Australia Day – Why I want to change the date and no, I don’t sip lattees.

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From the Australia Day website:

“Australia Day, 26 January, is the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet of 11 convict ships from Great Britain, and the raising of the Union Jack at Sydney Cove by its commander Captain Arthur Phillip, in 1788”

More here.

But in 1788 there was no Australia, ¬†indeed the very concept of a new country, united by Federation only became popular in the mid to late 1880’s thanks to the Australian Natives’ Association which, to my surprise was not a club for Aboriginal people but a vehicle through which to glorify the middle class whites (mostly male) (OK, that’s my bias there but I reached that conclusion by reading¬†what is written in this link.¬†

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It is interesting to note that Women were permitted to set up their own branch of the ANA and the Adelaide group had their first meeting in October 1889. ¬†While this is at least a little encouraging what is less encouraging is a note at the bottom of the recorded minutes mentioning the ‘Chinese Question’. ¬†Further investigation shows the ‘China Question’ to be the taxes that Chinese ‘Australians’ have to pay to cross from state to state – taxes that white Australians do not have to pay. ¬†Fair go?

Anyway……

The idea of an ‘Australia Day’ pre-dates federation and was first muted by a ANA member in a letter during the 1885 ANA congress. ¬†The author was a Mr E.W Swift:

‘The idea for Australia Day, to be celebrated on January 26, was first suggested in a letter from E.W. Swift of Ballarat to the 1885 ANA conference. At the association‚Äôs suggestion, the Victorian government organised with its counterparts in the other colonies for the first national celebration of the day in 1888, the centenary of European settlement in Australia.’

One of the people to read that letter would have been Mr¬†Alfred Deakin, the chap that went on to become Australia’s second Prime Minister. ¬†Deakin was a key member of the ANA around this time and while he did champion many social welfare moves, especially for his ‘Australian Natives’ he was also ¬†a key voice in the ‘White Australia’ and ‘federation’ mindsets. The White Australia mindset helped shape policy and attitudes throughout¬†the country over the coming decades – some would say that undercurrents of this work still hold Australia back today, ¬†although the governments official position and policy writing changed following World War 2 in 1949. ¬†In terms of the Federation it is clear that Deakin had a significant part to play in pushing forward with this idea and in working out the detail of how a federated Australia would relate to the motherland.

In all this talk of federation, immigration policy and social welfare, Aboriginal Australians don’t really warrant a mention being even less desirable than non-white immigrants.

But these people were in Victoria, in New South Wales, my state, we had Sir Henry Parkes.

While the political talk gathered pace I’m sure¬†there would have been a great appetite for a day to celebrate all that was being achieved in this exciting ‘new’ colony! ¬†While I don’t really know what went on in Sir Henry Parkes mind I can comment on what I have read and that is that the significance of marking this ‘day of celebration’ on 26th January was not lost on him – again, this is from the official government website:

‘There had been much debate in Sydney about what kind of celebrations should mark the centenary. Sir Henry Parkes, Premier of New South Wales, planned something for everyone, or almost everyone. When questioned about what was being planned for the Aborigines, Parkes retorted, ‘And remind them that we have robbed them?’ At the centre of his plans was the unveiling of a statue of Queen Victoria, the British sovereign since 1837, the opening of Centennial Park, a park for the people, and a great banquet for leading citizens. And, of course, the Sydney Regatta.’

And so it went on and on and on and on until we get to today, two days after 2017’s Australia day.

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I am 100% for a change of date BECAUSE of this history – because the date was conceived by a middle class elite FOR a middle class elite that excludes the very thing that has made Australia great and that’s diversity, mateship and our easy-going nature. In fact I’d say it has done more than exclude these things, it has tried to squash those traits out of us.

This year it ¬†does appear that the momentum for change has grown and that the opposing voices are getting louder and stronger and I applaud that although I don’t support the burning of flags or other acts of violence.

But our opposition to this date has been met, unsurprisingly, with counter claims that we are just ‘lattee sipping, middle class whingers with bleeding hearts and nothing better to do’.

I am allergic to coffee and I can be just as heartless as the next man thank you.

So why do people like me take to reading history and advocating for change albeit from our position of white privilege?

Because our privilege has taught us compassion, highlighted to us that words and deeds do matter and that¬†there is no such thing as a meaningless date (unless we’re talking about Tinder…)

So what do we want now?

What do I want now?

All I want is the date to change and to change because we have collectively acknowledged the inherent racism and dehumanizing undertones that surrounded the origin of this day.  A day for the whole of Australia to celebrate unless you are a person of colour or Aboriginal?  Really?

But some aboriginal people are fine with the day and want us to just get on with more important things.

I acknowledge that this is true and that there is much truth and value in drawing a line in the sand and walking over it.  Healing. But I remain unmoved in my opposition to this date.

To use the healing analogy just think about what happens when a wound heals over an infection. Or what happens when a wound is re-opened time and time again, even just a little bit?

Let there be no doubt about it, for many this is a fresh, living wound.

Some more recent history:

1938 РDay Of Mourning. 

Many people cite 1938 as the first time that Australia really celebrated Australia Day in the way we do today.  It marked the 150th anniversary of Cooks landing and with it a chance to marvel at how far this great nation had come.

But again, greatness and progress are subjective and some subjects were not ‘loving it’ not least because in 1938 Australia’s Aboriginal Community were still very much treated as the nations underclass.

The 26th of January, 1938 is not a day of rejoicing for Australia’s Aborigines; it is a day of mourning. This festival of 150 years of so-called ‘progress’ in Australia commemorates also 150 years of misery and degradation imposed upon the original native inhabitants by the white invaders of this country. ¬†Read more here.¬†

Below is a list of just some of the thing Aboriginal Australians had to live with in the good old 1930’s.¬†

In 1934 the Aboriginals Act, Aboriginal people could give up their heritage and identity and gain access to the same rights as whites.  Nice!

Aboriginal children could still be removed without a court order.

In Western Australia Aboriginal people could be taken into custody without trial and were banned from entering some towns and cities (including Perth) without a permit.

A non-negotiable assimilation policy was introduced and was forcibly enacted.

More here. 

And more recently.

Aboriginal people had to wait until 1967 to be counted in the national census. ¬†That’s only 7 years before I was born for goodness sake – nearly within my lifetime! NOT LONG AGO!

So again, what am I trying to achieve here?

I want us to be able to draw a line and move over it together.  I want that line to be low, ground-low, a line that everyone can cross, that everyone wants to hold hands and step (or wheel) over.  I want us to be able to do this with the solemnity that the occasion deserves and with the energy of hearts filled with excitement and love for what lies on the other side.  I then want us to hug each other before we put another prawn on the barbie, sing our favourite songs and have a go on that giant slip and slide!

And then, when the party is over I want us to go to work putting right all of the constitutional wrongs that have stemmed from this.  That will take time and will,  a change of date will give us the will!

If we don’t do this I fear that the Australian identity, what makes Australia Australia and not the USA, China, ¬†the UK, ¬†Vietnam, Germany or wherever will vanish. ¬†As a Brit whose been here for nearly 14 years I feel anything but a proud Australian on 26th January and I do what I can to avoid all ‘celebration’ – yes I do often just carry on working –¬†It doesn’t have to be like this.

So that’s just a bit of the background into why I can’t learn to just ‘get over myself’ and enjoy this date.

Amanda

PS: And as if I need any further reason to doubt the joined-up-thinking behind this occasion we are now told to eat lamb on this day. ¬†Lamb is not native to this country, sheep are heavy footed and not entirely suited to the soil of this land, often compacting it and leaving it less fertile than it otherwise could be. ¬†Sure I love a lamb chop but how much more dis-connected from this country, this land could we be? ¬†I sometimes wonder…….

 

PPS: So what other date should it be?  Well there is a fun campaign to have it on May 8th as said quickly that sounds like Mate which is quintessentially Aussie and something that really appeals to me I do understand that Jan is a much better time for all things BBQ and fun!  So I think that any date after 1st and before 31st would be good.  Preferably before 26th as that makes it easier to get a clean run at the new school year which currently has to either wait until after the date to return from the summer break or has to straddle it thus leaving two part-weeks and a longer period of time to get the kids settled.

 

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Meeting Bruce Pascoe – Dark Emu

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In March of this year I read a book that changed my whole concept of Aboriginal Australia. Being relatively new to this country I was not surprised that I’d never heard about some of the things that Bruce Pascoe talked about in his book – the advanced agriculture, the fish traps, the bread making the villages – but it made me sick to the stomach to realise that almost every other ‘Australian’ was in the same boat (and what an apt analogy that is). ¬†These stories weren’t just quiet they had been actively hidden. ¬†As far as game changing books go Dark Emu is in gold medal position if only someone would recognise the cause! ¬†My review is here on my Fox Hill Hollow blog.¬†

When I heard that Bruce was coming to the Blue Mountains to give a talk I just had to go and hear the man in action.

Bruce told his stories with a passion grounded in a deep love and affection but sharpened by anger.  Like Bruce I feel that we have ignored the true custodians of this land for too long, we have buried their history under a narrative woven to suit Western sensibilities.  We have lied and been lied to.

There is no doubt in my mind that the world has entered into dangerous times. Indeed, I’ve felt the winds of change blowing since I first became aware of the state of things back when I was a child. That feeling of unsustainable greed, of despair and inequality. ¬†The reality that the world has been dying since before I was born isn’t lost on me and neither is my faith in her ability to fight back and she is.

After reading Bruce and hearing him speak I’m more sure than ever that our future lies in making peace with and returning to our past and there is no deeper, more grounded past than that which lays with Australia’s first people. ¬†So let’s hear their stories, feel their love, accept their guidance and save Australia from decline. And let’s do it soon as it is getting late.

Excuse the fan girl look on my face but it’s not every day you get to meet someone who is truly worthy of praise and success. ¬†Bruce, you are a good bloke!

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dark-emu-book

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Amanda x

PS: Dark Emu is the name of the dark space in the milky way. Baiame is the creator of spirit Emu and Emu Plains is just down the road from here.  How very lucky.

 

 

Philosophical Teachings From The Land Where Time Began

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under-the-quandong-tree-manmia

This book was gifted to me by one of my students.  Like me she has a love of Wirradjirri Country (which includes Cowra, NSW where our weekend retreat/ land stewardship project is), a connection to its rivers of gold, the soil of our ancestors and the spirit animals of our dreams.

It’s odd but I feel more connected to the earth here than I ever did back home and believe me I’ve been ‘home’ for a very long time. ¬†My ancestral line on my father’s side came to England from Germany long before events of 1066 –¬†the Norman conquest which resulted in an influx of new people into Little Britain (oh how I love that show). ¬†We settled in the midlands and were still there when I popped out over a thousand years later – we didn’t move much did we? ¬†My dad’s side were farmers, people of the land – many people were – and as such it isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine that we ARE as English as the soil its self. We were born in that little farming community, grew their, died and were buried there. ¬†Yet I always had a hankering after something new.

I don’t know when I first thought of travelling the world but I do remember being at primary school and arranging a voyage around the world with three or four of my friends. We were to leave when we were 18 and would travel by boat to all four corners of the globe (well, you know what I mean). ¬†I was set on Africa because it seemed exotic and thrilling but¬†really anywhere would do ¬†– we just wanted to forge our own path, explore, discover!

That didn’t happen but other adventures did and in the year that I turned thirty I emigrated to Australia with my family.

Australia is a land of two stories – one that starts with Captain Cook and one that is timeless. ¬†It’s the latter that resonates with me and it was the land that I pledged by allegiance to when I finally took my citizenship pledge in October last year.

Reading Under the Quandong Tree by Minmia (and I know, the tree above is a paperbark) has brought me one step closer to understanding why I am here, why I love this land and why, in spite of being a whiter than white English girl that I feel my bones need to be here. It was interesting reading about Minmia’s vision quest as I too feel like I’m on one of sorts. Australia wasn’t my ‘first choice’ country, indeed I didn’t care for her much the first or second time I visited but life being what it is I ended up here anyway. ¬†Maybe that’s how all true vision quests play out – it chooses you, you don’t choose it.

What I do know is that I love this country , this timeless country and it is time that we all sat down to listen to it as everything we need is here.

 

 

Feeding the Narative

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Feeding the narative

It’s funny how things transpire. ¬†My father was visiting from England this Christmas and during many of our conversations I brought up the subject of mental health, so much so that by the end of his trip, dad had started to joke about how I thought everyone had some kind of mental disorder. ¬†Not quite true but I could see where he was coming from. ¬†Anyway, by the last few days I decided to humour him by bringing it up more and weaving mental health issues into all of our conversations. ¬†While doing this I found myself turning to dad’s partner and, while winking saying ‘don’t worry, I’m just feeding the narrative’ knowing full well that dad was quite likely to go back home and spread the story of how his oldest daughter has become obsessed with the mind.

Feeding the narrative. ¬†Interesting concept……

Anyway, I left the idea alone a bit until this week when, listening to the radio I heard Bruce Pascoe talking about his book Dark Emu (which I have on order and will be reading in the next week or two). ¬†Suddenly the words ‘feeding the narrative’ came whooshing back into the front of my brain with a force and energy that just couldn’t be ignored. ¬†Bruce talks about Australian Aboriginal culture as it really is and not how it was viewed and interpreted through white settlers eyes. ¬†A perspective that seems so obvious and yet has been so ignored and under-prioritised for so long in our history, to the point that even what we learn at school is wrong.

I realised that we (non aboriginals) have been fed a narrative based more on prejudiced perception than reality.

But narratives need feeding.

They grow

Become powerful

Pull people in.

Become political.

Change History

and lives.

And with that I was reminded of this book on social theory by Fredric Jameson РThe Political Unconscious.  Narrative as a socially symbolic act.

and I am once again reminded that we must take full responsibility for the narratives we feed for they might just come back and eat us up for dinner.