January 26 is Australia Day. For those readers who live elsewhere, Australia Day commemorates the day that Captain Arthur Phillip sailed into Sydney Cove in 1788 and commenced the European settlement of Australia.
Up until 10-12 years ago, Australia Day was a daggy kind of day. Australia Day amounted to the government awarding a few honours to people (usually sports MEN), there was a cricket match, and a few other events around the country involving BBQs. And a pubic holiday. We love public holidays in Australia, but that’s another blog post.
Australians have never been patriotic in the way that Americans are. We are a laid-back, laconic culture, who shy away from the flag waving, chest beating, Hollywood whoo-haa that America promotes in the name of national pride. That kind of display has been treated with suspicion and embarrassment. Most of us can’t sing our national anthem to save our lives (it’s a woeful dirge, anyway). Many Australians think that Australia Day is celebrated on January 26 because that was the day Captain Cook discovered Australia! We just don’t do the whole patriotic thing….
Well. We didn’t. Now, apparently, we do.
You might be wondering where this is post going by now. My morning run has prompted this post. As it’s a public holiday (Australia Day, in case you haven’t guessed), I went running a little later than usual: 7:30am. There were a lot more people up and about. Many of these were young people packed into cars and 4WDs, adorned with Australian flags, hooning around the streets on their way to Australia Day BBQ breakfasts. That several of these cars tooted their horns at me and made comments that they thought were hilarious -and I couldn’t hear as I had my iPod on- really annoyed me.
It makes me wonder about the deep and possibly lasting changes that are happening in Australian culture.
The co-opting of the Southern Cross for one.
The Southern Cross signifies home to me. It signifies my identity in opposition to the Northern Hemisphere-dominated rest of the world. It comforts me when I camp out bush by myself in the Australian Outback. I feel better when I look up and see it there, no matter where I am.
Yet now it seems, it’s become a symbol of fear, hate and exclusion. Every redneck, young lout and racist sports a Southern Cross tattoo on their anatomy, in honour of some new-hate and fear filled nationalistic fervor that’s become acceptable in the last 10 years. This tattooing and baring of the symbol on the flesh is not about being a proud Australian and celebrating the good things about our country -like our tolerance and easy-going lifestyle- it’s about exclusion. It’s about saying: I’m a monolingual, English-speaking Caucasian. If you’re not like me, you don’t belong here. It’s kind of shameful display that fuelled the Cronulla riots several years ago. As a former Sutherland Shire resident, these riots appalled me.
Then there is the displaying of the flag.
The flag used to be reserved for the tops of official government buildings, office buildings, passports, tourist attractions, sporting events etc. People did not put the flag on their cars (they put streamers in the colours of their football teams during finals time), they did not put up flag poles in their drive ways or yards.
Now they do.
This is something I am trying to understand.
My understanding about what it means to display the flag on your house goes something like this:
- being Australian requires you to satisfy a very few, highly, selective categories (whiteness, be a monolingual, English speaker, have at least your great-grandparents buried in Australian soil, drink only Australian beer, love beaches, BBQs and V8 cars)
- being Australian involves a fear that anyone who doesn’t fit the categories above is coming to Australia to blow us up, steal our jobs or rip us off
- being Australian does not include being Aboriginal
- being Australian gives you a god-given right to tell people who don’t fit the narrow characteristics above that they don’t belong here and should piss off
- being Australian requires the belief that thousands of boat people are amassing off the coast, just waiting to over run us
If this is what it means to be Australian, I am ashamed.
I deeply suspect that at the bottom of all this, is a fear that people who aren’t Caucasians will come here and somehow steal our ability to build McMansions and buy ever-bigger plasma TVs. That’s right. I blame consumerism for this latest outbreak of fear.
Of course, this fear of invasion and scarcity is nothing new in Australia. After all, we were the country that had a White Australia Policy in the 1890s, banning Asian migration and labour. In the 1950s and 60s, this same fear reared its head again, as large numbers of Greek, Italian and other European migrants came to Australia in the wake of World War II – and our need for labour.
To me, Australia is a multicultural, easy going country. We are a country of immigrants. All of us, apart from those who are Aboriginal, are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants who’ve been here less than 250 years. The various waves of immigrants who’ve come here have added their hopes, dreams, hard work and blood to this nation in subtle, yet deep-running layers that are continually being built upon. This is no vague, left wing, idealistic dream; this is reality. This is the Australia I live in.
To the skin headed, ute-driving, racists, I say: you don’t belong here. Get the hell overseas, learn another language and don’t come back until you’ve got something better to contribute than petrol fumes, lame ink and endless playings of Cold Chisel.
So I will not be flying a flag today. I will not be going to any public BBQs or celebrations. I will be going to work today instead.