Australia Day is my least favourite holiday in the calendar. I'd go further and say that it ranks on par with wisdom teeth extraction and the pain of childbirth for me. If I could skip straight over from the 25 January and wake up on the 27 I'd do it without hesitation. And I understand that this might make many people see me as disloyal and unpatriotic, they would probably be right but hear me out on this.
National days throughout the world are weighted heavily with symbolism - a moment in history where disparate groups come together to become something altogether bigger and more powerful than the sum of their parts. Whether it is the birth of nationhood, the rejection of a foreign oppressor, or overthrow of a political system, countries choose these days with great care and thought. The 26 January is undoubtedly a significant day in Australian history. That Captain Arthur Phillip tapped the Union Jack into the soil of this continent and declared it the possession of the British empire on the 26 January, 1788 is cause for celebration for many people in Australia but I can't forget that for indigenous people this moment in history marks the beginning of dispossession and all of the associated horror that this word entails. For the original owners of this land the 26 January is a Day of Mourning.
My point is this, those of us who choose to celebrate the 26 January should have every right to do so but let's not have this divisive day as the moment that we select to celebrate who we are as a collective group. It's a contradiction in terms to celebrate a day that naturally divides a people as a national holiday. There are many dates that we could choose from, Martin Flanagan in his excellent opinion piece in the Age suggests January 22 when the Battle for the Kokoda ended in 1943.
For myself, I have no strong opinions on which day to choose. What I would love to see is a passionate debate in Australia about this subject instead of the knee-jerk bigoted ignorance loosely disguised as journalism reporting the events outside the Lobby restaurant two days ago. If I were to select a chief bugbear it is that almost without exception the mainstream press have glossed over the comments made by Tony Abbott on the eve of Australia Day for the Tent Embassy to be disbanded and for people to 'move on'. It is breathtaking to me that we accept the deer in the headlights defence of Abbott that his comments were misinterpreted. Whatever accusations can be levelled at Abbott, political naiivety is not one of them. He knew exactly what he was doing making these comments on the eve of Australia Day and the possible ramifications with tensions running at such a high level.
Charlie Teo's impassioned Australia Day address is remarkable in its honesty about Australian racism. This is something that I see more and more each Australia Day with the flag wearing jingoism that serves to divide rather than draw us closer together as a nation. I am not too young to remember a time when a teenager wearing an Australian Flag as a cape would have been laughed out of town. If I could have something back from the 80's beyond George Michael's home perm it would be the natural scepticism and critical detachment with which many of us viewed these kinds of issues. And most of all the ability to empathise. That old chestnut where we are told we should walk around in someone else's shoes. Dammit we should. I try. I imagine the hurt, pain and anger of the protestors and the anxiety and stress of the police outside the Lobby Restaurant, I imagine the people sitting in Villawood Detention Centre who may never get a chance to attend one of those Citizenship Ceremonies. This helps me to see people not as 'troublemakers', 'brutes' or 'queue jumpers' but just like you and me.