What a difference a day makes...

I'm going to tell you a story.  It seems fitting somehow that it's being told via social media.  January the 26th is Australia Day.  I don't really know how I feel about Australia day.  Clare Bowditch tweeted that 'Australia Day confuses me'.  And then I saw this tweet from Catherine Deveny 'I never consider myself Australian. I think of myself as a Melbournian'.  This is more how I feel.  I decided to post something on my facebook page.  Here's a transcript of what happened.

Me: "I don't really understand Australia Day. I don't wave flags and I hate the word 'Unaustralian'. Catherine Deveny tweeted this morning that she feels more Melbournian than Australian. I understand this feeling. So here's a song that is very Melbourne. Love the shots of the Nylex clock in the clip. Thanks Paul. [I put a link to Paul Kelly's song, Leaps and Bounds]".

Person 1It's about feeling patriotic to this wonderful country we live in there's absolutely nothing wrong with that

MeI don't do patriotism [Person 1]. I know how lucky I am. I love living here. But I think flag waving and people with southern cross tattoos reek more of things like the cronulla riots, racism and exclusion. 
It's sad that this is what I see. I blame the Bogans!

Person 2That reeks of snobbery. Happy Australia day.

MeIt's not meant to sound snobbish [Person 2]. Australia Day is complex. I know it means different things to different people. I am moved each year when I see people on the news at the citizenship ceremonies, happily making a new home here. I love that spirit of welcoming. Offering people a sense of belonging. I've just walked from Coburg lake where the united nations were all having picnics and BBQs, enjoying time together. Freaken ACE! But indigenous australians have a hard time on this day as it's a symbol of white settlement. The fact is, people will choose to see this day as many different things. As a first generation Australian, I feel as connected to this country as I do England. My parents were some of the first 'boat people' - 10 quid poms. They were welcome here. I just wish we as a nation would treat refugees with the same respect and understanding. Yes - I'm a bleeding heart leftie. Out and proud. And perhaps that's why it's makes me laugh to see people commenting here: http://twitter.com/#!/search?q=%23unAustraliaDay I feel much more like these guys - diggin' the diversity of this country, and having a stir at what it means to be Australian. There's nothing more Australian than taking the piss.

Person 1We could argue forever about this day but at the end of it after visiting Ireland my dads homeland and seeing how proud they are of their heritage and how they celebrate it so passionately on the 17th March it makes me a bit sad that some Australians find the 26th January a little bit of an embarrassment . When you think of every country in this world they have all had an invasion at some time but they don't mark it as such as we seem to.

Person 3I don't quite know what my heritage is, or what to celebrate. If it's multiculturalism and acceptance, then i'm right on board. If it's celebrating a heritage that clings to a mythologized sense of "mateship" and a "fair go" whist forcibly detaining those in dire need of a fair go - well yes I am embarrassed.

MeThis isn't meant as an argument. But our discussions have beautifully highlighted the complexity. Yep - england for centuries has been invaded and done it's own invading. I guess when you've had so many people forcefully try to claim your land over such a long time you can't cling to one single date. And that's the issue for Australia. I've noticed a movement to highlight the 26th as Survival Day for the aboriginals. I think this is a step in the right direction. It would be great to use the day as part of the reconciliation process and respectfully acknowledge the traditional owners. But also celebrate the diversity. Some scars take a long time to heal. Imagine if Northern Ireland were told to 'celebrate' british rule on Bloody Sunday? Unthinkable. And rightly so. I would love nothing more than to rejoice on the 26th and not feel the embarrassment. But my original comment on flag waving was targeted at this type of action http://www.theage.com.au/national/hogg-caught-out-on-religious-slur-20120126-1qjyk.html There are people who hide behind the flag to justify racism. And this makes me sad, because we're better than this. We shouldn't tolerate hate. We should be proud, and respectful and inclusive. I think discussing this is awkward and confusing, but it leads to greater understanding for all. I hope you had a great day yesterday [Person 1 & 2] : )

OK - so there you have it.  In reality I hadn't expected it.  I'm really shit at debates and find this sort of thing incredibly stressful. At high school I would be holding back tears, as I was never able to argue without feelings.  At work, shyness has made me hold my tongue and prey someone else spoke up instead.  But, as I've mentioned before, one of the good things about getting older is becoming more comfortable with yourself and learning to speak in front of people.  And as I get older again, I'm learning to speak from the heart and with truth.  Standing up for things is important.  I just wish I didn't get the stress and cold sores from having to do it (yep, they popped up the next morning after the facebook post).

SBS has screened two amazing shows in the last six months.  Firstly, 'Go back to where you came from', where six Australians (five of which were quite outwardly racist or unsupportive of refugees) met locally settled refugees and then were sent back to learn about the conditions that these people had left.  Amazing and heartbreaking.  It made me wonder why we as a country had lost our empathy and compassion for other human beings.  Secondly, 'Once upon a time in Cabramatta' showed what happened when Australia changed it's political policy and accepted Vietnamese people fleeing the war and persecution. Through watching this show I was reminded about the White Australia Policy on immigration.  And even though this policy was beginning to change in the 60s and 70s, there was footage of Pauline Hanson in her maiden speech in parliament in 1996 where she said about Asians "They have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate. Of course, I will be called racist but, if I can invite whom I want into my home, then I should have the right to have a say in who comes into my country. A truly multicultural country can never be strong or united".

It has been this kind of thinking that lead to people running around with 'Fuck off, we're full' on their tshirt while draped in the Australian flag.  Unfortunately it is this kind of behaviour that has me feel repelled by any show of nationalism.  I don't know when or how we became a nation of flag wavers.  I have to say, words like patriotism seem more American than Australian.  And then I read this blog by John Birmingham and knew I was not alone in my thoughts.  Why can't we be quiet and respectful and tolerant?  What's with the Aussier-than-thou mentality?  Why should I fly a flag on my car?  What does that prove?  You're better if you love your country more?  I have to say that kind of nationalism scares me.

Peter and I recently went to an exhibition at the NGV called the Mad Square.  It showcased German art in the tumultuous historic period including both World Wars.  There was a timeline showing what was going on socially and politically while these artists tried to highlight life around them.  War scenes, propaganda, design schools, social realism, the depression and photography all highlighted different aspects and reactions to what life had become.  The Bauhaus school of design moved to three different cities until it was eventually closed by the Nazi's.  Many of the plaques told tales of artists either dying in the war, fleeing to places like America, or sadly dying in the concentration camps.  It's unthinkable that artists could be seen as a threat to the Nazi vision and culture.  It was branded as 'Degenerate Art' and it makes me wonder how any works survived at all.  It was a reminder of what has been done in the past in the name of nationalistic pride.

Similarly, the footage recently of Kim Jong Il's funeral, showing public grief and hysteria at the death of their leader seemed too bizarre for words.  Everyone was asking themselves - were these people for real?  It seemed so over the top.  But perhaps that's what you get when you cut your country off from the outside world, give them your perspective of everything and keep them hungry.  Again, it's nationalism to the extreme.  Not to be outdone, footage of American's celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden, with chants of 'U.S.A.' and flying flags made me grieve for humanity and sick to the stomach.  Two wrongs don't make a right, and although I guess Osama had it coming, I think the end of the 9/11 ordeal should be met with contemplation, respect and sadness of all that lost their lives.  Not in-your-face patriotic pride.

Seeing the political and social extremes of nationalism, I'm happy to be more from the John Birmingham or Catherine Deveny school of thinking.  There are so many issues involved in our 'National Day of Celebration', and I hope we as a country learn over time to be respectful and apologetic to the traditional owners, inclusive and accepting of those seeking a safe haven, and quietly proud of our behaviour as individuals that make up a community.  Perhaps I should start a campaign.  'Australia Day: have a beer, chill out and do whatever the fuck you want - just don't hurt anyone *'.
*NB- no need to bring your flags.


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