I’ve had a turbulent relationship with my country, my Australia, over the last few years. Today I stopped to reflect on what Australia Day means to me.
I’ve gone through having my love for and belief in my nation shattered. I’ve despaired, I’ve raged, I’ve been angered beyond anything I ever thought I could feel.
Through all of it, I’ve learnt more about how our Indigenous people feel about Australia Day and more of our history. As I was schooled overseas, my Australian history was somewhat lacking.
I’ve watched us lock up Ranjini and her children, snatching her from the loving arms of her new husband with 5 minutes notice. I’ve argued about this case with a woman who clearly knew NO details at all, yet felt it her duty to argue Ranjini’s incarceration was the right thing. Frustrating.
I’ve watched our politicians become less and less professional and more about personal attacks than policy by some. I created a small furore by announcing I would not renew my Liberal Party membership. I’m publishing a book that may be considered highly critical of my country by some.
Yet I love this country, my Australia. We have potential, we can be better. We can educate, communicate and reconcile our differences. If we try.
As parents, we all love our children. We want the best for them. We try to ensure they achieve. I see Australia in a similar light. Australia is a young nation. We’ve made many mistakes along the way, raising this child of ours. Luke Pearson, the man behind @IndigenousX, linked to an old article – from 1856, in fact.
”We assert that under present circumstances this country has been shamelessly stolen from the blacks. Had they been like the New Zealanders or the North American Indians, we should have bought their land, and supplied them with the means of living when we took it. But being weak, and poor, and ignorant, we ousted them without fee or reward. We protest against this as an act of as mean and cowardly tyranny – as of vile and flagrant dishonesty – as the world ever saw. We, the people of this colony, occupy in this instance, the position of cheats and swindlers, and we do not deserve that the land should prosper with us, which has been so dishonestly come by.”
Australia Day is seen as Invasion Day or Survival Day by our Indigenous brothers and sisters. I can understand why, the history is clear. While I like the name, Australia Day, I believe we need to change what it represents and that may be difficult to do. Australia Day should be a day of looking forward to a brilliant future for this nation of which we are all part, yet it seems to me to be more about a certain demographic patting themselves on the back for the past, for colonisation, for “making” Australia. We need to acknowledge this nation has been built by so many migrants from so many different parts of the world. It has been built at the expense, in so many ways, of the lives of the traditional owners of this land. Did the Mabo case mean nothing?
Yet we cannot go back. My husband asks how can white people call themselves Australian. I tell him, in the same way Black Americans consider themselves American, not African. Many generations born here, we know nothing else. As a nation we can only go forwards. We must find a way to do this together, all of us.
Aboriginal people, those of the many different faiths, sexual orientations, ethnicities and genders: we must find a way to make this nation whole in spirit.
Much is said by some that newcomers must adopt Australian values. Define for me Australian values? I’d hate to think Australian values were actually as depicted by the Victoria Bitter or Dick Smith ads. Cringe worthy stuff we should all be ashamed of.
Radical Imams who blame women for getting raped should just pack themselves off back from whence they came, in my view. They are equally cringe worthy and if that is their firm belief they should not live here – but let us remember they are not the only ones: we’ve recently had an equally radical Italian priest saying basically the same thing but because he is “Christian” the fall out wasn’t as dramatic. Both just more ways religion is used to subjugate women. We’ve had a year of realising that sexism in Australia, while perhaps more subtle than elsewhere on this planet, is alive and well.
People migrate here from other cultures and find they have to teach their children not to bow and corporal punishment is banned. This takes adjustment. I had to explain to my husband that my gut reaction was to order one of his friends from our house for insisting on a culturally traditional greeting from our daughters that I could not accept because of my culture. It was a moment of culture clash: the unexpected. My husband and I are lucky in that we don’t react blindly to cultural differences; we discuss, understand and work out compromises. As a nation we need to develop better ways of doing this across the many cultural origins we have. Cultural differences are always going to be an issue in this country where we have so many cultural backgrounds: we need to accept this and manage it, not try to ignore it.
Australian values? I don’t think we have them as yet; we are defining them as we go. I personally hope and trust the ultimate Australian values will include the following:
- Recognition of Indigenous Australians
- Tolerance for those different from us, and this is a two-way street. Don’t expect tolerance for your own ways and not be prepared to give tolerance in return
- No extremists from any source
- Australia to be an international advocate for human rights
- Freedom from and of religion
- Equal rights for all
- An end to all forms of bigotry
- Separation of religion and state
- Protection of the vulnerable
What would you add to the list?
The Republic of Australia? A new flag? A new national anthem? Yes, these things will come. Australia is still young and sometimes we forget that.
This Australia Day please take time to remember our past, remember Mabo, remember and pay tribute. Together we can all build a future.
- Refugee is Young Australian of the Year (news.smh.com.au)
- Born into detention: the plight of Ranjini and Paari (abc.net.au)