‘Straya day

It’s Australia Day, and unusual this year for a couple of reasons. In my mind at least Australia Day is always bright and warm, if not hot, there’s cricket on the telly and sausages sizzling on the barbie. The cricket will be on later, but this morning Melbourne woke to pouring rain. It rained on and off for hours, and may well yet again. It’s cool to, very un-Australian.

The other surprise today is Tony Abbott outdoing himself by awarding the queen’s hubbie, Prince Phillip, a Greek born Brit, an Australian knighthood (an anachronism in itself, without this additional nonsense). Truly Abbott is a remarkable man. You couldn’t write satire like this. Tony Abbott is a parody of himself.

Quite aside from the inappropriateness of this award (which, I’m sure, Prince Phillip could easily do without) there’s the abject lack of political judgement. There’s been a lot of conjecture on Twitter this morning, as well as downright ridicule. I wondered aloud whether Abbott might in fact be a republican plant – now what a cunning plan that would be! Or else Abbott has a political death wish.

You don’t need to be of the left to see this latest act by Abbott as being practically ludicrous. It further erodes Abbott’s dwindling credibility and, I reckon, will give the republican movement a kick-along. At a time when he’s struggling to survive it’s not going to do much for Abbott’s polling either.

While this is cause for some startled levity, bad news filtered in late this morning.

Most Australian’s won’t know who Tom Uren was. He died today, aged 93. He was a great man, and great Australian of the old school – honest, hard, decent and resolute. He was a heavyweight boxer who ended up a prisoner on the Burma railway, where he met Weary Dunlop (one of the greatest of Australians). Uren returned from the war and got involved in politics, eventually becoming a  minister in the Whitlam government.

He was a favourite Australian of mine, and my favourite kind of Australian. He had a good innings, a fascinating life, but it’s sad to see him go.


I woke up on Australia Day in a different bed from usual, which was a plus. I had spent the night at the Cheese’s for the second week in a row. We’d had a tacos for dinner, a couple of bottles of wine, and watched a movie. I woke yesterday full of vivid dreams, including moments of casual and matter of fact eroticism.

We had a very un-Australian breakfast of poffertjes with coffee. The TV was on celebrating and previewing the days festivities. The sun was already bright, and the grass outside wet with the sprinklers that had come on at 6am.

I left a little before 10. The streets were quiet of traffic. I drove by the odd woman in lycra running by the side of the road in pursuit of their news years resolutions. On the radio they played Australian songs, some of which I’d not heard from ages. Later I’d tune in to that other mainstay of Australia Day, the Triple J Hottest 100. Memories came back to me of this over the years, of celebrations, of times away, of returning to Melbourne in the car listening to the countdown.

I stopped in Malvern to visit the shop. It seemed quiet still, but people had gathered at the corner cafe for coffee or breakfast. I did the same.

The previous Sunday I’d followed the same routine. That time I stopped at a cafe in the back streets of Malvern I’d passed again and again in my car every time thinking that looks interesting, I must check it out. I checked it out last Sunday. I parked the car in the street beside a small park. It appeared a pleasant neighbourhood, quiet and cosy, the sort of area you think you’d enjoy living.

The cafe was busy with people in well cut summer clothes. The coffee was good, the breakfast menu interesting. I soaked it in, eavesdropping on surrounding conversations and examining the artwork. I felt at peace, as if this was my milieu in some way – though not completely true; and as if this was a return to a lifestyle very familiar, but now sadly missed. That much is true.

Yesterday it was a little different. Yesterday felt more of the current routine – a coffee, a chat to the owner, and a last minute decision to have an omelette. Then afterwards, the shop.

I drove towards ‘home’ at a little after 11. The streets were livelier. I drove with the music loud and the sunroof open. I watched as people went by in their short t-shirts – it was a perfect summer’s day. I spotted a man in his shorts using a leaf-blower to clear his nature strip of debris. Somehow it struck me as entirely Australian, though of course it’s not. It summed up much about living here though, for me, the familiarity of it all, a middle class boy like me with the songs of my life ringing in my ears and the Australian sun beating down in a blue Australian sky and the images flickering by me, each of them seemingly epitomising some aspect of life here in Oz.

That’s Australia Day. We fired up the barbie, as you do. We have Pavlova for dessert, as you do. And as so many across the land on this day did. The cricket was on TV, and later the final of the Australian Open.

It’s all so small in its individual pieces, but as a whole it paints a vivid picture. Like a mosaic made of a thousand tiles that joined in one presents an image to make you stop and look. Days like this you have to remember, we really are lucky.

There was a fairy-tale element to the day yesterday. In both the women’s and men’s cricket we looked like losing on Australia Day, only to win both in the last over. In the distance as the last throes of the match played out I heard fireworks go off like crackling thunder. On another channel Wawrinka was finishing off Nadal. It was the end of a big, very Australian, day.


Just on Australia Day, I was walking down the road yesterday when a car approached and did a U-turn in front of me. It was an old Holden Monaro, just about the quintessential Aussie muscle car. It looked beaut, perfectly kept and with a throaty, masculine rumble coming from under the hood. It was a lovely deep purple, the colour of a ripe eggplant, with an Australian flag somehow wedged into the crack of the boot so that it whipped and fluttered with the passage of the car. The driver himself seemed quietly Oz as well. He was somewhere in his mid-twenties, dark-haired, good looking, square jawed, his face serious, concentrated on the task at hand, his eyes hiddeen behind dark glasses. As so many of us have he drove with one arm resting on the sill of the drivers door, revealing a muscular bicep clad in a plain white t-shirt.

I know I’m against crass displays of nationalism, but there was something in this that made me swell. It was almost too perfectly Australian on the national day, like something put-on, as if someone was filming an ad for Oz, the pure Australiana, bloke version. Good for you mate, I thought. I nearly went and bought a meat pie.

Advance Australia

There was a report in the newspaper the other day about some graffiti found in an outer suburb: “Fuck Australia Fair”, it read. I doubt the person responsible for this did so with irony in mind. Most likely it was an angry, perhaps even bitter, riposte to the great Australian dream. Perhaps it was scrawled by a disaffected migrant who has discovered the reality does’t match up to the dream.

As a reasonably patriotic Australian I might have felt some umbrage at the impertinence at the comment. I didn’t. In fact I was happy to see it reported. Today is Australia Day, and amid all the well founded celebration it’s good to be reminded that all is not pristine, we are not a perfect society, and that there is still work to be done.

I’ll celebrate like most Australians, might have a drink or two, and every chance will find myself at a barbecue this long weekend. When I reflect it will be with some quiet pride. Notwithstanding angry graffiti I believe Australia is a great place to live, that we have much to be proud of, and that, most importantly perhaps, the common Australian is a decent individual who wants a better world.

What I don’t like is cheap jingoism. I have no patience with mindless celebration. Slogans and addled notions of ‘what it means to be an Australian’ should be disavowed. I think it should be practically illegal to drape yourself in an Aussie flag (uncouth as it is), and that the bogan hijack with its chauvinistic overtones should be rejected outright. I’m just one member of this society, but that’s not my Australia, the Australia I know and love.

I read an interview this morning with Micky Arthur, the South African coach of the Australian cricket team. He spoke of how impressed he was with the spirit of community in Australia, and the tradition of ‘active citizenry’. He cited as an example the selfless volunteers all over the country fighting bushfires and working to salve the distress and loss of the poor victims of it. It’s a good example. I think every Australian looks up to the CFA, and other organisations like that, but we also take it a little for granted. We laud it, but we expect it also, because it has ever been that way. There is that tradition of service, of helping out, of mateship, that I think on the one hand is a central component of our culture, if not identity; but at the same time is overlooked. It is not seen as being as unique as what it is.

It takes a foreign eye sometimes to report back to us the differences they see. We live immersed in this, and fail to see anything unusual. It’s such a common theme though over many years – remember how the volunteers were lauded at the Sydney Olympics? – that perhaps we should own up to it. We have something special there, particularly when the chips are down. As a nation we’re healthy and wealthy, more so than we’re prepared to admit, and enjoyed good fortune foreign to so many other societies in the world. There is a lot that annoys the bejesus out of me, particularly politically, but I’ve had no reason to doubt that this is the best place in the world to live as a citizen. And more now than ever before.

It’s remiss, however, to accept only the good, and refuse the not so good. Perhaps Australia Day is not the time to dwell on those things, but I hope that if we are to continue to thrive and grow that we don’t neglect to work on the things we can do better. That’s why a piece of graffiti in outer Melbourne is so important. It reminds us that we are not there yet, and that there are many still who have yet to enjoy the fruits of our society. There’s a lot to do, but foremost heading into the years ahead is to bring those others into our embrace. To be inclusive, to listen, be compassionate, above all, to be honest and up-front. Isn’t that an Australian virtue?

Practical change, not symbolic violence

English: Invasion Day protest at the Aborigina...

Image via Wikipedia

Australia Day this year was host to some serious controversy and provocative images. I’m not going to go into the rights and wrongs of what happened in Canberra on Thursday, but I do want to address the aftermath.

After Gillard and Abbott were bailed up by aboriginal protesters the images were beamed around the world and editorial writers from all over sharpened their pencils and got to work. There’s been much comment, not a little vitriol, and ongoing speculation about what it all means – including some calls that Australia Day should be changed.

I’m broadly sympathetic to the aboriginal cause. I’m not sure exactly what their tent embassy in Canberra continues to achieve, but I’m quite happy to let them to continue if that’s their desire (which, to be fair, is the point Abbott was making I think). I don’t think they did themselves any favours though when they besieged the prime minister and the opposition leader in a Canberra restaurant while they were going about their Australia Day duties. I’m not a fan of either of them, but I reckon there’s no-one who deserves to be endangered while going about their duties. It was an ugly look and politically stupid by the aboriginal folk protesting (an opinion shared by the aboriginal elders). However, it’s done.

Yesterday we saw footage of the same folk marching on parliament house and setting fire to Australian flags on the steps of it. I know there are a lot of people out there who just about burst a jugular at the thought of the national flag being set alight. I’m not one of them. End of the day it’s a bit of coloured cloth, and given we’re a democracy people are entitled to express their views as long as it harms no-one. Still, it’s not a good look, and another example of bad judgement. Whether a flag is burnt or not the facts remain; what changes are people’s opinions, and it’s those opinions they should be working to win. Unfortunately I reckon they’ve now lost a lot of goodwill, which the more measured representatives of the Koori movement would be seething at. Those on the border may well have decided they can’t support such ratbags, and others would feel – reasonably I think – that by disrespecting the flag you’re disrespecting the people who live under it.

I can cop all of that with little more than a weary and disappointed sigh. When I see children though urged to spit on the flag and take a match to it I get pretty uncomfortable. I hate it how children are used in such a blatantly political manner. For a start they’re children, they should not be involved in this. Children should be children, should be kept away from confrontation and exploitation. It’s a disgrace their parents allowed it. It’s wrong too because they have had a violent opinion shoved down their throat without the benefit of consideration. I know it’s an utopian view in a world of fundamentalist religion and extreme political views, but I believe that children should be allowed to form their own opinions in their own time.

In any case, much of this has been a sad and misguided episode in which few people come out looking good.

There are now calls that Australia Day should be shifted or changed, that we should be more considerate of the aboriginals who were here before us and stop celebrating ‘invasion’ day as they like to call it.

I spent a lot of this morning thinking and talking about this. Australia Day doesn’t mean a huge amount to me. Spiritually I think Anzac day is a much more important day to most Australians. It certainly is for me. Australia Day by contrast is a very pleasant and mildly celebratory day. We have a barbie maybe with friends, we watch the cricket and tennis on telly, a few eminent Australians get awards, and a couple of fireworks go off. I don’t really think it should be much more than that. Though Howard – who is responsible for more bad than good – tried to turn Australia Day into flag-waving celebration of national achievement, I don’t think it’s really in the Aussie psyche. We’re laid-back about such things, traditionally at least, and thank God for that. Not for us the hand on the heart treacly exceptionalism which so mars American society. We’re good onya mate, cheers. So, Australia Day is a pleasant day – can it be changed?

I would be very upset if it was. I have one message for those who call for it and each Australia Day find cause to protest: get over it. Though the date commemorates the arrival of the first fleet – a notable day in Australian history, and the day the Australian nation as we know it was born – what we really celebrate is who we are now, and how far we’ve come. Unfortunately some things we can’t celebrate as we should, because we have failed, which is the real issue here.

For generations we – white Australia – have let down our Koori brothers. We still do. There have been great moments when important and symbolic breakthroughs occurred – the Mabo case, national sorry day, and so on. In between times though there has been backsliding. The great steps forward under Hawke and Keating were undone by that arch prick John Howard. The respect Rudd showed in acknowledging the wrongs done to the aboriginal nation has been largely negated since by the political apathy of Gillard. In practical terms progress has been slow and difficult, and hard to measure. In many places around Australia aboriginal people live in third world squalor and are treated as second class citizens. It is a blight on the nation, and good reason for the outrage of so many – white as well as black. This must change.

I say get over it because history is not going to change, and the ships that landed here in 1788 are not going to land somewhere else. It may concentrate the mind and give a rallying point for dissent, but it is hardly the issue. Forget about that and let’s look at what good we can do now. Despite the violence, there are many people of goodwill and energy wanting to make a difference. We – white Australia – need to show we care, and the government that represents us needs more importantly to act. If anything good is to come out of these few days perhaps that might be it – spotlight the inequities and give the impetus for something to be done about it. Don’t fuck it up though – we need to work together, and violence will only draw us apart.