Rough seas ahead: why the government’s James Cook infatuation may further divide the nation



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The Morrison government has committed $50million to celebrate next year’s 250th anniversary of Cook’s landing at Kurnell on April 29, 1770.
AAP/Marc McCormack

Benjamin T. Jones, CQUniversity Australia

It is fitting that Scott Morrison represents the federal division of Cook, named after British explorer James Cook. First as treasurer, and now as prime minister, Morrison is committed to a A$50 million plan to celebrate the upcoming 250th anniversary of Cook’s landing at Kurnell on April 29, 1770. He has announced A$6.7million for a replica of the Endeavour to circumnavigate the country (something Cook himself never did).

Cook and his treatment by public memory can be seen as the latest front in an ongoing culture war. It is a debate centred on how Australian history – especially its colonial history – should be understood. Which voices and stories should be included, and excluded, from the dominant narrative?

Morrison frames this is as an extension of the campaigns to change January 26 as Australia Day. In 2018, he lambasted the “indulgent self-loathing” of those who wanted to change the date. He tweeted – incorrectly – that “Our modern Aus nation began on January 26, 1788”. This predates the flag, Constitution, five out of six states, and even the word “Australia”.

But this was never about historical accuracy. Deputy Nationals leader Bridget McKenzie claimed – also wrongly – that January 26, 1788, was “when Captain Cook stepped ashore”. He actually died in 1779. But nevertheless, as the man who claimed Australia for Britain, Cook has become a symbol of settler-colonialism with his legacy intertwined with Australia Day.

Morrison is determined that 2020 be a year of government-led celebration of Cook’s exploits. The justification for the anniversary spend is as much ideological as historical. Morrison claimed:

he gets a bit of a bad show from some of those who like to sort of talk down our history.

Explorer James Cook has come to symbolise Australia’s divided view of its history and how it should be celebrated.
Shutterstock

The use of public money to cast Cook in a positive light is a continuation of the “history wars” that flared up during the prime ministership of John Howard. He rejected the “black armband” view that saw Australian history as a “disgraceful story”. On balance, Howard insisted, it was one of “heroic achievement”.

For Morrison, Cook is the embodiment of a colonial hero whose reputation has been tarnished by left-wing “activists”. He laments that “it’s very trendy to talk down James Cook and all that sort of stuff”.

Presumably “all that sort of stuff” is a gentle euphemism for dispossession and the destruction of Indigenous cultures.




Read more:
Australia’s ‘history wars’ reignite


Debate over Cook’s legacy briefly raged in 2017. Indigenous journalist Stan Grant questioned the plaudit, “discovered this territory 1770”, etched in stone at Cook’s statue in Sydney’s Hyde Park. Soon after, “change the date” was spray-painted on the base.

The then prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, insisted Grant was “dead wrong”. Using rhetoric that bordered on the ridiculous, Turnbull took to Facebook to describe the graffiti as part of a “totalitarian campaign”. He also dismissed calls to change the date of Australia Day, condemning the “Stalinist exercise of trying to wipe out or obliterate or blank out parts of our history”.

The Morrison government’s decision to punish councils that do not acknowledge January 26, to introduce dress codes at citizenship ceremonies, to refuse to discuss the date of Australia Day, and to spend millions on Cook’s 250th anniversary, all stem from the same culture war.

The Liberal Party’s Twitter page claims it is trying to “protect Australia Day from activists”. But the heavy-handed attempts to cast Cook as some high priest in the church of Australian nationalism stifles debate and skews history. Increasing social unease with traditional colonial narratives is not based on a desire to deny history, but to expand it and to include the perspective of First Nations.

As historian Mark McKenna notes, the communities in Kurnell and Cooktown have worked hard to connect with Indigenous leaders and find new ways to commemorate Cook’s voyage. But crucially, this requires a willingness to accepts history’s nuances and diversity. It requires moving beyond the false dichotomy of utter shame or complete pride in Australia’s history.

Few would dispute that Cook was a brilliant navigator and explorer. But there is also a question of balance. The Captain Cook Society notes that he is commemorated by more than 100 memorials, many in Australia. It is hardly a “Stalinist exercise” to suggest that Cook is already well honoured and that a more worthy project might be a new Indigenous museum.

The original lyrics to Advance Australian Fair boasted that when “gallant Cook from Albion sailed … true British courage bore him on”. Veneration of Cook has been historically tied to British patriotism. As the Sydney Morning Herald noted in 1929, Australia’s great patriotic moments for “all who share British blood” occur in April. It included in this, Cook’s landing, the landing at Gallipoli, St George’s Day, and the birth of Shakespeare.

Our nation has changed.

Cook is no longer the national hero he once was, for the simple reason that Australians no longer see themselves as British, sharing in British achievements. More importantly, since W.E.H. Stanner’s call to end the “great Australian silence” in 1968, Australians have become more aware of the ancient cultures that possessed this land at least as far back as the Pleistocene. Retreating into the lazy “cult of forgetfulness” with a government-promoted, triumphant Cook narrative, narrows a history that has been slowly broadening for decades.




Read more:
Friday essay: the ‘great Australian silence’ 50 years on


The anniversary in 2020 of Cook’s voyage can and should be marked. But without genuine consultation with First Nations peoples to find a form and language that offers respect, it will be another exercise in exclusion. If the memorials and events suggest, in former prime minster Tony Abbott’s words, that before the British arrived Australia was “barely settled”, we will know we have failed yet again.The Conversation

Benjamin T. Jones, Lecturer in History, CQUniversity Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: Liberals stir the culture war pot but who’s listening?


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

As a new round of the culture wars bubbles, West Australian Liberal
senator Dean Smith has urged that we should legislate to “protect” the January 26 date of Australia Day.

Smith came to national prominence as one of the small coterie of
Liberals who forced the Turnbull government to act on same-sex
marriage. He advances his causes with moderation and respect, and
always warrants a hearing. But in this instance he does not make a convincing argument.

Australia Day’s date – which marks the First Fleet’s landing – has
become increasingly contentious in recent years, opposed by Indigenous and other critics on the grounds that it is really “invasion day”.

If we were starting again, I think it would be better to
have Australia Day on January 1, to celebrate the birth of the
Commonwealth.

But given the present date has strong community support, there is not
a compelling case for change. Equally, there isn’t a case to bake in
the current date either. (This date, incidentally, only appears in
legislation as a public holiday.)

In an opinion piece in Thursday’s Australian Smith writes: “Australia Day
remains unprotected and could easily fall victim to the whims of a
political party or special interest lobby group interested in
political point-scoring rather than celebrating the virtues of a
contemporary and forward-looking Australia.”

He proposes legislation to “guarantee that January 26 ceases to be
Australia Day only after the Australian people have been consulted
directly, and that to change the date of Australia Day an alternative
date must be submitted to every Australian elector.”

In reality, the January 26 date won’t “fall victim” to “whims”. No
government would change it lightly.

An alteration would only happen if there was evidence of a big
shift in community sentiment. Maybe that will come in future years –
if it does, so be it.

Change is certainly not on the cards any time soon. Bill Shorten remains committed
to January 26.

The Coalition has been using the (annual) debate about Australia Day
as political ammunition.

This became a little messy, however, because Warren Mundine, Scott
Morrison’s star candidate for the marginal NSW seat of Gilmore, has
been a forthright advocate of moving Australia Day to January 1.




Read more:
View from The Hill: Morrison’s Gilmore candidate is the man who’s been everywhere


Mundine wrote on January 24, 2017: “The 26th of January is the wrong day to celebrate Australia Day.

“Firstly, Australia wasn’t founded on January 26, 1788. It was founded
on January 1, 1901 …

“Secondly, the tension between commemorating British conquest on the
one hand and celebrating Australian identity and independence on the
other isn’t going away. This isn’t a recent tension drummed up by
Lefties. It’s always been there, even before anyone cared about what
Indigenous people think.”

Despite his new status Mundine is sticking to his view – he’s just
saying now that this is not a priority issue for him. “I’ve got 100
different things in front of that, before I even get to that stage,”
he told a news conference as he stood beside his leader on Wednesday.

He declines to be drawn on his position if he were elected and faced a
Smith private member’s bill. He told The Conversation, “I’ll jump that
hurdle when I get there. At the moment I’m fighting a tough battle to
win the seat.”

As this year’s Australia Day approached Morrison ramped up the nationalistic
and culture war rhetoric in general, and accompanied it with some
controversial actions.

The Liberal Party tweeted: “The Government is taking action to protect Australia Day from activists.”

The government proposes to force local councils to hold citizenship
ceremonies on Australia Day, after the refusal of some to do so.
Councils defying the edict would not be allowed to conduct them at all.

This has come with a recommended dress code for these occasions – no
thongs or board shorts. “I’m a prime minister for standards,” declared
Morrison, to something of a national horse laugh.

Councils have been given to the end of next month to provide feedback.

Morrison has struggled to differentiate himself from Shorten over Australia Day, since
they are at one about the date.

“It’s not good enough to say that you just won’t change it. You’ve got to stand up for it and I’m standing up for it,” he declared. “Bill Shorten will let it fade
away.”

It’s true the level of rhetoric around Australia Day has varied over the years but the notion of it just “fading away” is ridiculous.

This week the debate moved on to Captain Cook, with Morrison’s
announcement of $6.7 million for the Endeavour replica to circumnavigate Australia to mark next year’s 250th anniversary of Cook’s arrival and take the story of Cook to 39 communities across the country. (The money is from $48.7 million set aside earlier to mark the anniversary.)

Morrison – who was visiting Cooktown in North Queensland – was
described by Shorten as having a “bizarre Captain Cook fetish”.
(Liberal MP Warren Entsch recalls Morrison’s special interest in Cook
from his days in tourism. In parliament Morrison happens to represent
the seat of Cook.)

The prime minister, who argues that the narrative of Cook can be used as one
pillar for Indigenous reconciliation, hit back by accusing Shorten of
“sneering at Australia’s history”, declaring “you can’t trust this guy
on this stuff”.

He added that “political correctness … is raising kids in our country
today to despise our history”, and alleged that Shorten wanted to
“feed into that”.

For some in the right of the Liberal Party, the culture and history
wars are a continuing preoccupation.

But these issues hover on the fringe of politics in this election
year, even if they do resonate in Hansonland and similar territory.

It mightn’t have been front and centre, but the battle that’s been
going on this week between Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and his shadow,
Chris Bowen, about the economy, tax policy and the like is a lot more
relevant to most voters than the culture wars and political
correctness.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Forcing Australia Day citizenship ceremonies on councils won’t make the issue go away



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The Australia Day debate will likely become more pronounced each year.
from shutterstock.com

Rachel Busbridge, Australian Catholic University and Mark Chou, Australian Catholic University

In the latest instalment of the culture wars surrounding Australia Day, Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday said he plans to force councils to hold citizenship ceremonies on January 26. The announcement was spurred on by a few local councils’ decisions to move citizenship events to a different day out of respect for Indigenous people.

Morrison claimed he was protecting the day from those trying to “play politics”. And opposition leader Bill Shorten, as well as others on social media, accused the prime minister of playing politics himself.

Since 2018, as part of a larger ongoing project exploring culture wars and local politics, we have interviewed eleven councils across the country who have taken the most prominent actions relating to January 26. These councils are generally Greens and Labor dominant.

Some, like Yarra and Darebin, ignited a veritable media storm over plans to “dump” Australia Day citizenship ceremonies. Others, such as Flinders Island, have flown largely under the radar.

All of them, however, take seriously the inclusion of Australia’s Indigenous heritage and multicultural diversity in our national day. Our interviews show Morrison’s portrayal of councils “playing politics” is out of step – councils are reflecting the wishes of their community members.




Read more:
Why a separate holiday for Indigenous Australians misses the point


It’s not just citizenship

The cancellation of citizenship ceremonies on January 26 has been a sticking point for the federal government. In 2017, all 537 councils in Australia received a strongly worded letter from assistant immigration minister, Alex Hawke, warning them:

Local councils are now on notice that if they politicise Australian citizenship, the Government will see it as a breach of the [Australian Citizenship Ceremonies] Code and take appropriate action.

But with a couple of notable exceptions, namely Yarra and Darebin councils who had their rights to hold citizenship ceremonies stripped, the other councils we spoke to have refrained from touching the citizenship matter.

Some councils have simply sought to hold alternative events either on or close to January 26 that would be more inclusive of Indigenous communities. Mayor of Byron Shire Council in regional NSW, Simon Richardson, long felt January 26 celebrations divided the local community:

The Arakwal Indigenous mob will come to our events, do the Welcome to Country, but it offends them celebrating on a day that really marks a complete change to their 10,000-year-old culture, I wanted an event where we’re all together.

Wary of the federal government’s warning, other councils did not want to shift citizenship ceremonies from January 26. But they did want to use them as an opportunity to educate Australia’s newest citizens about the country’s history.

Another regional council in NSW, Lismore, has taken efforts to ensure ceremonies held on Australia Day are as inclusive of the local Aboriginal community as possible. And they never refer to the events as a “celebration”.

Diversity of local responses

Local councils sit at the coalface of the communities they serve and must respond to different needs and concerns. As David O’Loughlin, president of the Australian Local Government Association said: “if they’re reflecting their community’s interest, that’s their job.”

Two of the most prominent councils to cancel Australia Day celebrations and ceremonies, Yarra and Darebin in inner Melbourne, were responding to ongoing discussions with local Wurundjeri people who found the date painful and uncomfortable. Former Yarra Mayor, Amanda Stone, told us council knew from these discussions the Wurundjeri felt “this wasn’t a day for [them]” and wanted people to have “an understanding of what the date meant to them”.

Other councils thought it important to lead on decisions relating to January 26. Byron Shire’s plan to shift Australia Day celebrations was motivated by the sentiment non-Indigenous Australians should be the ones driving change. For Mayor Richardson, this was important to ensure that the local Indigenous community did not “cop the backlash when it’s white fellas who have been responsible for the wrongdoing.”

On consultation with the Arakwal people, Richardson said:

Their basic response was ‘leave us out of it, it’s a council issue’. Though they supported the change to our 26 January event, they wanted to make it clear that the idea was council’s, not theirs.

Lismore City Council conducted extensive consultations on changing the date of Australia Day with local communities, the results of which were handed over to the federal government.

And although they still run celebrations and citizenship ceremonies on January 26, Hobart City Council in Tasmania has formally supported the Change the Date campaign in recognition of local Aboriginal views.

The issue is not going away

Despite the different ways in which local councils have handled January 26, there is one thing on which they all agree – the issue is not going to go away.

Former Yarra Mayor Stone, said:

It’s not going to go away for Indigenous people and it’s not going to go away for younger Australians, many of whom haven’t grown up with the racism and attitudes towards Aboriginal people as people my age grew up with.

Some councils, like the Inner West in Sydney, have already seen multiple notices of motion raised. The first, submitted by Greens councillor Tom Kiat, “asking Council to recognise Invasion Day and to reallocate the funds currently designated for their Australia Day event to an Indigenous-led one” was knocked back.

But a few months later, a mayoral minute was passed asking council officers to conduct a “consultation with the local Aboriginal community and the wider community about how the nature of Council’s January 26 events should further evolve to recognise the history of Indigenous Australia.”




Read more:
Why Australia Day survives, despite revealing a nation’s rifts and wounds


Despite speaking to only a small fraction of local councils across the country so far, there is good reason to believe the Australia Day debate will become more pronounced each year.

Some, like Adelaide City Council, have told us in no uncertain terms that the date of our national holiday is a federal matter and beyond their remit. But as more councils debate the matter, it’s clear Australians are starting to think about what it would mean to include Indigenous peoples as equal partners in our national day.

Enforcing citizenship ceremonies on the day is not going to change this, nor is banning boardies and thongs.The Conversation

Rachel Busbridge, Lecturer in Sociology, Australian Catholic University and Mark Chou, Associate Professor of Politics, Australian Catholic University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Clarrie Combo, Mrs Brown and Aboriginal soldiers in WW2



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Yorta Yorta women and girls at the Cummeragunja Reserve in NSW with their knitting for soldiers serving in the second world war.
Australian War Memorial: P01562.001

Kristyn Harman, University of Tasmania

During the second world war, a young Aboriginal soldier, Private Clarrie Combo from New South Wales, exchanged mail with Mrs F. C. Brown from Loxton, South Australia — a white woman whom he had never met.

Very few letters penned by Aboriginal soldiers who served in either of the two world wars survive, yet one of Clarrie’s letters has endured in what might seem a surprising context. Mrs Brown contacted the young soldier after seeing an advertisement calling for volunteers to “adopt” Aboriginal soldiers. His reply was printed in her local newspaper, and its survival provides us with a rare opportunity to learn about military service from an Aboriginal soldier’s perspective.

Private Clarence Combo.
NAA: B883, NX30580

Clarence Combo was born in Wardell, New South Wales, on 14 September 1919. Young Clarrie grew up in a harsh environment — Kinchela Aboriginal Boys’ Training Home near Kempsey. Consistent with government plans to assimilate Aboriginal people into white Australian society, children like Clarrie were forcibly removed from their families. At Kinchela, boys were called by their allocated numbers rather than names. Identities and cultures were stripped away.

In a country where discriminatory legislation and practices precluded Aboriginal people from earning a fair wage, voting, marrying non-Aboriginal partners, buying property or entering a public bar, it is not too difficult to imagine why some young Aboriginal men signed up for the military when war broke out. An estimated 1,000 Aboriginal soldiers served in the Australian Imperial Force as black diggers during the first world war. By the mid-20th century it was easier for Aboriginal men to sign up, so around 3,000 served Australia during WWII.

Comfort funds

Shortly after WWII began, the Melbourne-based Aborigines Uplift Society, founded by non-Aboriginal activist Arthur Burdeu, created a comforts auxiliary for Aboriginal soldiers. The idea was that women could “adopt” an Aboriginal soldier. They would correspond with him and arrange comfort parcels to be sent to him at the front.

In the Society’s August 1940 Uplift newsletter, Burdeu explained how “native women have not the resources to do as their white sisters, though they are already at work”. In Queensland, for example, children at the Purga Aboriginal Mission sewed underpants, toilet tidies, calico bags and hussifs (sewing kits), and knitted socks, mittens and balaclavas. Yorta Yorta women and children at the Cummeragunja Reserve (located in New South Wales) were also involved in knitting for the war effort.

Newspaper advertisements ran across Australia inviting women to contact Burdeu about “adopting” an Aboriginal soldier. With at least one son-in-law serving Australia, Mrs Brown may have felt compassion for those men whose families could not afford to send them parcels.

Corresponding with Mrs Brown

On September 25, 1941 the Murray Pioneer and Australian River Record published one of Clarrie’s letters to Mrs Brown under the headline “Aboriginal’s Appreciative Letter”. Clarrie opened his correspondence with Mrs Brown by thanking her for writing to him. He wrote: “it is very nice of you to write to someone you do not know”. At a practical level, Clarrie advised Mrs Brown that he wore size seven boots, as she had offered to knit socks for him.

Aboriginal’s Appreciative Letter extract.
https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/109261185

The young private’s letter provides a unique perspective on his experiences serving abroad. “I was in action for the first time in Greece,” he told his correspondent. He described Greece as “the nicest country that I have been in since leaving Australia”, then marvelled at having seen snow for the first time.

However the horrors of war included being “attacked practically every day by the German planes”. He told Mrs Brown how “a few of my pals were killed over there … There were German planes in the sky all day long and they were always bombing”.

What’s left out of correspondence can also be telling. In War Dance: A Story of the 2/3 Aust. Inf. Battalion A.I.F., Ken Clift provides an insight into racial attitudes amongst some of the men, telling of an altercation between two Australian soldiers, an Aboriginal one named Clarrie and an Indian or Afghan soldier, Tom. As the men argued heatedly, Tom allegedly called Clarrie: “You black bastard”. Clarrie was said to have retorted, “Well Tom, you’re no bloody glass of milk yourself.” Clarrie’s correspondence with Mrs Brown omits any mention of such tensions.

Welcome home

Over five years’ service, Clarrie’s tours of duty included Egypt, Libya, Greece, Crete, Syria, Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) and New Guinea. He suffered illness and injuries. In 1941 he caught sandfly fever, an ailment commonly suffered by soldiers fighting in North Africa. His “Proceedings for Discharge” notes that Clarrie received two war injuries, one to his right forearm and the other, a gunshot wound inflicted in New Guinea in June 1945, to his left forearm.

Clarrie’s war experiences included seeing some of his mates injured or killed. He would also have been expected to fire on enemy combatants. However, his correspondence with Mrs Brown, replete with anecdotes about foreign lands and peoples, highlights how being part of Australia’s war effort in the mid-20th century also gave him insights into other places and cultures.

The ConversationFortunately, Clarrie survived the war. He was one of five Aboriginal soldiers welcomed home to Wardell by the Cabbage Tree Island Women’s Guild just before Christmas 1945. By the mid-1960s Clarrie was chairing the Aboriginal Cooperative at Cabbage Tree Island and participating in national conferences advocating equal rights for Aboriginal people.

Kristyn Harman, Senior Lecturer in History; Graduate Research Coordinator, School of Humanities; Course Coordinator, Diploma of History, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Women have been neglected by the Anzac tradition, and it’s time that changed



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Australian nurses and patients at the Auxiliary Hospital Unit in Antwerp during the first world war.
Australian War Memorial

Robyn Mayes, Queensland University of Technology

The Anzac legend remains firmly centred on the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign of 1915, and the sacrifice of “sons and fathers” in frontline combat. The place of women in this foundational story is also made clear – that of onlookers and supporters.

In concluding her 2017 dawn service address at Gallipoli, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told a story about Len Hall, one of the original “diggers” who fought at Gallipoli. He is said to have noticed a girl in the crowd who had gathered to farewell departing soldiers, and given her an emu feather that he plucked from his slouch hat. When he returned to Australia at the close of the war, this girl — who later became his wife — was waiting in the crowd to return the feather.

This is a story of hope, and of an ongoing fascination with and idealisation of the “digger”. It is also a story about the passive role of women as waiting mothers, wives and sisters. But women’s contributions are more complicated, varied and controversial than these stories allow.




Read more:
Why China will be watching how we commemorate Anzac Day


Undervalued women’s work

Women were entirely absent from the Gallipoli landings; the only women in the vicinity were nurses serving on hospital ships and in the field hospital in Lemnos. These crucial and dangerous roles as nurses and ambulance drivers were publicly acknowledged in the early Anzac commemorations.

However, as Anzac Day rituals evolved into the current dawn service, veterans’ march, and afternoon celebrations and sporting events, public recognition of this service declined.

Ex-service women are often involved in the Anzac Day March.
Shutterstock

For many years, ex-service women attended Anzac Day marches as spectators or walked in marches without service identification and without mention in the official program. While some were satisfied with this, others were not.

In a 1963 newspaper article the President of the Australian Women’s Army Service shared the group’s experience of “being ignored”. She pointed out they had until then received “less recognition than the boy scouts” (who were officially included in the march).

The Australian Women’s Army Service was actually formed in 1941 to free up men for combat roles. Women performed a wide range of (largely uncelebrated) work, ranging from intelligence analysis to operating fixed gun emplacements in Australia, to working as canteen staff.

In 2002, Annie Leach headed the Perth Anzac Day march on the 100th anniversary of the army’s nursing corps, noting that WA nurses returning from the second world war were largely “a forgotten race”.




Read more:
Mary Beard and the long tradition of women being told to shut up


Challenging core Anzac beliefs

Women have not only had to fight to be recognised for their noncombatant war service, but are also credited with presenting the most serious of all challenges to Anzac core beliefs and rituals. This took the form of non-violent Anzac Day protests seeking to draw public attention to the issue of rape in war, and to oppose the system supporting wars and rape.

In the 1970s and 80s, groups such as the Women Against Rape in War collective bravely staged several such protests around Australia. These protests included the attempted laying of “rape wreaths” during dawn services as a way to mourn women raped in war. This stands in stark contrast to the comforting notion of wartime women waiting safely at home.

Such activity was vilified and indeed punished. In Sydney, 160 women protesters were charged with participating in the Anzac Day march without permission, which they had sought and been refused. As sociologist Catriona Elder has documented in her 2007 book Being Australian: Narratives of National Identity three women were jailed for one month for failing to keep a minimum distance of 400 metres from the end of the Anzac Day parade.

Keepers of the tradition

ABC coverage of the 2017 Gallipoli dawn service reported many people were moved to tears, as evidenced by inclusion of a photograph of a young woman wearing an “Anzac Day” beanie wiping her tears away. Other coverage of Anzac Day 2017 features an image of a woman “watching as people sleep overnight”.

An examination of media coverage of Anzac Day in Perth since the 1980s shows a growing expectation around women’s emotional engagement with, and support for, Anzac Day rituals. It also shows the emergence of an explicit contemporary role for women as guardians of the ongoing relevance and importance of the Day. This includes making sure that the family attends Anzac Day marches.




Read more:
Flies, filth and bully beef: life at Gallipoli in 1915


The ‘modern’ digger

In a contentious move, since the first of January 2013 women currently serving in the ADF have been entitled to take up front line and combat roles while direct entry to these roles has been permitted from January 2016. In 2015, women constituted close to 15% of the deployed force. In 2017 the official definition of “veteran” was revised so that many older service-women will for the first time be officially recognised on Anzac Day 2018 as veterans.

Word is that in Sydney, Perth and Melbourne this year the march will be led by service women.

Even though it is mooted as a “one-off” occurrence, is this a turning point after which women will be more equally recognised for their military service to the nation? Will women veterans be accorded the revered title of “digger”?

The ConversationThe role of women in the Anzac tradition is not just about the “one day” and fair recognition of women’s sacrifice and service; it’s also about how we understand quintessential “Australian” characteristics and the formation of the nation as the preserve of not just men but also women, and not just those who support but also those who challenge.

Robyn Mayes, Senior Research Fellow, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Gallipoli commemorations of Turkish youth tell us much about politics in Turkey



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Turkish soldiers in a trench at Gallipoli. The way Turkish youth commemorate the battle tells us much about the country’s politics.
Ausstralian Dept of Veterans Affairs

Brad West, University of South Australia and Ayhan Aktar, Istanbul Bilgi University

With ongoing political instability and security concerns in Turkey, we are again likely to see a smaller turnout of Australians and New Zealanders for Anzac Day ceremonies at Gallipoli this year.

But thousands of Turkish youth will be on the battlefields at dawn. They will be re-enacting the march by the 57th Regiment to the highlands, where Ottoman troops halted the Anzac advance in 1915.




Read more:
How a more divided Turkey could change the way we think about Gallipoli


We undertook fieldwork last Anzac Day on this ritual as part of a proposed larger research project examining how the memory of Gallipoli has become central to tension between Turkish republicans and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The republicans want to protect and restore the secular pro-Western origins of the republic, while the AKP wants to integrate Islam into the nation’s civil institutions and national imagination.

Nowhere is this memory politics more significant than in this re-enactment ritual, which under AKP rule has been renamed the Loyalty March for the 57th Regiment.

While Islamic influence on remembrance rites at Gallipoli has been growing for more than a decade, its political significance has increased dramatically since the July 2016 attempted coup. This has proved to be a transformative event for Turkish politics and society.

The 57th Regiment re-enactment

In the last two decades, Turkish interest in the history of the Gallipoli campaign has grown significantly. It was here that the 57th Regiment came to prominence in Turkish collective memory as the military unit led by Lieutenant Colonel Mustafa Kemal, later Atatürk.

As founding father of modern Turkey and hero of the war of independence, Mustafa Kemal pushed the 57th Regiment to the highlands, preventing defeat in the campaign.

The origins of the re-enactment are closely tied to this mythology – it was originally known as the 57th Regiment March in the Track of Atatürk. Local university students first organised the commemoration in 2006, partly in response to the increasing number of Australian and New Zealand youth on the battlefields for Anzac Day. For the 90th anniversary the year before, the Anzac Day pilgrimage reached its zenith, with about 17,000 participants.




Read more:
Turkish view remains neglected in our understanding of Gallipoli


The structure adopted for the first 57th Regiment re-enactment largely remains today. It involves an eight-kilometre hike from the regiment’s original base at Bigali village to the highlands of the battlefield. The ritual grew rapidly, with 6,000 participants three years after the first march.

Unsurprisingly, given the march’s popularity, the AKP assumed some control of the re-enactment through the Ministry of Youth and Sports. The government began funding the cost of travel and living expenses for young participants. It also oversees official registration and program co-ordination to cap attendance.

Such oversight allowed for representation of youth from around the country, including a greater percentage of participants from AKP stronghold areas who would otherwise struggle to fund the travel. It is this “pious generation” that the AKP and its leader, Recep Erdoğan, have emphasised as central to AKP’s vision of a new Turkey.

Turkish youth march in a Gallipoli re-enactment.
Ayhan Aktar

Cultural contradictions

Historical re-enactment is about comprehending and experiencing the past as it relates to the ordinary citizen. This commemorative form has proved particularly significant for AKP memory politics by allowing a focus on the martyrdom of 57th Regiment, which suffered heavy casualties.

By providing competition to the traditional heroic saviour narrative of Atatürk at Gallipoli, the AKP has been able to counter the secular pro-Western principles around which he founded the republic. Mandatory prayer sessions have been added at the beginning and end of the march. This has been justified as simulating the actions of the ordinary men who constituted the unit.

This more egalitarian historical focus, which cultural scholars refer to as memory “from below”, gives religion a place in commemorations of Gallipoli. This can also be seen in the increased recognition of individual martyrs through a focus on firsthand accounts of the religious zeal of Turkish soldiers against an infidel invader of their homeland.




Read more:
Turkey, the Armenian genocide and the politics of memory


Changes to the memorial landscape on the battlefields have aided this way of telling history while also promoting religious observance at the site. Fallen Turkish soldiers remained in mass graves after the war, a reflection of the stigma of Ottoman history in republican Turkey.

But, since 2005, Turkish authorities have built 11 cemeteries for the fallen soldiers. These have become popular sites for prayer by the 1 million-plus Turkish visitors to the battlefields per year, in large part funded as social tourism by municipalities. Another 15 cemeteries are proposed, with plans for accompanying outdoor mosques.

The AKP has a vested interest in advancing re-enactment as a commemorative form at Gallipoli, as it provides an opportunity for increased religious references and contexts. To ensure the re-enactment remains popular, though, the AKP has retained much of its original carnival-like character. Participants still take “selfies” and engage in jokes, laughter and joyful conversations while walking.

Political opposition

The recreational character of the re-enactment means participants have a range of motivations for their involvement.

Political chants and song, for example, are often recited by small groups. Some of the most common are the songs of the AKP’s political opponents, the Nationalistic Movement Party.

Other participants engage in religious chants such as Allahu akbar (Allah is the greatest) and Tek yol İslam, tek yol şehadet (Only path is Islam, only path is martyrdom).

Arguably the populist nature of the re-enactment legitimises other tourist and unofficial remembrance forms at Gallipoli that work to cap the state’s control over historical interpretation.

The 57th Regiment re-enactment is becoming a popular pilgrimage activity throughout the year. The Republican People’s Party (CHP), for example, had a re-enactment as part of its four-day Justice Congress at Gallipoli in August 2017. The congress was held to highlight violations of the justice system by Erdoğan following the attempted coup.

Like the main April 25 re-enactment, the success and political outcomes of such ritual displays are highly contingent. In the case of the CHP congress, its ability to challenge the AKP’s symbolic alignment with Gallipoli was hampered by photos appearing on social media of congress members drinking alcohol on the battlefields. The images caused a public scandal. A CHP spokesperson admitted:

Such impertinent behavior is completely against the glorious memory of our Gallipoli martyrs.

The ConversationWhether Australians and New Zealanders will return to Gallipoli en masse for future Anzac Days, and how they will be received if they do, is uncertain. But ritual performances on the battlefields on April 25 are almost certain to remain politically significant in Turkey.

Brad West, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, School of Creative Industries, University of South Australia and Ayhan Aktar, Chair Professor, Istanbul Bilgi University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A modern and united Australia must shift its national day from January 26



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We must change the date of Australia Day again again if we want to achieve a national day that unifies all Australians.
Shutterstock

Tom Calma, University of Canberra

As the debate continues over whether Australia Day should be celebrated on January 26, this series looks at the politics of some unresolved issues swirling around Australia Day – namely, the republic and reconciliation. And just for good measure, we’ll check the health of Australian slang along the way.


Increased momentum around changing the date of Australia Day reflects a growing sense that January 26 is symbolic of the Australia we used to be, not the Australia we hope to become.

Recent moves to promote changing the date of our national day are informed by the fact that many Australians – both Indigenous and non-Indigenous – feel they cannot celebrate on January 26, because that date marks the commencement of a long history of dispossession and trauma for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

We’ve changed the date before – in fact, January 26 has only been a national public holiday since 1994 – and must do so again if we want to achieve a national day that unifies all Australians.

Still, there is a strong contingent of Australians who do not agree.

Before we can settle on a way forward, there is more work to be done in terms of raising awareness of the fraught symbolism of January 26, and what Australia stands to gain by changing the date of our national day to one that represents the shared values of modern Australia.

Thinking about exactly what we are celebrating

There are differing interpretations of what it means to celebrate on January 26. But what’s indisputable is the historical origin of the date.


Read more: Why Australia Day survives, despite revealing a nation’s rifts and wounds


Arthur Phillip arrived at Sydney Cove and raised the national flag of the United Kingdom on January 26, 1788. In doing so, he founded the colony of New South Wales and, at the same time, commenced the dispossession and marginalisation of Indigenous people.

The tradition of observing January 26 began a few decades later, in the early 1800s, but only in NSW. It was referred to by various names in the following years, including First Landing Day and Foundation Day. Other colonies – namely South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania (then Van Diemen’s Land) – celebrated their own colonial foundations, which took place on other dates.

It took another century before the states and territories agreed, in 1935, to a common name (Australia Day) and timing (the Monday nearest to January 26) of celebrations. And it wasn’t until 1994 that the decision was made to make January 26 a national public holiday.

What does celebrating January 26 actually mean?

As the history books indicate, January 26 festivities were initiated to mark the arrival of the first British colonists and the establishment of a British colony on the east coast of Australia.

This history involves a period of conflict that continued until the 1960s, as well as government policies of assimilation, separation and dispossession. During this time, many Indigenous people were removed from their traditional lands, and stopped from practising their language and culture.

Today, Indigenous peoples are still recovering from the chain of events that were set in motion on that day in 1788. The ongoing impact can be seen in disturbing rates of Indigenous incarceration and the growing overrepresentation of Indigenous children in out-of-home care, to give just two of many examples.

Another problem with holding our national day on January 26 is that it is a day that positions European settlement as the primary source of national identity and pride. In doing so, it ignores more than 60,000 years of pre-colonial history and 230 years of multicultural migration to Australia.

By changing the date, Australia can show that it is ready to truly accept and include Indigenous histories, cultures and contributions as a valued part of the Australian story.

In this way, a change of date is actually about Australia maturing from a country that celebrates assimilation, separation and dispossession into a country that celebrates inclusion, acceptance, diversity and harmony.

A way forward

While not all Australians agree that a change of date is needed, it’s clear this is an issue that is not going away. More and more Australians are asking: “why not?”


Read more: First reconciliation, then a republic – starting with changing the date of Australia Day


This year marks the 80th anniversary of the first Day of Mourning at Australia Hall in Sydney, where Aboriginal and civil rights activist Jack Patten told attendees that “Aborigines have no reason to rejoice” on Australia Day.

All these years later, changing the date remains a relatively simple procedure that would have an immense symbolic impact. It would demonstrate to Indigenous Australians that the broader community wants a national day on which all Australians can celebrate together.

While figures on the other side of the debate suggest a push to change the date is divisive, #changethedate is – at its heart – a movement that seeks to bring us closer together. That’s what reconciliation is about: recognising and healing the past so that we can build a better and more unified tomorrow.

On January 26, I call on all Australians to thoughtfully consider the following: can our national day ever be truly inclusive if it is celebrated on a day that represents the physical and cultural dispossession of the First Australians?

Until Australia is ready to change the date, Reconciliation Australia will continue to share the knowledge that is necessary to help more Australians realise the undeniable answer to this question.


The ConversationCatch up on others in the series here.

Tom Calma, Chancellor, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How to have a better conversation about Australia Day


Tim Dean, University of Sydney

I’m going to hazard a guess that you’ve found the conversation around changing the date of Australia Day a tad frustrating. There are plenty of loud voices offering different views, but it doesn’t seem like there’s much genuine engagement between the various sides. It has devolved into more of a slanging match than a healthy conversation.

As a philosopher with an interest in how we argue and disagree with each other, and how those arguments and disagreements often go off the rails, I’m interested in understanding why this particular debate has proven so problematic, and whether there are ways to steer it towards more constructive territory.




Read more:
Why Australia Day survives, despite revealing a nation’s rifts and wounds


Who we are

One of the biggest difficulties with talking about something like Australia Day is that it’s intricately tied to our identity – particularly our social identity.

We aren’t just isolated, autonomous individuals. We are social creatures who form into groups. In turn, these groups provide us with narratives that help us understand our place in the world. They inform our values and tell us who our allies are (our in-group) and who our enemies are (our out-groups).

So being a “Baby Boomer” or “Millennial”, a “Collingwood supporter” or “Broncos fan”, a “Christian”, “Muslim” or even an “atheist” connects us to other people we perceive to be in the same group. Similarly, Baby Boomers railing against Millennials, AFL supporters ribbing NRL supporters, and believers jibing about non-believers helps reinforce our identity in our chosen groups.

One core problem with the Australia Day debate is that there are at least two “Australian” identities involved who are talking past each other, and they each see Australia Day and January 26 in very different light.

Consider the identity expressed in this quote from former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott:

[…] it’s hard to imagine a better Australia in the absence of the Western civilisation that began here from that date. […] How could any Australian’s heart not beat with pride?

You could read this as Abbott emphasising a narrative of “Australia as a success story”. And while he acknowledges in the article that “not everything’s perfect in contemporary Australia” – referring to the disadvantage experienced by many Indigenous Australians – he still asserts that we, as Australians, should feel proud of what the country has achieved.

For Abbott, January 26 is a perfectly suitable symbol of “Australia as a success story”, because he believes much of that success stemmed from the introduction of “Western civilisation” to this continent.

This brand of Australian identity also tends to be associated with a particular cultural and ethnic picture, one strongly informed by the country’s colonial roots and its 20th-century post-colonial “coming of age”.

That picture was formed in a time when a person’s national identity typically overlapped with a relatively homogeneous ethnic identity. That has changed dramatically in the past 50 years, with nation-states like Australia being home to multiple cultural and ethnic groups.




Read more:
Get yer hand off it, mate, Australian slang is not dying


This shift has put pressure on the idea that being “Australian” necessarily means being of Anglo or European descent, which is unsettling for many people. This is particularly because some of the cultures that are now becoming part of the Australian identity used to be out-groups that were used to help reinforce Anglo-European Australian identity.

The New Australia

Many Australians don’t share Abbott’s narrative, and their identity as “Australian” is significantly different to the one he has expressed. For them, “Australian” has a wider variety of meanings and cultural influences.

This view also often acknowledges the negative aspects of colonisation, such as the legacy of non-Anglo-European out-group exclusion (often in the form of racism), the destruction of Indigenous cultures, and the social disadvantage that many Indigenous Australians experience today as a result of “Western civilisation”.

This doesn’t mean they believe Australia is a failure or that they don’t take pride in being Australian. But for them, January 26 in particular symbolises something very different than it does to Abbott, as expressed by journalist and Goori man Jack Latimore:

When it comes to the subject of 26 January, the overwhelming sentiment among First Nations people is an uneasy blend of melancholy approaching outright grief, of profound despair, of opposition and antipathy, and always of staunch defiance.

This causes a kind of dissonance in people with this perspective when January 26 rolls around. It’s hard to celebrate the good things about Australia on a day that represents, to them, many of the bad things.

Thus the call has not been to eliminate Australia Day, but to move it to a different date that doesn’t cause such dissonance, as expressed by social justice lawyer Will de Waal.

This is not to say that we should not show our pride in being Australian – we absolutely should. I just don’t think we should do this on January 26. No Australian should celebrate on a day of mourning.

Political identity

But this discussion is further complicated by another dimension of our social identity. Consider this quote from former Labor leader and commentator Mark Latham:

As each year millions of Australians rally around Australia Day on 26 January as a chance to feel good about our country and its remarkable achievements, the Greens’ leader Richard Di Natale has announced that one of his top priorities for 2018 is to “change the date”.

In truth, the Left’s grievance industry is now so comprehensive, so all-encompassing, they are triggered by every significant date on the calendar, from 26 January to Christmas Day.

Here Latham is not only referencing the positive aspect of his identity as “Australian”, but he’s also reinforcing his identity as “anti-Left”. By casting aspersions on the Greens and their leader he is bucking up his own side by putting the other side down. This is typical social identity reinforcing behaviour.

Thus the debate around Australia Day has also become a proxy for a wider conflict between two political identities, the Left and the Right. And this is where our social identity – particularly our political identity – can serve as a barrier to good conversations.

Turning it around

The good news is that there are ways to turn this conversation around and make it more constructive. It’s not going to be resolved overnight, but it’s probably a conversation worth having before the next Australia Day rolls around.

First, we need to remind ourselves that identity does matter. If we speak in a way that challenges someone’s identity, they’re likely to dig in their heels and get defensive. When that happens, the chances of having any constructive conversation evaporates.




Read more:
What science communicators can learn from listening to people


One way to avoid this pitfall is simply to listen. Instead of starting by voicing and defending your opinions, try asking questions and listening to what others have to say. Ask them what “Australia” means to them, or what kind of Australia they’d like to live in and celebrate. Then acknowledge what they’ve said, even if you have a different view.

Listening is a powerful thing. Think about how good it feels when someone gives you even a few uninterrupted minutes to express what you think. By listening, you don’t only have a better shot at understanding what the other person is talking about, but you’re also signalling to them that you’re willing to give them your time and attention to hear them out. Even that simple gesture can short-circuit the defence mechanisms that prevent deeper engagement.

The ConversationIf we can get a bit better at listening, then we can start having a more constructive conversation about what it means to be Australian and how we should celebrate it. And that sounds like a good conversation to have.

Tim Dean, Honorary Associate in Philosophy, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

First reconciliation, then a republic – starting with changing the date of Australia Day



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Changing the date of Australia Day is the first tiny step for Australia to begin the reckoning with its origins.
AAP/Dan Peled

Maggie Walter, University of Tasmania

As the debate continues over whether Australia Day should be celebrated on January 26, this series looks at the politics of some unresolved issues swirling around Australia Day – namely, the republic and reconciliation. And just for good measure, we’ll check the health of Australian slang along the way.


I have always been rather taken with Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoon which depicts a man getting out of bed in the morning, reading a very large poster on his wall that says:

First pants, then your shoes.

This stating of an obvious but critical ordering of events has salience for the debate over whether Australia should become a republic. Reconciliation between the Settler and First Nations populations is a self-evident prerequisite for Australia cutting the ties of colonial dependency with Britain to stand on our own.

If we can’t work out that we need to complete the peacemaking between Indigenous Australians – the sole occupiers of the Australian continent for upwards of 60,000 years – and those whose ancestors arrived at or post-1788, we are not ready to be a republic.

We might be attracted to republican prestige, with its sense of a national coming of age, but we can’t just take the title. Being a republic brings with it the responsibilities of being a grown-up country.

Changing the date of Australia Day is the first tiny step for Australia, both as a nation and a society, to begin the reckoning with its origins. The Australian nation-state is founded on the dispossession of the people of the lands the nation-state now occupies, and from which it draws its wealth and identity.

It’s as simple as that. No ifs, no buts. Australia Day observed on January 26 celebrates the date on which the British flag was first raised in Sydney Cove in the act of colonisation.


Further reading: Why Australia Day survives, despite revealing a nation’s rifts and wounds


The debate over the date

I am heartened by the growing calls from so many non-Indigenous people and groups to change the date of Australia Day. But I am also despairing that so many still do not seem to understand why celebrating January 26 is deeply hurtful to Indigenous people.

Perhaps, as Henry Reynolds suggests, many non-Indigenous Australians simply do not know what January 26 represents. Maybe. But most do know that the date is connected in some way to Indigenous dispossession.


Further reading: Henry Reynolds: Triple J did the right thing, we need a new Australia Day


It is also well known what this day represents for Indigenous people: the massacres, the near-genocides, the abduction of women, the forced relocations, and the denial of basic human rights dictated by the euphemistically named Aboriginal Protection Acts – some not fully repealed until the 1970s. Why would Indigenous people choose to celebrate that?

Or, as Mark McKenna writes, for many, Australia Day is constructed as cut loose from history. The past is the past, it is argued, so why can’t we all just celebrate what’s good about Australia on January 26?


Further reading: More than an excuse for a long weekend – how we came to love Australia Day


Yes, colonisation is a fact that can’t be undone. Nobody knows this better than Indigenous people. But celebrating Australia Day on that date is the opposite of a present/future focus.

January 26 was selected purposefully to commemorate that past by declaring the initial act of colonisation as the most important event in the Australian historical calendar. Why does non-Indigenous Australia choose to celebrate that?

That the political proponents of keeping the date as it is know what January 26 is actually celebrating is clear in their deployment of noble sentiment as obfuscating defence.

Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull, in a 2017 speech on the topic, is fairly typical in this regard. Castigating the Yarra Council over its decision to stop referring to January 26 as Australia Day, Turnbull argued Australia Day is the day on which we recognise and honour our First Australians and our newest migrants – and to change the date would be to turn our back on Australian values. He has made similar remarks in recent days.

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I don’t dispute Turnbull’s sentiments. What he describes is what Australia Day should be. But what he describes is not what it is now.

Dressing up the pre-eminent day of commemoration in the Australian calendar as something other than this, as somehow about Australian values or a day that all Australians can take pride in, or – even as Turnbull asserts – a day when we recognise First Australians and our history, is just a dishonest diversion from the actuality.

We are convincing no-one, not even ourselves, that we are doing anything else on January 26 but celebrating colonisation and the dispossession of Indigenous people.

If we aren’t celebrating the colonisation of Australia, then there should be no problem in changing the date. If we are, then be honest about it without resorting to self-deceptions.

An Australia Day worth celebrating

Again, on January 26 this year, I, along with many other Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, will march down Elizabeth Street to the Tasmanian parliament lawns for rousing speeches and emotional protest.

In fact once the date is changed – as it inevitably will be – I will miss the event’s camaraderie. It has become a January ritual.

But imagine what Australia Day could be. What if Australia Day was actually those things Turnbull says it is. What if Australia Day was a genuine celebration of all that’s good and unique about Australia? What if Australia Day celebrated our 60,000 years or so of human history as something that belongs to all of us – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – and that we can and should all take pride in?

What if Australia Day was a day on which we came together rather than celebrating the dispossession of one by the other?

Now that is an Australia Day worth celebrating.

But that day has not yet come. Instead, our leaders resolutely insist that this is the date most appropriate to hold our national day of celebration – and sanction those who disagree.

For Indigenous people, this tenacity can only be read as callous disregard. To do so in the shadow of overt refusal of the efforts of Indigenous people to advance reconciliation through the Uluru Statement from the Heart reinforces the political message of callousness. It also demonstrates a national immaturity.


Further reading: Listening to the heart: what now for Indigenous recognition after the Uluru summit?


A developed society reconciles its past with its present, resolving what needs to be resolved, settling what needs to be settled. For Australia, the result could be a new national narrative: one we wouldn’t have to resort to duplicity to celebrate, one more befitting an aspiring republic.

Drawing from the wisdom of the Far Side cartoon: Australia, first change the date to begin a just settling, then contemplate becoming a republic.


The ConversationCatch up on others in the series here.

Maggie Walter, Pro Vice Chancellor (Aboriginal Research and Leadership) and Professor of Sociology, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why Australia Day survives, despite revealing a nation’s rifts and wounds


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The Founding of Australia. By Capt. Arthur Phillip R.N. Sydney Cove, Jan. 26th 1788 (Algernon Talmadge R.A, 1937)
State Library of New South Wales

Frank Bongiorno, Australian National University

As the debate continues over whether Australia Day should be celebrated on January 26, this series looks at the politics of some unresolved issues swirling around Australia Day – namely, the republic and reconciliation. And just for good measure, we’ll check the health of Australian slang along the way.


Wendy McCarthy checked anxiously for signs of rain when she went to bed the night before Australia Day in 1988. A senior manager with the Australian Bicentennial Authority, McCarthy was staying at a hotel in The Rocks, Sydney, so she could wake up close to the action the following day.

McCarthy rose early to what sounded like rain. Fearing the worst, she rushed to the window. But the sound that had alarmed her was not rain. It was thousands of Australian feet, shuffling in their sneakers and thongs to the biggest party the country had ever seen. “It was my moment to weep with relief,” she reflected in her memoir. “Everyone had decided to be there.”

Not quite everyone perhaps, but Sydney Harbour was soon teeming with activity; of spectator craft, but also of tall ships and First Fleet re-enactment vessels, one of them famously bearing a Coca-Cola logo on its sails. Crowds lined the shores – some slept overnight in caves to get a nice possie – and millions more watched on television around the nation.




Read more:
Australia Day, Invasion Day, Survival Day: a long history of celebration and contestation


While Australia Day is an occasion for barbecues, concerts and fireworks, as well as the display of flags that no one has any use for at other times, it has never been as spectacular since.

As a public holiday, it marks the boundary between the summer break – even for those who have long since returned to work – and the rest of the year.

For students, it announces the return to the world of uniforms, teachers, classes and books. For most of us, the normal balance (or imbalance) of work and leisure asserts its authority, even as we still swelter in blistering heat.

Australia Day is, among other things, a seasonal festival, like May Day is to the northern spring. Many, perhaps most, Australians are no more likely to reflect deeply on its historical significance than maypole dancers are inclined to ponder phallic symbolism. Some would have difficulty naming the historical event that Australia Day commemorates, the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. If pressed, they might tell you it was when Captain Cook turned up at Botany Bay.

It has long had its critics. In 1938, the year of the sesquicentenary of settlement, the Aborigines Progressive Association declared it a Day of Mourning and Protest. In the lead-up to the Bicentenary, Aboriginal activists embraced the slogan “White Australia has a Black History”. They said January 26, 1788, was a day of invasion.

January 26 is increasingly a date of protest for those who see it as Invasion Day.
AAP/Jacqueline Le

On the day of the Bicentenary in 1988, thousands of Indigenous people who had come from all over the country, as well as white sympathisers and supporters, marched through Sydney in protest. Some set up with flags and banners at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair. Later, many would head out to Kurnell, near Botany Bay, the site of Cook’s arrival in 1770, for a night of traditional dancing followed in the morning by a smoking ceremony.

So, what has changed with Change the Date? Social media have provided new opportunities for such campaigns. But the change since the 1980s is profound.

What was still just a counter-narrative in 1988 – one only partly absorbed into the historical consciousness of settler Australians – now more thoroughly permeates their sense of the Australian story. Those were times before Mabo, before the reconciliation movement and before the ascendancy of the Stolen Generations narrative.

Today, even if they are hazy about detail, white Australians increasingly appreciate that January 26 is for many Indigenous people a day of sadness, reminding them of dispossession, violence and suffering.

Some disagree, claiming to speak for ordinary Australians unimpressed with the latest iteration of political correctness. Former Labor Party leader turned right-wing activist Mark Latham tells us:

It’s a day of national unity and celebration where people can feel genuinely proud of being Australian.

Yet that he felt the need to tell us so, while launching an advertising campaign in partnership with Indigenous leader Jacinta Price to save Australia Day, only serves to highlight the contentious and increasingly divisive nature of the day.

Last year, responding to a couple of Melbourne councils announcing they would not conduct citizenship ceremonies on the day, the conservative historian Geoffrey Blainey also condemned “the latest move against Australia Day”, which was “often led by suburban Greens”. Blainey declared:

At a time when there is a widespread fear that the nation could be weakened by the hidden circles of Muslim terrorists, more social cohesion is essential.

It may be doubted whether Australia Day can do much to protect us from such a menace. To be sure, here and abroad, the state has long used national days to promote national unity. Australia Day was celebrated as Anniversary Day in Sydney in the early decades of white settlement, with an annual dinner and sporting events such as boat and horse races.




Read more:
The day I don’t feel Australian? That would be Australia Day


But in the late 19th century, a Victorian-based organisation of white native-born men, the Australian Natives’ Association (ANA), campaigned in favour of January 26 becoming a public holiday and the national day. It was sometimes subsequently known as ANA Day.

National days proliferated around the world, as nation-states invented traditions aimed at mobilising their populations in the years leading up to the first world war. One historian, Eugen Weber, famously called this the process of turning “peasants into Frenchmen”.

But the idea that January 26 might become Australia’s national day developed only slowly, not least because from 1916 it was competing to some extent with Anzac Day. The various civic rituals and occasions that now grace Australia Day – such as citizenship ceremonies and the announcement of the Australian of the Year awards and the honours list – were progressively grafted on to the day from the mid-20th century onwards.

The historian Ken Inglis, writing in 1967, reported that Australia Day was not marked in any public manner in Canberra at that time.

The problem for those who have harboured grand ambitions for Australia Day is that it is not our answer to Independence Day in the United States or to Bastille Day in France. Australia had no revolution.

The break that Australia Day marks is not that between dependence and independence, colony and republic, or the despotism of the old order versus the liberty, equality and fraternity of the new – even if strident Australia Day advocates do wax lyrical about the gift to Indigenous people of Western civilisation that the British arrival in 1788 so generously bestowed.

Australia Day will likely survive because of its seasonality. As a summer public holiday supporting some modest civic activity and public spectacle, it retains the backing (and money) of government and of a still considerable and powerful section of civil society. And it remains a popular occasion for social gatherings.

The ConversationBut as it becomes ever more entangled in battles over the meaning of our history, Australia Day will find it difficult to carry a “successful” national day’s normal civic burden of fostering common belonging and social cohesion.

Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.