another year, another (white) celebration of the invasion and ongoing perpetuation of colonialism on our apparently ‘national’ day. Of note, this year was different. It was different in two ways – one emanating from what have post-event become known as the race riots in Cronulla, the other from a meeting of Aboriginal peoples at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra.
January 26 is labelled as Australia Day and to many (at leat at present, and I hope this number is diminishing) it is a day of national celebration. It (generally) has two-fold meanings in this context. The first, the ‘official’, being a commemoration of the day James Cook raised a union jack on the east coast of what is now referred to as Australia and proclaimed it a British Colony. Secondly, and I would consider of more appeal to (generalised label here) mainstream Australians, it is a day of and normally provides for a long weekend. With it falling on a Thursday this year, the Australian ‘tradition’ of throwing a sicky received print media coverage earlier in the week – emanating from the business council – calling for employers to treat workers harshly who called in sick for work on Friday. In line with this tradition the four-day weekend was enjoyed by many I assume.
What makes this January 26 different for these people? Given my imminent departure, that I would not see many friends for some time (some never again?), and that I often enjoyed an ale at my local on a Thursday eve I ventured out and experienced this difference first hand. The number of people sporting Australiana – especially the colonialist flag – was far more than I had ever seen before. I find this highly offensive (for reasons many would see obvious – and will be come clear if not) and this was my initial reaction. Thinking on this more, and talking with friends has refined (and also clouded) my perspective.
It is undoubtable that what transpired at Cronulla was the major determining factor that the increase in Australia flags being present – whether this being worn on clothing, draped over their bodies or (the vast number of people having it) tattooed on faces or other body parts. As with more thought on the events at Cronulla, my perspective on this does not attribute the reasons for this to patriotism, nor necessarily nationalism. Rather it is a reification of the assumed vales that many see this country as built upon. The notion of a fair go, mateship, and doing what’s right by others (what same may call respecting the locals).
This is what I see the initial reaction at Cronulla was based on. It was manipulated by a handful of powerful media personalities, with Alan Jones perpetuating racism and hatred – to the extent (somewhat ironically) that he could be convicted under the new federal sedition laws. The community reaction to the Cronulla ‘riot’ and the presence of Australiana on the 26th have the common basis of promoting these values in a passive (and passive-aggressive?) way. I also hope they are a sign that people have had enough of the race-baiting and stereotyping (at least to some level) that electoral politics embodies at the moment – which the incumbent ‘liberals’ have promoted for the last 13+ years and the (apparent) ‘opposition’ labor party have not challenged in any significant way.
So my perspectives on this, whilst I still have serious issues with the flag, see some significant positives. My hope is that these positives will come to light.
The second point of difference with this years 26th – and I am not fully up to speed on all the issues here – is a form of a united (to what level I am unaware) front from Aboriginal peoples towards this day. Demonstrations highlighting the colonialist and racist base of such a celebration are not a new thing. The bicentenary of white settlement in 1988 was a significant year for this, as was the establishment of an Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Victoria Park, Sydney during the 2000 olympics. For many years, especially for a whitie like myself, how to refer to this day was an issue of contention. Two names have received significant usage: Invasion Day and Survival Day. The first critically commented on for its negativity, the second (perhaps) for its non-attribution of injustice. This is something I have discussed with friends in the past, with some calling for separate days – one invasion, one survival – of recognition. I do not see any benefit in this as they are one and the same, inextricably tied together. You cannot separate to the two.
The united front I referred to has apparently come up with a new means to referring to this day, and one I hope will lead to justice in this country. This day was renamed as a national day of Indigenous sovereignty. Time will tell if this will provide for positive change. Whist not discounting the past, it points towards the future, dismisses many (white and/or reactionary) criticisms afforded references to invasion and refers to more than survival – it calls for the recognition required before we can truly walk the path towards justice.
I hope the commonalities of these two differences can provide a part of the necessary change.