The problem with Australia Day is... well, that it exists. But beyond that, there’s a whole bunch of reasons it’s a bit shit. That it celebrates genocide is certainly a biggie, but then there’re the more practical and less political reasons it’s worth avoiding. Starting with the fact that the 26th of January is totally meaningless in the national sense – I mean really, if we want to pick a day to mark on the calendar to celebrate the successful invasion and colonisation of this large island rock we call home, then surely celebrating federation would make a touch more sense?
But just like how we search and scrape and hunt high and low now for some kind of national identity – something more culturally binding than a burnt sausage and a can of VB - federation wasn’t exactly a matter of great consensus either; more of a matter of solidifying an economy rather than any great push for national independence. It’s this kind of enthusiasm we see echoed in polls today indicating that supporters of a republic are now down to 44%. This might be a weird drop in numbers tied to the recent Prince visit, as well as those echoes of British colonialism that we hark back to every Australia day in total ignorance of the Australia we actually do have around us.
I’m pretty sure I’ve harped on about it here before because it is something that really engages me, but the whole notion of a united, federated Australia was a crock in 1901, and is still a crock in 2010. It took actual decades to get the now federated states to agree to federation, and let it not be forgotten that at the drawing board, there were a whole lot of other colonies slated to join. On top of that, for better or worse (no doubt better for the Pacific Islanders enslaved at the time), Queensland (and other now familiar states) very almost didn’t make the cut – because federating would mean giving up its slave labour force (unfortunately it remained more or less legal to enslave/withhold wages from indigenous Australians for a few more decades… after all, they were fauna, and not citizens). On the whole, white settlement of Australia was an incredibly disjointed affair, and the people who actually lived here had very little interest in actually cementing it into a single nation state… a sentiment that’s still reflected today if you scratch even slightly beneath the flag be-caped surface.
What does it mean to be Australian? This time of the year, you can find thousands of us useless dickheads asking that question, and invariably answering it with that list of qualities that are obviously unique to all ‘true’ Australians… such as:
Mateship. Yep – no wonder we’re such an awesome country – no one else in the world understands this whole friendship thing! Weird, cause every time we travel, we seem to accumulate masses of new ‘mates’… clearly we are very influential and effective ambassadors for our cause. Frankly, I’m surprised the UN hasn’t cottoned on and started deploying Australian friendship brigades to all the worlds’ major military conflict points. Oh wait. We already do that. We just throw grenades instead of joy.
The Fair Go. We (apparently) generally believe that everyone should be able to have ‘a go’, if for no other reason, then so we have an opportunity to do that other uniquely Australian thing, the slow clap, in response to their meagre efforts. Having ‘a go’ is not to be confused with ‘Having a go’. The two are mainly distinguished by tone, and blood alcohol content (though to have ‘a go’ can produce a great exponential curve in any measurement correlating ‘fun’ and ‘beer consumption’), and resulting violence. If you end up being chased by a pack of angry sportsmen waving various sporting implements, you’ve probably misread the situation, and have indeed confirmed that you are ‘having a go (mate)’.
Mate. Not to be confused with mateship. ‘Mate’ can be used as a greeting to a best mate (not to be confused with Mate, or mateship), as a warning to a stranger, acquaintance or enemy, or, as a direct insult to someone you’re about to either punch, or get punched by (friend or foe, doesn’t really matter). Generally, you can determine any potential threats to your short term health by assessing the length of the word if it is used against you; Hey Maaaaaaate! (Greeting); Mate Mate Mate Mate Mate Mate! (potential warning); Mate. (potential threat). My personal favourite use of the word is: “Look sharp, Mate!”. Even I can’t tell if it’s an insult, a warning, or a greeting.
Barbeques. We like to burn the shit out of meat while rat arsed and standing in a kiddie pool (or perhaps even an eski) in a park/backyard/balcony. Anything that gives us the excuse to stand around for six hours and murder a slab of cheap domestic beer while eating large amounts of salt, fat, potato and bread is alright by us. However, just because we like to do this, doesn’t really make it uniquely Australian. I was tremendously disappointed when I first travelled overseas and found that pretty much wherever you go, you will find bogans barbequing things and getting outrageously pissed at the drop of a hat.
Recently, equipped with these ‘qualities’ and a few Maaaaaaaaates, I made a return pilgrimage back to the States. While that’s a story for another day, we ended up staying in a house filled with 9 adults at one point - with combined heritages covering corners of Australia, Europe, and all over the US, including the deep south, where the drawl will put any proud Aussie bogans’ to shame. We spent three weeks being mates, trading stupid accents, barbequing, ‘having a go’ and having ‘a go’, and getting completely, utterly, rat arsed drunk. Either we’re bigger ambassadors to our nation than we’d ever care to admit, or maybe – just maybe – people are pretty similar and pretty awesome all over the world if you give them half a chance. Except for the dickheads. You should just avoid them. A good start is not leaving your house on Australia Day.