January in Australia is ruined.
The ongoing and relentless culture wars have seen to that. Aboriginal people are participants in these wars, whether we like it or not.
Every January the ‘lucky country’ swelters as the post-Christmas glut gives way to lazy days watching the cricket, post-festive shopping expeditions and days at the beach. Yet every January sees a rise in tension and hostility, reaching a point beyond its strain. Each Australia Day, as patriotism gives way to nationalism and frustration steps aside for anger.
For those that have lived it, the tension January has become as unbearable as the heat that shimmers cross the roads and the beaches which we swarm to.
Australia is still the awkward child of the Asia Pacific. It’s gangly, swathing and clumsy international diplomacy is a result of a nation that is still uncomfortable in its own skin. It has yet to decide whether it will forge its own course as an effective, yet modest middle power, or settle as the America Lite of the South Pacific in a Trump induced world.
Australia is still the awkward child of the Asia Pacific. It’s gangly, swathing and clumsy international diplomacy is a result of a nation that is still uncomfortable in its own skin.
The culture wars, renders any meaningful discussion about our past, present and future directions, as little more than a series of undergraduate squabbles with real-world effects.
One by-product of the culture wars has been the rise of the far-right.
White nationalism has steadily been on the increase for the past 20 years. The formation of the far-right One Nation Party and its gradual acceptance into mainstream politics has emboldened the disenchanted. Those that believe everyone else is the cause of their problems.
Those factions come in various forms, and they come and go. United Patriots, Australia First, Squadron 88, Lads Society. In part these clusters made up largely of men, are a symptom of Australia’s problem with toxic masculinity rather than a problem with multiculturalism.
These fringe elements are as opportunistic as they are extreme. Their main shtick is the notion of threat. These supposed threats come in various guises: so-called African gang crime, Islam, same sex marriage, feminism, Indigenous rights and political correctness. Each threat contains one common thread, the constant attack on the Aussie way of life, meaning the white, Anglo-Western way of life. The ‘way of life’ itself changes depending on what is likely to constitute good click bait.
The one perennial issue is Australia Day.
Each year far-right groups step-march their way across multicultural Australia culminating in the national holiday, which celebrates the raising of the British flag on an apparently uninhabited continent. A lie that would persist until the High Court's Mabo judgment in 1992.
The toxicity now associated with Australia Day, spreads through social media often dividing families and friends, as the seething undercurrent of tension bubbles to the surface in people’s timelines and feeds.
This year the Morrison government has added fuel to what is already a combustible atmosphere by making it compulsory for local government to hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day or be forbidden from holding them at all.
Remarkably, in an act the Prime Minister has described as helping, “Australians better understand Captain Cook’s historic voyage and its legacy for exploration, science and reconciliation," he has seemingly made a captain’s call on Captain Cook. The announcement of $6.7 million dollars to fund a replica of the Endeavour, to circumnavigate Australia is as calculated as it is insulting to Aboriginal Australians.
The announcement of $6.7 million dollars to fund a replica of the Endeavour, to circumnavigate Australia is as calculated as it is insulting to Aboriginal Australians.
These announcements by the Prime Minister, in an election year, will act as a dog whistle for the far right and give them cart blanche to become even more fanatical, as they continue to fight their culture battles on modern Australia. In seeking to unite us, he is actually dividing and I suspect he knows it. It is no more than a cynical ploy to limit the leakage from the Liberal and National Parties to far-right parties in the lead up to this year’s election.
It is a stark reminder that Australia is still tethered constitutionally to Great Britain. The Queen is still our head of state and while most Australians support a push to a republic, the political will and leadership does not exist to maneuver the country to a post-constitutional monarchy state.
The Australian public is still largely unaware of what happened to the original inhabitants of what is now known as Australia. Generation upon generation has never had the truth about our history revealed to them, the mass killings, the rapes, the poisoned waterholes and the use of biological warfare through small pox that almost wiped out an entire people. These crimes committed in the name of the Crown.
But by all means, let’s fund a cruise to celebrate.
We forget human history reaches back 60,000 years in this land, not 230 as some cultural warriors would have us believe.
It’s going to be another long hot summer in Australia, a summer that never seems to end.
Daniel James is a Melbourne based Indigenous writer of the Yorta Yorta Nation. Follow Daniel @mrdtjames
NITV presents a selection of dedicated programming, special events and news highlights with a focus on encouraging greater understanding of Indigenous Australian perspectives on 26 January. Join the conversation #AlwaysWasAlwaysWillBe