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?