A number of local governments across the country have been in the news recently for dumping Australia Day ceremonies. The councils, mainly inner-city bastions of the left, have claimed that Australia Day is insensitive to indigenous Australians and should be changed.
While it might be tempting to dismiss this as simply the antics of a small number of far-left councillors, the push to scrap Australia Day has become a major issue within the membership of the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA). In June, delegates at the annual ALGA assembly approved a motion for councils to consider ways to lobby the federal government to change the date of Australia Day from January 26. The association's board subsequently met to consider the motion, stating that it was an issue that should be worked through between local councils and their respective communities.
I would suggest that local governments focus their attention on providing better services or rate relief rather than engaging in divisive historical revisionism. Whether one likes it or not, modern Australia is a product of British settlement. This is an immutable fact and we should not airbrush parts of our history in an effort to appease virtue-signalling activists and grievance-mongers. Those arguing that the arrival of the First Fleet on January 26, 1788 is nothing but a source of shame are, in effect, asserting that our entire national existence is lamentable. They are declaring that Australia itself is illegitimate.
Most ordinary Australians will take a very different view. Upon the foundations laid by the early settlers, Australians have built one of the world's most prosperous, stable, fair and free societies. It has provided a high quality of life for tens of millions and become a magnet for migrants from across the globe. Even though our political system is now suffering due to the venal major party duopoly, Australia can still claim to be one of the world's oldest continuous democracies. It is a country with one of the world's best human rights records. It is also a country that, since its inception, has largely avoided – so far at least – the seemingly intractable ethnic, cultural and religious tensions and conflicts that have plagued many other parts of the world.
It is also worth noting that Australia was no ready-made bonanza; the early settlers and their descendants had to summon sheer grit and employ much resourcefulness to build modern Australia. The transformation of a collection of remote penal colonies into a successful and attractive society within the space of a couple of generations is a remarkable feat by international standards.
Remembering January 26 is not to deny that indigenous Australians have suffered loss, displacement and hardship in the past. It should be a day that is marked with both humility and respectful pride. There is no country on the planet with an unblemished record. For instance, nearly every square kilometre of Europe has been stained with the blood of different peoples fighting each other for control of territory.
The various Aboriginal tribes also engaged in long-running internecine warfare – conflicts that continued in some cases even after the arrival of Europeans.
We should stop pretending that the relatively peaceful colonisation of Australia at the hands of the British makes the country uniquely tainted or that erasing monumental events from our national calendar will somehow change the past.
We should also stop pretending that pre-1788 Australia could have remained forever hermetically sealed off from the outside world. At some point settlers or migrants from other lands were going to arrive on Australian shores, bringing with them radically different customs, traditions, beliefs and ways of life. This disruption of the Aboriginal way of life by outside forces was inevitable.
As Geoffrey Blainey wrote in his 1994 book A Shorter History of Australia:
The shrinking world was becoming too small to permit a whole people to be set aside in a vast protected anthropological museum where they would try to perpetuate the merits and defects of a way of life that had vanished elsewhere, a way of life that - so long as it continued - would deprive millions of foreign people of the food and fibres that could have been grown on the land.
This push to change Australia Day is part of a wider, sustained assault upon our heritage designed to undermine the legitimacy of mainstream Australia and make Australians, particularly those of European descent, feel guilty for simply existing. This tiresome and misguided self-loathing is particularly evident in the education system, where the "black armband view" of history is taught almost completely unchallenged. Internationally, Australia is seen as a success story. However, domestically, those leftists who tend to dominate our education system teach that our country is irreparably tainted by a multitude of past and enduring sins.
Such a unbalanced view of our history is not only wrong but also harmful. How can we expect the vast number of new migrants who arrive every year to embrace our country when we teach that mainstream Australia is sinful and illegitimate? Newcomers are unlikely to join our national community and adopt our culture if we keep telling them that our country has very little of which to be proud.
Instead of treating our history since British settlement as nothing but a legacy of shame, we need to promote a more balanced and accurate view of Australia's past which recognises there were both successes and failures. Castigating the early settlers and trying to expunge references to January 26 will not heal past wounds or help to build a more cohesive society.
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