Why I Don’t Celebrate Australia Day
The views expressed in this post are of my own, and are not reflected by the Tertangala or the University of Wollongong.
I’ve been working in the same bar for nearly three years and have been accepted as part of the scenery by locals. Sometimes I suspect they think I only exist when I am at work. So naturally, when holidays arise, they ask things like “What will you be doing for Christmas?” or “Are you spending Easter with your family? ”
After the Christmas/New Year season dies down, I start to get nervous. There is one more holiday coming and it is a favourite of many patrons. These people are working class Aussies to the very core and they’re the type of people for whom the hashtag ‘Straya’ exists.
The day in question: Australia Day.
This day means a lot to ‘Strayans’. On this day, they celebrate how proud they are to be Australian. In their minds, they deserve to be here and it is their God-given right. They love their flag, their anthem, the weather, and their unapologetic (offensive) sense of humour. Beers and barbecues are a rite of passage and anyone who doesn’t like it can eff off. And so we arrive at the shoreline of my problem with this holiday.
By commemorating January 26, we glorify the arrival of the British on Australian soil in 1788. Cook & Co are the reason we’re here, right? Yay colonialism! Wait. . . That doesn’t sound right, does it? Like Southerners in the US flying the Confederate flag, the suggestion being that they are proud of the cause once fought under that flag.
Colonialism is bad. And I think you know where I’m going with this. For the next two hundred years, the British/white “Australians” systematically carried out the annihilation of an entire peoples’ identity and culture. The ancestors you’re proud of for coming here, were inextricably linked to the death and disenfranchisement of the indigenous population. They slaughtered them and took their children from them.
To celebrate this nation on a day that marks the demise of a deservingly proud people is a kick in the guts to the true caretakers of this land. Not a single white person belongs here. We are here, by the will of our ancestors, and so this is our home, too. This is a country of immigrants.
By celebrating colonialism, we have created an exclusionary experience. We are not celebrating being Australian, rather, being white and privileged. And we invite others along to celebrate with us, but others are tourists on this holiday. We include them on a temporary basis, under the pretence that they celebrate our privilege with us.
Therefore, anyone who does not wish to celebrate with us is seen as “un-Australian”. So then indigenous people of Australia become un-Australian for not celebrating a bunch of foreigners taking over Australia. Anyone wanting to celebrate the inclusive multiculturalism that does exist in parts of this country is shit out of luck, too. If you don’t want to drunkenly chant “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie. Oi, oi, oi” at the top of your lungs, you can just go back to where you came from. Like, why would you even come here if you want to celebrate things that aren’t White Australia?
When patrons ask me “What will you be doing on Australia Day?” I answer “nothing”. They laugh, because they think I am looking forward to a day at home with my family. When I say I do not celebrate the day, they are horrified.
“Aren’t you proud to be Australian?” they ask, almost angrily.
No, I am not. I am not proud that I exist here because my ancestors cleared the way with violent oppression so that I can live on land that was once cared for by one of the oldest indigenous populations of the world; or that, whilst I was taken to my family home shortly after my birth in 1985, aboriginal children were still being snatched away from their families ‘for their own good’; I’m not proud that we turn away refugees because they make people uncomfortable. And I refuse to take part in a holiday that celebrates whiteness.
If we moved celebrations to the anniversary of our Federation – January 1, 1901 – we could truly celebrate Australia. To celebrate the day of this country’s unification is to celebrate and respect the traditional owners of this land. It is to celebrate its heritage as a place for people from diverse cultures in search of a new start. Throw that steak on the barbie; but also throw some lamb kofta on there. Listen to AC/DC (if you must), but also listen to Yothu Yindi. If we embrace and learn from each other the best elements of each culture, then we can be stronger. We can build a real identity for this beautiful nation instead of clinging to the heavily manufactured one that has been pushed upon us by selfish, conservative politicians who are afraid of diversity. See beauty in the difference around you and this year, ask yourself: what are we celebrating on January 26 and how do we celebrate the real Australia?