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Tuesday, 26 January 2010

What is Australia Day all about?

Trying to get clear about Australia Day is getting more difficult each year, as I find myself pushing through an increasing fog of efforts by retailers to get on the back of Government and Opposition attempts to turn into a patriotism fest about Australianness.

You could hardly make it down the aisles at my local supermarket for cases of beer everywhere, they are normally confined to the liquor aisle and sausages packaged in quantities that suggested that everyone was going to be catering for their local neighbourhood bar-b-q or that the extended family was planning to drop by again.

Is this an attempt to create a new sub-cult of an Australian civil religion and how well will it succeed?
Anzac Day is well ahead and has the advantage of a cult of martyrs to support it.

A bit of history might be helpful. Australia Day is really a date which bookmarks the start of the European landgrab. When I was growing up I remember it as a fairly local event that Western Australians for example were not much interested in and South Australian celebrated Foundation Day on 26 December as the start of their colony. Most importantly it marked the end of the holiday season and the date on which life could begin again in earnest, people could schedule meetings and politicians could start issuing press releases and be interviewed on current affairs programs.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders  have never been too excited about the date. It was too lead to a rolling war of conquest, theft, social disruption and disease for the next two centuries.Their feelings at best were captured in that famous cartoon of the Endeavour looming up on the horizon off Botany Bay, with one saying to the other "There goes the neighbourhood". Many remain unenthusiastic and alienated from the celebrations of nationhood on this particular date.

The movement to turn it into a date of patriotic celebration has gradually emerged over the past two decades but their is no central point of resonance and the meaning of the date remains highly disputed.

As a Christian for whom all loyalties are qualified by the commitment to following Jesus I start to get a bit queasy over pushes from the powers that be to join unreservedly in celebration of the nation.

The task is how to state the affirmation of seeking the welfare of the city as one who is something of an exile within it and not sound simply grouchy.

My mate Jarrod McKenna has helped me out with his own statement which has a little of the Australian larrikin in it.

My identity is found in no flag yet is lost on those who don't understand connection to the land. My anthem is not sung by those in uniform but is heard in the praise of birds who redecorate statues of men. My freedom was not won on the hills of Gallipoli but on the hill of Calvary. This is why I will never kill for country but will live for Love & seek the peace of the land. 

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