Monday, January 26, 2015

Advance Australia where? Thinking about Australia Day

As the son of English immigrants, someone who loves this country, its culture and biogeography, Australia Day is sadly one of those events that is difficult to navigate. I've been thinking why, and how to hold different visions together. The secret is the idea of narratives.

Narratives are stories we tell ourselves to make sense of the world - and form a part of world views along with praxis, questions and symbols. There are two or three narratives I see going on, and they are not mutually exclusive.

The first is the one of Australia that begins over 200 years ago and tells the story of brave settlers, moving from a convict colony to a country with a distinctive culture, somewhat self-deprecating, capable of achieving much; a society that is largely egalitarian. It is this that Australia Day calls us to show our pride in.

Yet this narrative either deliberately or subconsciously excludes the narrative that extends back 10s of thousands of years; one that includes invasion, dispossession and colonialism, warfare and violence. It's a variation on a theme found everywhere Europeans arrived in the "New World". It's the story that shapes Australia Day as Invasion or Survival Day. It's a story outside of my experience, and yet one that tempers my own "celebration" of Australia Day. It means that while I want to affirm the good, I have to acknowledge it sits on a legacy - as has been said "White Australia has a Black history", with a double meaning.

The third narrative is the darker side of our own history, from White Australia to duplicity in East Timor, to attempts to undo our egalitarian society and continue to deny the "Black armband history".

For me to be a "proud Australian" is to celebrate the good and want to see the righting of wrongs, to Advance Australia Fair, in the true sense of fair. That might mean a new national day, or a transformation of the old. It will mean constitutional recognition of and a treaty with the first Australians, and continued efforts to allow them to flourish through some degree of self-determination. It will mean continued protection of all that we treasure, our fair society and this amazingly challenging but beautiful land.

Advance Australia where? Into a shared future.

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