Invasion Day – A Response

by on 27 January, 2012

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Timothy Gow responds to those calling for Australia Day to be renamed "Invasion Day":

It’s 5pm on Australia Day as I begin this article.  A day ostensibly for celebrating what it means to live in a first world country, with a short albeit rich history, full of both great moments and bad.  No matter whom you are, so long as you are Australian, Australia day means something to you.  Maybe it’s the day in which you swore your allegiance to your new country, and received your citizenship.  Maybe it is the day you listen to Triple J’s hottest 100, or another excuse to party with your friends, to watch the cricket, or the tennis, or relax.  It is supposed to be a day where we remember our greatest value; freedom.  I think it is important to note that nothing about these things is political.  Even Freedom, a contested topic in its own right, is something most Australians are demonstrably in favour of.  It should therefore be, a happy day, a day immune to the tug of war between those who blindly hate this country, blindly love it, and those in between.  Yet, it is not.

Race Riots and Responsibility

Yesterday, Tony Abbott, leader of the Federal Opposition and Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia were chased by protesters from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.  This dramatic event led to our nations PM being tackled, and 50 riot police engaging in an evacuation operation, as protesters cried ‘Shame, Racist’ and intimidated their targets; the Nations two leaders.

The reason for this is allegedly a response to Tony Abbott.  The Opposition leader suggested that the Aboriginal Tent Embassy may need to be taken down.  Given he was near Old Parliament house (location of the Tent Embassy) at the time, this is apparently grounds for a spontaneous march.  Later, a member of the protest went so far as to blame the whole event on Tony Abbott;

"What he said amounts to inciting racial riots."

So it is daring to express your view, to have an optimistic and positive outlook on the future of the Aboriginal people within Australian society pins to you responsibility for race riots.  I may be wrong here, but it seems to me that these people have a poor view of all Australians, including Aboriginals, that rioters are not to have responsibility for their own individual actions, and that they are not in control of their own anger, own aggression, that it would be Tony Abbott’s fault if they were to engage in rioting. 

This is an outrageous rejection of our liberal democratic values, of individual responsibility, and of the freedom to express.  Nobody denied the Tent Embassy its right to express itself, and Abbott’s comments did not call for, nor promise a future forcible closure of their operation.  Tony Abbott did not dare the crowd forth, nor did he design or demand the police response.  Abbott merely did his job, and to many Australians he represented their views.  You do not have to agree with him, that would be nonsensical, but to respect his views is not so inconceivable.  It is not racist nor violent, nor inciting racist sentiment to compliment the progress of Aboriginal rights and to suggest an end to the old approach as well as to seek a new one.

But maybe it’s because today is not just any day, it is a day hated by some.  It is a day known as ‘Invasion Day’.  It is apparently so abhorrent to love the great things about life in Australia that we must ignore them, be ashamed by them, and be daunted entirely by the worst aspects of our short history.

Twitter is hardly the fairest summation of the national mood, but yet, it is a soapbox for the vocalisation of short, puncturing views from across the spectrum.  Here are a few anonymously adjusted tweets about our great day;

“Australia Day marks the invasion of the Aboriginal homelands by Europeans & the beginning of one of the most horrifying genocides in history”

“See Tony, your off the cuff comments do have consequences. Think about it. #tentembassy #australiaday

“Tony Abbott wants to make 26 Jan Shut-up-about-the-Invasion Day”

Let’s be Optimistic

Though I would personally find it disappointing, there is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with disliking this country; there are undoubted spots on its legacy.  There is no denying from any Australian, least of all Conservatives, that Australia lacks a perfect record.  We are not the perfect nation, but nor are we a beast of horror.  We suffer the blessings of riches, freedoms and diversities not enjoyed in much of the world.  It is remembering these things that inspire people to don flags as capes despite the controversies, to seek our citizenship, to pursue excellence in sport, science, and art.  To be an Australia day Grinch, is not to be ‘indy’, or ‘edgy’, or even a bleeding heart lefty, flying the flag of equality in the face of the horrors of capitalism.  It is to make the same mistake you accuse of those of us who dare to enjoy a holiday in this nations own honour.  It is to forget one side of history, and remember the other only.

If anything, today should be a day that is not politicised, but enjoyed by all.  If you spend a quiet moment to honour the Aboriginals who suffered in the past, the soldiers who died to protect us, the freedoms you have that others do not, your god, your family and friends, or anything else about this country that you love or hate; that is your right to do so, and good for you.  For those who reject the fun, though, it is not our responsibility to quit our own values or abandon our own fun, to apologise for the things that bother you.  Not because what you view as wrong with this country is necessarily wrong or of less value than what I love about it.  It is because I believe in a society of equal opportunity.  I would fight for it through courts, ballots, and debate.  That includes eliminating disadvantage, wherever it may lie in the system, based on race, culture or creed.  Australia day does not interfere with this belief, it should be and theoretically is about the good things, the great things about this country.

In short; relax, have a beer, and stop ruining it for the rest of us.  We celebrate today, but we have not forgotten the bad.  Everyone left and right, who is politically active, seeks to correct the mistakes of the past with the right decisions into the future.  Australia day is about the optimism.  It is about the great future we could have, that we all believe in, and the great things about our past we know and love.

Timothy Gow is a 21 year old politics and international relations student at the University of Canberra.

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