Next Year, I Will Choose Another Date To Celebrate Australia Day

Something didn’t feel quite right when I woke up on the morning of “Australia Day” this year. You know me, any excuse for a piss-up and I’m there with bells on, but this year felt different. Sure, we had only organized a small gathering of friends at a local pub, followed by a nice lunch – our way of celebrating our appreciation for a country that we migrated to thirteen years ago and have made our home – but the problem was, my social conscience wouldn’t shut up.

For those who don’t know what “Australia Day” represents, according to the Australia Day Council website, it is “about acknowledging and celebrating the contribution that every Australian makes to our contemporary and dynamic nation. From our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people  – who have been here for more than 65,000 years – to those who have lived here for generations, to those who have come from all corners of the globe to call our country home.” 

Unfortunately, what the day represents for our Indigenous population, (and an increasing percentage of the rest of the population), is the day in January, in 1788, that the British invaded our country and went on to murder, rape, and throw them off their land. It is why they call it their “stolen” land.

“Australia Day” is an event that causes immeasurable grief for some people, and courts controversy for many others. It is a day that divides our diverse nation – in particular, for those who believe that the celebrations deny the real and terrible truth when Australia was colonized.

A change of date was proposed recently – of which I am whole-heartedly in favor – although, not so much for the radical accusations made by some that the majority of Australians remain indifferent to the treachery caused to the forefathers of our land. In spite of the obvious bias in the documentation of that period of history – which was taught until recently in our schools (I am told) – every Australian I have met has been sensitive to the truth and does not want any part in its distortion.

For many, the “Invasion,” is not what Australia Day represents.

We are a multi-cultural nation. “Nearly half (49%) of all Australians were either born overseas (first generation) or have at least one parent born overseas (second generation)” – The Guardian – many of whom are immensely grateful for the opportunity to live here. For some, their immigration has been a life-saving event, but what they can’t do is turn back time and change history, in much the same way that the Germans can never fully atone for what took place in their concentrations camps during the second world war.

What we CAN do is move forward and put right the inequalities that continue today: we can narrow the gap in standard of living between our indigenous people and the rest of the population, and reduce (hopefully) the number of aboriginals that take their own lives each year, or serve prison sentences for minor crimes.

We can keep the pressure on our government to listen to the voice of its people (and voters), in the way we did for marriage equality.

Progress has been made. There is an evident desire to embrace the country’s indigenous history and culture. “An ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ is an opportunity to acknowledge, and pay respect, to the Traditional Owners and ongoing custodians of the land – the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” (Commonground) is made at most events and council functions; there was a national “Apology To The Stolen Nations in 2008” and morning ceremonies on Australia Day are being led by our Indigenous people; likewise, Naidoc week “celebrates the history, culture, and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”.

The arts, in particular, strive to support Indigenous theatre, media, and writing. There is also targeted recruitment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander candidates, as well as positive moves to promote more Indigenous people into politics and leading roles in the community.

But the crawl towards progress is frustratingly slow; as it is for inequality between the genders.

There is no doubt that Australia’s reputation on the world stage in terms of discrimination is tarnished. Our history of ribald sexism, racism, and ongoing discrimination of the LGBTQIA community, (this week called out by Anna Wintour), has been well-documented. And while I would like to deny the existence of such ongoing behavior from my cosy position of white privilege, I can’t. As an active member of the Twitter community, I witness to it every day.

But in defense of my adopted country, such discrimination is not the cancer of Australia alone. I truly believe that our irreverence to “difference” is changing, and that, at heart, we are a good country – albeit a young country, that has historically lagged behind other western countries when it comes to education and social conscience. Our geographical location – which promotes insularity; the climate – which makes us like the Spaniards ie. a bit too relaxed for our own good; and our national pride, is perhaps why we have come to the party later than other, more progressively-thinking western countries. But we know that we are late developers, and there is an eagerness to do better.

Our harsh migration policy is the most obvious contributor to our reputation as a racist country, even though, (in my experience), few educated people condone detention centers such as Nauru – and hopefully, the next federal election will prove that, even if a solution to the problem is far from clear-cut. But our awareness of discrimination, the true story of Australia’s colonization and our responsibility to our Indigenous people is improving.

During our lunch, in a discussion about something else, a friend pointed out the importance of not staying neutral. Change, she argued, can only be affected by loud voices and activism – something I strive to do in other areas of my beliefs! And writing this post has clarified what Australia Day means to me. Celebrating it is my way of demonstrating my gratitude for this beautiful land we live on, and that’s why, next year, I will choose an another day to celebrate it.

The Prodigal Daughter Is Not Coming Home For Australia Day, She’s Coming To See Us

The prodigal daughter returns this weekend for the first time since she left the nest. While she assures me that she won’t be celebrating Australia Day for political reasons, I’ll believe that when she turns down the special bottle of Champers I’ve bought for tomorrow. 

girl-2480361_1920Although I only saw her a few days ago, it will be good to get some girl power back in the house. I use the word ‘prodigal’, but obviously, we won’t be cooking up a fatted calf in celebration, NC being a strict vegetarian who only eats fish if it doesn’t have a face and when she’s pissed. Anyway, a few cans of cider and a whole Camembert is much more my daughter’s style, because she’s classy like her mother.

I’ve changed her bedsheets, filled the fridge with tofu and warned Kurt to curb his excitement about her imminent arrival, because when I reminded him, he asked me why she had to come, and an ill-disguised look of pain crossed his face.

Siblings, huh!

‘Because it’s her home and we’re her parents and she wants to see us,’ I replied, convincing myself at the same time, because we all know what trips back home are really about after you land your first job and you’re still living hand to mouth – they’re about the all-inclusive hotel perks of home cooking, hot water, unlimited booze and access to your parents’ wallet.

I remember when we used to visit my in-laws when NC was a baby, how we’d walk through the front door, dump her straight into Grandma’s arms and then like Vikings, raid their home, their fridge, their wine cask, and even their wallet so that we could eat out that night. I don’t remember feeling any sense of shame about our behavior – we’d done our part, carried on the family line, and now we needed someone to parent us again for a short time.

We only saw NC when we had to during those glorious weekends, and I encouraged that dangerous grandma/grandchild connection. Frankly, I sold my motherhood soul while I was there – I didn’t give a toss about how many lollies she blackmailed my child with as long as she got up to her in the night, and I ignored all her unsubtle hints about my parenting skills not being quite like hers for those two precious lay-ins; forty-eight hours when I could pretend to be me again, the person I used to be before birthing this tiny monster that had sucked the lifeblood out of me.

Secretly, I’m excited to have the chance to spoil my little girl (I would say ‘again’ but I know she’ll dispute that). I know we’ll be arguing about the glasses in her room, the foundation streaks in the bathroom sink and the endless cans of lentils she opens and never finishes, probably by tomorrow morning, but for the moment I’ve filed my daughter’s annoying habits to the back of my mind.

He feigns not to be, but it is obvious that the old man is even more excited than me. He hasn’t seen NC for a month – because that would involve leaving the safety zone and embarking upon a treacherous, high-risk journey to the big smoke, an hour away. However, he has been suspiciously quieter than usual this week; no doubt sharpening his wit and revising his views on feminism, climate change and vegetarianism, to ensure an evening of typically light-hearted debate with his eldest child. He has also filled the fridge with cider.

Proud To Call Australia Home

In the build up to Australia Day, I’ve read many articles in the press that question what the real Australia is like now, and what it means to be an Australian.   Proud To Call Australia Home   This year marks our tenth anniversary in Australia, and being Poms, (although not sent here as punishment, but out of choice), we are continually asked what pushed us to come here.

Which I find quite hard to explain.

You see, we were far from unhappy in the UK when we made, (what was for us), an uncommonly impulsive decision.

The decision stemmed in part from the old man’s first midlife crisis, then there was the habitual problem of my itchy feet and just a mutual feeling that in spite of reaching a comfortable stage of security in our life, we didn’t feel we had challenged ourselves enough.   We weren’t naïve enough to think the grass would be any greener on the other side of the world. By the respective ages of forty, we had acquired some wisdom – although it would be a barefaced lie to say that the Australian climate held no appeal.

I had always suspected that I had SAD issues.

But we left good friends and family behind, which is never an easy choice, uprooted our children at an impressionable age, and without the security of new jobs to slot into, we had no possible idea if this crazy decision of ours would work out.

We can always come back, we secretly justified to ourselves, while to the rest of the world we attempted to show the outer confidence of born adventurers.

Fortunately for us, we have never regretted that decision, but with hindsight I realize now that going back wouldn’t have been quite as easy as I thought at the time. And the danger of itchy feet is that they can create the next generation of transient people and I’m pretty certain that if I’d moved our children across the world a second time, my old friend ‘parental guilt’ would have taken even stronger root .

As my readers will be aware, I see my life in ‘moments’. There are great moments and there are moments in your life you need to move on from with lightening speed. I have experienced many significant moments in Australia, but in particular, many of the simpler ones – which are always the best.

The ocean has contributed to many of those moments, even though (and the old man will vouch for this) a chlorinated pool holds much more appeal for me these days. Unspoiled beaches, basking in cool water on a 40 degree New Years Day on Paradise Beach, snorkelling on the reef, fireworks in front of the Harbour Bridge, or simply watching the sun set over the ocean are memories I will always treasure. And then there’s the food… In Australia, I can work hard all week – (and it’s a myth that the working life is easier) – and be in Paradise for the weekend.

There is a simplicity of life here and the general happiness and ease of the people is hard to resist. Perhaps borne from the climate, the outdoor lifestyle is very important to Australians and although there are wealthy pockets of Sydney which offer seriously fuck-off houses and elite schooling, the weekend boils down to which beach, how good the surf is and who’s manning the barbeque for most people.

In my experience, success is judged by your lifestyle and you don’t have to earn a lot of money to create an enviable lifestyle.

But, inevitably, you can never eradicate your roots (and nor would you want to), cultural expectations and history and there are qualities of the UK that I will always miss, aside from the obvious like friends and family.

‘Humour’ is the most obvious.

I have met people here who have made me belly-laugh, but it takes more trial and error to find that special, innate connection – probably because it emanates from culture and history – although I could equally contribute the intolerance that comes with ageing to my lack of success, too.

I miss my history and being able to share it with my kids.

And then there’s the distance – being so bloody far away from the rest of the world (and let’s not even mention not having Europe on my doorstep) creates a sense of insularism. If you relied on Australian television, you might never know that anything ever happened in other parts of the world.

But how I would miss the sight of those semi-clad surfers that used to wander down my street, or being able to swim outside almost all year around, or the opportunity of meeting such a diverse, multi-cultured array of people, (many of whom have shared our migration journey and willingly share their beliefs, cuisine and hospitality with us), and the lack of a true class structure.

For the moment, I am proud to call Australia home.