Why I Do Not Celebrate Australia Day

Uluru

I am not of Indigenous descent. Both my parents migrated to Australia from Asia. I am Chinese-Australian (or Asian-Australian, if you prefer the collective term). I was born in Australia. I speak with an Australian accent. I’ve grown up with Australian television, gone to Australian schools.

But each year, when the 26th of January comes around and people start hoisting up their Australian flags and cheering for the nation, I die a little inside. And I can’t keep my anguish bottled in anymore.

Sure, people say Australia Day is for celebrating the unity of a wonderful, prosperous nation. But, at its core, it celebrates the genocide of a race of people. The 26th of January was the day Captain Cook raised the British flag for the first time in Sydney Cove. We celebrate a day that began a killing. A massacre.

But that’s all in the past, people say. It doesn’t matter anymore. Let us look toward the future. But why do we celebrate Anzac Day, then? If the past does not matter, why do we mourn the diggers (Australian soldiers) who died in Gallipoli on April the 25th each year? Why don’t we mourn for the Indigenous people of this land on the 26th of January, instead of shouting and hollering and cheering?

I’m lucky to be Asian in Australia. Sure, I am discriminated against on a daily basis, but as a community we do relatively well for ourselves economically, and are able to assimilate fairly well with mainstream Australian society. But the descendants of the Indigenous people of this land are still placed on the back-burner in this country. In these communities, unemployment and suicide rates are higher than that of any other group. Their rights are often ignored by the government and co-operations, and most people seem to want to forget and ignore rather than care and amend.

Can you imagine walking the streets each day knowing that this is the land that was stolen from your ancestors, a land in which you are now an outsider in? To be discriminated against in a land that was once your own? To be told to “get over” a past genocide of your own people? By celebrating Australia Day, people are effectively ignoring the sordid stain on Australia’s history.

The level of patriotism I see from certain Australians is a little hard to swallow. I have nothing against any race, any human, any skin colour, gender, whatever, but it is disgusting to see privileged blond-haired and blue-eyed people come hollering down the streets wearing Australian flags as capes on Australia Day, drunk and yelling insults at anyone who is an racial outsider. When I see Australian flags hanging from balconies, or poking up from the tops of cars, or flying proudly in someone’s backyard, I am sickened to my stomach. Why? Because in this country it is a sign of blatant patriotism. It is a sign of staking one’s possession of this land. It is a sign of exclusion. This is Australia, the flags seem to crow. Unless you are white, or born here (we’re being extra lenient with you guys, though), get out. This is our country.

Can you imagine what it must be like, to be walking past as an Indigenous-Australian and seeing those flags? A crushing of the spirit.

We own this place, now, not you. Deal with it.

In truth, there is no such thing as countries. No-one owns anything in the world. The Indigenous Australians got it right: we humans belong to the land. The land does not belong to us. We are all citizens of the world. We are creatures of the earth. Do birds and panthers think they own the jungle? Of course not. I’m sure they would find the concept ridiculous. Well, it’s the same thing.

Racism and discrimination and oppression is an inability to see beyond skin-deep biological occurrences into the similar human within us all. Land is meant to be shared. Hatred against other groups in this day and age is nothing but pure ignorance. In ancient times, when tribes were smaller and close-knit, everything was shared. Now that our populations have ballooned to extraordinary size, we have lost sight of the human within us. We’re all part of the one tribe, the one species, so why can’t we act like one?

I’m not saying that anyone should feel guilty for celebrating the beauty of a nation. No-one who is living today was responsible for the decimation of the Aboriginal people. No-one is “guilty”, apart from those who have the power yet are not helping those less fortunate than themselves, apart from those who oppress others instead of treating them as equals.

But we should not celebrate the nation way some of us do, on the date we do. Imagine if people started celebrating the Holocaust. Outrage would break out across the world. So why do we celebrate Australia Day, when it is no different?

One thing brought me to tears tonight, as I sat at the table eating my dinner. Outside, in the dark, dark night, I suddenly heard a volley of booms, like those of an enormous cannon. It occurred at periodic intervals: ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom. I was confused. I stopped eating. I listened. What could possibly be making that sound?

Then it dawned on me. They were fireworks. Fireworks, somewhere in the vicinity of where I live, unseen in the sky but still heard, celebrating Australia Day. Celebrating a day that began a great wash of blood. Celebrating victory of the powerful over the weak. Celebrating the death of our fellow humans.

The sounds went on and on.

The fireworks sounded like guns shooting. Like an echo of the massacre not so long ago.

Ba-boom. Ba-boom.

I started to tremble. My fingers contracted on the tablecloth.

The booms increased in intensity, the intervals between each one growing shorter and shorter, until it was as if the night air was choked with a barrage of frenzied shooting.

Boom, boom, boom boom boom. Sprays of gunpowder. Fallen bodies.

I imagined what it would be like, to be Indigenous Australian and hear this sound, on this night. My throat closed up. It was so loud, it seemed to thump against my ribs. It was so loud, it made me scared, as if the skies had turned into a drum. It filled the world, building to a mad crescendo, before falling away.

The sound of fireworks. The sound of celebration.

And in my tiny kitchen, by myself, just a girl eating her dinner, I cried quietly, to mourn for the Indigenous people of the land.

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2 thoughts on “Why I Do Not Celebrate Australia Day

  1. thank you for sharing this Anne. My knowledge of Australia is somewhat vague, but I do know about the indigenous Australians and their marginalization. I know it because I’ve seen the same thing happen to indigenous people elsewhere. Like the Maasai in Kenya; they had their lands grabbed and sent off to the peripheries of cities and towns. Or the Native Americans which I was surprised to discover recently that they have reserves where they live. A consolidation prize. I, too, do not believe in the concept of countries. Borders divided with a ruler and a pen on a paper can’t imbed it in our hearts. When I think of myself, I don’t associate with any one country. I feel like my loyalty is to the dust we walk on, and I’m a global citizen. It’s disgusting what happens in Australia, and I think many people just go through the motions and never reflect about what that commemoration entails. I wish you could write an op-ed or something in one of the papers to raise awareness and to spark a discussion. Even if people ignore it, at least it would make them think of it every time they celebrate or feel boisterous about patriotism.

    • Thank you for your comment, and yes, I completely agree with everything you said; I think of myself as a global citizen too. If only others did also. I could write something, but, considering the gatekeepers of newspapers and magazines in Australia, it is doubtful any piece of mine, especially one so honest, would be permitted to pass through. Still, it’s a thought. We write in order to expel the poisons of life from our system, and I hope my little piece here reaches some fellow Australians, anyway. ❤

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