Australia Day or Invasion Day?

Australia Day or Invasion Day?

Yobbos, Sunbury Pop Festival  (1974) by Rennie Ellis.

Yobbos, Sunbury Pop Festival (1974) by Rennie Ellis.

So, it’s Australia Day. A day when apparently you either fly the Australian flag and get pissed, or call it Invasion Day and fill your social media accounts with Indigenous art and scary statistics.

I want to fly the Aboriginal Flag, call it Invasion Day and all that… But part of me feels like I’m simply leaping on the left-wing wagon.

So how do I REALLY feel about this day?

To give you a truthful answer I’ve got to take you back a few years…

I grew up in country Victoria in a conservative, Liberals-voting farming family. As a kid, all I knew about Aboriginal People was that they were called Boongs (according to my Dad who also calls African Americans Coons and Indians Curry Munchers) and that the stars beside the Aboriginal elder on the $2 coin were in fact flies.

There were no Aboriginal People in our town… Lots of Italians though, whose families had migrated in the 50s and set up a thriving tobacco industry… Us Skips called our Mediterranean sisters and brothers Wogs… And truly it was a term of endearment. I always wished I was a Wog… To me it meant thick lustrous hair, olive skin, a beautiful language and big flamboyant families that got together en mass to make napoli sauce and crostoli.

So I always thought Boong was a bit the same as Wog… A slang, playful nickname.

What did we know about Aboriginal people? A little bit from high school history where the emphasis had been on Captain Cook ‘discovering’ Australia, and not on mass genocide.

For most of my life I didn’t give Aboriginal Australians much of a thought. I was your average ignorant country bumpkin.

I can clearly remember the day a new context started to present itself… I had used the term Boong and my uncle had pulled me up and told me that it was racist. I was puzzled and told him that was what Dad called them. He said it wasn’t nice.

Progressively over the next few years of my teenage years I continued to accumulate information and ideas that were way left of what Dad taught me, to the point that I’m sure I became downright irritating… An outspoken, opinionated, quasi-feminist, left-inclined, tree-hugging pain in the arse.

Leaving the country and starting uni in Melbourne didn’t help the situation. For a while I swang right the other way and poo-pooed my country roots and fell in completely with my boho leftie arts friends.

I’d been introduced to multiculturalism… The amazing food choices that are at the core of Melbourne’s soul… The astoundingly smart and studious Asian and Jewish students who made me feel like a right dumb-dumb in the commerce degree I struggled to muster any interest for.

The Hari Krishnas who would wander campus giving away copies of the Bhagavad Gita… Simply being in a city was a new culture for me.

I still didn't know much (and nothing first-hand) about Australian Aboriginals, but I had a broader view of the world, and an appreciation for different cultures, including Aboriginal culture.

In my early 20’s I went travelling and lived overseas for a few years.

One evening, early on in my travels through South America I was chatting to an Argentinian guy… It was my first time out of Australia, so I was pretty wet behind the ears when it came to the world. Up until this conversation I found that Australians are a bit like Switzerland… No one has a bone with Australians like they do with so many other nationalities. When someone learned you were Australian they’d mention cricket and kangaroos with a broad smile. I learned to say si, si, and impersonate both.

So I was taken aback when he showed great distain when I mentioned that I was from Australia. He told me how disgusting we are for what we did to our Aboriginal people.

I agreed… And then asked him if his heritage was Indigenous or Spanish… He admitted the latter.

And that’s the thing about the whole Australia Day thing… Yes it is horrible what happened to Aboriginal Australians, but sadly it’s just another example of how fucked up humans are… It’s the history of the world… All nations have histories of war, genocide and conquer. One civilization replaces another.

So does that make me a proud, flag flying patriotic Strayan?

Well, no. I’ve never been an overly patriotic person. When I first moved to London I spent one Australia day at a club called The Church… Though it was held in an old church, it was about as un-pious as you can get… It was packed with Aussies drinking copious amounts of beer from plastic cups, women getting up on stage to flash their tits, and sawdust underfoot to absorb all the spilled beer, vomit and urine.

Did I feel proud to be an Australian? No.

In fact for my time in London I made a point of walking the other way if I heard an Aussie accent. I didn’t live in Earls Court or Shepherds Bush. I didn’t frequent The Walkabout, and I never went to The Church again… Instead I lived in a sharehouse with a group of wonderful Brits and had a great time being anonymous in a big foreign city.

Slowly though I realised I was missing things about Australia… The space, the quiet, the high quality fresh produce; the hot summer days and balmy nights sitting on a back step in a singlet-top and cut-offs with friends, laughing at things that are only funny to Aussies. 

After three years living abroad, I started to miss that feeling of being an Aussie. There are subtle things about a place and roots that are unique and inform so much of our identity.

Maybe that is patriotism?

This Australia Day it will be life as usual for me. I won’t be sitting around an esky full of beer drinking myself stupid. I won’t fly an Aussie flag out my car window while playing Triple J's Top 100. I won’t get a Southern Cross tattoo. I won’t paint my face blue, white and red. The words ‘oi, oi, oi’ will not pass my lips.

I will spare a thought for our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. I will say a little prayer for them, wishing for better times ahead for those that survived the dark days of white invasion. I will hope that their children can enjoy better times ahead if the human species can stop being so dumb. 

But also, as I go about my day, I will give some silent thanks for the freedom we enjoy, the relative wealth, clean drinking water, good quality food and beautiful landscapes... And yes, I will be immensely thankful to be a human living in Australia.

And I’ll wonder a little about when all that might change. When perhaps we won’t be the dominant race (or species) anymore. 

Let's be humans first, and cultures second. Let's celebrate our diversity, but let's always remember that we are first and foremost visitors to Mother Earth and not owners of this planet.

P.S. From an opinionated daughter to an opinionated father... "Love you Dad" :) And incase you may have been thinking my dad is a racist asshole... He's not. He's actually one of the most charming, generous and warm blokes I know. And though he may have 'interesting' terms for different cultures, he has a rare ability to find common ground and strike up a conversation with anyone he meets, regardless of class, culture or creed. 

Also published by Rebelle Society.

Leonie Orton is a writer, editor and marcomms consultant. She'll create communication mediums in the shape of words, graphics and webs for your business, connecting you with the people who need you. When she's not head down with this, she's teaching yoga, creating floral artworks, running a Harvest Swap and adoring two spirited sons... Get in touch by emailfacebook or subscribe to her weekly blog.

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