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January 26, 2011 / Zoe

My thoughts on Australia Day.

I’ve been debating about whether to post this or not, I realise it may seem unpatriotic or insulting to people who do celebrate Australia Day. But this is me, and this is my blog. So here I am.

Firstly I want to make it clear, I love Australia. Mostly. I love the red deserts and the green and yellow bush, the wide blue ocean and the unique and beautiful flora and fauna. I love that healthcare and pre-tertiary education are free, and available to most people. I love that you can pretend you’re going to university for free because you don’t have to pay for it until you’re in a ‘real’ job. I love that people are mostly friendly and mostly polite. I love that most people with mental illness can get the help they need, for free. I love that most people have long happy lives.

There’s a lot of ‘mosts’ in there. And generally the people who don’t fall into those categories are the people who were here first. The people with the beautiful culture that was nearly wiped out by our ancestors. The stolen generation is something I feel ashamed about. People often say that ‘we’ shouldn’t feel responsible, that the people who were actively involved didn’t know better. Well, I think there’s a difference between being responsible and taking responsibility. No, I didn’t steal any children or take any land, but it doesn’t mean I, and my generation, shouldn’t try to right the wrongs for the people who did. My family history goes back to the first white people who arrived in this country. I’m embarrassed that my ancestors trekked into the countryside and claimed a patch of land as their own, without any thought as to who the land actually belonged to. People who had been living off that land for tens of thousands of years. Can you imagine what that must have been like for them? Unable to defend themselves, unable to do anything.

The stolen generation is a more recent disgrace on the part of my ancestors. As recently as the 1970’s children and babies were taken from their mothers and fathers, just ripped from their mother’s breast. They were taken away to be raised as white people. Women blackened the faces of their children because they knew that the white people would only taken the whitest children. It was an act of slow and painful genocide. They wanted to breed out the black in the people, and remove all the culture. An entire generation of people who didn’t have a mother. How can they be expected to know how to raise their own children when they never knew what it was like to have a parent? It hurts my heart to think about.

So the treatment and continuing lack of support and resources for our indigenous people is one reason I don’t celebrate Australia Day. Or as my family has always referred to it, Invasion Day. A celebration of the day we arrived and immediately started to try and wipe out an entire people. It’s a pain that we continue to ignore. Kevin Rudd, the Prime Minister at the time, famously apologised on behalf of the government for the ills of the stolen generation. An apology is not enough. They lack health care, they lack mental health care, they lack support. The result is a shortened lifespan and a decrease in quality of life.

Secondary to the treatment of Aboriginals is the treatment, or rather lack of treatment, for people trying to start anew in our country. Scared and desperate people trying to escape the terrors of their own country. People who simply want to be who they are, whether that be their religion, their sexual preference, or simply the colour of their skin. One of the big campaign points in our most recent election was what the government was going to do to stop the ‘boat people.’ Boat people were made out to be an invading force who were coming to destroy our morals and take over our cities. Every time I heard the term boat people I would cringe. They are a tiny proportion of immigrants trying to make a life in our country, absolutely tiny. They are lost people who deserve more than to be stuck on an island waiting to be ‘processed.’ They definitely deserve more than to be left floating in the ocean waiting to drown. They have been through more in their lives than most Australians can imagine. And it’s seriously not like we’re full. There’s a bumper sticker that a particularly disdainful portion of our community choose to display. “F#&* off, we’re full.” How they came to this conclusion is beyond me. I don’t hold this small portion of our community completely responsible though, it’s the people in power, the people in our elected government who are letting the country down. If the government spent a tiny portion of the military budget on extra housing there would be more than enough room, if there’s not already.

So I do love Australia. But there are some very important issues there that I can’t ignore. Australia Day is supposed to celebrate the day that ‘we’ arrived in this country, but with the current state of indigenous affairs and the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, I don’t feel like that’s something I can celebrate.

Empathy. We lack so much empathy.

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6 Comments

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  1. Katie / Jan 27 2011 2:11 pm

    I love this post and I love your honesty. We face the same problems in Taiwan and I have always wished with my heart that people didn’t always only think of themselves.

  2. fatcatfromvox / Jan 27 2011 2:28 am

    Good post – and sadly true of many countries.

  3. VeryZoe / Jan 26 2011 7:46 pm

    I love this post. Spot on about everything. Especially, well all of it, but especially the “boat people” issue (Which I put in quotation marks, because I think it’s a fear filled term that really needs to be dropped from our everyday language, but … well, probably won’t be anytime soon). So many people are totally misinformed about the reality of the situation because mass media likes to incite fear. I also get totally mad at those ” F off we’re full” stickers. I don’t understand how people can be so un-compassionate (I don’t think that’s actually a word) toward other people.

    Also, relating to the native owners of this land. Spot on again. And I wish I had more to add, but you really covered it so well. Although until last year, when I half completed an Indigenous Studies unit at uni, I had no idea that Australia Day was also known as Invasion Day. I’ll be repeating the subject in the second semester of this year, and I’m looking forward to learning more about it, so that I can teach my future students the truth.

  4. Stitchybritt / Jan 26 2011 6:34 pm

    100%. Why don’t we celebrate an Australia Day for all Australians, rather than an anniversary of massacre and stolen land? We all have a responsibility to end the disparities that still happen in this country. A great post.

  5. lifeslightlyused / Jan 26 2011 12:51 pm

    First post of your I have read – you are so right.
    Thank you for this.
    Thank you for being honest.
    Thank you for making me feel less ‘out of it’ in a rather ‘Australia day’ obsessed area.

    And for a new blog that I have now found which I know I am going to love if for no other reason than there is the most gorgeous giraffe in a a scarf looking at me 🙂

    • Zoe / Jan 26 2011 1:14 pm

      Well, thank YOU! For making writing a difficult post completely worth it. 🙂
      My sister drew the giraffe, she’s pretty clever.

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