Today we celebrated Australia’s national day with friends of my folks. There was plenty of sausages, eggs, bacon, tea and plastic flags. Poems by Australian greats such as Banjo Paterson and Henry Lawson were recited and the shed reverberated to the sounds of “Waltzing Matilda“. It was fun, but…
As I’ve got older I’ve started to wonder more and more about what we are really celebrating on the 26th January. It’s a celebration that seems, like us as a nation, quite conflicted. It’s the anniversary of the arrival at Port Jackson (NSW) of the first fleet of settlers from the Britain. It marks the beginning of a new era of settlement on land that had been inhabited for millennia prior to this, populated by people from a great many aboriginal nations. It marks the beginning of a new history of waves of migration to Australia by people from around the globe seeking new beginnings and prosperity.
Today our PM told us that “Each new Australian adds another thread to our national tapestry, magnificent in its diversity and the most successful multicultural society in the world“. I want to believe this. I am an Australian citizen purely by accident of birth. My family heritage reflects this national tapestry and diversity. My ancestors hail from Britain, Scotland & Germany. The Severins’ arrived here from Germany as economic refugees in the 1850s. I share common antecedents with a large family of the Goreng people of the Noongar nation. Yet, I’m ashamed to admit I have a fear of ‘the other’. Whilst on the one hand I could claim this to be generational (my Grandfather was heard to comment that if ‘those black fellas’ were going to Heaven he didn’t want to end up there) but that just seems to be a cop out (my other Grandfather spent most of his adult life advocating for the marginalised and oppressed). I recently watched my home town of Katanning featured on our national broadcaster, celebrated as an example of multiculturalism at its best. Yet the facebook comments related to this program seemed to overwhelmingly reflect the Pauline Hansen populist view that anyone who is different to us is not welcome here.
I’m conflicted. I’m not sure what to celebrate today. I’m not sure that I want to celebrate what the “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, Oi, Oi!” crowd are celebrating. I think my friend Cam has summed it up best
Or to put it another way….