At the risk of sounding like a pompous twat, (more than usual, I mean), in recent weeks I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time pondering this fundamental question: How the fuck do we find middle ground, how do we find harmony, whilst respecting another person’s, or group’s, right to have completely different opinions and beliefs to our own? Especially when they’re fucking idiotic and wrong. Obviously.
In my defence, there’s nothing wrong with pondering that. The pomposity is in the notion I may actually be able to solve this when much smarter people than me are no doubt already onto it.
But hey, that doesn’t stop me rolling it around in the back of my head. To date, this is far as I’ve gotten: What if we started by all agreeing opposites could be true? What if me being right, or at least feeling convinced I’m right, didn’t preclude someone else also being right?
And clearly this is the case. Not only that, but a lot of the time it’s not really an issue. A few billion people believe in one god, and are convinced they’re right. A few billion believe in a different one, and are convinced they’re right. And depending on the specific circumstance, that works just fine most of the time. They pray, they go to church, they do whatever else it is they do, and with any luck, one of the things they do is allow others to do their own brand of the same thing. Except for the occasional war here and there, of course, when things tend to go a bit tits up. But for the most part, you’d have to say it does work OK.
I’m still working on my article about this in more depth, (stay tuned), but in the meantime, I can’t help but comment on Australia Day. Which very much fits into this category.
And that brings us to Australia Day…
Australia Day in its current format, is a national holiday on January 26. There’s some back story to the fact the date it’s been celebrated on has been moved around a bit. And it’s only been a national public holiday since the early 90s. So we can’t exactly claim it has a long and meaningful history to justify why we’re not prepared to move the date come hell or high water. In fact, it has to be said, the average punter has literally no idea what it means other than a day off work and a chance to have a BBQ or go to the beach.
Speaking of BBQs, here’s the snag: Like a lot of countries, colonisation is a bit of a sticking point with the people who were here before us. That whole ‘stealing land and murdering people’ thing means quite a few of our indigenous Australians feel a bit like we’re celebrating stealing their land and killing a bunch of them. Now of course, we’re not actually doing that. We’re Aussies celebrating what it means to be Aussies – with a bunch of English, Europeans, Asians and any other number of nationalities now calling Australia home, who knows what that even is any more. So let’s just say we’re celebrating living here in Australia, which, for the most part at least, is pretty fucking rad.
It’s not about celebrating the bad shit.
Now I’ll make a statement: clearly, the actual meaning of Australia Day is not what people are offended by. No one is running around with sheets over their heads, whacking-stick-style, celebrating slaughtering our indigenous people. No one is fist pumping and doing a little jig at all the land we stole. But because the day we currently celebrate Australia Day on is the day white settlers officially landed here – officially the beginning of the end for our indigenous people – it’s not incomprehensible to see why they’re not overly happy with that date being something we should all be expected to celebrate together. For us whiteys, and everyone’s who’s landed here since, it represents the start of the nation we now call home. The start of what we have now. A land of opportunity and the chance to pursue the now somewhat mythical Great Australian Dream. What the fuck would they be celebrating exactly?
For the people who were already here, it pretty much represents the opposite. Sure, they have access to wifi and smart phones and Netflix now, but the land they had a deep connection with, not as owners but as custodians, was pulled out from under them. And that’s a pretty big deal for a culture where their relationship with the land is a fundamental part of who they are. Not to mention that whole ‘murdering’ thing that we’d mostly prefer not to talk about. We can scoff at their lack of technology at the time, (well, you can if you’re a fucking asshat), but if you did a quick stocktake of their environmental record and compared it to ours, I think we all know who’d come out on top of that one. (Clue: Them. Our record is completely and utterly fucked. We’re destroying the fucking world.)
Would it be different if…?
My knowledge of specific Indigenous culture is pretty limited, so cut me some slack on this broad brush description, but they simply didn’t have any kind of land ownership system like ours. There weren’t streets and fences and land titles. They lived in harmony with the environment and while I know different groups had different areas they called home, it wasn’t the quarter acre block with the Hickinbotham Home plopped on it with some unsustainable lawn planted around it. Perhaps, if white settlers had turned up and the Indigenous Prime Minister had walked out of his office and greeted them and said “sorry chaps, you’re a bit late, we’re already here. My mates here already own all this land and here’s our paperwork to prove it” it may well have gone a little differently. Perhaps if they’d all been armed with guns to shoot back, it may also have gone a little differently. But history says it didn’t quite play out like that, did it?
White people claimed the ‘empty’, ‘unclaimed’ land, and things went downhill from there. Realistically, pretty much all of us who have bought land here since then, if you trace it back far enough, have bought stolen goods. Sounds a bit dramatic. Feels a bit uncomfortable. But… ah… well, it’s a fucking shovel. So let’s call it that.
What if the Japanese won?
If they’d had fences and guns and stuff, and there’d been a massive all out war, but lost, perhaps we’d have a better vibe of why they were upset. Imagine the Japanese won the war, are in charge of Australia, and decide our national day should be 19 February to commemorate when they first bombed Darwin. What. The Actual. Fuck.
“Oh, come on” they’d say when we objected. “It’s only a day. Toughen up. It’s not like we wiped you all out. OK, sure, we stole all your land and killed a bunch of you, but come on, this is our day. Join in. Besides, it’s an awesome holiday so can’t you just go along with it and stop being all troublesome.” How about a giant ‘fuck you’ to that Japan?
But enough of the probably completely inaccurate history lesson, where does that leave us now? I’m glad you asked. Quite often, life isn’t about doing things because you have to, but because they’re the right things to do. No one has to put their litter in the bin. Especially when on-ones looking. But it’s a pretty cool thing to do. The outcome is a good one. Everything stays nice and clean. Two thumbs up.
Opposites can be true. And that’s OK.
Do we have to move Australia Day? Of course not. There’s literally no one who can make us move it. There’s plenty of reasons not to. Plenty of people, perhaps even a majority, who are quite comfortable leaving it right where it is. Which is a pretty good reason why we should leave well enough alone. But that doesn’t also mean, that we couldn’t, or that we shouldn’t. (See how that ‘opposites can be true’ thing come into play here? Exactly.)
Which brings me to my original quandry: How do two opposing truths co-exist? You know how sometimes if you’re a bloke, you can’t be fucked putting the rubbish bin out? Not because it’s a big job, but just because you honestly can’t be fucked? And there’s no universal law that says you should do it? But for any number of reasons – possibly you just don’t want the trash around the house for another week, or maybe you just want to keep your significant other happy – you do it anyway. That’s right, you might do it just to keep everyone happy. Because peace and harmony is nice. And important. Especially if you respect your significant other. Or love them. Or are a bit scared of them. Or any combination of those things.
What if it wasn’t about necessity, but respect?
What if moving Australia Day wasn’t seen as ‘losing’ or ‘conceding’ or “being made to feel guilty for something I didn’t do because I didn’t steal their land so what you do you want me to do about it?”, but was just seen as quite a nice gesture so that an entire race of people weren’t upset? You know, that whole ‘sign of respect’ thing.
What if we all agreed moving it wouldn’t actually solve any tangible problem, that the health and welfare issues faced by Indigenous people wouldn’t miraculously be solved, but that we might move it anyway? Just to be respectful and kind.
What if we acknowledged that while there may be much more important, significant, even possibly meaningful things we could do to recognise history and what our indigenous people went through, that this is still one of those things we could do, and one that’s actually pretty simple to do, so did it? Just to be respectful and kind.
What’s the cost of compliance?
I find myself asking this question quite a lot lately: what’s the cost of compliance? Regardless of whether or not I agree with what’s being suggested, what will it cost me to go along with it? Is someone asking me to stop being Australian? No. Is anyone saying I can’t still have a day off and go to the beach or have a BBQ? No. Is anyone telling me to be ashamed or feel personally responsible for the stealing and murdering? No. Is anyone demanding that I hand my stolen property block of land over? No.
So suddenly, by comparison, a cheeky little date move doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
Are we asking for a bit of a favour? Like, “hey guys, we’ll still give you a day off, but as a sign of respect to an entire culture of people, and in the interest of not rubbing salt into the wounds of what they’ve been through, how about we shift this day a bit?” You can still be Australian. You can still have a BBQ. You can still go to the beach. You can keep your block of land. You can still wear thongs and drink beer and put that ridiculous looking zinc cream on your nose and wave your flag and celebrate whatever it means to you to be Australian in whatever way you feel comfortable with. But can we just do it on a different day? It may seem a bit inconvenient to you to move it considering it’s been that way for millennia, (OK, about 25 years), but if you could find it in you to just go along with this, you’d actually be helping us do something that’s really important to these people. And it’s probably not as inconvenient as having your country stolen and your family murdered.” Well, when you put it like that… no? Still no? Geesh, tough crowd.
Do you really like Arthur that much?
If you feel really, really strongly about acknowledging whatever the fuck the actual relevance of the date January 26 is supposed to represent, (ie if you’re a massive fan of Arthur Phillip who raised the flag of Great Britain when the First Fleet of British ships arrived here in 1788 which marked the proclamation of British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of Australia), then go your hardest. But no day off. Instead, you get a different day off. One we all agree on. (Well, maybe not all, but one that doesn’t have connections to the whole stealing/killing thing.) One that represents our unified culture. One that truly represents the coming together of all the different people who make up our modern day Australia.
And that’s how we change a day. Just because we shouldn’t have to, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.
Be awesome to each other.
FOOTNOTE: While many alternative dates and even names have been floated, including the quite awesome May8 – because it sounds like ‘Mate’ – my personal opinion is Feb 1 (because it’s close to where the original one is and I think that’s relevant in terms of Summer etc, and I would call it One Day… on Feb One. So no need to mention white settlement. The sentiment would be simply to acknowledge a country full of people that are from all different places, that are now One.
PS that’s me waving an Australian flag, celebrating Australia and being Australian, on a day that isn’t Jan26 up at Cape Range, just outside of Exmouth last year.