Like a sewerage outfall into the ocean, last week’s so-called Australian national celebration of its apparent “founding” on the 26th January, has washed up the usual turds onto the shores of this ancient continent.
The observance of the 26th of January in Australia as a public holiday, that ratifies its status as Australia Day, only became consistent among all the states and territories as recently as 1994, according to the National Australia Day Council. This apparent national celebration had no easily definable meaning before the last twenty years and one could argue exists in its current form only because of the bolstering of a nationalistic viewpoint under the Howard government of 1996 to 2007.
This rise in nationalistic pride under a conservative government’s tutelage has led to masses of young, privileged white Australian youth making lengthy journey’s to the other side of the world to mark the dying place of legions of other young, naive Australian youth on ANZAC Day and has now become almost a rite of passage in this country. It is a solemn occasion, mostly observed appropriately with due respect.
So to “Australia Day”. A much more easily accessible day to gather in groups and demonstrate your nationalistic pride. Its a public holiday, you can celebrate it where you live, drink lots of beer and you don’t have to catch a flight to one of those scary middle eastern type places that DFAT warns you about. You don’t have to be privileged and respectful. You can wear skimpy shorts and a tight top bearing the Australian flag or have it spray painted onto your body if you like. In fact its a day that all Australians can simply get pissed and lie in the sun after masquerading as Shane Warne or Merv Hughes after the obligatory cricket match.
The fact that it also marks the beginning of a war that is still being fought between the Original and Sovereign people of this large land mass and an invading British army, driven by a greedy British government and its corporate interests seems to have been overlooked. That the day of mourning, so observed on ANZAC Day by those legions of white privileged youth is observed on the 26th of January by black Aboriginal youth is apparently NOT a similar thing. The fact “Australia Day” for the Sovereign people of this land is a day of mourning as well, apparently just does not count.
So here’s the rub. While young Aboriginal people are educated in their culture and history, are inclusive and happy to share knowledge, young white Australian people are not. Well actually they don’t have a history. Or a culture. In reality Australia Day is just over twenty years old. Santa Claus has more tradition as an overweight man in a red jumpsuit invented by corporate giant Coca-Cola artist Haddon Sundblom in 1931.
So is it possible to forgive the ignorance of the several young white Australians for their behaviour a few days after the 26th of January and after some very public debate about changing the date of “Australia Day” to reflect its nature to Aboriginal people? Painted in “Blackface” and capering on football fields the inappropriate nature of their celebrations is breathtaking. These few young Australians have collectively hurt, offended and angered the entire Aboriginal population.
What is even more appalling is their belief that their actions have been entirely misjudged, that their voices, their meaning and their authority is more important than listening to another’s viewpoint.
Their attitude goes beyond white privilege and takes it into the realm of white supremacy.
In the few days post “Australia Day” James Braszell a photographer whose most recent publication is a calendar featuring images of sheep shearing, played host to a themed “Australian Icons” birthday party where no less than three attendees painted themselves in “Blackface“. Two men were grotesquely outfitted in black paint and ill-fitting red nappies as a parody of Aboriginal culture. Those with even a passing interest in history know that such activities are based on racial vilification. Check Spike Lee’s montage in the previous link.
When challenged on why he allowed these negative stereotypes to persist in their presence at his party Braszell’s reply was to boast about “That moment that we broke the internet” and to look for mainstream media attention for the stir they had caused on social media.
After the images emerged well known Aboriginal musicians Briggs and Thelma Plum took the people involved to task on social media. The reaction to proud Gamilaraay woman Plum comments’ about how insulting this behaviour has been to herself and her people has been nothing short of vile. One commenter telling her to “Go and kill yourself you filthy half breed”. More images appeared of the young women friends of the men. They also dressed in blackface, held a yidaki, which women in the southern states are not permitted to carry and hashtagged the photo with the term “I live with a darky”
It is possible to understand why these young people believe that they have a right to behave in a manner which is not only explicitly racist but also believe that there will be no consequences for their actions. Supported by a government and a corporate system which tacitly underpins casual and overt racism and denies the true and proper owners of their rights to their land, the next generation of “squattocracy” is inevitably being groomed to fill the places left behind by Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey and their paternalistic predecessor John Howard.
This is an alarming trend. That we have failed to penetrate the vacuous minds of white privileged youth shows a failure of growth in this country. It shows that we really have nothing to celebrate no matter what day “Australia Day” falls on.
The photo above shows on the left Samson a Worrorra man 198 cm tall, standing on a mangrove log raft, Camden Harbour, 1917. © W.J. Jackson
Source: The Shipwreck Galleries, Western Australia Museum, Fremantle, Western Australia and on the right two of the individuals who are friends of James Braszell a Victorian sheep photographer.