I’ve been reading with great interest the discussion around what Australia Day means to different people and the subsequent opinions of certain people when somebody stands up for what they believe in.
Of course, I’m talking about Joe Williams and the cloud of judgement or buckets of congratulations he has received in not necessarily equal measures. And I think along the way, different opinions and different points have been blurred together to confuse quite a few people, leaving us all with a bit of an “identity crisis.”
However our identity crisis is something which is quite natural. It is human nature to align oneself with beliefs and causes that affect us personally. It is engrained in the way we vote, even the way we contribute to charity or our community. Think about it. The political parties we align ourselves with are based on principles that affect us as individuals, as employees or employers, as groups whether in the minority or majority and the charities we support are usually because of a personal incident that has occurred in our lives. We have been effected by illness, by death, by an injustice.
80% of people in Australia support a charity because they or someone they know was effected by the fight for that cause. The vast majority of the remaining 20% support a charity not directly associated with them, but through donations rather than through voluntary time. It’s natural.
We as a society are also used to being involved in things that illicit emotion because we have witnessed these things before our eyes. Only we are not directly involved. We see car accidents on the news, murders, abuse, the list goes on – atrocities and tragedies that happen every day which we witness because it is put in front of us.
This is very different to being at the scene of a crime or accident where you are compelled to do something because you are physically there and you are now physically involved. Now it’s your news – not everybody else’s. But that’s natural.
And so it is natural to have an identity crisis because you are born one way and someone else is born another. No matter how hard you empathise with that person, you will never feel what they have felt. And that goes both ways. A white person cannot change their background, their history, their heritage and a black person cannot change the colour of their skin to avoid being watched a little closer by security every time they walk into a shop.
As individuals we are very different too. I for instance don’t have as much interest in the news as a lot of people. “News” for me is something that affects my family, friends – my loved ones. It’s also news if it affects the safety of the community. But if you pick up the paper from 25 years ago and hold it up to today’s paper, you will note similarities all the way through.
People who you don’t personally know going through hardship. There will be a car accident, a life tragically lost, there will be scandal or gossip and there will be sensationalised rubbish that for some reason has made it to the headlines. I choose not to read it or watch it. It’s outside of my control.
Back to my point (and I know I’m going about it the long way) – identity crisis. You’ll note that my title says “by a Proud White Australian Male”. That may represent who I am physically, but it is not something I feel I need to point out just because it represents who I am. It is very different to announcing oneself as a proud Wiradjuri man or a proud indigenous woman. Why is that? Why is it that some indigenous people have to make such an obvious statement? Why is it that some indigenous people have to sit during the National Anthem when it is “respectful” to stand? Why do some indigenous people refer to Australia Day as “Invasion Day” or “Survival Day”?
Well, unless you are indigenous you may never know. You can assume it’s because of the atrocities of our past. You can assume it’s because of the way Australia was “settled”. You can assume it’s because the National Anthem does not include an accurate reference to the way Aboriginal people feel about their country. You can assume it may be because of their present day challenges, racial abuse, daily judgement they want to announce that they are not down trodden – they are proud.
But because you are white, you may feel offended. You didn’t send a heap of convicts over on boats and murder and pillage to claim this land as your own. You didn’t physically abuse anyone who stood in your way to ensure you could own a piece of Australia. It’s not your fault babies and children were taken from black homes and justify it because of neglect or abuse at the hands of those parents, when white people who did the same were immune to this treatment because of the colour of their skin.
Just because you’re white, doesn’t mean you have to feel ashamed, or blamed or responsible. And it’s got nothing to do with what Australia Day means to you. I get that. The date’s not that important to you, it’s more what the DAY represents. Right?
We are aligned with what we feel represents us. You or your family were involved in the war. You are proud that you and your family have their piece in history as having defended this great country. You are a social worker who has witnessed firsthand atrocities that others would not be able to stomach. Abuse, neglect, death.
All of these things shape our opinions on who we are. On what we have become.
Joe Williams received one of the highest honours that can be bestowed on an individual in their life time. Citizen of the year. It is recognition of his contributions towards so many causes. Youth suicide and suicide prevention. Depression and other mental illnesses. Alcohol and drug abuse. Youth disengagement. The list goes on.
Questions have been raised.
Should Joe accept this award if he doesn’t believe in Australia Day and it’s an Australia Day award?
Should Joe be allowed to sit during the National Anthem when it is “respectful” to stand?
Why should Joe be able to “grand stand” when the point of the award is about recognition and acknowledging achievement?
First of all I want to say that I don’t know a lot about my own history let alone that of other people. From a young age I was concerned with learning from the past but not dwelling on it, planning for the future but not counting on it and appreciating the present by being in it. I know I have Scottish and English blood but apart from knowing a little about my grandparents, that’s where I cease to know any more.
I don’t know how my family arrived in this country and as weird as it may sound I don’t particularly care. What I do know is that my family has suffered abuse. That some of my family were tortured and murdered. I know that relatives of mine have been killed in accidents and some who have died of cancer, even some who have suffered at the hands of domestic abuse. But they are personal stories locked in my family’s vault and none of it has to do with race, religion or background. It’s just some seriously interesting and challenging stuff that sometimes gets mentioned at family gatherings.
But if one of my loved ones was murdered today and the killer was let to walk free because of a judicial technicality – you would see me on the news screaming from the roof tops.
If one of my children was stolen and abused and the authorities didn’t do enough to bring justice to our lives – I would be on the front page of every newspaper in Australia. I would be grandstanding my arse off to right a wrong.
That’s what happens when we feel affected by something directly.
The question now is how do we move forward?
If Australia Day had a date change, the Aussie flag was re-designed and the National Anthem was re-imagined – what would happen?
If our history was told in a more accurate way to our kids and to those of us who know about “settlement”, Aboriginal dream time, White Australia Policy, the stolen generation Flora and Fauna Act but that’s about it – then what?
Where to from here?
Acknowledgement of our past can occur and then what?
These are more important questions.
The very fact that people like Joe and Stan Grant have got people talking about these issues is a step in the right direction. We need change – but what change do we need? What change will benefit the wider community?
What will get 50% of indigenous youth out of our judicial system?
What will allow indigenous people to be educated and employed on equal benefits to non-indigenous?
When will things be so equal that we no longer need to have “Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander” boxes to tick on any government forms?
When will we get to the stage that regardless of your background you can be a proud Australian Citizen?
If Joe Williams didn’t sit during the National Anthem it wouldn’t have been a conversation. It’s hard to tell people that you stood for the anthem but wished you hadn’t because it didn’t feel right. Doing something like that elicits a response. It raises questions that need answering.
Personally I think if you ever feel offended by something or if you ever feel disrespected you have chosen to react that way. I don’t care if a black person, white person, male or female sits during a song that represents our anthem. That’s their choice. It doesn’t affect me one bit.
We need to move forward in this country. We cannot do it by being divisive.
Do I think some of Joe’s remarks are divisive? I’m afraid so.
Do I think he wants to be divisive to get his point across? No I don’t.
Education is one thing, mutual respect is a completely different kettle of fish. Until we realise that it doesn’t need to affect us directly for us to make a change we will never make a change. We will instead just choose to blame or to feel offended.
We all need to take a holistic approach to any tensions we sense as a community and not take them personally.
What needs to happen?
We need leaders who we have elected to office to stand up and tell us what is going to happen. These are the people who should be thinking about the big picture not the political picture. These are the people who need to make tough decisions that won’t make everybody happy but are right.
We celebrate Australia Day because who we can be as a people, not who we once were. We celebrate Australia Day because it is a community day not a day about just us. About just me. About just you. We are one people because we are Australian regardless of our heritage as tainted or violated as it may have been.
You are Australian because you have citizenship.
You are Australian because you live here.
We are one people.