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Australia Day: Festival or Funeral?

By John Hargreaves - 11 January 2016 37

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I took out Aussie citizenship when I was 20. Up till then it hadn’t occurred to me that there was any benefit to being a fully-fledged citizen when I could get all the benefits as a British subject, having been born in England and migrating out to Oz when I was three years old. I knew nothing British and was, for all intents, an Aussie.

So Aussie was I that my birthday was put in the National Service lottery. So you can see that as a young man, I didn’t think about it much. Well, my number didn’t come out of the barrel but full of patriotism and propaganda, I enlisted in the Army for the National Service of two years.

When I was posted to a field force unit, preparing to go to Vietnam, I thought well, I should really be an Australian citizen if I’m going to wear the uniform and fight for the country, so I applied. Luckily, the unit didn’t go overseas and I was spared the horror of Vietnam.

Then one day, a large envelope appeared in the mail. It contained my citizenship certificate and a form letter of congrats. A bit anti-climactic, if you ask me.

Fast forward to when I was minister for Multicultural Affairs and given the honour of bestowing Australian citizenship on people who had elected to become Aussies. (This was by far the best perk I ever had as a pollie.)

I saw the lights in the eyes of people who had newly arrived: some were refugees and successful asylum seekers; some had been here for decades and finally made the plunge; whole families from every part of the globe. It was amazing to see the raw pleasure in their eyes.

I welcomed them as part of our Aussie family and saw that this was for them one of the signature celebrations and ceremonies in their lives. It ranked for many up there with weddings, baptisms, christenings, bar mitzvahs, and significant birthdays and was only second to births of babies.

Everyone had a wonderful time and most of them partied on afterwards. Contrast that with my notification in the mail!

I told them to be proud of their heritage; not to lose that heritage, the language, the colour, the cuisine, the music and their very essence. I told them that Australia was enriched by the blending of cultures; that it is a welcoming country for anyone who wants to be an honest and hardworking part of our community and they pledged loyalty to Australia.

When I went home I was filled with joy, with that sweet feeling of patriotism and connectedness with my country, the country of my choice and not of my birth.

Then I ran into some of my Indigenous friends.

They weren’t celebrating at all. They were in mourning.  They were mourning a lost world, a lost culture, a lost generation, a lost sense of connection with the land, a loss of proprietary ownership in the land of their ancestors.

They were remembering the stories of dispossession, of theft of kids, of disease and despair. They were remembering stories of struggle with white man’s plagues of alcohol, diet and disease. They were mourning the cleansing of their race.

What a juxtaposition we have created by having Australia Day on the anniversary of the arrival of the very people who until mid-last century didn’t think of our first peoples as people at all. Any scratch of history in this country, despite its denial by significant Australians, will reveal the race wars of the 19th century, the annihilation of the first peoples in Tasmania, the ridding of the first peoples in New South Wales and Queensland and the treatment of all Indigenous people in all states and territories ever since, culminating with the Stolen Generations and the Black Deaths in Custody reports.

I’m not going to go into a duel of stats at 50 paces; I’m not going to enter into debate on whether Australia is the better for its development since 1788; I’m not going to debate the issues of dispossessing and theft; and, I’m not going to spar on the attempts by some to do hideous things to Indigenous people in the name of rescuing them.

I just want people to stop and think for a minute on whether it is appropriate to celebrate when someone is in mourning.

How would we like it if someone decided to have an engagement party at Norwood Park when we were farewelling a beloved relative? How would we like it if someone had a birthday party at Gungahlin Cemetery when we were visiting the grave of a child?

My own level of emotional confusion gave me cause to think each and every Australia Day.

I want to celebrate being an Aussie; I want to share in the joy of others who have chosen Australia as their home, as their sanctuary; I want to share in the notion of patriotism and I want to have a happy time on Australia Day.

I also want to acknowledge that it was my British people that conquered this land; I want to apologise to the First Peoples for the theft of kids in the Stolen Generation; I want to apologise for the disproportion of Indigenous kids in juvenile detention and disproportionate representation in adult corrections institutions; I want to apologise for the state of Indigenous health and education; I want to seek their forgiveness for the world we force them to live in and I want to seek their forgiveness sometimes just for me being here at all.

But I also want to know more about my fellow Australian citizens, the first peoples; I want to know their stories, their songs, their rituals (if they are comfortable with that); I want to know what makes them smile and laugh; and what they see as important in their lives.

I have asked the many migrant families who received citizenship from me (on behalf of the Commonwealth Government) those very same things. And once a year they all come together in the National Multicultural Festival and answer my very questions.

How about a real First Peoples’ Day in its own right? How about we ask the Indigenous people of Australia, disparate as they are, when would be a good time? NAIDOC is a good start.  How about we white guys start thinking of NAIDOC in the same way as Australia Day? And how about moving the Australia Day away from the anniversary of the invasion?

What’s Your opinion?


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37 Responses to
Australia Day: Festival or Funeral?
IdlePeasant 10:53 pm 11 Jan 16

John Hargreaves said :

They have and have been largely ignored. Ask Pat Dodgson, ask Mick Dodgson, ask any one at Winnunga Nimitija, ask anyone at the “Embassy” outside OPH.

We don’t need yet another “special” day that would undoubtedly become yet another public holiday. I don’t see a need for one either – what would such a day even be about? You’re a cute cultural relativist though.

trickster 8:47 pm 11 Jan 16

Hey All,

In a genuine debate people should be able to see both sides of an argument and arrive at a considered position.

‘bigcohuna1’ – Not particularly helpful, but thanks for the contribution.
‘HenryBG’ – While I agree with the sentiment that we should concentrate on individual opportunity and be grateful for the opportunities provided to us by living in Australia, you can’t simply dismiss 50,000 years of continuous cultures and societies as ‘deceptive nostalgia’. Pride in yourself and your community is a key part of individual success.
‘miz’ – Maybe go to Ireland and ask them to ‘draw a line under it’.

I think any reasonable person should be able to see that Australia day as it’s currently celebrated is not the inclusive and unifying day it should be. Firstly, if indigenous Australians don’t think it’s appropriate, then it’s not. Secondly, I don’t feel like celebrating the founding of New South Wales anyway.

Surely we can all celebrate what Australia means to us equally as well, on any other of the 364 days of the year.

T.

HenryBG 6:28 pm 11 Jan 16

John Hargreaves said :

We just need to acknowledge the past and get on with the future in an embracing way not a denial way.

John Hargreaves said :

Masquara said :

Wouldn’t it be up to Indigenous Australians to request a First People’s Day?

They have and have been largely ignored.

We have NAIDOC but I think we could go further.

And there you have the confusion of well-meaning liberals in our society: they want to have their cake *and* eat it.

A society that is “embracing” has no place for the division inherent in its segments reviling each others’ celebrations and demanding seperateness.
Hence the failure of the silly idea that was “multiculturalism”: encouraging seperateness precludes everybody from being “embraced” by society in general.

One of the first steps towards being “embracing” will be for the Left to abandon the shockingly offensive label of “first australians”, “first nations” or “first peoples”.
This is like our offensive 1950s “new Australians” expression, on steroids.

Imagine if our constitution had overtly defined catholic Australians and protestant Australians as inherently seperate groups, instead of wisely adopting a form of the United States’ Establishment Clause (s116)?

I’m looking forward to the forthcoming referendum on this matter, because a simple well-placed 30-second advertisement highlighting the reality of constitutionally-mandated ethno-cultural division will cause it to fail, utterly.

dungfungus 6:13 pm 11 Jan 16

John Hargreaves said :

HenryBG said :

“I just want people to stop and think for a minute on whether it is appropriate to celebrate when someone is in mourning.”

Right on.
We need to ensure all deaths are properly scheduled so as to not co-incide with anybody’s birthday, wedding, or work farewell party.

It’s just insensitive.

As for the other stuff: we all have ancestors whose primitive cultures were blown away by human advancement (and invasions). We need to get over it and stop encouraging people to wallow in deceptive nostalgia that does nothing except impede personal achievement. We are all Australians, and we all benefit from a society that provides education, healthcare and civilised governance, paid for by those who make a success of their lives. If more of us concentrate on achieving better success, we will all benefit from better-funded education, etc…

Good point, so long as history is not written by the latter day victors. The black arm brigade should hang their heads in shame. We just need to acknowledge the past and get on with the future in an embracing way not a denial way.

John, who would you class as the “victors”?
Surely not the descendants of the British who fought in the (phoney) “frontier wars” which is the latest sophistry thought up by the un-reconciliation industry.
Also, what is being “denied”?
You can’t have two bob each way on this issue.

Masquara 6:11 pm 11 Jan 16

John Hargreaves said :

Masquara said :

Wouldn’t it be up to Indigenous Australians to request a First People’s Day? Perhaps, John, you could have invited one of your Indigenous friends to write this piece, and stood back yourself. That would have been appropriate given your sentiments.

They have and have been largely ignored. Ask Pat Dodgson, ask Mick Dodgson, ask any one at Winnunga Nimitija, ask anyone at the “Embassy” outside OPH.

We have NAIDOC but I think we could go further.

I think you mean “Dodson” not “Dodgson”? The Dodsons are all over the media all the time, very vocal and much listened to, and participating in all sorts of forums. The Tent Embassy isn’t representative of Indigenous Australia and hasn’t had a legitimate voice on behalf of Australia’s Indigenous people since decades ago.

John Hargreaves 6:01 pm 11 Jan 16

Masquara said :

Wouldn’t it be up to Indigenous Australians to request a First People’s Day? Perhaps, John, you could have invited one of your Indigenous friends to write this piece, and stood back yourself. That would have been appropriate given your sentiments.

They have and have been largely ignored. Ask Pat Dodgson, ask Mick Dodgson, ask any one at Winnunga Nimitija, ask anyone at the “Embassy” outside OPH.

We have NAIDOC but I think we could go further.

John Hargreaves 5:59 pm 11 Jan 16

HenryBG said :

“I just want people to stop and think for a minute on whether it is appropriate to celebrate when someone is in mourning.”

Right on.
We need to ensure all deaths are properly scheduled so as to not co-incide with anybody’s birthday, wedding, or work farewell party.

It’s just insensitive.

As for the other stuff: we all have ancestors whose primitive cultures were blown away by human advancement (and invasions). We need to get over it and stop encouraging people to wallow in deceptive nostalgia that does nothing except impede personal achievement. We are all Australians, and we all benefit from a society that provides education, healthcare and civilised governance, paid for by those who make a success of their lives. If more of us concentrate on achieving better success, we will all benefit from better-funded education, etc…

Good point, so long as history is not written by the latter day victors. The black arm brigade should hang their heads in shame. We just need to acknowledge the past and get on with the future in an embracing way not a denial way.

MERC600 2:11 pm 11 Jan 16

dungfungus said :

How about the “First People” celebrate the fact that Australia was colonised in 1788 by the British and not one of the other European countries building empires at that same time.
Colonization was going to happen. Fortunately, the British were in the first here. If perhaps the Spanish or Portuguese got here it would have been vastly different.
It is totally mischievous of you to say Australia was invaded also. If it was there would have been a flotilla of warships and soldiers accompanying the first fleet and history (which could be changed if we let it) doesn’t reflect this was the case.
I am sick of the left’s black armband view of Australia’s early history. Time to tell the indigenous people and their government funded advocates to move forward.

“If perhaps the Spanish or Portuguese got here it would have been vastly different” indeed. Given enough time the Yanks would have claimed the joint. And we could all be driving around in Oldsmobiles, or Cadillacs. Dang.

BethC 1:51 pm 11 Jan 16

I think what you have written is fantastic and completely agree.
I think some of the people commenting aren’t aware of the full spectrum of the issue at hand so its of course difficult for them to fully comprehend your message. I do not think its about “having a chip on your shoulder” about the past but I think its about having recognition of the atrocities that did happen and appreciation that for some it is a mourning period.
Its not a matter of “okay this happened, we have done the best to fix it, move on” because Australia is still in the stage of taking responsibility for what occurred and still trying to close the gap between Indigenous Australian and non Indigenous Australians..

dungfungus 12:04 pm 11 Jan 16

How about the “First People” celebrate the fact that Australia was colonised in 1788 by the British and not one of the other European countries building empires at that same time.
Colonization was going to happen. Fortunately, the British were in the first here. If perhaps the Spanish or Portuguese got here it would have been vastly different.
It is totally mischievous of you to say Australia was invaded also. If it was there would have been a flotilla of warships and soldiers accompanying the first fleet and history (which could be changed if we let it) doesn’t reflect this was the case.
I am sick of the left’s black armband view of Australia’s early history. Time to tell the indigenous people and their government funded advocates to move forward.

Maya123 11:50 am 11 Jan 16

miz said :

You don’t have to ‘lose’ your culture to be Australian; but all Australians need to accept that we are a blended culture now, not a culture of divergent parallel lines.
Sure, there were practices that occurred in the past that were not great; but – they are in the past. A lot of ‘white’ people have had experiences and backgrounds eerily similar to our Indigenous compatriots.
For example, I’m of Irish descent but it is not possible to reclaim my native, ancestral lands. And in the past, family members of mine were ‘taken’ by ‘the welfare’ and institutionalised and made to work for free (for a religious organisation) for years. Those were the times. There was a lot of unpleasantness, unfairness and prejudice about.
I honour the First Australians and their culture, but how long must we as a nation cringe about the past? We have already had national apologies, land rights and native title. Surely our Indigenous brothers and sisters are Australian like the rest of us? Life is what you make it – let’s draw a line under it and be Australian, not this or that isolated, hard-done-by culture with a never-ending grievance.

Some good points here. Many people of all cultures have lost things from our past, but most of us have now accepted that is the past and we now have no claim to it. Time moves on. I also have an Irish example in my family. My great grandfather and his brother thought they had a family claim on a property in Ireland, but someone else (likely unrelated) inherited it instead. Not just a couple of acres either; it was a huge property, with an historical 15th century building. The family long ago accepted we now have no claim on this land.
I also have a friend whose family lost property in eastern Europe, and they have now accepted they won’t get it back. Apparently one of their houses in now a museum.
This loss of land has happened for centuries, all around the world.

Masquara 11:28 am 11 Jan 16

Wouldn’t it be up to Indigenous Australians to request a First People’s Day? Perhaps, John, you could have invited one of your Indigenous friends to write this piece, and stood back yourself. That would have been appropriate given your sentiments.

miz 9:47 am 11 Jan 16

You don’t have to ‘lose’ your culture to be Australian; but all Australians need to accept that we are a blended culture now, not a culture of divergent parallel lines.
Sure, there were practices that occurred in the past that were not great; but – they are in the past. A lot of ‘white’ people have had experiences and backgrounds eerily similar to our Indigenous compatriots.
For example, I’m of Irish descent but it is not possible to reclaim my native, ancestral lands. And in the past, family members of mine were ‘taken’ by ‘the welfare’ and institutionalised and made to work for free (for a religious organisation) for years. Those were the times. There was a lot of unpleasantness, unfairness and prejudice about.
I honour the First Australians and their culture, but how long must we as a nation cringe about the past? We have already had national apologies, land rights and native title. Surely our Indigenous brothers and sisters are Australian like the rest of us? Life is what you make it – let’s draw a line under it and be Australian, not this or that isolated, hard-done-by culture with a never-ending grievance.

HenryBG 9:36 am 11 Jan 16

“I just want people to stop and think for a minute on whether it is appropriate to celebrate when someone is in mourning.”

Right on.
We need to ensure all deaths are properly scheduled so as to not co-incide with anybody’s birthday, wedding, or work farewell party.

It’s just insensitive.

As for the other stuff: we all have ancestors whose primitive cultures were blown away by human advancement (and invasions). We need to get over it and stop encouraging people to wallow in deceptive nostalgia that does nothing except impede personal achievement. We are all Australians, and we all benefit from a society that provides education, healthcare and civilised governance, paid for by those who make a success of their lives. If more of us concentrate on achieving better success, we will all benefit from better-funded education, etc…

bigcohuna1 9:32 am 11 Jan 16

Nope

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