I’m in the business of celebrating Australia every day. Being Editor-In-Chief of this magazine means I see, do, taste and feel so much of this great land every day of the week. So when I sat down to think about the meaning of Australia Day, I was a little stuck. It’s just another day, after all.
Sure, there’ll be a lot of stereos beating to the sound of Triple J’s Hottest 100. There’ll be a lot of barbeques sizzling with snags and steaks, and tops being twisted off bottles, and corks being popped. There’ll be Australian flags emblazoned on windows and cars and tattooed on the shoulders and backs of the citizens of this country. But what about it should matter?
I’m not sure that I can offer a brilliant, all-inclusive answer. I know that many people baulk at the Australian flag and despise it as a symbol of celebration. That vegetarians don’t really care for Sam Kekovich or his lamb ads. That middle-class Australia loves to point the finger at bogans and tut. That we are not a Republic. That we have a history – a flawed, problematic history. I know all that. And I know many other people do to, and they refer to it, and laugh at it, and bring it up as a means to rip apart all the good things there are about this country, and the people that inhabit it.
And there are so many good things. So many beautiful places, and wonderful, lovely people, and talented artists, and creative ventures, and sporting achievements, and medical geniuses, and innovative educators – so many people so devoted to greatness.
And that it’s the people that tut and vomit opinions that really need to think about Australia Day and its meaning. Because it’s not just another day. It’s a day to celebrate and honour our country.
I’ve always admired Americans for their unabashed love for their country – the way they hold their hand to their heart and honour their flag. Perhaps there is something we can learn from them.
Australia is a young country. One that, might I add, considering its youth, has not only kept up with but surpassed most other countries in the world in most industries. There’s not that many of us and we’re really good at what we do – period.
Australia may have made wrongs, but it has also made many rights. The time has come to stop focusing on the past – we must now focus on the future.
We may be jovial, and a country of larrikins, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be proud. It doesn’t mean we can’t be grateful. It doesn’t mean we can’t wave a flag in seriousness.
Our core – of mateship, and loyalty, of humour, and intelligence, of inclusion, and culture – should be a marker of solidarity and celebration – not separation.
The thing I’ve realised is that I may celebrate Australia every day, but not enough other people do. It’s their opinions and generalisations and complete ignorance that hold them back from seeing Australia clearly.
So, to be clear, we live in the best country in the world – one that values so many things that other countries do not, one that is caring and loving, one that is stunning and inspiring, one that we should be proud of. And, most definitely, one that we shouldn’t have to keep defending or defining.
Wave your flag proudly this Australia Day, turn the music up, eat your sausage in bread with sauce, feel the sand beneath your toes, rub red dust off your face, wear your bikini down the street with thongs on your feet, laugh, clink glasses with friends, soak in the views and say thank you; that not only can you do all of that freely, but that you can do it proudly.
Happy Australia Day.
Please enjoy the reflections and observations below that some of the Onya Team have put together for you.
Above: Fashion Editor Sarah Kempson hangs the Australian flag at last year’s Onya Aid
Summer in Australia is all about family barbeques, catching up with friends, white sandy beaches, tennis, cricket, fish and chips, ice-cream, Moonlight cinema and my new (and cute) Sass & Bide shorts.
Relaxing on Australia Day with the people you love the most and enjoying Triple J’s Hottest 100 is also worthy of a mention.
However, we don’t need just one day to realise how lucky we are. We should be celebrating the best country in the world every day.
There are hundreds more reasons as to why I love Australia…but the most important is FREEDOM.
Australia Day is such a curious event on this antipodean nation’s calendar. It’s a day where some people act far more patriotic than they normally would, whilst at the same time there are those who act far more unpatriotic than they normally would. Personally, I love Australia – of course I do, I couldn’t write for Onya Magazine if I didn’t – but I don’t celebrate 26 January any more than I normally would. This Australia Day I will be working several hours before attending a barbecue in the park where the (uh-oh, will this get me into trouble?) rather awful sounds of the Triple J Hottest 100 will be blaring out of a portable stereo. It’s merely another day in which I get to spend with glorious people in this glorious country. There may also be dancing. Oh yes, there may.
I don’t subscribe to the idea that I have to wear Australian flag paraphernalia, nor do I have much time for the Sam Kekovich school of thought that to be a true man one must eat lamb. I’ll stick with snags in bread with tomato sauce, okay? No, I think to embrace Australia Day is to embrace multiculturalism, not spout hate speech (that goes for you, Margaret Court) and to reflect on how lucky we are as individuals whilst maybe taking a swig from a bottle of beer or diving into some beachside fish and chips. It will be a change of pace from last year when I, along with the rest of the Onya crew, helped raise money for flood-stricken Australians, but they’ll be in my mind no less. As the Film Editor it is my job to write about movies for you dear Onya readers, but one needn’t watch our stories on screen to see this great nation writ large. Just look around and you’ll see how great it is.
I love being Australian because there is simply so much to love about this weirdly shaped place. Despite the breathtaking scenery (think Lake Eyre, Coober Pedy and the great Aussie sunsets), it isn’t what first comes to mind when I think about what makes me feel Australian. Instead, I see the places I go to see friends and family, to work and to relax. I hear jokes and fun conversation and remember nights with family around the BBQ. The Aussie spirit is imbued into each of them, as well as myself. That laughing, loving, fighting, loyal and adventurous spirit carries me to work and home again and occasionally, away on a great holiday. Whenever I go overseas, that spirit is what calls me back again. It is something I cannot live without and is what makes me truly Australian.
“Patriotism is the belief that your country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.”
When I first read these words by George Bernard Shaw, I committed them to memory so I had someone wise to recite when I was asked yet again why I wasn’t supporting the All Blacks. Turns out, I should have Googled ‘patriotism is…’ earlier; a lot of famous old guys shared this same view. Due to my lack of loyalty, I support the sports teams I like the best, not the ones that share my accent, and I’m not ashamed to say I moved to Australia because I think it suits me better. It also means I don’t really like Australia Day and its hysterical pride in being Aussie. What I can say is that since moving to Melbourne I’ve been welcomed with wide-open arms. I’ve met people through writing, through Twitter, and through tennis. I’ve been invited to events where I’ve known no one, but walked out knowing everyone. I’m not an outrageously social person, but I’ve had no problems making friends. That is the sign of a happy country. I also enjoy the weather, the sport, and the chocolate chip cookies at the supermarket. I’m not a patriot, and I wasn’t born here, but I love Australia anyway. And I know you guys are cool with that.
Oh, Australia Day. I love you so much. Other countries may have national holidays, and birthdays, and Thanksgivings, and annual reminders of that time they wrestled their independence back from the USSR, but no other country does it with quite the same swagger as we.
How many other countries would treat a day – less than month after the Christmas/New Year’s break – as a well-deserved holiday from the work they only returned to the week previous? It’s like a collective sigh has been let out by those of already feeling oppressed by the seven or eight days we’ve already had to work this year. That sigh is almost always followed by a conspiratorial giggle at the conniving way we always manage to turn the nominatively singular Australia Day into a four-day holiday. Five, if we call in sick on Monday, which, between the enduring hangover and traditional sunburn, we almost certainly will.
Every Australia Day we gather at a friend’s house to eat BBQ, drink beer, watch the cricket, and listen to Triple J’s countdown of the best 100 songs from the previous year, as studiously voted by us. This is not something we do instead of a solemn religious observance: this is our religious observance! What better than barbecued cow, not-quite-cold-enough beers, a qualitatively eclectic mix of indie pop hits, and – let’s be honest – the most boring sport in the world, to remind us what it means to be Australian? And the fact that we do it on the very day most of our ancestors invaded this country is the kind of dick move that actually suits the mood of the holiday.
Why is Australia Day better than any other country’s national holiday? Because ours celebrates the absolute best and worst of this country, as scored by the inconsistent standard of music we all decided was best representative of the previous year, which was itself (in true Dickensian fashion) the best and the worst year we’d ever had. We’re never satisfied, but we’re always pretty happy.
A joyous and happy birthday, current iteration of Australia!
Rebecca Jade McGuire:
Australia Day means thongs, sunscreen, and sausages. Such a cliché, but the truth. Triple J in the background, a stinking hot lunch, followed by a gargantuan storm to cool. It also means a fabulous display of my backyard cricket skills, including this conversation:
Family: “You have to bowl, you can’t peg the ball.”
Me: “I’m allowed to peg, it’s only backyard cricket.”
Family: “But it’s still cricket, and cricketers bowl, not peg.”
Me: “Well sorry, I’m not a cricketer, and last time I checked you weren’t part of the Australian cricket team either, so I win. Pegging now.”
So basically, Australia Day means family and friends, and backyard cricket rules discussions. We wouldn’t want it any other way.
Rosanna Beatrice Stevens:
We hold such a frightening and exciting responsibility to sustain the environments we hold as part of Australian iconography. Because when we claimed this land as ours, and we made National parks into places that were protected from not only ourselves, but the Indigenous people’s intrinsically respectful practices, we put our hands up to say, ‘We’ll answer to extinction, erosion and salination. We will walk places and we won’t buy new Jeeps for a ridiculously cheap $25K. We will regenerate bushland. We will keep our cigarette butts and Maccas wrapping in our cars. And we will share our backyards with possums and brown snakes alike.’ As Australians — as democratically involved citizens of a free nation — we are told each of us make a difference.
You have to celebrate the difference you make.
I have lived in Australia my entire life, yet it is only recently that I have truly begun to appreciate the magical nature of our country. Two years ago, I met an American girl who had come to Australia for love and could see no reason why she would ever want to leave. While the love didn’t last, her love for Australia did and now she faces an uphill legal struggle to stay in Australia where she has made a life for the past four years.
I think we often get complacent about how lucky we are to live in a country as wonderful as Australia, but watching my friend lay in limbo as to whether she will be permitted an extended visa or residency really drives home the message for me.
We are all very lucky to live in a country that is so special and provides amazing weather (most of the time), beaches, countryside and people. I talk about travelling the world and living in another country, but at the end of the day, I will always come back home, to Australia.
No matter where you go, there’s a common thread that binds us all. Spending time in Brisbane away from my native Melbourne, there is certain foreignness to navigating a new city; new sights, new sounds and unexplored places only those who call it home know about. But no matter if you’re in Adelaide or Wagga, our cheeky and ambitious spirit shines through – it’s almost ineffable, but to stand amongst Australians both that have made it home and have called it home right from the start, is an inimitable experience which others can observe and perhaps understand but never quite appreciate in its entirety. My grandparents arrived from Macedonia after a bitter march out of a warzone in 1951 – they know all too well the “never say die” attitude of Australia and are proud to call it home, thankful for the opportunities, peace and comfort it has afforded them for the better part of their lives.
We have tamed the land over two hundred years – for better or worse – but as we sweat and cheer and toil as Australians, I always feel that the Great Southern Land has shaped us all in an almost inexpressible way.
The simple pleasures – sharing a meal or a beer and spinning a yarn to reflect on what we have done as people as part of a nation – that’s what it means to be Australian, to me.