Call me un-Australian but …

27 January 2010

Written by: Lawrie Zion

Call me un-Australian but I just can’t seem to get excited about this whole Australia Day thing. Maybe it’s the cringe-worthy expressions of patriotism that “Straya Day” seems to evoke in people or maybe it’s the fact that we have a public holiday to celebrate the might of 18th century British colonialism.

For those that need a little reminder, January 26th 1788 was the day that the First Fleet – under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip – landed at Sydney Cove and claimed New South Wales for king and country. The Fleet was sent by King George III in order to establish a new penal colony after things took a turn for the worse in North America.

But of course Australia was already inhabited by the time Captain Phillip et al. rocked up on our shores. Conservative estimates place the number of Indigenous Australians at 300,000 at the time of the First Fleet. By 1901 this number had dropped to around 90,000 due, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, to “new diseases, repressive and often brutal treatment, dispossession and social and cultural disruption and disintegration.” Add to that the monstrosity that resulted in the “Stolen Generations” and you are looking at some pretty questionable treatment of our fellow human beings.

While it’s probably unreasonably for us modern-day Australians to be held responsible for the actions of our ancestors, doesn’t the concept of Australia Day, at best, exclude native land owners from our nationhood and, at worst, celebrate the brutal invasion of an occupied land?

Despite K-Rudd’s much publicised apology to the “Stolen Generations” in February of 2008, it’s clear that there is still much to be done to repair the damage done in the past. As white Australians it must surely be our responsibility to learn from history and treat our claims to this land with a sense of humility.

Unless of course you subscribe to the view that “We Grew Here, You Flew Here” is justification enough for racial vilification and violence. Take this status update from one of my Facebook “friends”, for example:

 “(I’m) so happy da indians r gettin bashed dnt come here be we dnt want u……..stealin our jobs and shit and wear fukin deodorant u fukin ferels!!!”

I’d like to think that this sort of sentiment is fairly rare but the recent spate of racially motivated violence – as mentioned by my “friend” – would seem to suggest otherwise. Not to mention the fact that the subtly-titled anti-immigration Facebook group “Fuck Off, We’re Full” managed to accrue 65,000 members before it was eventually shut down.

To adhere to this xenophobic nonsense is to make a rather questionable claim of ownership, namely that Australia belongs to white Australians and no-one else. Is it really that easy to forget that white Australians are nothing more than immigrants as well? Sure, we might have “owned” this country since 1788 but if 222 years of occupation is enough justification to say who comes and who goes, what privileges does 40,000 years of occupation entitle you to? Not much apparently.

On a similar but somewhat lighter note, it was with great delight that I watched Channel Nine’s 6pm news bulletin this evening. The broadcast’s opening story was about Van Thanh Rudd, the nephew of our Prime Minister, and, according to reporter Tony Jones, “our new serial pest”. Mr. Rudd and a fellow member of the Revolutionary Socialist Party found themselves on the receiving end of a fine for “riotous behaviour” after dressing up in Ku Klux Klan outfits for an anti-racism protest.

Of course Channel Nine completely missed the ironic symbolism used by the pair, labeling the protest “insensitive” and declaring the “infamous” Van Thanh Rudd to be an “embarrassment” to his “famous” uncle. And here I was thinking that journalism was about presenting information as objectively as possible so that the audience can make up their own mind. Silly me…

Matt de Neef is an emerging journalist who is enrolled in a Graduate Diploma of Journalism at La Trobe University. This article first appeared on his blog,  A Cursory Glance.

For two different views about Australia Day, check out these contributions from Sam Drummond and Nisa Tersi.