(Australia Day re-post)
A few of my fellow Kurdish Australians raised objections to celebrating this day in terms of relations with indigenous communities.
History could have unfolded differently, for the better as well as for the worse for indigenous Australians, since 26 January 1788. No one can deny the history of violence, dispossession and racism towards the indigenous communities in Australia since the start of the European colonisation.
Should that be a sufficient reason to mark Australia Day with national grief instead of celebration? In my view it is not. That this great nation was built upon the sweat and toil of 1000 social outcasts sentenced to death, however, is a good reason to celebrate.
Everyone’s favourite indigenous leader Noel Pearson was addressing the National Press Club on the 27th of January. He mentioned three defining moments in Australia’s history. 1- The arrival of first Australians to the mainland 50,000 years ago, 2- January 26, 1788, the start of British colonisation and, 3 – The official end to the White Australia Policy between 1973 and 1975, which meant Australia was now fully open to immigrants from all over the world.
Now which of these days -and I mean day, not years or millennia- seem the most defining ‘moment’ which the nation was founded on? Here is Wikipedia on how January 26 gradually came to be adopted:
“Although it was not known as Australia Day until over a century later, records of celebrations on 26 January date back to 1808, with the first official celebration of the formation of New South Wales held in 1818. On New Year’s Day 1901, the British colonies of Australia formed a Federation, marking the birth of modern Australia. A national day of unity and celebration was looked for. It was not until 1935 that all Australian states and territories had adopted use of the term “Australia Day” to mark the date, and not until 1994 that the date was consistently marked by a public holiday on that day by all states and territories.”
You cannot declare a public holiday and expect people to enjoy being Australians on that day. These things must grow with and from within the people, as is the case for Anzac Day. During the first two decades of my life neither of these days meant anything to me either and I held the same reservations as those held by my fellow Kurdish Australians.
On Australia Day this year, during my lengthy walk around the harbour and the City, I saw a people genuinely enjoying a day of national unity and celebration. This was not a party imposed from high above by state officials; this was a ground up affair. There were remarkably few flags considering the importance of the day, which is another sign that Australians are not as jingoistic about national identity as our American counterparts. People were all nice and courteous towards each other; they have embraced this summer day to do what Australians are known to do: go to the beach, play cricket, light up the BBQ, invite family and friends around, be nice and cordial to all.
On the way home at night, near Sydney University, I met a brilliant young 1st Year Law student from China. Her adopted name was Amy, and during our intense 15 minute conversation about everything while we were waiting for our respective buses, I saw in her a person who had quickly embraced this nation’s way of life in her short 4 months in the country. She had been out and about all day and was delighted and fascinated with the way people here were celebrating the day compared to those in America where she had also lived in briefly.
“Where would you rather live”, I asked Amy. “Here”, she said instantly. “Why?” “It’s safer. People are nice”. “Welcome to Australia”, I said and offered her the small plastic Aussie flag someone had placed in my hand near the Opera House that evening. “I have one already”, she laughed, turning her back and showing a tiny flag protruding from her small backpack.
This is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nation first, but an immigrant nation foremost. The indigenous people of this country got a bad deal, yes; but so did the thousands of convicts who were sent here against their will to start a colony for British monarchs. Settlers and refugees built further on what was kick-started on January 26, 1988, this land’s and nation’s most defining moment in history.
So my suggestion to fellow Kurdish Australians is, stop being party poopers, get off your high horse and embrace this national day of celebration of this great country of ours.
Happy Australia Day!