Celebrate, but do it with respect for all inhabitants

Emily Baker.
Emily Baker.

THERE'S something about January 26 that makes people wake up filled with a patriotism so fierce they can't help but sponge a little Australian flag on each cheek.

Rightly prepared for a day of binge drinking and Triple J's Hottest 100, they set out to the nearest barbecue hot-spot as the nation's collective chest fills with an intense sense of Aussie pride.

Never mind the fact Australia Day as a public holiday was first manufactured in 1994 (public holidays are nothing if not Australian), or the fact we're celebrating the settlement of New South Wales - the day is the nation's largest annual public event.

On no other day of the year - Anzac Day a possible exception - do so many Australians proclaim their nationhood so loudly.

Unfortunately, pride in our country can manifest in awful ways.

Following controversy over supermarket chain Aldi's use of the phrase "Est. 1788" on Australia Day T-shirts, University of Canberra assistant professor Robin Tennant-Wood rightly pointed out to the Sydney Morning Herald that hints of nationalism have crept into our celebrations.

"We see this particularly in young people, draped in the Australian flag and using it as an excuse to target people who don't look like them," she said.

"Nationalism is dangerous at best and it can be downright horrible if it gets out of control."

Proposed debates on changing the date provokes that nasty nationalism strangely unique to Australia.

We know what the day can mean to indigenous communities and still we insist on celebrating our country in a way that badly affects and offends a significant portion of our population.

Citizens of every country display pride in their homeland. I was in Turkey for its National Sovereignty and Children's Day on April 23. The holiday sees citizens commemorate the first gathering of the Grand National Assembly. Turkish flags were everywhere. Not once did I see its citizens wrapped in one, spoiling for a fight. That was in 2009. In the same year in Australia, as Australians celebrated Australia Day, large groups of young people in Manly drank themselves stupid and picked fights with people who didn't appear white.

As migrants flock to our shores, looking to experience what we rightly call the Lucky Country, it's well time to remember that celebrating our country should not be isolated to those who live here because of European settlement.

By all means, do as I do on Australia Day. Pour some pink Passion Pop into a plastic cup, smear yellow and green zinc on your nose and prepare for the inevitability of Lorde hitting the top spot in this year's countdown.

I am proud to be Australian. I am proud of this nation. I am proud to tell people I come from the land Down Under, where Vegemite sandwiches, Tim Tams and an overplayed spirit of mateship and fair go is rife.

But let's also make sure that we're celebrating our wonderful nation in a way that is respectful to all its inhabitants.


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