My father died at the age of 33 from war wounds, or rather illnesses, as a result of his duties as a soldier during World War 2. He wasn’t demobbed until the end of 1946. From the end of the fighting he was moved from Kokoda and then to North Borneo to finally mopping up procedures which placed him right in the fallout area of the two atomic bombs. Sure enough within a decade many of his mates, as well as himself, had succumbed to bizarre and various cancers for which there was no immediate recognition nor name and certainly no cure.
In my father’s case it was a weird form of lymphatic carcinoma usually only seen in toddlers and babies. He took 3 years to die which he did one Christmas Eve. My mother was 27, a baby with two babies. I’m still stunned that she managed to survive, but that’s another story.
His brother, my Uncle Johnny, was shot down on a mission and died within months of WW2 ending in Europe. I also have two great uncles lying in graves in France Never really reaching adulthood, they were old enough to die for ‘their country’, or Great Britain which was then deemed to be near enough. My father’s family is fifth generation now, my mother’s has ancestry who were here in the 1820s for heaven’s sake.
We currently live through a period of time, one that I hope will be mercifully short, where difference, discourse, eccentricity and non-conformity is demonised, hence this introductory preface.
Why is it that I have never felt comfortable about Australia Day as being the day of national pride and flag waving?
The dispossession and subsequent treatment of the indigenous owners by the colonists and later Australian Governments, both State and Federal, is one reason for my disquiet, and that reason alone should suffice for any reasonable person with a sense of justice and fair play.
The fact that this is a time for supposed nationalistic chest-beating and flag waving, and those who don’t are deemed churlish non-patriotic naysayers, is insensitive at best and just plain wrong. To continue with 26th Jan as a National Day is just wrong, wrong, wrong. It is wrong from the perspective of our on-going relations with the original owners. It is wrong from a historical perspective. It is wrong from the cultural position we now hold.
The 26th January is not the anniversary of Australia. It is not our birthday. There’s no birthday cake with candles to blow out for us today. Our correct birthday date is January 1st 1901 when we became officially the Commonwealth of Australia, the country we know and love. The current date 26th Jan is when an English Captain planted a flag and declared this lump of empty land a colony to do with as the English colonial powers wished. Even then the English just squeaked it in winning by a nose before the French landed some days later. Actually if La Peruse had got his finger out and landed on the 24th Jan when he was off the east coast instead of sailing on, we would be parlez vousing all over the place and munching on croissants. As it was the colony barely survived and came within two months of throwing in the towel as a sustainable place to live.
So today is a day that the English should be celebrating rather than us. A day in remembrance of the glories of once having had an Empire on which the sun never set.
As our population continues to grow drawn in the majority from those with a non-English background, the continued use of the 26th Jan becomes an increasingly nonsensical piece of historical inaccuracy, and no longer adequately reflects the cultural mix which is now our heritage. It is an artificial construct imposed on a people who are still coming to terms with their diversity, and for me, it is that artifice which isn’t fair dinkum resulting in discomfort from something sticking in my craw.
Of course there will be those for whom January 1st isn’t good enough because after all it’s also New Year’s Day, and heaven forbid if we lose a national holiday. But it is our birthday and should be recognised as such. But for me, a pacifist from way back, I identify our national day as being ANZAC Day. It’s a day which has earnt our respect and pride; a day which symbolises a fledgling pre-pubescent nationstate’s coming of age through the deaths of her young men; a day when I remember a father, his brother and their mates, two great uncles and others in my family who are no longer with us.