Australia Daze

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @mdavidcartoons)

Once again, the date for the celebration of a national day has become the subject of a mass debate, with claims, counter claims, hyperbole, and rank and utter bollocks being bandied about in equal measure. 

The dyed-in-the-wool over their eyes consumers of the Murdoch media have claimed that 26 January is sacrosanct because it is the day Captain James Cook landed in Botany Bay and founded the Commonwealth of Australia in 1788, despite having died in 1779 while on a surfing holiday in Hawaii.  

26 January persists notwithstanding the First Fleet arriving at Botany Bay over two days between 18 and 20 January, and generally tooling around before working out it was not the best place to found a colony.   

It is reported that Botany Bay was inhospitable due to difficulty berthing the boats, a lack of fresh drinking water, the trees being so hard they couldn't be chopped down, and had to be blown out by gunpowder and all shelters were destroyed by storms. All this was compounded by the Royal Marines spending all their time completely pissed and not supervising the convicts properly.  

This has lead some historians to posit that the week before 26 January would be more suitable as a celebration of Australia Day, particularly given what has become traditional on Australia Day: a total lack of parking, some dickhead forgetting the Esky, the Weber blowing up, beach gazebos being deposited out to sea with a gust of wind, and bogans being too maggoted to control their innumerable progeny and staffies while down the beach. 

It is also reported in some sources that Commodore Arthur Phillip took one look around Botany Bay, muttered "Ken 'ell" and they upped anchors for Port Jackson with the only legacy being Phillip's profanity for which the area is now named.

While Phillip was faffing around Port Jackson, a couple of French ships lobbed in. So, in the manner of someone taking the last carpark, you are not sure you want because it is miles from KMart so someone else couldn't have it – another Australian tradition – on 26 January, Phillip and crew landed.  They planted the Union Jack and claimed the colony for Britain, all the while ignoring the blackfellas — another Australian tradition.  

With Gallic charm, the French departed, ensuring that for much of its subsequent history Australia has avoided French cooking, wine, cheese, art and literature; the chance to be a lot better at soccer; and being the staging post for an invasion of New Zealand to really sort out the Rainbow Warrior. It is reckoned Australia would be about as shit at rugby, on current indicators and, while we wouldn't play cricket, we'd still hate the English.

26 January 1788 is now disputed as being the founding of Australia, even having regard to the fact it was the establishment of an offshore detention centre, another tradition that has persisted. Rather, the historians argue it was but the establishment of a British colony called New South Wales, the establishment of Australia only happening on 1 January 1901.  

This has not deterred the multitudes who wave flags, wear flags, lie on flags, have a quick root under flags, and would even consider flag toilet paper patriotic from insisting 26 January is the date. For them, nothing is more Australian than the founding of a British colony. And nothing is more bloody Australian and worthy of celebration of an Australian national day, according to a Victorian radio station, of the founding of the colony of New South Wales.

Further, nothing, apparently, is more sacrosanct than 26 January as Australia Day, notwithstanding the fact the date has changed more often than the leadership of the United Patriots Front.  

Finally, nothing says Australia Day more than a vast range of patriotic merchandise, patriotically for sale in foreign-owned shops, made in China.

Political reaction to #ChangeTheDate has been as mixed as it has been predictable. According to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Australians should debate history and not deny it, while expressing his disappointment that anyone wants to change the date and shutting down the debate. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten kept in character by mumbling something about not changing the date, hoping that no-one would actually point out it was a Labor Government that established the date as a universal public holiday and national day in 1994. Paul Keating, who established the date, but gets kudos for the Redfern Speech has not said a word.  

The Greens have been all over it like Andrew Bolt on a Sudanese kid with a cap on backwards, wanting to be seen as inclusive as absolutely anything, while excluding those who are actually happy with the date but, according the polls, not entirely sure why and who wouldn't give a stuff if the date was changed, provided they didn't lose a public holiday in the middle of summer.  

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said he had not spoken to any Indigenous person who wanted the date changed, however the Minister did not confirm whether he'd spoken to any at all recently and whether he'd listened to anything they had to say one way or the other.

Some media commentators sought to play the issue for laughs and indicated they would celebrate 26 January as a day when Australia began to emerge from the Stone Age. They were cheered on by the usual suspects on echo chamber blogs and social media, excitedly chattering like a monkey house at feeding time, and thereby demonstrating, in an exquisite irony, they had not really advanced much further than descending from a tree.

There were unconfirmed reports that an a "big boofhead of a bloke" wearing a Toll shirt tried to buy up an entire Bunnings stock of tiki lanterns, which he claimed were for an evening barbie. He was refused service due to rumours of some sort of parade of concerned and patriotic citizens. "We knew the barbie was bullshit" a spokesperson said, given that "those muppets couldn't get the thing going on the anniversary of the Cronulla riots".

Elsewhere, non-Indigenous commentators have been consistent, to the extent they seem to know one way or another what Indigenous Australians think or want in respect of Australia Day, and therefore that represents what is best for Indigenous Australians. This is pattern of conduct that appears unchanged, one way or the other, since 1788.

This is notwithstanding that Indigenous people have, in fact, been protesting the date, officially, since 1938. Prior to that, resistance to colonisation was  in the form of Frontier Wars, although these are downplayed, so we cannot debate history and punished with massacres anyway, which according to the same sources didn't happen either.  

If all that fails, well, yes, there were Frontier Wars and there were massacres, but the Indigenous people were conquered and happens all the time:  "winners are grinners", and you cannot get more Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi than that. Even though that, actually, is English.

And, anyway, British genocide is far more benevolent than French, Spanish or Portugese, because, well, it's British. 

Indigenous leaders have expressed views ranging from an expressed desire to change the date, to at least have the conversation, to others saying there were more important things to focus on to improve the lot of Indigenous people.

That is a position echoed by non-Indigenous people adamantly opposed to changing the date, that it won't make any difference and there were more important things to focus on.  However they also appear to be adamantly opposed to actually focussing on those things that would actually improve the lot of Indigenous people, appearing to prefer the continuation of such enlightened policies such assimilation.

"Aboriginal people need to just get over 1788", said one bloke interviewed for this story in a pub in Werribee, affecting to speak for "the silent majority". When asked why white Australians shouldn't just "get over 25 April 1915", him and his mates got nasty and then pointed over this correspondent's shoulder and shouted "African gang!"

DISCLOSURE: Steve Atyre is a small, furry wombat who once unsuccessfully sought pre-selection for the National Party in a seat they've never contested.

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