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Nationalist zealots stealing Australia Day

Tom Cranitch |  24 January 2008

Australia DayAs a fourth generation Australian male approaching middle-age, I must confess I do not like Australia Day. Not even the public holiday gets me excited. I am certain at some point, perhaps when I was a late teenager around the time of the bicentenary celebrations, it may have meant something to me. No more!

Critical analysis skills garnered in undergraduate Australian history subjects started the rot. The dawning realisation that the date of white settlement was not an occasion to inspire national reconciliation was a further incentive. Credible research that suggested the first few days of settlement were a veritable orgy of rapes and murder did nothing but crystallise my private loathing for the date.

What has finally tilted me ardently against the day is its growing use by Australian nationalists for the purpose of reviving perceived certainties of a rather dubious monoculture. Instead of being used for a forward-thinking and inclusive dialogue on our country’s future, it heralds an opportunity for populists to hark for a return to ‘good old days’ Australian values with their inherent, yet cleverly disguised, divisions and power imbalances.

The chief flag-waver for the nationalists was John Winston Howard. But not even he could have predicted how dangerous nationalist sentiment could become under his rule. I refer to the Cronulla riots of December 2005 and the shameful nationalist ‘initiations’ at Big Day Out events the following month, where concertgoers were encouraged to kiss our national flag or face the consequences from roving mobs of thugs.

No doubt the same good Australians a week or so later were celebrating our national day with ‘mates’ over a lamb-laden BBQ and a game of backyard cricket fuelled by a Cold Chisel CD.

Why provide such a sovereign outlet for these ignoramuses? Surely a patriot manifests their love for country by daily deed and does not need a singular date on the calendar to celebrate civic pride.

The spiel from the Chair of the National Australia Day Council, former champion swimmer, Lisa Curry Kenny, seems unobtrusive. She claims Australia Day is an opportunity to ‘reflect on how we all contribute to a peaceful society’ and suggests the occasion ‘reminds us to embrace our difference and celebrate friendship, the things that unite us and values we all share’.

They would be nice words if they were true. Unfortunately, the very act of celebrating Australia Day excludes a significant number of indigenous Australians. Neither is it helped by flag wearing/waving idealists, both young and old, who are either too ignorant to appreciate the ramifications of their actions or are plainly zealots.

It seems to me the Council has failed in its number-one aim in its published ‘statement of intent’, namely its objective to ‘unite all Australians through celebration with a focus on Australia Day’. How can this intention be compatible with its advertising campaign this month featuring an insidiously-mannered man approaching individuals with information about their lax efforts on Australia Day the preceding year, and extolling them to participate in suggested activities which display national pride, this year? The inference is clear. Do something and you are a ‘true blue’ Aussie. Don’t, and you are an unpatriotic slacker.

In its promotion of Australia Day, my local council issued a pamphlet that featured a young boy swinging on a Hills Hoist with his dog snapping at his heels, and the slogan ‘It would be ‘un-Australian’ not to plan some fun’. Do organisers even think about what messages they are sending when they endorse such clichéd dribble?

I don’t own a BBQ, and won’t be draping myself in the flag or any other nationalist insignia on 26 January. My wife probably has designs on an afternoon family drive and my eldest son will want me to roll the arm over at some point. I don’t care if these activities qualify me for celebrating Australia Day because I don’t need a whole lot of nationalist claptrap to encourage me to do them. I am a candidate for them any weekend of the year.

The Rudd Government should put a stop to this nonsense. The charter for the National Australia Day Council expires at the end of this month and it should not be renewed. The body should be dismantled and its funding given to local communities across the country to plan locally-inspired events throughout the year. This should be the case until a majority of Australians decide upon an alternative, unifying day of patriotic celebration.