26 January 2024

Letter from the Editor: Waving a flag isn't the only measure of how much you love your country

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Despite Woolies and Aldi deciding not to stock up for January 26, bargain stores will make sure there are enough flagcapes for all (if that’s your thing). Photo: Chris Roe.

I paused (and sighed) before putting pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – on this article. It seems like everyone is angry about Australia Day this year.

Which is odd when you consider they’re all fighting about the same thing – inclusion and unity.

Australia Day has been a public holiday since 1988 and marked everywhere on the same day only since 1994. While there’s a long history of doing something or other around January 26, until a few decades ago, the day passed without much fuss.

We’re not arguing about the significance of Christmas or Easter here. This is not Cathy Freeman taking gold at the Olympics, or the Bodyline Series, or winning the America’s Cup.

Australia Day doesn’t come close to evoking the profound, sometimes deeply complex feelings we have about Anzac Day and our war dead. And, importantly, it’s not the Fourth of July either.

That’s a comparison worth making: in the United States, 4 July commemorates the Declaration of Independence, which was ratified in 1776 during a long and bruising war for self-determination fought over eight years. People flocked to America in great waves of migration for hundreds of years, seeking freedom from oppression and injustice.

While similar immigration has happened in this country in more recent decades, an awful lot of us are still descended from people who didn’t have much say about their arrival.

This is a different country, with different attitudes and different ways of showing our loyalty.

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As Australians, we should be deeply proud of what we’ve created from an initially unpromising penal settlement, peopled by soldiers clashing with unruly, resentful convicts and angry traditional owners.

The peaceful, rich, diverse nation we’ve built – with the world’s 13th-largest economy – is a marvel.

Our parliamentary democracy is probably the most effective in the world. We are a moderate people, pragmatic, skilled and valued wherever we go for our steadiness, common sense and commitment to equality.

Returning home after a trip overseas, who among us has not breathed a sigh of relief and delight to see clear, strong Australian light and smell the eucalyptus again?

Waving flags on Australia Day is no mandatory indication of how committed Australians are to Australia. Choosing not to make a fuss about January 26 says nothing about patriotism or love of country. It does not suggest being – the horror! – unAustralian.

I’ve seen recent social media posts suggesting a lack of flags on our streets is a fear-filled reaction to the “woke” forces supposedly running rampant across the nation, as if roving gangs of crazed lefties will strip your flags, destroy your Southern Cross bumper stickers and subject you to lengthy lectures on Marxist theory as punishment.

Are people tiring yet of using “woke” to label every opinion they disagree with?

My judgement is there’s a national conversation taking place about a fairly recent public holiday and people are entitled to diverse opinions.

Shops can stock or not stock merchandise as they choose. That’s how a free marketplace works. We won’t run out of plastic flags.

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January 26 is a painful day for many Aboriginal people and others who see their perspective. Some advocate for a reflective service or a memorial during the day or perhaps on the evening of January 25 to recognise a major transition point for the continent.

On January 25, I attended a dinner for recently arrived refugees held by Helping ACT. For them and many others Australia Day means welcome to a free, fair country.

Maybe you were at the beach or the river, maybe with flags (on your beach towel or your Australian thongs?), sausages on the grill and a (New Zealand) pavlova to finish, appreciating one last day off before school returns and work begins again in earnest.

By all means, let’s have a conversation about January 26. Let’s work out what we want to celebrate, when and why. And perhaps we could hop off that knee-jerk “woke” wagon, stop shouting and just listen to each other.

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Capital Retro12:14 pm 28 Jan 24

I’m just perusing all that happened on 26th January this year and note the there were very few Australian flags (there is only one) to be seen. Even the ABC at Ultimo took the one in their foyer away but the two other indigenous ones were there.

Amongst the demonstrations reported on there were no Australian flags to be seen but a plethora of others from countries and groups with issues that have nothing to do with Australia celebrating it’s birth.

I haven’t verified it yet but I heard a group of extremists tried to march with an Australian flag but the police prevented them. What sort of a double standard is that?

For the record, I spent the day with a close relative who was in hospital. We talked about how the day has changed from when we were children.

HiddenDragon9:50 pm 27 Jan 24

“Australia Day doesn’t come close to evoking the profound, sometimes deeply complex feelings we have about Anzac Day and our war dead.”

Of course, it hasn’t always been thus (and isn’t entirely so now) – it really isn’t all that long ago that Anzac Day was regarded by more than a few with the same negative, or at least ambiguous, feelings which Australia Day now evokes for some – with all of the emotional baggage and guilt of racism, chauvinism, violence, intolerance etc. laid at the feet of the Anzacs and their successors – particularly as embodied by the RSL.

Maybe it’s the case that, as a nation, we need one day of the year (to use Alan Seymour’s very apposite phrase) as a pressure valve of sorts for people who are not very happy about the way things are – in general or particular – and just want to give vent to that.

Provided it doesn’t involve a mob of descendants of settlers (who are in denial about that inconvenient fact) physically attacking the institutions of the “settler society” or a gang of North Shore Sydney man-boys reprising ‘Cabaret’, (but without the catchy tunes) we probably shouldn’t worry too much about what they say and how they say it – whichever side of the argument they are on.

But hating the flag most certainly is.

Toni Fairbairn8:31 pm 27 Jan 24

On Australia Day we were visited by our local King parrots who introduced us to their recently fledged offspring. They were so trusting are curious. There were so many other native birds around. I felt humbled by the the natural beauty that I was so lucky to live amongst.

Capital Retro12:06 pm 28 Jan 24

If the ACT were to revise the Territory emblems they could dispense with the Gang Gang and add the male Eclectus parrot.

“Australia Day has been a public holiday since 1988 and marked everywhere on the same day only since 1994. While there’s a long history of doing something or other around January 26, until a few decades ago, the day passed without much fuss.”

I really wish if you’re going to write an article like this, you would at least attempt to not minimise the history of the celebration.

Australia Day was a national public holiday since 1935, they just celebrated the holiday on the closest weekend to 26th January. For decades previous to that, there was celebrations of the same event in every state.

Despite attempts to claim its only a new thing, it really isn’t.

I was underneath the Coathanger in 1988 and the festivities celebrating what we as a nation have achieved was heart-warming and everyone there was patriotic and proud to be an Ozzy. That’s what Australia day should mean to all.of us. Anyone who hates the place so.much not to celebrate our achievements is free to.leave and should.

@Michael M
… so you will obviously not object to also celebrating the achievements of those who have been here for almost 60,000 years.

Name a few

If I have to tell you, Michael M, then obviously you have no ability to comprehend anything other than the white perspective of history.

So clearly you don’t know because if you did you’d be shouting it at the top of your lungs. Thank you, you’ve just confirmed my suspicion justsaying.

@Michael M
Pathetic. You’re jaundiced view is obviously incapable of understanding the accomplishments of a people who lived in harmony with the land for tens of thousands of years, creating a rich cultural heritage and without the need for the creature comforts of supposedly more civilised populations.

26th January is painful ,,,,oh please

Thanks Genevieve! You’ve articulated very clearly what many think. The anger is certainly mystifying.

I can see where the move to ‘change’ Australia Day can be seen as offensive and divisive. A traditional day of celebration is being framed as a day of guilt. Rather than celebrate all the positives that we have as a nation, the actual changing implies that we are criminal. And most people don’t like being called or implied as criminals. The whole Welcome To Country charade creates an ‘us and them’ divisiveness and the actual changing of Australia Day would reinforce that division and blame. I can see all that but at the same time believe the 3rd of March would be better given it is the last day that we were subject to British law. So my change would be for a more rational Australian reason rather than celebrating British settlement.

The date should change. But only when we become a Republic. I’m thinking 27th January would be a nice date for it to be implemented.

Luv it. The journey from 1788 to now could be reflected with (like Christmas Eve) a evening reflection of our past, but on the day itself, the current, where we’ve come from, where we are now, and where we’re going in the future. Suits everyone, the grieves and grieving can be heard, and the rest of us with hope and action for our future together. We are ONE.

I was proud to attend and participate in the march to Parliament House yesterday standing in solidarity with our First Nations people and those in Palestine. There were many men, women and children from all communities who attended and participated in these Invasion Day events. It was pleasing to see Palestinians also invited to participate in all of the events throughout Australia. The very small number of fringe white supremacists on the sidelines were kept at bay and posed no threat to participants thanks to the actions and professionalism shown by the police.

It was unfortunate that the small number of “Aboriginal leaders” who organised the event and were leading the march were more intent on raising hostility than engaging in respectful dialogue. The police did a wonderful job of maintaining peace and security despite the hostility, chanting and heckling which was encouraged towards them, and the government by these so-called leaders.

The rhetoric coming from the Aboriginal leaders who spoke were filled with hate and obscenities and it was embarrassing to watch. These small number of advocates demand respect but give no respect in return. Those from the Palestinian and refugee communities who spoke were articulate and their speeches were powerful and moving.

Many speakers from various community groups participated in events around Australia. There was a diverse mixture of Aboriginal culture, dancing and art on display. Maybe Canberra’s so-called “Indigenous leaders” could get a few tips from these organisers or from the many who spoke including respected community leaders Yvonne Weldon in Sydney, Dr Amy McQuire in Brisbane and Gary Foley in Melbourne!

Balance needed12:42 pm 27 Jan 24

The truth is that the vast majority of people aren’t “angry” about Australia Day at all. Some individuals undoubtedly are, but everyone else has many other much more important issues and problems to deal with in their lives.

Stephen Saunders12:24 pm 27 Jan 24

“Woke” isn’t just a lazy cliche – it’s a key descriptor of what is really happening – read Eric Kaufmann. The Voice was woke, neatly splitting Australia into inner-city enclaves versus ordinary people. 900,000 migrants in two years is also woke, no way did ordinary people want that, but any who disagree are smeared as racist.

As for Australia Day, rest easy Genevieve and others. Weak Albanese wouldn’t dare go near it. Likewise the King of Australia, who will still be a thing in 2050

@Stephen Saunders
Yet another ill informed poster who doesn’t know the true meaning of the word “woke” … it means alert to racial prejudice and discrimination. You are obviously non-woke.

Martin Keast10:53 am 27 Jan 24

I am personally mystified as to how opposition to Australia Day gets mixed in with supporting Palestine against Israel and LGBTQ rights. The only explanation I have heard that makes sense is that these all share the cultural Marxist character of being so-called oppressed groups opposing oppression by WASPish people.
Australia is a country that has much to be thankful for – the integration of centuries of Christian influence, and the accumulated wisdom and experience of managing land and generating wealth, that came with the Europeans settlers with the indigenous knowledge of this country and its very different climate and wildlife has lead to the wealthy nation you describe today.

I agree. It seems to me that logically, Indigenous Australians should have more in common with Israel. The Jews as a culture were there before the Islamic and Christian cultures. Jerusalem is an ancient Jewish centre that (along with its Jewish population) has been conquered by foreign invaders. Holy Jewish sites in the region have been built over by later religions.

Israel is more akin to an Indigenous Australian group regaining some control over their ancient lands and desperately trying to prevent the colonists/invaders destroying them.

It seems strange for those who support Uluru being controlled by Indigenous Australians to not also support Jewish control over their ancient religious sites.

Harley Quinn2:21 pm 27 Jan 24

Right.. next you’ll be saying we should be thankful for hillsong. 🤦🏽

I expect I am not the only one mystified by you shoe-horning in to this article some tangential pet bees from among those buzzing in your bonnet.

There are several possible explanations. Have a nice day.

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