Great Southern Land

Today was Australia Day, which is Australia’s official national day. It’s a public holiday and commemorates the arrival of Captain Phillip and the First Fleet in 1788. For most people it is an opportunity to display our national pride and you’ll often see flags in windows and people wearing green and gold at barbecues and lunches. It’s a patriotic day that brings unity despite our many differences: the one day where we are just Australian.

For me Australia Day holds a slightly different meaning. I am proudly Australian but my parents were originally English; they lived in Australia for more than 15 years before becoming Australian citizens themselves. Witnessing their citizenship ceremony was one of the proudest moments of my life. But perhaps because of that I have always preferred a quieter observation; while other people attend festivals I prefer to take time thinking about what Australia means to me, how far we’ve come and still have to go.

chris by the harbour

Something I always do around this time is to look back through some of our old photographs and I found this one earlier. I can’t believe it but it must be almost 20 years old now; I still remember some of that day, near the harbour and the botanic gardens. We had ice cream afterwards. And yes, that is me in the picture. I was 4 years old. Ugly little bugger, wasn’t I? 😉

Of all the photographs we have this is one of my favourites, not just because it captures the memories I still have of that day but also because it’s like a snapshot of how I see Australia. To me Australia isn’t a nation in the sense that America is; we’re much younger and don’t have the same history and culture behind us. We’re still growing and finding our identity and culture. That’s what I see in the photo: that I would grow, and Australia would as well.

Over the last 20 years Australia has changed a lot and it has been interesting watching those changes unfold. To be frank some of them have disturbed me, particularly as our civil liberties have unravelled, but we’ve also made progress. The apology to Indigenous Australians last year was a watershed moment in our development as a nation and raises the real possibility for reconciliation one day. That indigenous leader Mick Dodson was named Australian of the Year this year is another step towards that.

But we’re not there yet. There are still a lot of obstacles in the way and Australia Day itself is one of them. Some people think the date should be changed from January 26 so it includes all Australians and I agree; many Aboriginal Australians consider it to be “Invasion Day” and to have a national day which isn’t inclusive of the first Australians seems culturally insensitive to me and always has. Federation Day, January 1st, 1901, seems more suitable, the day we gained interdependence from Britain.

But when I think of all we’ve achieved as a young country, though – from the biggest townships to the smallest farms, from the beaches of Gallipoli to the villages of East Timor -, it makes me extremely proud. We’re a country that came about partially by accident; under other circumstances we could have been a Dutch or French settlement and if not for the American Revolution the events of our colonisation by Britain would’ve been very different. As the descendants of convicts, we’ve developed a stable democracy and are slowly moving towards becoming a republic. That is not a bad start for any country.

Today the thing I find myself thinking about the most is our landscape. That’s what I noticed most looking at that photograph, how after 20 years the harbour is still the same… the water the same brilliant blue. I think it’s something a lot of us take for granted; for many of us Australia is just there but how many of us have really seen it, have seen Kakadu or Kings Canyon? I know I hope to at some stage, to see Uluru at sunset and the ancient art in the Abrakurrie caves. I think it’s our landscape which defines our identity and it’s what I’m most grateful for.

There’s one song that always comes to mind when I think of Australia. It’s Icehouse’s Great Southern Land. I couldn’t hope for a better song to post on Australia Day. Hope you enjoy it.

Wherever you are in the world I wish you peace, hope and a Happy Australia Day. Here’s hoping one day it’ll be Happy Republic Day – a day we can all celebrate as one. 😉

6 thoughts on “Great Southern Land

  1. What a beautiful post!

    I think you’ve captured many of the feelings I have about Australia. It has a lot of problems, but it’s wonderful and has so much potential.

    I think changing the date to January 1 would be a good one…although that is New Years. Then again, this Australia Day fell on the Chinese New Year. Maybe two holidays in one can work.

    I’m not all together sure I’m against January 26 as Australia Day. I think it’s kind of sad to think of it as Invasion Day. If one group keeps seeing another group as invaders, there might never be peace.

    Over 40,000 years ago, the Aborigines were invaders. Well, sort of. It was a land of animals. And suddenly, there were human invaders.

    Now new immigrants are flowing in. I think white Australians often feel like they’re being invaded.

    But maybe January 26 is a bad date because it celebrates the beginning of white Australia. Maybe it excludes others.

    What about Sorry Day?

  2. Dina puts an interesting slant on it CJ… is great to have such well informed and open minded people here on your blog is’nt it? Will have to find out if there is any chance of Dina actually taking out citizenship…with Jack and Tim one Australia Day…unless it is only Dina who has the fascination and deep connection with Oz?

  3. Magikquilter,

    It’s unfortunately just me who has the passion for Australia. I feel I’m lucky enough that Tim and Jack have agreed to make it our holiday destination two years in a row.

    I did have Tim interested in moving there last year….or at least open to it. But then he slowly lost interest.

    Jack wants to stay in Texas. He loves visiting other places, but gets very upset at the idea of moving.

    But there’s always hope they’ll change their mind.

    Tim was out of a job for about two years. So, there was this feeling that maybe he’d find his next job in Australia. But now he has a job so…. But there is hope that the organization could go international. Maybe?

  4. Dina – Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed the post! I’m obviously proud of my country and I think it’s amazing when we stop to look at how far we’ve come in such a short period of time. There are many things we still need to improve, and there’s a lot of history behind us that we fail to acknowledge as well, but at the same time we’re a young nation and still growing. I hope that one day Australia will become a mature influence and voice in our region of the world and perhaps we’re seeing that beginning now, with the apology and East Timor. For me the next step in our development is to become a republic but that still seems like a decade or more away; perhaps when Charles becomes king we’ll have that debate again.

    I do know what you mean about Australia Day and changing the date; on the surface it seems unfair to change the date which the majority of people are comfortable with, particularly as not all Indigenous Australians object to it. I think the problem is, though, that many people see the celebrations as subsuming the past and there’s a strong feeling that history is being rewritten and what happened is being forgotten.

    What most people want is a dialogue about it and if the majority of Australians (including Aborigines) decided that Australia Day represented modern Australia then I think keeping the date would be okay; we’d be able to balance celebration with remembrance. But right now we’re not doing that and that’s why many Aborigines are upset, as their heritage is basically being overlooked.

    Personally I am in favour of changing the date as symbolically I think it’s the right thing to do; I don’t see how we can be a united country while our national day has so many different meanings. Historically as well Australia Day has only been celebrated Australia-wide since 1946, so it’s actually quite a recent addition which people forget.

    Foundation Day would be my preference but you’re right, as that’s January 1 that might be a problem… I guess we could just have the holiday on the 2nd? Sorry Day wouldn’t be a bad date, or possibly May 27, the referendum… the problem with either, though, is that they could work to remind people of the past. I’d rather have a date which doesn’t remind anyone of cultural guilt if possible. Foundation Day would be the best of those.

    Perhaps the best thing to do would be to wait until we become a republic. We’d have a day which would be truly ours to share in then. I hope it comes soon. 😉

    MQ – I know, and it’s interesting that you met through what happened with Kaylee as well; sometimes good things really can come out of bad situations.

    I think Dina, Tim and Jack are more than entitled to being honorary Australian citizens, don’t you think? 🙂

  5. Awesome post CJ. I love listening to Great Southern Land … especially when I feel a little homesick for my Oz.

    Why is it so many of us leave for so long? But as cliche as it may sound, no where else will feel like home to me except Australia.

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