Published on January 31st, 2016 | by Martin Zanolla0
Australia Day: For we are young and free
The views expressed in this post are of my own, and are not reflected by the Tertangala or the University of Wollongong.
My name is Martin Zanolla; I’m a 23-year-old arts and law student (majoring in Indigenous studies), a long-term member of the Australian Labor Party, and a proud working-class “Strayan”.
I find it genuinely alarming to see how popular it has become in recent years (especially among people my age) to lament our country’s colonial past on Australia Day, as opposed to celebrating everything about this country that makes it great. It has quite literally become fashionable to proclaim on Australia’s day of national celebration that one is not proud to be part of this great and prosperous nation. What began on the 26th of January in 1788 was of course a bloody disgrace, but we are not alone in being a country that has a history of bloodshed and colonial oppression of which we’re none too proud. While we should be cognisant of our shameful past, we mustn’t allow said history to overshadow everything that we have to celebrate and be proud of.
Australia is a nation where everyone gets a fair go. Our healthcare system is set up to ensure every Australian gets a fair shake of the sauce bottle. Our welfare system supports students and those who are down on their luck. Our HECS and FEE-HELP systems mean that anyone (regardless of their socioeconomic background) can have a crack at educating themselves. For example, I come from a single-parent, working-class family in regional New South Wales, but thanks to the systems abovementioned, I can afford to study law alongside people who seem unable to go more than 5 minutes without discussing their Dad’s yacht—now if that’s not equality, I don’t know what is.
Last week, I was honoured to attend the NSW Australia Day address in Sydney. After a quick introduction and some wise words about Australian values and mateship by our illustrious Premier Mike Baird, we were treated to a speech by former child-solider-turned-refugee lawyer Deng Thiak Adut. Mr Adut spoke about how proud he was to be part of this nation of ours, how he was proud to stand with his fellow Australians and how glad he was that our country welcomed him in so that he could have a proper chance at life. Australia has granted Mr Adut a level of freedom he would never have been able to experience in his home country; he is free to be treated as an equal under the law, free to study as an equal at university, and free to practice law as an equal citizen of this country of ours. I find it hard to believe that anyone could not be proud to be a part of a nation that grants these sorts of freedoms to the people who need it the most.
There’s a certain level of irony in reading the series of articles that inevitably come out around Australia Day which choose to exercise a core Australian value, freedom of speech, while admonishing the country that grants that freedom to all of us. Worse still are those who would use that freedom to claim that they are not proud to be a part of the country that has provided that to them. I am a proud Australian in every sense of the word; I’m proud of our larrikin sense of humour, of our values, of our mateship and comradery, and of the fact that everyone has the right to express their opinion regardless of how unpopular it may be. While we may have a history marred with violence and colonialism, we also have a great nation that does a lot of good in the world. If changing the date could quell all of this anti-Australian, unpatriotic sentiment, then perhaps we should act on it. However, I would be surprised if a simple date change is going to immediately convert those who ascribe to the view that we should be ashamed of who we are.
I will not be shamed by those who are not proud to be Australian and who use our national day to denigrate and disparage this great nation. Make no mistake, Australia truly is the greatest country in the world – a greatness not measured by the depth of our wealth or by the strength of our arms, but by the ideals and values we share.
Australia Day is our opportunity to acknowledge our history, appreciate the values we share, and celebrate the nation that we have become. It should be treated as a day to come together, rather than to divide; a day to celebrate our unity, rather than focus on our differences. Australia Day is for all of us.
The images have been amended to include their sources, as this story was originally published without.