On Wednesday of last week we celebrated “We’re Still Tied to Britain’s Apron Strings”, otherwise known as “Australia Day”. As usual the spectre of us actually becoming a truly independent nation with a flag that we could actually call our own was canvassed, creating a deal of heated discussion which resolved – not much at all really. It also raised the debate, again, on who actually owns the place.
This day, ostensibly celebrates the founding of our nation when, on the 26th of January 1788, Captain (come Governor) Philip landed himself, a heap of soldiery and a bigger heap of Britain’s criminals on Australian shores. Thus, according to some, began the civilisation and gentrification of a barren and hostile land which back on the 22nd of August 1770 one Captain James Cook declared as uninhabited and belonging to the British. According to others this first settlement was an invasion and cruel repression of the indigenous inhabitants who had been in the country well before that; “bloody fella Cook turned up and stuffed it all”.
Whatever your view Australia became a British colony, a dominion of the Empire and ultimately part of the British Commonwealth of Nations. We Federated and State-alated (thus assuring sinecures for our pollies) and built the country into a nation. This was helped (or hindered) by a few wars, a bit of oppression of the indigenous and other races in Australia, and the digging of large holes from which we exported raw minerals, and clearing and farming large tracts of land from which we exported the raw agricultural produce. We also managed to build a bit of a manufacturing industry as well as a financial and services industry along the way.
Zip forward to 2011 and these questions are also one’s that I have.
Q1: Why haven’t we told the mother country to bugger off and become a nation in our own right? It’s difficult to understand why we still lack the self confidence to throw off an archaic and arcane system where someone who, by accident of birth, classifies themselves as regal and has dominion over us and our country. There was the usual diatribe by Christopher Pearson in The Weekend Australian (29 Jan) putting paid to those who want to change the status quo with inanities such as:
- ‘The queen has honoured her coronation oath in the service to her people’. I don’t consider myself, and nor do a lot of others, as one of her people.
- ‘For many she is an embodiment of social stability, the rule of law and Christian civilisation’. Umm, pop back a few generations to see the level of respect that our Regal Rulers gave to social stability and the rule of law. Ditto Christian civilisation. The only reason that they currently look half reasonable is that the people via the democratic process neutered them.
The simple fact is that they are an anachronism in a modern world. Of value only to the gossip magazines and those who are in to heraldry and heraldic memorabilia and like to speak with affected voices. As usual Pearson believes that his pontification displays his erudition and that he will actually influence people with this type of drivel. The sooner we rid ourselves of our ties to a defunct British Empire, its royalty and modify our constitution to be relevant to a modern Australia, the better.
Q2: Why haven’t we also modified our flag to represent what Australia really stands for and finally got rid of the Union Jack? The Jack remains as a reminder that Britain has dominion over us, the star of federation and the southern cross being subservient to that top left hand corner. Which part of a flag often remains after the rest has blown to tatters? – usually that little top left hand corner. No matter how frayed the flag, that Union Jack remains dominant over us and is a reminder of our continued subservience to another country.
The Sydney Morning Herald thoughtfully provided a series of flags for its readers to choose from with the negative alternative being ‘Leave it as it is”. Naturally enough the vote was split and inconclusive. Had they also had a selection which said: ‘I don’t like any of them but would like the flag changed’, they may have got a more conclusive result. My two cents worth. Let’s get rid of the Union Jack and replace it with a map of Australia coloured a suitable brown to represent ‘this wide brown land’, with the current background blue representing ‘girt by sea’.
And finally Q3: Who was here first? There is no denying that there were indigenous people wandering around Australia when Cook declared ‘terra incognita’ and British ownership. But does that particular group of indigenous people represent the original inhabitants, or are they one wave of a succession of colonisations that occurred over many thousands of years? The British arriving in 1788 being just one more colonisation wave. Note: We’ve also had successive colonisations (aka migration and refugees) since then.
Looking back in time the mean sea level has been as much as 120 metres below the present level creating land bridges between New Guinea to the North of us as well as between the Australian mainland and Tasmania. The first land bridge would have been formed between 140 to 120 thousand years ago, with the most recent fluctuations in sea level occurring between 110 and 18 thousand years ago. This would have provided many opportunities for colonisation by many tribal groups from the New Guinea region into Australia. Is it so then that all of us are actually colonisers with an equal claim that we all live in this country, but not necessarily having a substantive claim that we actually have original ownership rights? Time, archaeological and genetic studies will eventually tell.
I’d prefer to see us as: ‘we are one, but we are many. And from all the lands on earth we come. We share a dream and sing with one voice: I am, you are we are Australian’. Let’s be that as a nation in our own right under a flag that is representative of us today, not of a dream of bygone days.