It has been said that Australia must be the only country in the world to use its national day to question its identity rather than celebrate it. The day usually begins with calls for a new flag, questions about whether Australia should be a republic or inquiries about whether there is enough beer for the day of drinking ahead.
The varied reactions to Australia Day can be partly explained by the origins. The first records of Australia Day being celebrated were in 1808 when emancipated Convicts used January 26, the anniversary of the first fleet of Convicts landing in Botany Bay, as a date to organise great parties to celebrate the land they lived in. Although the more “reputable” members of colonial society weren’t too keen on putting the old ball and chain on their legs in tribute to the founding fathers and mothers, they just couldn't say no to a great party.
As the parties grew in size, emancipists and their children infused them with political edge as they campaigned to have the same rights as free British migrants. In 1818, their cause was embraced by Governor Lachlan Macquarie, who acknowledged the day with its first official celebration.
As the years went by, some of the serious members of Australian society wanted more pomp and ceremony but couldn’t bring themselves to celebrate the foundation of a prison, or embrace the traditions of equality that came out of recognising that. These serious citizens wanted to look up to something, and a statue of a shackled Convict raising a wrist in triumph just wasn’t going to cut it.
Australia's Convict heritage has always been problematic for national pride
Today, there are few prescribed traditions associated with Australia Day. As a consequence, most Australians simply take the initiative to make the day into what they want it to be. In practice, this often means visiting friends, attending a rock concert, sitting on a beach, or having a barbeque (or calling for a new flag etc.)
While Australia Day at a grassroots level tends to be a fun affair, the official program is much more sombre. It begins with the announcement of the Australian of the Year. The winner tends to be someone who has campaigned to raise awareness of a social problem that everyone is already aware of. Presumably, those who make the decisions on who should be Australian of the Year believe that if everyone already is aware of the problem and agrees it is a problem, then someone who campaigns to raise awareness of the problem will be a popular choice. In pratice; however, the Australian of the Year usually can't resist the opportunity to lecture other Australians for not doing enough, which inevitably has other Australians concluding that it was not a popular choice after all.
Aborigines, or those who have worked with Aborigines, are often named Australian of the Year, and if not, they usually feature prominently in Australia Day honours lists. Perhaps this is the government’s way of trying to justify another year in which $3,500,000,000 has been spent to alleviate Aboriginal disadvantage only to have Aboriginal disadvantage remained unchanged. As far as the government is concerned, $3.5 billion was spent, it made no difference (or was counter productive) but those who ran the programs obviously deserved recognition for spending all the money that they had at their disposal.
In regards to those Aborigines not included on the official honours list (or those who have been harmed by $3.5 billion worth of social engineering programs), many refer to Australia Day as Invasion day or Survival day. Such terms are a bit of a misnomer considering that the emacipists who started the tradition were not soldiers and had no choice about coming to Australia. If anything, their method of arriving in Australia would be better compared to refugees or boatpeople. In which case, Boatpeople Day may be a more apt term.
The spirit of Boatpeople definitely governs many migrants who use Australia Day for their citizenship ceremonies. Much like the early emancipists, Australia Day is an opportunity to show pride in their new land and their equality with other Australians.
As is to be expected, the criminal associations with the date, the tokenistic gestures by governments and the lack of prescriptive customs about how to behave results in some concerned citizens feeling confused and alienated. These concerned citizens use the occasion to argue that the date of Australia Day needs to be changed to something as inspiring as Thanksgiving Day is in America. As Daniel Bryant, a concerned citizen, argued:
" The 26th of January is an inappropriate date for Australia Day as it merely represents the anniversary of the arrival of the British to establish the penal colony of New South Wales. It does not represent of birth of a nation and disengages the aboriginal and non-British communities from their sense of involvement in nationhood. It also sends the wrong message to our Asian neighbors, reminding them of our European roots."
Tobin Maker, another concerned citizen, sarcastically expressed a similar feeling of alienation:
" Instead of reciting the oath on Australia day, which commemorates the founding of a prison in Sydney, why don't we Victorians recite the oath on the anniversary of the laying of the first stone of Pentridge Prison? "
Even though concerned citizens like Mr Bryant and Mr Maker wish for an inspirational event, no such event ever occurred in Australia and wishing for one wont make it so. The alternative dates that have been suggested really go down like a lead balloon. One of these dates is January 1, which is the anniversary of the first sitting of federal parliament. Such suggestions have hit a wall because it is generally accepted that the only thing worse than having a Convict in your ancestry is having a politician. In any case, it is already a holiday and one that typically involves sleeping off a hangover.
Another suggested date is December 3, the anniversary of the Eureka Stockade. The main problem with this idea is that the Eureka Stockade has some associations with unionism and white supremacy. Such associations tend to divide Australians rather than unite them. While a barbeque or musical festival may not be sombre, at least they are superior to some kind of political argument over workers rights or genetic superiority.
Ironically, the date of Australia Day is great precisely because not everyone feels the same way about it. It produces what has ben referred to as opal definition of who Australians are. Like an opal, the date defracts light to produce a spectrum of colours. While this bothers those who want unity, conformity, morality and something to salute, it gives individual Australians the freedom to really define what Australia means to them.
Day -Dawn Service
ANZAC Day has been around for a long time, its mainstream popularity is a recent
phenomenon. Like Australia Day, it is built on the anniversary of a tradegy. On the 25th of April 1915, the British landed Australian soldiers at Gallipoli as part of an offensive against the Turkish control of the Dardanelles. Quite stupidly, they landed the Diggers not on an open plain but on scrub-covered hills. The Turks were dug in from elevated positions and mowed down the Diggers as they leapt from the boats. Of the 1500 men who landed in the first wave, only 755 remained in active service at the end of the day.
The futulity of the event has led some Australians, such as ex-Prime Minister Paul Keating, to criticise it as being immoral, not in Australia's interests, and a failure. Even if such criticisms were justified, the decision to base Anzac Day on the anniversary of the Gallipoli landing has produced a very unique and a very humane approach to war remembrance. Instead of being a jingoistic celebration like many military days around the world, Anzac Day is very human. It begins solemnly,
then descends into a party affair with drinking and gambling.
The key feature of the day is the Dawn Service. During
battle, dawn was one of the most favoured times for an attack as the half-light
played tricks with soldiers' eyes. Therefore, soldiers were awoken in the dark,
so that by the time the first dull grey light crept across the battlefield, they
were awake and alert.
The fresh light instilled
a sense of optimism for the new day tempered by the fear that it could be their
last. For those who survived, it bequeathed memories of burying a mate along with
the awareness that they would have to preserve the feelings of what they had lost.
When the soldiers returned home, the first
light of the morning would once again remind them of their experiences and they
sought out the company of those who could understand. On the 25th April 1923 at Albany in Western Australia, the Reverend White led a party of friends
in what was the first ever observance of a dawn service. It wasn't until 1927
that the first official service was held at the Sydney Cenotaph.
Part of the service includes a paragraph taken from the poem
'Ode for the Fallen'.
shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."
poem neither attributes right or wrong nor does it glorify war as the liberator
of freedom. It simply articulates what the war meant to those who were involved
in it. Needless to say, it is a message that prime ministers don't always like. They want soldiers to celebrate dying for the government, not reflecting upon the anguish of war.
For decades, families and young
people were not welcome at these dawn services but in recent times, they have
been encouraged to take part. They have also been encouraged to take part in marches
wearing the war medals of deceased relatives. Arguably this was brought about
due to necessity as the stars of the show had a habit of dying each year leading
to the very real prospect of crowds one day cheering on an empty street.
suggested change is to allow the Australians who had relatives that fought on
the opposite side, to take part wearing the war medals of the deceased.
1998, eligible Turks in Australia were allowed to march for the first time. For
the Turks, it was the culmination of two decades of campaigning as they tried
to bring the spirit of friendship out of the catastrophic loss of life.
It was also their way of implementing the wisdom of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, their first president and mastermind of the Turkish resistance in the Gallipoli
campaign, who said:
"Your sons are now
lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land,
they have become our sons as well." Mustafa Kemal Ataturk
Although not Australian, religious festivals such as Christmas are well supported. Of course, Santa Claus looks a bit inappropriately dressed in his North Pole attire in the heat of the Australian summer. It's also quite strange listening to people sing about a white Christmas when the temperature is hot enough to fry an egg. Finally, the "traditional" Christmas turkey is also proving to be a little unsuitable for the hot weather. When the temperature is 40 degrees, the last thing people want to do is open the door of an even hotter oven. As a consequence, seafood on ice is gradually becoming Australia's favoured Christmas food.
Sometimes people try to get the northern hemisphere Christmas spirit with lights, charity and carols. Again, the Australian environment is a little problematic. Because it doesn't get dark until 9pm, it can be a bit difficult taking the kids on a tour to see some Christmas lights before bedtime. Furthermore, helping a needy person always feels much better when the needy person is freezing in the snow. It just doesn't provide the same emotional gratification when it is hot, and the needy person looks like a bogan whose been kicked out of pub for having too much to drink.
The hot weather is also having an effect on the design of the Christmas tree. In the northern hemisphere, the Christmas tree is of great importance due to the amount of time a family spends indoors around it. But in Australia, families spend more time outdoors on verandas and barbecue areas where the tree is never seen. Consequently, the tree is often some stringy shrub that has only been included because it's the "traditional" thing to do.
With so much time being spent outdoors, Christmas is strongly associated with sport. A game of backyard cricket may put a gift to quick use, and also smooth tensions between distant family members who, despite thinking they should be together on Christmas, really don't like each other.
For those who find playing sport a bit strenuous, Christmas is followed by Boxing Day where they have a great opportunity to watch it. Boxing Day marks the beginning of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht race, and tens of thousands of Sydney-siders will flock to see the Yachts commence their 628 nautical mile journey to the Apple Isle. For the next week, Australians all along the south east seaboard will gaze across the ocean to see the Yachts go by.
While Sydney has its Yacht race, Melbourne has its cricket. Up to 100,000 people will flock to the MCG to see the opening day of the test. Some will be there to get drunk and enjoy the summer sun. Some will be there because they are seriously interested in the cricket. Others will be there because it is Boxing Day tradition.
After Boxing Day comes New Year's Eve. Being in the heat of the Australian summer, this is likely to be spent outside under some fireworks, in a park laying on some grass, on the beach looking at the ocean, or standing on a crowded street looking at an even more crowded nightclub. Couples with enjoy a countdown before heading on their merry way to do what couples do. As for singles, they will await the countdown as an excuse to take the first step towards those things that couples do.
Considering that that Australia's
top three heroes are a cricketer, a bushranger and a race horse, perhaps it is
fitting the only time the nation stops as one is to have a wager on a dubious
sporting pastime. The majority of Australians don’t give a rat’s arse about horse racing, but Melbourne Cup festivities still seem like something worth taking part in.
The origins of the Cup can be traced to the discovery of gold
in 1853, which led to a huge influx of gamblers to Australia's shores. If the diggers
struck it lucky on the goldfields, they would head for the track to see if the
luck would continue. Invariably it didn't and racing clubs sought bigger and bigger
meetings to relieve the prospectors of their gold.
Victoria Turf Club staged the first Melbourne Cup in 1861 and by 1866,
the Government had proclaimed the day a public holiday. To make life difficult
for punters, the race is run over the unusually long distance of 3200m, it may
have up to 30 starters and the favoured horses are handicapped with extra weight.
Although knowledge of the form is still
a prerequisite to talk like a guru at pre-race functions, the many variables make
picking a winner a case of pinning the tail of the donkey. The most successful
method seems to be whether it has a good name or not. With the exception of Kiwi
which evokes sheep imagery, all winners have had impressive names like Phar
Lap, Black Knight or Vintage Crop.
fact that the cup is such a lottery has helped it gain popularity amongst those
with no interest in racing. There is a certain charm associated with seeing a
guru who has studied the form all year, grimly stewing as some novice gloats about
how she picked the winner only because she thought its name would still be pronounceable
after downing her second bottle of Champagne.
the Melbourne Cup is more than just a horse race, it is also one of the few times
where Australians celebrate looking stylish and acting like a pompous wanker.
In a land of the ugg boot and cork hat, world fashion designers rarely seek their
inspiration with a trip down under. But on that first Tuesday in November, the
dark clouds part and the elegant ladies come out to shine. It is a day when the
famous proverb, " the bigger the hat, the smaller the property"
is transformed into "the bigger the hat, the smaller the skirt."
it is only a public holiday in Victoria, around the country kind bosses stop work
and use the day as a team-building exercise. There is usually a sweep, a prize
for the best hat and a drink or two or many. Roughly speaking, the popularity
of a boss is proportional to the quantity of alcohol drunk and inversely proportional
to the amount of work completed on the day.
St Patrick's Day
St Patrick's Day is a popular tradition. Even though it may be in tribute to a patron saint of a foreign country, it involves a lot of drinking hence its appeal. A home grown saint is yet to eventuate. A Ned Kelly Day would be a possibility. As a result of Our Ned's Last Stand, police corruption was cleaned up, and a century of painters, novelists, musicians and poets gained a muse of inspiration. The only problem with a Ned Kelly day would be that having a day to celebrate an executed cop killer would be as ridiculous as having a national day to celebrate criminals.
attitudes towards Australia Day
26th of January is an inappropriate date for Australia Day as it merely represents
the anniversary of the arrival of the British to establish the penal colony of
New South Wales. It does not represent of birth of a nation and disengages the
aboriginal and non-British communities from their sense of involvement in nationhood.
It also sends the wrong message to our Asian neighbors, reminding them of our
European roots. Daniel Bryant
Australia Day should be changed to a more suitable date, rather than the one
that not only insults the rightful owners of this land, our indigenous peoples,
but conveniently disregards the non-White (sic) migrants. Australia
Day = Shame Day
Nature and diversity
of culture for me is Australias(sic) beauty. I wonder how Aboriginal people would view
this lunacy. Michele Walker
of reciting the oath on Australia day, which commemorates the founding of a prison
in Sydney, why don't we Victorians recite the oath on the anniversary of the laying
of the first stone of Pentridge Prison? Tobin
We must be the only country in
the world that marks its national day not by celebrating its identity, but by
questioning it. Ken Boundy
Editorial - The Australian January 26, 2009
Just as critics argue that Australia Day celebrates a state and society that have done Aborigines many wrongs, others argue there is nothing uniquely Australian to celebrate, on this or another day. Certainly, there is no checklist of chants and speeches that are part of all our Australia Day celebrations. There are no rituals that everybody undertakes. People will celebrate the day in parks all over the country, eating as many dishes as there are countries from which we come. Some will watch cricket, others will wonder why people care about the game. Most will surf in their Speedos but many young women will laugh in the waves, much more modestly attired. Very few of them, first and fifth generation alike, will be able to articulate anything about why we should celebrate Australia, other than that it is home. And that is the point. Australia is a nation united by the idea that all are welcome who want to call the country home. Inevitably, this assumption is abused by people intent on imposing their version of how the country should be, some whose families have been here for many generations and others but one. We saw the disgraceful outcome of these attitudes in the circumstances surrounding the December 2005 Cronulla riot. But Australia has welcomed nearly seven million migrants since 1945, demonstrating that the vast majority of us have an expansive idea of who can be included among "all" Australians.
Activity 1 - Australia Day in an international context
Activity purpose - To consider Australia Day in an international context
- Research the national days of the following countries: Papua New Guinea, United States, China, Canada.
- What dates are the national days celebrated on?
- What is the significance of each date?
- What is customary to do on these days in each country?
- How are the customs different from Australia?
Activity 2 - The role of Convicts on Australia Day
Activity purpose - To understand how he symbolism of history can affect the culture of the present generation
Australia Day is the anniversary of Australia being founded as a penal colony.
- Research which groups of Australian society were the first to celebrate Australia day.
- Research the role that Australia’s Convict heritage has played in the official programs of Australia Day (if any).
- Read the following comments about Australia Day:
“The 26th of January is an inappropriate date for Australia Day as it merely represents the anniversary of the arrival of the British to establish the penal colony of New South Wales. It does not represent of birth of a nation and disengages the aboriginal and non-British communities from their sense of involvement in nationhood. It also sends the wrong message to our Asian neighbors, reminding them of our European roots.” Daniel Bryant
“Australia Day should be changed to a more suitable date, rather than the one that not only insults the rightful owners of this land, our indigenous peoples, but conveniently disregards the non-White (sic) migrants.” Australia Day = Shame Day
“Nature and diversity of culture for me is Australias(sic) beauty. I wonder how Aboriginal people would view this lunacy.” Michele Walker
“Instead of reciting the oath on Australia day, which commemorates the founding of a prison in Sydney, why don't we Victorians recite the oath on the anniversary of the laying of the first stone of Pentridge Prison?” Tobin Maker
“We must be the only country in the world that marks its national day not by celebrating its identity, but by questioning it.” Ken Boundy
- A National Day is usually conceived as a time of unity, but such comments indicate that not all Australians feel unified. Does this bother you?
- Can you imagine any problems with putting the National Day on the anniversary of the founding of a prison?
- Can you imagine any benefits with putting the National Day on the anniversary of the founding of a prison?
- Some of the concerned citizens have European names but they evoke some perceived wishes of Australians not of European heritage to argue their case. Why do you think they do this?
Activity 4- Alternative Dates
Understand how vested interests compete to be recognised in national celebrations
Read the following paragraph published in the Bulletin, 21 Jan 1888 :
' Australia began her political history as a crouching serf kept in subjection by the whip of a ruffian gaoler, and her progress, so far, consists merely in a change of masters. Instead of a foreign slave-driver, she has a foreign admiral; the loud-mouthed tyrant has given place to the suave hireling in uniform; but when the day comes to claim their independence the new ruler will probably prove more dangerous and more formidable that the old.' Rather than 'the day we were lagged', Australia's national day should be December 3, the anniversary of the Eureka rebellion, 'the day that Australia set her teeth in the face of the British Lion'.
- Do you think December 3 would be a superior date for Australia Day?
- Can you think of any other dates that would be superior? If so, what would make them superior?
- What should Australians do on Australia Day? Why should they do this?
Activity 5 - Invasion Day
Activity purpose – Understand how histories are contested and mean different things to different people
- Some Aborigines refer to Australia Day as Invasion Day.
- Define the meaning of the word "settling."
- Define the meaning of the word "invasion."
- Are there any ramifications flowing from defining it as a day of invasion as opposed to a day of settling?
- Could the Convict population be defined as invaders considering that they were not part of the military, did not carry weapons and did not come to Australia of their own free will?
- An officer of the First Fleet, Watkin Tench, wrote, " During the intervals of duty, our greatest source of entertainment now lay in cultivating the acquaintance of our new friends, the natives." Why might the guards of a Convict population have had a vested interest in maintaining the acquantance with the natives?
- Some Aborigines have referred to the people of the first fleet as the first boatpeople. Would Boatpeople Day be more appropriate term than Invasion Day?
Activity 6 - Essay on the Influence of History
Write an essay on the following question:
"The diverse reactions to the celebration of Australia Day on January 26 demonstrates that the historical events that we choose to remember, and the manner of remembrance, has a significant influence in the shaping of our sense of involvement in nation building." Discuss.