You can set your watch to it. It’s not rating season for the tele, Parliament isn’t sitting and it’s just that bit too early to be outraged that Coles and Wollworths are selling hot cross buns. So what does ‘the media’ predictably turn it’s mind to just after the new years day hangover? That’s right – changing the date of Australia Day.
For the uninitiated, Australia Day is the commemoration of Lieutenant Cook (as he was then known) colonising Australia in the name of the British crown. We celebrate this on January 26. With a rag-tag bunch of ships, a handful of convicts and not enough food to last, they hooked a left at what we now call Port Botany, rowed ashore and popped up a flag.
Here’s where the problems start though.
Since that flag went up, for our original owners, it was the beginning of the end. The beginning of the end of traditional ways of life, land, customs, law. It was the beginning of European disease. Grog. Livestock. It was the beginning of harsh, harsh laws. Missions. It was the beginning of dispossession. Incarceration. White mans responsibilities without white mans rights. Stolen wages. Stolen children. Forced labour. The list goes on. And on.
Here’s what that British flag also brought (and most definitely not for our Aboriginal brothers and sisters for way too long). Participative democracy. The Westminster system. Voting rights. That British flag saw the birth of a nation that prides itself in being peaceful, tolerant and welcoming. That British flag brought with it amazing growth and development for this country.
200 years ago, there wasn’t much of this globe left to explore by England and Europe. Africa had been colonised by a kalidescope of European countries. America was well and truly established. Central and south americas were claimed by the Spanish and Portuguese. Asian countries hadn’t made any real territorial advances and the Middle East was still stuck, for want of a better term, in the dark ages. The Dutch and French sailed past the west coast of Australia decades before the British, but decided not to stop.
What I’m trying to say is, it was inevitable that ‘someone’ would colonise Australia. There was still a host of European countries looking to build empires and suck the wealth out of their newly invaded lands. Just turn your mind however on countries that were colonised by France, Belgium, Spain or Portugal. Look at the legacies that those countries have left, in terms of peace and stability. The Congo will be suffering for decades because of Belgium’s rule. Central and south America still struggle with unstable governments and corruption. Compare that with, for example, India, also taken over by the British. Look at the stable democracy, progress and development occurring there.
I’m the first to acknowledge the horrible, horrible things done to our first Australians. Things done with the worst intentions and even worse outcomes. Things done with the best intentions and bad outcomes. Horrible, unmentionable things. I understand that the notion of celebrating (for want of a better word) is offensive and upsetting to our first Australians, considering all the atrocities done to them.
I’m very aware that this could sound like ‘it could have been lots worse so shut up and be thankful that your genocide wasn’t even worse’. That’s absolutely not what I’m saying. What I am saying is British colonisation, on the whole, has brought so many positives. It’s been the nucleus that now magnitises people from all over the globe here. Because of British colonisation, we have a stable, orderly system of government. All we need is stable, orderly polititians to go with our great system 😉 . We have a robust bureaucracy. We all (now) have the vote. We can associate with whom we want, worship or not worship the God, gods or entities we want, or not want. We can wear what we want, generally say what we want, join an organisation, political party, religious group – even a line-dancing club, without the fear of persecution.
To change the date of Australia Day to me is focusing on the worst of British colonialisation. The absolute worst. It focuses on pain – terrible, very real pain, but it ignores all the fruit that has come not from the circumstances, but the system colonialisation brought.
If we start changing dates because it represents hurt (and real hurt, pain and terror was the result of British colonialisation), we forget the rich blessings that this same system has brought for all Australians. If we start changing dates because of hurt or offence, one of two things will happen:
1. We forget who we are. Australia day can both be a celebration, a remembrance, a time for saying sorry and a time for forgiveness. It’s a key moment in Australian history. We will never find a date or say that both is significant and means something without running the risk of offending someone
2. We open the door to changing other significant days to minimise hurt and pain. Anzac day, for example, is a day dear to our hearts but for many Australians of Middle Eastern background, represents a time of the end of the last Caliph, the Ottoman Empire. Easter is the most important celebration and time of rememberance to Christians. Australia is no longer a Christian country, and I can only imagine the hurt that Easter causes to our Jewish brothers and sisters when they are called ‘Christ killers’.
I want to again truly, and deeply acknowledge the pain and suffering British colonisation has done to our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. The terrible things done to them, and I do not want to minimise the pain inflicted on them by white mans policies. Like many others, I am deeply sorry for the things done to our first Australians, and look forward to a future where we walk together in improving the outcomes for all Australians. What I do not want though is to throw away a day of such significance, a day that has brought so much good to this land. A day that saw the dawning of a beautiful country becoming a great country.