Michael Burrill is troubled by Australia Day – it may be a benign day of national celebration for many but the “Invasion Day” it represents for our indigenous fellow Aussies is not something we should be proud of…
I’m sure many will be spending this Australia day draped in the flag or other green and gold finery, drinking some cold alcoholic beverages while listening to another lukewarm 100, or affirming their love for this great multicultural land by heartily nodding in agreement as David Warner tells another Indian to “speak some fuckin English!”
Amongst all the dumb flag waving and mythologising of Australia’s “acceptance” and “diversity”, I imagine most will willfully overlook the despondent asylum seekers in detention, or that for some Australians, it isn’t a joyful day of celebration – it’s Invasion Day, the anniversary of the commencement of the dispossession and attempted genocide of their people.
If the vague national stereotypes thrown around on days like this are anything to go by, along with the beach, drinking and pointlessly sacrificing oneself in service of your colonial masters, Australians also love watching a group of date rapists, dog fondlers and the repeatedly concussed throw and kick around some variety of leather ball while equally leathery commentators wistfully reminisce about Reggie “Loose Change” Dunstable infamously tying 50c pieces to his knuckles in the 1932 grand final. With this in mind, I’ll try to use a bit of a sporting analogy. While in a stadium it may be permissible to wave your flag with spiteful joy in the faces of fans of a vanquished rival, waving that flag in someone’s face on the anniversary of your team’s bus crashing into their house and killing their family just seems callous…
Those who reject the idea of Invasion Day tend to argue that “it was a long time ago, we’re all Australians now”, maybe then adding, completely unaware of the irony, “We’ve apologised, they need to get over it.” For obvious reasons, I don’t think it’s for me to comment on what the apology meant to members of the Stolen Generation or the wider indigenous community (nor to imply they all hold the same view on Australia/Invasion Day), but one thing does seem plain – Kevin Rudd’s apology was a symbolic act rather than a solve-all fresh start (though I’m sure arguments can be made about it being another step down the path to reconciliation).
Just look at the figures. Although the ABS found that Indigenous life expectancy rose slightly between 2010 and 2012, it was still around 10 years less than that of non-indigenous counterparts. Similarly, last year the Productivity Commission found that Indigenous Australians are 15 times more likely to be imprisoned and Indigenous rates of self harm are 2 to 2.5 times higher. The stats seem to suggest that things haven’t really been fixed at all. Sure, some will say “We’ve tried to help, but they don’t want to help themselves,” not only again trading in the inflammatory language of “Us” and “Them”, but taking part in a time-honoured process that includes the grandiose patriotism of Australia Day and that seeks to block out this country’s questionable past – including its tangible and psychic reverberations.
For all the effort taken to banish such dark memories, they still seem to possess a certain power. Xenophobia is by no means a uniquely Australian disease, but the Australian strain does seem to possess a particular panic, an urgent fear of being overrun, a thread that seems to run through the White Australia policy, Pauline Hanson, the Cronulla riot and today’s disgraceful asylum seeker policies (that are broadly supported by both major parties). It seems instead of guilt, the scars on the collective psyche have transformed into fear; the fear that a storm – like the one European settlers rained down on the Indigenous inhabitants of this land – may be coming for the rest of us. When the fearful and the bigoted express what they think is under threat from foreign marauders, it is done so with much the same quasi-utopian language and posturing encountered on Australia Day. That which seeks to cover up such undercurrents also plays its part in fuelling them.
While it is probably obvious at this point that I personally have little time for patriotism, I by no means intend to equate everyone who celebrates the day with Cronulla rioters (even if they do have similar taste in capes), nor to overlook the relative privilege MOST of us enjoy in this country. It’s just that though I understand for the majority it’s a benign day of national celebration I can’t help but notice troubling issues at its heart. So maybe this year while taping another tinny to your wizard’s staff or applying temporary southern cross tattoos, ask yourself a few questions.
Do great societies truly need to glorify themselves to gloss over misdeeds and mistakes of the past and present?
Or are such things really signs of insecurity and hubris?