There are two sides to Australia Day. One is the very well known, “lets have a barbie, a few pints of beer and go to the beach” version that people in the urban areas identify with. To them it is the day when Australia became a proper nation, and about the arrival of British colonials from half way around the world. This is the version that most people around the world are accustomed to. It is the version that the Liberal Party of Australia, and politicians such as Pauline Hanson want you to celebrate.
I have no problem with Australians celebrating the characteristics that make them the nation they are. Singing Australian classics such as Waltzing Matilda, with steaks on the barbecue at a seaside property in Woollongong, whilst watching people surfing and playing beach cricket – how Australian is that? Very. And for the most part, quite awesome.
But there is another Australia Day that is completely ignored among the mainstream media. It is the day that the First Nation peoples of Australia, whose settlement records go back longer than modern Judaeo Christian society has existed, remember as “Invasion Day”. For them this is the start of a period where Aboriginals were actively hunted down, marginalized, and degraded as a race. This is the civilization whose recorded history of song and dance traces Australia back through times and events before people of European descent even began spreading out around the world.
Compared with New Zealand, which has numerous issues still to address with Maoridom, Australia is far, far behind. The fact that it took until Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologized in 2008 to the descendants of the First Nations people for the wrong doings for Australia to even acknowledge its pasts says something about its social priorities regarding indigenous peoples. The fact that Aboriginal people on average have a life span of 15-20 years less than their equivalent peoples in the United States, Canada and New Zealand and that land titles confiscated from them still cause as much angst and hurt as they did when the confiscations originally happened is hurtful. How long it will take for the the families of the Stolen Generation to be realistically able to move on from their past is unknown. Some might never.
Aboriginal people have given Australia a lot more than they have been given credit for. Anthony Mundine (boxer), and Cathy Freeman (Olympic sprinter)are both of Aboriginal descent. National parks such as Uluru and Kakadu are sacred to local Aboriginal people, and help to form the basis for Dreamtime mythology, which exists before an individual is born and after they die. These national parks among others also have rock art works that depict past events of signficance as well as stories, and some of them are over 30,000 years old. These national parks attract millions of people each year. The digeridoo, which is about 1,500 years old and primarily a wind instrument is one of the primary contributions made to music.
So, let us celebrate Australia Day as we do, but let us also remember that contrary to what former Prime Minister Tony Abbott will have you believe, Australia was settled well before any European even knew the Lucky Country existed.