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Issue #1487      2  February 2011


An Australia Day for all Australians

Apart from the “official” celebrations on January 26, other events making the day were held across Australia. In Tasmanian and Brisbane marches and rallies marked Invasion Day. In Melbourne and Perth there were Survival Day concerts, expressions of Aboriginal culture. In Sydney the march and rally were against the Intervention. In Adelaide Survival Day was a celebration of the strength and spirit of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as the First Peoples of this land. In all centres there was a common theme: January 26 is the date of the First Fleet’s arrival in 1788, a date which marks the beginning of genocide for Aboriginal people.

As in recent years there were calls by Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians for Australia Day to be shifted to date that could be fully celebrated by all Australians, including the Indigenous community. They also called for January 26 to be renamed Invasion Day or Survival Day, for the Australian flag to be changed and for Australia to become a republic.

These were in sharp contrast to the media’s promotion of the day as being about snags on the barbeque, beer and beaches. Radio stations ran all day with “Happy Australia Day” greetings. The media gave scant coverage of Invasion Day and Survival Day actions.

The calls this year for the renaming of January 26 and the choice of another date to celebrate Australia Day received some publicity and debate, but the federal Labor government ignored them. Likewise it ignored the question of the flag and Australia becoming a republic. PM Julia Gillard instead announced that through the Governor General she had asked the Queen (our foreign head of state) for a new Australian award to honour heroic and selfless acts of people during natural disasters and emergencies. This would be back-dated to cover the recent floods. Australia cannot even determine its own awards!

The PM’s speech at the Australian of the Year awards ceremony centred around jingoistic and nationalistic references to “the spirit of mateship” and the “Australian spirit”. These were repeated in her contribution to a citizenship ceremony and Australia Day speech. “First, we celebrate Australian mateship… .” Referring to the floods she said, “We’ve seen a remarkable extension of mateship from Australian to Australian, a reaching out of the hand of mateship to help someone in need… .”

Referring to the citizenship ceremonies around Australia, Gillard continued, “I know that 13,000 people who join the Australian family today will … love this country with a fierce determination. And we will be bound together by a love of country and by the Australian values that we hold so dear…. Australia Day is a wonderful day. A wonderful day here, a wonderful day for celebrations, whether they’re formal citizenship conferrals or whether they’re days with families and friends.”

The government’s values are reflected in the choice of Australian of the Year, Simon McKeon, who made his fortunes as an investment banker with Macquarie Bank and charitably supports good causes as a philanthropist. A good Christian, he gives World Vision and the Global Poverty Project the benefit of his managerial expertise and has supported various other causes.

The government hopes this year’s choice is a safe one. In 2009, Indigenous activist Mick Dodson used his position as Australian of the Year to give Indigenous Australians a voice. He was followed by psychiatrist Patrick McGory in 2010, another vocal thorn in the government’s side, who fought hard for mental health services. McKeon’s business/philanthropy credentials fit neatly into neo-liberal economics and government cutbacks in social welfare.

There was no acknowledgement of Aboriginal land on which the ceremony was taking place in her speech. Not even token acknowledgement or reference to Indigenous Australians. It was all about “Happy Australia Day”, how great Australia is, “mateship”, “Australian values” and how much migrants love this country. Gillard’s silence on the historical significance of January 26 was insulting. Her versions of “mateship” and “the Australian spirit” whitewashed the rights of Indigenous Australians.

There is a long list of inequalities and racial discrimination to be resolved, including land rights, housing, health, education, other basic services, jobs, high rates of incarceration, deaths in custody, stolen wages, the Northern Territory Intervention, Indigenous control over their own lives, and a truly independent body not only representing Indigenous people but elected by them. January 26 is Invasion Day, it is Survival Day but it is an injury to call it Australia Day.  

Next article – In condemnation of the regime of torture and execution

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