Australia Day

It’s been reported that up to 1 million New Zealanders did not vote in the last election.  Before the official results were released it was also suggested the no-vote was significant in left-leaning areas.  My personal view is a lot of the non-voters have moved to Australia/Ausetalia… and many more will continue to follow them across the ditch.

Nearly half my extended family (my parents’ siblings and their kids) have made the move from here to Ausetalia, and most of them in the last 5 years.  Traditionally, many Samoans from New Zealand/Niu Sila have migrated to Sydney/Sini or Melbourne/Melepone, but the recent waves of Samoans choose the tropical Brisbane, Cairns and even Perth or Adelaide.

Needless to say, the Samoans in Ausetalia are constantly trying to convince the rest of us in Niu Sila to move over to where the grass is greener (metaphorically speaking… coz really, the grass is brown over there haha!).  I’ll leave the family arm-wrestling between the two countries for another post.  But I did want to discuss the national day of Ausetalia… naturally it’s called, Australian Day.

The official website for Australian Day states:

On Australia Day we come together as a nation to celebrate what’s great about Australia and being Australian. It’s the day to reflect on what we have achieved and what we can be proud of in our great nation. It’s the day for us to re-commit to making Australia an even better place for the future.

More specifically Australia Day, 26 January, is the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet of 11 convict ships from Great Britain, and the raising of the Union Jack at Sydney Cove by its commander Captain Arthur Phillip, in 1788.

Yip, that’s right, they’re celebrating the arrival of their white forefathers, prisoners, to the shores of this Pacific continent!

So every year the descendants of these convicts celebrate their arrival.  At one point the day was called Emancipation date.  In modern celebrations the images of prawns on a barbie (BBQ), wearing flip flops (jandals), hitting the beach are often reinforced as things to emulate on this special day.

But there’s another view of this national day which has in the past struggled to make a presence in the minds of Australians.  It’s a view from a people dispossessed, a people initially called animals, but a people with at least 50,000 years of history in Ausetalia, and a people who are demanding recognition.  To them, Australian Day is not Emancipation Day, but Invasion Day.

For the white Australian, it’s a day when their convict forefathers were freed to create great wealth in an “uninhabited” land (yes they called it Terra Nullius meaning land belonging to no one), broken from bondage.  Yet, to Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, it was the beginning of their enslavement to the whims of the white settlers.

To this date, the Australian Constitution doesn’t even mention Aborigines or Torres Strait Islanders.  At the time of white settlement there were estimated to be 750,000-1 million Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.  After settlement, the coastal indigenous populations were soon absorbed, depleted or forced from their lands; the traditional aspects of Aboriginal life which remained persisted most strongly in areas such as the Great Sandy Desert where European settlement has been sparse.

The most immediate consequence of British settlement – within weeks of the first colonists’ arrival – was a wave of European epidemic diseases such as chickenpox,smallpox, influenza and measles, which spread in advance of the frontier of settlement. The worst-hit communities were the ones with the greatest population densities, where disease could spread more readily.

The second consequence of British settlement was appropriation of land and water resources. The settlers took the view that Indigenous Australians were nomads with no concept of land ownership, who could be driven off land wanted for farming or grazing and who would be just as happy somewhere else. In fact the loss of traditional lands, food sources and water resources was usually fatal, particularly to communities already weakened by disease. Additionally, Indigenous Australians groups had a deep spiritual and cultural connection to the land, so that in being forced to move away from traditional areas, cultural and spiritual practices necessary to the cohesion and well-being of the group could not be maintained. Proximity to settlers also brought venereal disease, to which Indigenous Australians had no tolerance and which greatly reduced Indigenous fertility and birthrates. Settlers also brought alcohol, opium and tobacco, and substance abuse has remained a chronic problem for Indigenous communities ever since.

Well into the 20th Century, Indigenous Australians were – both in Australia itself and in many other countries – the subject of widespread crude racist stereotyping. For example, the American birth control campaigner Margaret Sanger could write casually: “The aboriginal Australian, the lowest known species of the human family, just a step higher than the chimpanzee in brain development, has so little sexual control that police authority alone prevents him from obtaining sexual satisfaction on the streets” (What Every Girl Should Know, 1920).  Assimilation became Government policy where Aboriginal children were forcibly taken from their families and adopted into white families.

For those of us in Niu Sila, it all sounds so familiar because of the colonial past here, between the white settlers and the indigenous peoples, Maori.  But as we compare the most recent history,  it appears as though Maori have made more progress in gaining recognition, rights and reconciliation, than the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.

But that seems to be changing.  On Australia Day 2012, a few days ago, the opposition leader, Tony Abbott called for the Aboriginal Tent Embassy (a protest forum formed in 1972 to air Aboriginal grievances) to “move on”.  In response, Aboriginal activists marched to a nearby restaurant where both Mr Abbott and Palemia/Prime Minister Julia Gillard were at, and chanted loud and hard.  It became a national incident when security forces huddled around the leaders and led them to waiting vehicles.

It’s quite amusing watching the play backs, because the security huddle were rushing through, not protesters, but a horde of news reporters and cameramen!  Yet what was reported was the protesters were violent and therefore the leaders needed to be protected.

Today, news media are reporting the general public and some indigenous leaders are condemning the actions of the protesters.  From the clips I’ve seen, I can’t see a single incident where the leaders were ever threatened.  Maybe it’s because us Kiwi’s know what protesting is like.  Australians are probably unfamiliar with loud chanting, but that is not threatening, it’s protesting!

As I’ve said, it appears as though the Aborigines are slowly gaining a voice, just as Maori have and are doing, through peaceful protest.  Sure there will be haters and wreckers, but these are generational protests… not fads of the day.  Heck, 40 years on in Niu Sila, and Maori are still being labelled as radicals and terrorists (Uruwera raids).

But every long journey begins with a small step.

More power to the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders!

0 thoughts on “Australia Day

  1. Australia Day eh? Well here in America, we celebrate that as Thanksgiving Day….Unfortunately, some Native Americans here would call it ” Thank YOU for giving US, all of your land- Day”

    Do you think the world would be totally different today if the Aborigines, the Maori, Native Americans, or even the Hawaiians had Killed any foreign invaders at first sight? Stopping any thought or idea of colonizing their land.

    Thanks for the post , I really enjoyed the piece bro. Alofa atu.

  2. Yeah the world would be totally different… even in Samoa… we would be unified for one thing… American prosperity was built off the backs of black slaves and stolen lands of the Indians… So yip, who knows what the world would look like… Thanks for the comment.

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