Happy Austrayaday, everyone.
For those not from the southern hemisphere, Australia Day commemorates ‘the first landing’ of Europeans on Australian soil, which (given Dutch and Chinese ocean explorers had been popping by our coast for centuries longer) of course means the first official sovereignty to land. The British, specifically. Landed and planted a flag.
Yep, they wanted it enough to put a ring on it.
Of course, in truth, Australia already had a ring on. She had been in a steady, quiet relationship with the indigenous people of this region for tens of thousands of years. Australia’s first partner hadn’t done much with her by Empirical standards—no cities, no development, no population surge, limited exploitation—which, for some, was a sign that Australia was vast and empty and there for the taking by a bigger, more powerful nation who needed somewhere to dump the citizens who were surplus to requirement.
I’d say Australia was just being well respected in its half of a pretty-balanced relationship.
Two centuries on, ‘Austrayaday’ (one word) has become a day to celebrate our diversity, our resilience and what a good wicket we’ve been on. That wicket has definitely taken some hits fairly recently but we have 226 years of roller-coaster example to look back on and acknowledge that we’ve survived much greater trials. Wars, devastating droughts and crippling natural disasters.
[That would be a cracking slogan for the present Government – ‘hey, you’ve seen worse’.]
Austrayaday is also when we host a bunch of official ceremonies acknowledging those that have done various good works throughout the previous year and welcoming new immigrants into our community. Just the ones that have also had a ring put on ‘em. The rest, we try hard not to think about…just like the uncle that gets drunk every Christmas and starts getting touchy with the kids.
Right about now, you might be thinking I’m not much on Australia Day. Not true. But I like to be real about it.
On the whole, it’s a pretty nice day off. It’s what you’d get if the U.S. Thanksgiving Day and Independence Day shacked up and popped out a sprog. It’s about reflection and gratitude and flag waving and families. It’s day that I personally like to just sit and stare at the cloudless sky. For me, Austrayaday is about doing less not more. It’s a day to think about what it means to be Australian. What—or who—might be here if someone else had thought to pull up and put a ring on Australia, instead of just cruising down up the coast and giving her a how you doin’ kind of smile. Would we be a Dutch colony—Batavia-but-one? Maybe it would be China enjoying the great economic benefits of our minerals and industry (oh, wait…).
I’m not blind to the truth that Australians enjoy the benefits of being the world’s 12th largest economy with the 5th highest (per capita) income. We may get all angsty about pollution in our rivers and exploitation of our resources and social injustice but not about whether our family will eat today or which of them will survive the next pandemic or military action.
What a supreme luxury.
As the Aussies say, we’re on pretty good pasture.
No, she’s no longer the perfect ecosystem she once was, but Australia is still pretty darned gorgeous even with stretchmarks. She ranks high in quality of life, health, education, and economic, civil and political freedoms. And she has some of the best natural landscapes in the world. I have a comfortable shelter over my head, food in the fridge, electricity running that fridge and the freedoms and education to be able to whine about everything written above. People died for that. The land died for that.
That’s not nothing.
And so I am grateful today, Australia, to have a relationship with you. Sure we have baggage, and we’re not always perfect companions, but on the whole I’m super happy that it’s you I get to come home to at night and you that keeps me safe. I may have a wandering eye when it comes to travel, but it’s always you that I want to come back to.
Australia, I’ll happily put a ring on you.