Australia Day, the day we celebrate when some Poms arrived in Jackson Cove and set up the colony of New South Wales.
They declared the land theirs while studiously avoiding acknowledging the Eora people who met them there. They took the land and called it theirs.
Conflict ensued and in less than a decade the English were at war with the indigenous population. Despite having vastly better weaponry, the Poms got tired of the raids and in 1801 the governor issued an order that permitted white people to shoot black people on sight.
Later on, in Queensland, the war heated up, mainly because the indigenous population was bigger. When not lacing gifts of flour with poison, they used more conventional methods like shooting them. They also enlisted Native Police, which meant having black fellas shooting black fellas for you.
It’s estimated that 60,000 indigenous died and about 3,000-5,000 white fellas.
Meanwhile, in Tasmania, the governor got so irate by the “Black War” that he enlisted 2,200 men to form a line and swoop across Tasmania in an effort to rid themselves once and for all of the problem. Not only wasn’t it successful, but the locals also launched around 50 attacks in front of and behind the line.
That’s just a few snippets so you’ll know that the arrival of white fellas in Australia was really bad news for the black fellas who were already there.
In light of all this, does the day the British took the country from our first Australians look like a pretty stupid day to celebrate Australia?
Not only is it not the day when Australia was formed, it truly is the day that it was stolen. Any augment to the contrary is self-serving rubbish. We took it, we poisoned and killed the local population, we warred against them, and we tried to wipe them from the face of the earth.
But it’s no use bitching if you can’t provide a solution. So, how about we discuss some alternatives.
Australia became Australia on January the 1st 1901. Celebrating Australia Day on the day Australia became Australia is…well…does it need to be explained?
Celebrating Australia on the day Australia was formed would change the narrative on Australia Day, being one about the process of federation, how it formed a nation and how it still shapes us today. (Anyone who lived through the covid years will now understand that we’re a federation of states.) How our nation became a nation is a much more enlightening conversation for Australia Day than how some guys in rowboats took the land from the locals and promptly launched a war against them.
But we’ll all be hungover on Jan 1st. So let’s move on.
Melbourne Cup day. According to David Hunt, author of Girt, Australia is still the only place in the world that takes a day off for a horse race. The Vics knock off officially while the rest of the country does stuff all, getting drunk and punting on horses. Celebrating something as singularly Australian as a horse race that stops the nation seems like as good a way to celebrate Australia Day as any. Also, I’m prepared to guarantee the VRC will back this move. Problem is, the Vics already get a day off to punt on horses, which means a quarter of the population will be grumbling about losing a public holiday.
Henry Parkes was born 27 May 1815. Known as the Father of Federation, and the man who gave the famous Tenterfield Oration, Parkes did more to bring about the nation of Australia than any other person. His birthday has the advantage of being around about the right time of year for Australia Day. (It might clash with Easter though.) The main problem with Parkes is he was something of a liberal, which in those days meant he actually thought the working classes could learn stuff, just like normal people. This will be an issue with modern day conservatives, who will no doubt find his politics, though utterly unrelated to federation, too disagreeable. A holiday to honour a lefty? What next? Sharia law? It’s a debate likely to be so obnoxious that I’m almost ready to give up before I start.
There are some good reasons to avoid celebrating Parkes. He was frequently bankrupt and had numerous relationships and children both within and outside of marriages. There’s also some pretty good evidence that he had an affair with his step-daughter. We’ve seen recently that such things can be overlooked if the person in question is able to forward your political goals. But in the case of Parkes I suspect his background might work against him.
My next option is, pick a day, any day. The Australian states variously celebrate the Queen’s birthday in June, September and October. Her actual birthday is in April. If we can honour the Queen by choosing a random day, why not Australia Day? It seems like a thing we do. Make it a different day each year. Skip a year because we forgot. Australians have long held to an image of themselves as being laconic and easy going. Well then, prove it. Stop giving a shit in the best way possible.
ANZAC Day is the day we commemorate our fallen. It’s also the beginning of the building of the myth and character of Australia. Having gone off to fight for the motherland we found they were only too happy to have us run up a hill while the Turks shot the shit out of us. Confronted by the Brit’s careless disregard for the value of the great Australian fighting man, we began to see ourselves as Australians (rather than de facto Poms).
ANZAC Day should perhaps remain a day when we celebrate the fallen, rather than a day of jingoistic celebration. But as a day that comes closer to knowing the spirit of Australia, it’s still a contender for Oz Day.
Australians love to celebrate a heroic failure (see above) and that’s all the more reason to make the Eureka Stockade a contender. When a bunch of minors made a fort and later scarpered dressed as women when the troops opened fire on them, we witnessed the genesis of Australia’s birth myth. It had all the elements. Not only did it lead to land and voting rights for all Australians (not just those with money), but it was also the kind of heroic failure we tend to celebrate. There was no-one with tickets on himself trying to stand out from the crowd. Just a bunch of failures who ultimately did some good.
The legend of Eureka Stockade is a versatile one. It was embraced by the left, as a classic little guy winning against the imperial forces. But it’s embraced by the right, who now conflate their every concern as being equal to those men who were shot and killed so we could all get representation. And that might also be the problem with the Eureka Stockade. It might serve to remind us of what separates us rather than unites us.
Republic Day. That would be a good day to celebrate. If only we could outgrow this teen phase we’re in where we protest our independence loudly, and yet aren’t fully ready to let go of the apron strings of the mummy-and-daddy-land. Why we still have the vestiges of European royalty as the figurehead of our nation is beyond comprehension. These inbred morons have no function other than to fill our tabloids with their infighting and sordid sexual vices.
Some have suggested Sorry Day as a national day of reconciliation and celebration. That seems like a sorry excuse for celebrating. “Sorry I stole your land mate. Feel better? Okay, let’s celebrate!” Yeah nah. It’s like buying a round of drinks with the money you stole from your mate.
A better alternative would be to make a treaty with our first nations people. Then use that day as a day of national celebration. Like the Kiwis do. In New Zealand’s case, the signing of the Waitangi Treaty is regarded as the first step toward the founding of the nation. It makes sense then to celebrate that day. We could sign a treaty on Jan 26th, symbolically acknowledging the day we stole the land by finding peace with the people we stole it from.
A treaty would also have the advantage of being…well, a treaty. It would give our indigenous populations a legal framework for their existence in this nation, recognize them as the first people, and give them a structure for governance and self-determination. Importantly for the rest of us, it would lay at rest this conflict we caused by stealing their nation. It would be a framework for us to recognise how we all fit into each other’s lives. And that would be something to celebrate.