I really like Australia. I was born there, I grew up there, my parents brothers and sisters all live there. I don’t have a single national identity, but ‘Australian’ is the one I put above the others. It’s a physically beautiful and inspiring country. At their best its people are generous, open, welcoming, relaxed and funny. At its strongest Australian nationalism is self-critical. The story of the first European settlers arriving as British criminals and founding a free nation is inspiring.
On the other hand, our country was founded on the lie of terra nullius which continues to pervert many Australians’ understanding of their country. Indigenous Australians suffer incarceration and ill health at rates that are hard to comprehend, relative to the prosperous, free image we have of ourselves. Explicit genocide, dispossession, unequal treatment and paternalism has been replaced by active neglect and disrespect. Stan Gran’s speech is a must-watch:
Australia’s attitude to immigration has been troubled for a long time. A set of White Australia policies restricted non-European immigration persisted into the 1960s. Even then, non-English Europeans, especially Catholics were looked down on and politically and economically marginalized. During the Second World War, unlike the United States, we interned not only Japanese Australians, but Australians of Italian and German descent – as I like to say, “our racism was colourblind”. Subsequent waves of Southern European, East Asian, and now South Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants are attacked verbally by politicians and physically by thugs.
Finally in the treatment of asylum seekers by Australia since the 1990s has been a stain on our reputation and our moral standing. Governments of all parties have imprisoned men, women and children, in awful conditions, exposing them to horrible abuse – simply for arriving in Australia after escaping persecution – but without their paperwork in order. It’s a continuation and escalation of our history of xenophobic immigration policies.
So January 26th doesn’t get me that excited, but it does make me reflect. I’m glad my employer decided to use our home page the occasion to highlight the historic oppression of our indigenous brothers and sisters. In four months time there will be National Sorry Day, a national day of atonement and reconciliation. That recognizes where we’ve come from, how far we have to go to achieve the standards we set ourselves. That celebrates the aspects of Australian culture that I most identify with.