Celebrations, Commiserations and us Australians

Okay, I know you're probably sick of it by now but here's my contribution to the ongoing Australia Day #changethedate debate that seems to come along every 26th of January and then dissolve into February like the dirt in Narrogin's supply of water (invisible, but I can definitely taste it; still, I haven't died yet).

Some articles on the issue go like this; we're Australian, Australia Day is on the 26th of January and we're proud to celebrate our Australianism on this day. One set of people will continue this argument by saying that we're not guilty of our forefather's crimes against the Indigenous Australian population — taking their land, killing/murdering them, stealing their children etc.

But really, if we're honest, most articles go like this; Australia Day, commemorated on the 26th of January is a great thing and should be continued, just on another date. Why? Because the 26th marks the arrival of the 'first' fleet on the shores of Botany Bay and the subsequent attempts at killing/murdering/stealing away Indigenous populations and invading those countries that had shaped the big block of land we now know as New South Wales, Queensland, the ACT and Victoria until the 18th century. If you're not from the eastern states you might include the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia in that list.

Tasmania? Sorry, but those people are actually not Australians. They live on an apple-shaped, apple-growing island that is as close to being Australian as their island is to the bottom of Victoria. I mean, you have to cross a whole strait of fish (namely bass) to get to their home on what's called the 'Spirit of Tasmania' (which keeps returning to Melbourne).

Many of them see January 26 as a date of sadness and instead call it "Invasion Day" because of the way they were treated as less than human or even non-existent when white Australia first settled the Great South Land.

Even today, while we treat Tasmanians as human we still treat them as non-existent (as I am doing now — sorry 'bout it forward slash not sorry). Apart from the fantastic ABC series Rosehaven, when was the last time you saw Tasmanians on Australian TV?

Can you name me one Australian star/personality/existent human? Taz the Tasmanian Devil doesn't count (since he is non-existent and not a human). Nor does Ricky Ponting because he.... Let me check. Born in Launceston, Tasmania. Former Australian Test Cricket Captain. Hmmmm... well, he must've been the only Tasmanian to have held the top Australian job.

[insert Segway here]

To any Tasmanians who are reading this, I apologise for my attitude towards you and assure you that it is slightly exaggerated for the argument of this article. I assure you that I do truly love the despicable island of Tasmania as much as I love the cold winter freezing to death sitting in front of a warm fire.

But this wasn't meant to be a rant on Tasmanians, this article was meant to be about Australians. Actually, I may have slipped in a quote from one of those anti-Australia Day articles I mentioned before. I best give credit for the article it came from (here it is) before I unpack it a bit more.

The quote goes like this (with an added paragraph for better context):

"The push to change the date of Australia Day dates back to the 1980s and is born out of respect for Australia's indigenous community. Many of them see January 26 as a date of sadness and instead call it "Invasion Day" because of the way they were treated as less than human or even non-existent when white Australia first settled the Great South Land."

Now, using that kind of language when talking about Tasmanians is a little bit outrageous but it seems to be fine (and constant) when we talk about Indigenous Australians. There, I did it again; I just said 'we' separate from 'Indigenous Australians'. What effect does this have?

It splits us. More than the Bass Strait separates the main land from Tassie, our language pulls us apart and away from each other. When I talk about Tasmanians as 'them' and 'they' what I am truly saying is that they are not me; that they are not 'us'.

This language probably wasn't super effective when it was used to speak about Tasmanians (since we hopefully agree they're Aussie), but when we use that same wording to talk about Indigenous Australians, Arabic-Australians, Asian-Australians, African-Australian etc, things become a lot more dangerous.

Dangerous is not a term I use here as hyperbole.

While the intention of the article I have quoted from is good (it argues for reconciliation through the changing of a date that has notes of celebration, commemoration and commiseration to varying degrees for varying people) it's language does little to help its cause. To help our cause.

Attempting to change the date we celebrate Australia Day will be a long and arduous process and has already done much to divide Australians from one another. But what if we rephrase the argument? What if we rewrite the argument as what it really, truly is?

We are not arguing with other people. Instead, this debate is one that we are having, yearly and with increasingly acidic energy, with ourselves.

So let's #changethelanguage before we #changethedate:

The push to change the date of Australia Day dates back to the 1980s and is born out of respect for Australians. Many of us see January 26 as a date of sadness and instead call it "Invasion Day" because of the way we treated ourselves as less than human or even non-existent when many of us first arrived in this Great South Land.

J\R


A note on the side, or on the foot:
The language that I call for in this article needs to be used properly. One effect of it in the quote I use above is to erase the presence of our Indigenous people since it depicts us all as being one body. In true reality, this is not the case. We are all different — "one but many" — and this diversity deserves celebration.
While we need to use language to stop the 'othering' caused by people such as (I'm trying to think of someone else but it's too easy to say) Donald Trump ("they're taking your jobs!"), we cannot let this language to cause us to forget our past faults. Perhaps then, holding Australia Day on the day Australia was invaded by whites is helpful since we are constantly reminded of the date that we came to commit genocide on what have become our own people, our own brothers and sisters. Yet that date is a constant source for division.

I believe that if we change the language then the date will take care of itself; whether it stays the same or not.


Photo of my Week

Where I post an image that sums up an aspect of my week.

Our Australia Day was pretty simple. Family came down to the quiet town of Narrogin. Well, quiet until Dad gave everyone rides on his new motorbike. The next day we celebrated Christmas, our first in Narrogin. Australia Day then Christmas, you don't often get that.

Joel Gibson

Read more posts by this author.

Perth, Western Australia

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