As Australia Day 2015 approaches, Alexander Porter offers a gentle reminder that it is as important as ever to celebrate it for the right reasons…whatever they are…
We’re still reeling from the Martin Place Siege. The seemingly growing threat of ISIS hangs over the Western World. Aboriginal and Settled Australian relations are far from resolved. In such times of uncertainty and anxiety, what is the best way forward? What outcome is most desirable?
Australia Day plays a unique role and indeed has a unique place in my life. Growing up in a predominantly white, middle class suburbia you would be forgiven for assuming it would simply be another excuse to celebrate all things “Aussie” while sinking beers (VB if you really wanted to celebrate Australia Day) and eating sausages (burnt, preferably). Anyone who wanted to bring up the plight of the Aboriginals on Australia Day was simply highjacking the occasion for their own revisionist agenda and if persons of a different culture wanted to celebrate, they would at all times remember that their way of life was to run parallel with “our” Australia Day, and not against it. The sad truth is this is no attempt to paint a humorous picture of an imaginary patriotic Australia Day, and it is often the reality.
Our country has, and indeed continues to, grapple with the historical guilt of our past. The arrival of white settlers set the wheels in motion for a debate on ownership that continues today. Adding to this ongoing public discourse is the relatively modern debate of culture. Integration or assimilation. A topic which opened with the White Australia policy and explosively re-ignited post 9/11 with the impact of Muslim culture on the Western World. With so many underlying issues for Australian society to face, this leaves the burning question of, “What exactly are we celebrating?” each January 26.
In my family, there are numerous answers to this question.
My Uncle, which is what he is and always will be regardless of biological factors, is an Aboriginal Australian. Raised by my Grandma, he is one of the Stolen Generation. He holds no ill will towards us at being given to a new family and to him we are as much his blood as any natural relative is, but the truth remains that every Australia Day he is reminded that the “Australia” we celebrate was the one that changed his life forever.
My brother, with whom I spent years and years in ignorant youthful bliss, is a Muslim. He converted over a year ago and in certain circles his name is no longer that which I call him, that which is written on his birth certificate. To certain people in his world, his name is now Mohammad. Married to a Muslim woman and praying five times a day to Allah, he is a world away from the Protestant upbringing he once knew. Every Australia Day he is reminded that the “Australia” we celebrate has discriminated against his religion, and while his skin colour allows him to avoid it, its existence is no less real.
My eldest brother, a man who once called outback Kununurra home for many years, is a staunch supporter of Australia Day. Family tradition dictates he hosts a BBQ, covers his house in Australian flags, has fridges full of beer (cans only of course) and is in charge of the food, highlighted by kangaroo steak and prawns. Cricket is played in the backyard and attendees are encouraged to wear green and gold. Every Australia Day, he is reminded that the “Australia” he celebrates is the one that has given him so much.
Despite the contrasting opinions of the day, we come together on Australia Day as a family, not simply to celebrate being Australians, but to celebrate the right we have in this country to be different. Whether it is painting a face green and gold, asking which plate has the Halal meat or using the phrase “Invasion Day” without fear of prejudice, my family looks forward to Australia Day each and every year because we are all together.
At the end of the day that’s all that really matters.
So when you’re next faced with the question of, “What are we celebrating this Australia Day?” I encourage your answer to be, “Whatever we want to.” The world is an uncertain and often cruel place, there are enough issues facing us without creating unnecessary ones, and Australia Day should not be about creating divisions or attempting to define what being “Australian” is. Regardless of why this particular date was chosen for its historical meaning, regardless of your view on culture, race and religion, Australia Day is the perfect time to just reflect on how lucky we all are. To be living in a country that allows you the freedoms others around the globe are so desperate to attain.
So when January 26, 2015 rolls around, I’ll celebrate the differences in my family, not lament them. I’ll celebrate the differences in this country, not criticise them.
I hope you do too.
Happy Australia Day.