Australia Day

Thursday 26 January 2012

In 1967 the then-Prime Minister of Australia, Harold Holt, disappeared while swimming at Portsea.  His body was never found.

A rather Australian gesture of memorial was to name a public swimming pool after him.  The Harold Holt Swim Centre remains today, a monument to his name and to the pastime that he loved that also claimed his life.

It's kind of amusing really, a rather ironically Australian flavour of humour that's hard to decipher (truly, and probably becoming harder even for Australians to decipher because we are a changing breed.  Change is, after all, the way of a flowing life.)

I love my country.  I fear for where we're going, but I am so grateful to live where I live in this deeply flawed, overbureaucratised, beautiful nation that is fearful in so many ways, easily fearmongered, and struggling with its own identity (Murdochia does not help).

That's not to say that I don't find patriotism to truly be the last refuge for a scoundrel.  The Australian flags flying off many cars and utes lately fill me with a slight trepidation.  There is so often a sinister element to patriotism, a refusal to look at the underbelly, a defining of yourself against another to find the other wanting.

Despite being one of the most multicultural countries on the earth - and a particularly successful one at that - there is a deep fear of the outsider here.  Especially from the whitie Anglos amongst us (the ones, I could claim, with the greatest identity problem of all) we look with mistrust to the boats coming across our seas as if we are going to be swamped.  Many of us in our white suburban enclaves look with mistrust at those who are already here who are not us.  As if we've always been here or something.

I understand the desire to belong.  It is a particularly strong element.  To be able to trace your roots is something that is important enough that there are silly ads on television for an ancestry website (with joining fee), and shows on televisions that show celebrities tracing their histories, often with some surprises - and quite a bit of emotion, too).

My mother's side of the family originally hail from Guernsey, in the Channel Islands, near England and France.  It was particularly poignant a few weeks ago to see if I could trace online our history in Guernsey, to find that it's already been done and my earliest recorded ancestor in those parts was a Pierre Brehaut, who was born around 1360.

There is something truly comforting in that for me.  I do not quite understand why, but it's one more tether that helps me feel part of the earth.

There's nothing wrong with having a day to celebrate your country and way of life.  It's a good thing to be able to stop and have gratitude for the good and wonderful bounty you've been fortunate by the stroke of luck and genetics to enjoy.  So many don't.

It's just that I can't do it on the anniversary of the day that powerful imperialism sailed into the bay and began systematic genocide on the oldest culture on the earth.

That's the underbelly.  And celebrating Australia Day on this anniversary will seem an anomaly from taste to generations in the future.  A scratching of the head and saying, "How on earth could they have thought that that was okay?"

It's not.  There's another perfectly good 350 or so days of the year we could do it on.  Let's do it on one of those instead.


  1. Sue, I found your post very interesting. How little I know about your homeland. I am ashamed. You have given me insight and an eagerness to learn more about the history of Australia. Thank you.

  2. i didn't know you had guernsey in ye
    you must have loved that potato peel society book :)


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