27 January 2011

Andrew Sadauskas on Australia Day

With 26 January having come and gone for 2011, I've decided to share a few of my thoughts on our national holiday. Before I go any further, I want to say that I hope that everyone reading this has had a happy and safe Australia Day.

There is a lot to celebrate about our nation, history, and culture. For starters, we have built for ourselves a strong liberal democracy. It has continuously been in operation at the national level since 1901, and since the Commission of Enquiry into the Eureka Stockade in the 1850s in Victoria. It remained strong through two world wars and the Great Depression, when many other liberal democracies fell. No violent revolutions. No bloody civil wars. No dictatorships. Such a long period of peace may seem a small thing to us, but I have no doubt that many around the globe suffering from war, uprisings, and persecution would gladly trade places with us. This, in and of itself, is something to be thankful of.

Not only have we been blessed with a peaceful nation, but a prosperous one too. Again, our wealth as a nation is something many of us take for granted. But to borrow a lyric from an old Silverchair song, "You say that money isn't everything / But I'd like to see you live without it." When you consider the dire, shanty town poverty that many around the globe experience every day, I think that those of us fortunate enough to have been born in a nation like Australia should be forever grateful.

We are also blessed, to borrow a lyric from Advance Australia Fair, with "Nature's gifts of beauty, rich and rare." When tourists come to Australia from overseas, almost inevitably one of the first things they want to see is our natural wildlife. They want to pick up a koala and gaze at a real live kangaroo. And those plants and animals that some travel the world to see call Australia home. Our landscape and wildlife is, truly, a blessing.

Sure, there are problems in Australia, or things we could do better. (It's a point anyone who has recently caught a Melbourne train will no doubt attest to). But, then again, there are also problems in all corners of the world. No nation is perfect. And even when we face problems and things are at their worst in Australia, we are still better off than most of the people living on this planet.

How bad problems and disasters get also often depends on how well its people come together. Consider the way that Australians have come together in the wake of the horrible floods across Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales. There is certainly something in our national character there worth celebrating.

Australia Day almost inevitably brings with it people who want to change our flag, national anthem, or other symbols of our nationhood. Others argue that it would show more pride in our nation to have an Australian as our head of State than to accept the inevitability of King Charles and Queen Camilla. But too often, it is forgotten that the very fact that people do feel free to make such comments, on Australia Day no less, is in itself the mark of a confident nation and a strong liberal democracy. No-one who makes such a comment fears that they risk losing an Australia Day honour, let alone their life. Can you imagine what would happen to prominent people in some other countries if they made similar comments about their flag or institutions? This, in and of itself, is something worth celebrating about Australia.

There will be others (mostly from the left) who decry Australia Day, and dub it "Invasion Day." Some will go so far as claiming that because 26 January 1788 marks the arrival of the First Fleet in Australia, and that from an Aboriginal viewpoint this marks an "invasion," we shouldn't celebrate at all. Of course, it goes without saying that most Australians who accept the view that horrible things have happened to Aboriginal people over the past two centuries, yet nonetheless still celebrate on Australia Day. The secret is to celebrate that which is good about Australia today while acknowledging that we aren't perfect, and to celebrate what we have achieved in the past while also acknowledging and learning from things which have happened in our past which we mightn't agree with by modern standards.

For it is the celebration of a nation and all the people (and that includes people like Albert Namatjira and Catherine Freeman) who have made it what it is today. You certainly don't need to accept that a nation and its people are perfect beyond fault to nonetheless celebrate the fact that there are many good things about it.

As for the date itself, I would argue that for a national holiday, the date on which it falls or the historical event that it commemorates is nowhere near as important as the nation (and the character of the nation and its people) that it celebrates.

Because the bottom line is that on Australia Day, there are indeed many things good things about Australia for us all to celebrate and to be thankful for.

So just like my parents before me, I can honestly say without hesitation that I am grateful to have been born in a country like Australia. I am proud to be an Australian. And there is no country on Earth that I would rather call home.

As per usual, feel free to send any thoughts, comments, or feedback you may have about this article to andrewsadauskas at gmail dot com