Australia Day – Let’s think about it.
Australia Day is here once again and the flags are flying. They fly past on the motorway; they flap in the wind in suburban streets and shopping centre carparks, from the roofs and bonnets of cars and utes and trucks – vehicles driven and passengered by patriotic Australians, it would seem.
I have nothing against a little flag waving, a little honest-to-goodness national pride, really I don’t. So why do I experience a shiver of uneasiness when I see them? Why do I have to calm myself down, and come up with very good reasons why it’s okay to display the national flag once a year from your family Holden, Ford or Toyota? Or, if you prefer, on your t-shirt, coffee mug or brolly? And it is okay, it really is okay.
It’s perfectly okay to wave the flag to show you’re happy to live in a peaceful, democratic country, where your kids are safe and well educated, with a multitude of opportunities for a productive, satisfying future. It’s okay to show your gratitude for good health care, freedom of speech and social justice. It’s fine to be amazed by this country’s balmy weather, wondrous natural resources, endless kilometres of glistening coastline and vast acres of farmland, forests and wilderness. Who wouldn’t want to fly a flag when you think about all that? Who wouldn’t want to get together with a bunch of friends and sizzle up a sausage or two, down a few coldies and wave the flag for having such good fortune, for living right here in this down-under corner of paradise?
Is that what it’s all about? Is that what they’re all thinking, all those flag flyers? When the Christmas tree is packed away, and the Aussie flag takes its place as the January decoration of choice, is that what they’re all saying to each other around the pool and the barbie? If Australia Day is doing that, if it’s reminding us all that we are a privileged people, then I’m all for it. But I’m still uncomfortable.
I can’t help but wonder what we did to deserve all this bounty, and I can’t help pondering what I’ve done, or could do, to safeguard it. Is it enough to wait until Anzac Day, when we can pin a bit of rosemary in our collars and wave the flag at the servicemen and women who march, reminding us that there was, and is, a price to be paid for all this?
I can’t avoid thinking that it’s such a big, empty place – surely we aren’t supposed to keep it all to ourselves, like three year olds with bags of lollies, and nobody’s going to get any because they’re ours. And I can’t forget the last two hundred or so years of sad history for the first Australians who loved this place for tens of thousands of years before anybody thought of calling it ‘Australia’.
I can’t help but feel that we ought to be a little less glib about our great big shining gift of a country when away over the ocean there are others who don’t have such nice ones. I want to hide my face when I think of them, waiting in savage lands for deliverance, or setting sail into dangerous oceans to seek it for themselves, or languishing behind razor wire, begging for just a small corner of refuge.
They’ll disappear soon, the flags. They’ll get thrown in wheelie bins, and disintegrate into landfill. There will be new ones in the shops next January, and we can fly them again.
But I’ll pass. I’ve still got some thinking to do.
A version of this piece was written for and first posted on the Hunter Writers’ Centre blog, 13 March 2015.