It’s not that I don’t have faith in US news sources, but ever since I’ve been hanging about in the US I’ve persisted in reading Australian newspapers and at one time even The Times of London. After spending my first few years in the US in Nebraska I moved to Springfield, Illinois. It took a little time to gain employment in The Land of Lincoln, so to avoid my anguish of collecting food stamps, and the empty fruitless days of searching for a full-time job, I visited the Springfield Library one morning a week and sat at a reading table with The Times of London and the Australian Age. It was the golden days of print. The newspapers were folded over long wooden holders that were hung on a newspaper rack. I would carry the large wooden stick newspaper holders to a reading table and spend the next several hours consuming the latest, three weeks old newspapers. And now I hold my reading table; each morning I scan the Melbourne Age, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation news, the HearldSun, and the News Corp Australia on my smartphone or tablet.
The other morning as I started my digital skimming of the Melbourne Age I was jolted from my somnolence into a critical reading mode. I fell back onto the sofa and stared at the headline. I wondered if the writer’s sound judgement had been replaced with a rhetorical wordplay to create the striking headline; Second Melbourne council to vote on ending Australia Day citizenship ceremonies.
On January 26th, 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip guided the First Fleet of eleven British ships, into Sydney Cove and raised the Union Jack. Six of the ships were convict transports. It was the start of white colonisation and British ownership of Terra Australis. For the Australian Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, it was the day of mourning; they were dispossessed of their land and culture. Invasion Day. January 26th is the official national day of Australia and a public holiday; Australians come together as a nation to celebrate what’s great about Australia and being Australian. Australia Day is celebrated with community events, Australian of the Year Awards, the announcement of the Australian Honours Awards list, the speech’s from the Prime Minister and Governor-General, and citizenship ceremonies.
I don’t remember Australia Day growing up. The tradition of Australia Day started in 1935 but nobody cared about it because most Australians were committed to celebrating Commonwealth Day; cities and towns came to a standstill as the citizens listened lovingly to the Queen delivering her Commonwealth Day message. And as young lads, our social studies classes groomed us to be unswerving in our duty to the Commonwealth.
Our social studies teacher at Williamstown Tech, Mr McDevitt, taught the history of Australia as it was taught in all Victorian schools; Australia, a triumph of the Empire, built upon the courage and strength of British explorers and adventures. Our Mr McDevitt was different from most social studies teachers; he was a master of the blackboard. He described the sweeping grandeur of Australia’s colonisation with colourful chalk panoramas; Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth crossing the Blue Mountains, Hargraves flying his box kites, and Burke and Wills perishing on their return journey, after crossing Australia from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The blackboards were Mr McDevitt’s Sistine Ceilings; with deft and swift movements of his coloured chalk the voyages of Bass and Flinders, or the journeys of any of the British adventurers who explored Britain’s new colony would appear on his blackboards.
Sometimes Mr McDevitt created his blackboards before class, and as we lined up in two rows outside of the room, we would marvel at the sweeping colourful tableau on the boards; as we marched single file into Mr Devitt’s room all eyes stayed fixed on the chalk reproductions. Mr McDevitt filled the parts of his blackboards not covered in coloured chalk with sentences describing the courage and determination of the sons of the Empire as they colonised Australia. We dutifully copied the blackboards into our Social Science exercise books; our coloured pencil drawings mere untidy scribblings of fourteen-year-old boys.
The valour and heroism of Arthur Phillip and John McArthur were how Mr McDevitt’s blackboards summarized Australia’s convict era; nothing about the thieves, trollops and charlatans that were the true founders of the country. By the end of transportation in 1868, around 162,000 convicts were sent to the colonies of New South Wales, Van Diemen’s Land, and Western Australia. Until recently being a descendant of a transported convict was a source of shame for Australians. An estimated one in five Australians has convict ancestry. I am a third great great grandson of the convict Thomas Raines, sentenced to fifteen years transportation for stealing sheep. I am a descendant of Australian Royalty.
In the sixties, every Victorian School had a Monday morning assembly. At Williamstown Tech they were held on the asphalt quadrangle used for bat tennis games during recess and lunchtime. The flag pole stood alone on one side of the quadrangle. The teacher leading the assemblies stood on a small raised platform in front of the boys. The fifth, fourth, and third forms to the left, and the second and first forms to the right; we stood at ease, lined up alphabetically in descending form order, with caps on. And every Monday morning the boys of Williamstown Tech mumbled the Creed.
|School AAA-TEN-SHUN. And we snapped from our legs apart, hands clasped behind the back at ease stance, to hands by the side and legs and feet together.
Caps OFF and FAAA-CE the flag. The assembly turned as one and swiftly removed their caps.
REEE-PEAT after me.
I Love God and my country
School SALUUUU-TE the FLAG. And on cue the national anthem, God Save the Queen, played over the PA system.
Each year through primary and secondary school we were told about the victory of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps not being defeated at Gallipoli and Anzac Cove. The Australian and New Zealand forces landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula on April 25. They were fighting for King and country and the Empire; the mother country. We were told about Simpson and his donkey, and the heroism and courage shown by the ten thousand Australian and New Zealander boys who died on the Gallipoli peninsula; they gave birth to the ANZAC legend and spirit. ANZAC Day is April 25 and Australians recognise it as a day of national remembrance.
Since 1979, the federal government began promoting an Australia Day that was less British and more Australian, and in 1994 Australia Day became a national public holiday on January 26. In Victoria, Commonwealth Day celebrations were moved to the same day as the Queen’s Birthday public holiday.
I think Australia must be one of the only countries that celebrate its national day on the date it was invaded and colonised. The British colonies of Australia federated on January 1, 1901, creating the Commonwealth of Australia. America celebrates its national day on July 4; remembering their revolutionary war with the British, and their Declaration of Independence on July 4 1776, rather than honouring the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World. January 1 would seem like a good date for an Australian public holiday; a day when people could come together to share and celebrate unity. A day for celebrating Australian traditions and for those who call Australia home to reflect on what they have achieved.
Nothing is more traditional in Australian culture than the great backyard barbecue; throw a few snags on the barbie, slap them between two pieces of bread, add a dollop of tomato sauce, and eat the sangos while your throwing down a few ice-cold beers, or wine, with your mates. The backyard barbie is about sharing and mateship. It’s all about emptying the tinnies from your ESKY into the host’s fridge. And if you leave early, the host can assume ownership of the few beers you’ve left, so anyone who’s consumed their own tinnies can take up the generous offer of the host to have one of theirs. And when you throw your chops or steak on the host’s barbie it’s no longer yours; anyone can choose the juiciest and best for themselves, or feed whatever they want to the host’s dog.
Maybe Australia Day should become Snag On The Barbie Day. It wouldn’t have to be celebrated on January 1 or 26. Victoria and most states in Australia already have the following public holidays.
|New Year’s Day||Monday January 1|
|Australia Day||Friday January 26|
|Labour Day||Monday March 12|
|Good Friday||Friday March 30|
|Saturday before Easter Sunday||Saturday March 31|
|Easter Sunday||Sunday April 1|
|Easter Monday||Monday April 2|
|ANZAC Day||Wednesday April 25|
|Queen’s Birthday||Monday June 11|
|Friday before the AFL Grand Final||TBD|
|Melbourne Cup||Tuesday November 6|
|Christmas Day||Tuesday December 25|
|Boxing Day||Wednesday December 26|
Snag On The Barbie Day would need to be squeezed between the current holidays; sometime in summer, January through March. Snag Day would have to be celebrated on a Tuesday, and it would need to be a Tuesday each year, so every Australian could chuck a sickie on Monday and enjoy a four day weekend; a long weekend of sharing snags, and a few ice-cold beers or wine, with your mates; even a game of backyard cricket. There is nothing more Australian than gathering around the backyard barbie, with a few mates, celebrating what’s great about Australia; with an ice-cold tinnie or stubby, and committing to making Australia an even better place for the future.
I think I should nick out the back and throw a few snags on the barbie. Crisp on the outside and spongy and juicy inside, and then wrap them in a thin slice of white bread and smother it with tomato sauce; with a squirt of fat when you bite into it. Nothing like a sausage sango to kick off Snag On The Barbie Day.