taste, aspects of Australia may be but Australia in its entirety is not synonymous with goodness and virtue. If we are to be honest about who we are as a nation we must acknowledge that we are a nation with its faults and with virtues, we should resist the former where we are confronted with it and embrace the latter wherever we find it. Australia day should be about reaffirming commitment to these ideals, that is the essence of true patriotism.