Australia Day?

 

Statements, photos and stickers like the one on the right seem to proliferate around Australia Day.  Surely the nation is better than this kind of cringe-worthy, narrow-minded bigotry?  I might be able to eat red meat, hold my liquor should I choose and speak and write English better than the vast majority of Anglo-Saxons in this nation.  But it doesn’t alter the fact that I’m an immigrant, fourteen of my formative years were spent under a different sun, listening to different birds and enjoying divergent aromas, hearing several languages spoken, amongst a people with significantly different customs, histories and world views.  I might look and sound as though I fit the ideal expressed in these offensive posters that seem to play so well to the white-bread proletariat.  But my story is more closely aligned to the true Australian reality.

It probably says a lot about modern-day Australia that there is an ongoing squeamishness about the place and appropriateness of Australia Day.  Perhaps a nation needs to appropriately and fully reconcile its past before it is able to take its place in the future.  And picking 26 January as the “National Day” immediately results in division.  Calling this day a ‘celebration’ immediately alienates our indigenous brothers and sisters whose history and connection to this continent stretches back thousands of years, making 240 years of European interaction a blip on the radar in comparison.

 

Climbing a Bunya tree - Montville

 

 

This summer my two elder boys both climbed and harvested their first Bunya tree.  Bunyas are a magnificent prehistoric pine native to South East Queensland.  They produce a massive pine cone that can weigh up to 5kg and containing up to 50 tear shaped “nuts” that resemble water chestnuts.  They are edible and very nutritious and work particularly well in curries where they absorb and enhance the other spices and flavours.
Bunya trees were revered by the indigenous tribes of the Sunshine Coast.  When in season they provided an abundance of food, and were the subject of what was perhaps the largest indigenous festival on the continent prior to European habitation.  The Bunya Nut festival was held in Baroon Pocket on Obi Obi Creek and was a gathering that sometimes lasted months – a festival to share stories and tools, trade implements, arrange marriages and resolve conflicts.

Each man would have his own Bunya tree that was his to harvest and protect.  To the local aboriginal the Bunya was a sacred tree, and the man’s propriety to his tree meant that each tree was viewed as an extension of the man’s person, the tree taking on the personality of its caretaker.  The indigenous value on the Bunya tree came into direct collision with Anglo-Saxon Australia when settlers started to spread out into the fertile abundance of the Glass House Mountains and the Sunshine Coast Hinterland.  The magnificent Bunya was viewed as an ideal hardwood by the settlers building houses and trampling over indigenous settlements.

The indigenous women would weep over every felled Bunya tree, not for a day or so, but sometimes for months.  So obvious was their distress that eventually local explorer Andrew Petrie prevailed upon the Governor of NSW, Governor Gipps, to declare the Bunya Proclamation in 1842 which prevented settlement or the granting of cattle or timber licenses in the Sunshine Coast area.  While Yellowstone National Park is generally described as the world’s first, the Bunya Proclamation, which created a reserve for the indigenous population, predates Yellowstone by some 30 years!

What is little known and rarely taught is that the Bunya Proclamation was repealed as one of the first acts of the Queensland Parliament (if not THE first act) when Queensland achieved colony status in 1859.  Thereafter the settlement of this area became open slather, and a shameful century was launched including forced marches of aboriginal people away from their traditional lands and into reserves and holding areas far removed from their traditional lifestyle.

The indigenous population on the Sunshine Coast remains decimated to this day.  It seems appropriate that finally in 2008 a formal governmental apology to indigenous Australia, and particularly the Stolen Generation, was made by a Prime Minister who grew up in this same area.   But when confronted by the dismissive jingoism of Australia Day one wonders how much of this apology has trickled down into acceptance from the broad white populace.

Australia is a wonderful country and has a lot to celebrate.  Posters of the ilk above are generated by a defensive narrow-mindedness that denies, and perhaps even trashes much of what is good about this country – particularly its indigenous heritage and the profound contribution of successive waves of migrants from around the globe.  The people who make and promote these kinds of posters and bumper stickers constantly talk about what is Un-Australian, when ironically the paraphernalia they generate is perhaps amongst the most un-Australian content produced within the Australian population (and probably made in China).

Rather than advocating exclusion and a vanilla Australia, they would be better off spending their time talking to and getting to know migrants and indigenous Australians and appreciating the wonderful and broad heritage this country enjoys.  If they don’t they stand the risk of sounding like the type of America Ani DiFranco takes aim at in her poem Self-evident where she describes 11 September 2001 as:

the day that America
fell to its knees
after strutting around for a century
without saying thank you
or please

Could Australia Day become the day where Anglo-Australia similarly falls down on its knees and in humility seeks to truly reconcile its past to be able to appropriately celebrate its future.  It would sure beat telling people to “F*** off” because we’re full.

 

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2 Responses to Australia Day?

  1. Pingback: Expectations… « Co-mission

  2. Pingback: Expectations… « Co-mission

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