All the end of/new year and my 70th birthday stuff is all over now, thank goodness, and Peter is back to health, if clearly older now, so time to get blogging again. I’ll be busy this year with the Greens, Palestine, and various volunteer activities, including the Multicultural Council, and so on, as well as my weekly column in the Wagga Daily Advertiser. This week’s was all about how we have very little to celebrate on Australia Day, especially as it is held on 26 January, which correctly should be known as ‘Invasion Day’. Very please to see Jenny Leong, Greens MP for Newtown, taking part in the march of that name in Sydney, and Greens Senator from NSW Lee Rhiannon doing good media on the issue. Good on ’em!
Here’s my Daily Advertiser column in full, which was published on the day itself:
Reflections on Australia Day
Today marks another Australia day, and as ever it gives me cause for reflection, though perhaps sometimes not quite in the way the powers that be might like.
26th January marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the First Feet of British convict ships at Port Jackson, and the proclamation of British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of what was then known as New Holland, which, despite British claims to the contrary, was not unoccupied territory, or ‘Terra Nullius’, to use the Latin term favoured by the British.
And indeed, the impact of the establishment of the British convict settlement was most obviously on the land’s first people, something most politicians and their parties manage to ignore, though thankfully not all, for as Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon said last week, “On Jan 26 thousands of Australians will remember the Frontier Wars when this land’s First Peoples fought against British colonisation. Tragically their struggle continues”,
Not surprisingly then, to many 26th January is ‘Invasion Day’, ‘Settlement Day’ or the ‘Day of Mourning”. Here’s what Aboriginal poet and Bayili woman Zelda Quakawoot said “Historically the 26th of January has always been marked as our Day of Mourning. There is so much turmoil about Australian pride on this day. Not all Australians feel that sense of pride.”
Yet she also wrote, “Aboriginal people did not and have never said ‘no’ to anyone entering this country, whether it was for trade or refuge. History tells us this through the Maccassans from Indonesia, who travelled quite regularly to the northern parts of Australia for trepang, and traded other goods and services many hundreds of years before Captain Cook landed.”
Lest readers think the world has moved on from such blatant grabs of other peoples’ territory, in the mid-twentieth century the Zionists argued, and still do, that they could seize the territory of the Palestinians on the grounds of it being “A land without a people, for a people without a land” to create the state of Israel.
Though the official rhetoric about the settlement at Sydney Cove likes to tell us convicts were transported for relatively trivial domestic criminal activity, the reality is that a great many of the convict population was made up of political prisoners, initially Irish Catholics, followed by campaigners against the social and political injustices of the industrial revolution.
Sydney was in fact a British gulag, and soon came to be ruled by the ‘Three Gs’, of guns, grog, and gambling. This isn’t much to celebrate, but on the other hand it would also be accurate to say that not much has changed.
Australia Day celebrations, at least according to the official line, reflect our diverse society, and are marked by community and family events, official community awards, and citizenship ceremonies welcoming new immigrants into the Australian community.
True enough, but even as we are welcoming new citizens, the day is often marked by outright hostility to them, as demonstrated by the Cronulla Riots, and repeated chants of ‘Go back to where you came from’. Even last year’s announcement that we would take a paltry 12,000 of the more than three million Syrian refugees was vocally opposed by some. Not much of a welcome really, quite putting our National Anthem to shame.
Given all this, it is therefore fitting to give the final word to rugby star and social activist David Pocock, who has urged the nation to take stock of its shortcomings on January 26, during his first speech as the ACT’s Australia Day ambassador (ABC Online).