Scary stories from a lovely place
Today we enjoyed a public holiday. It’s in celebration of Labour Day, which marks the achievements of workers to secure an 8 hour working day in the 1850’s. I was talking to a friend yesterday who referred to this long weekend as the Queen’s birthday public holiday. I was going to correct her, because we celebrate that special day in June, but then I stopped when I remembered that a few days ago I also thought this was the case.
This is the problem with Australia’s public holidays, they mean zero. Besides the religious days, (Easter and Christmas, which have been so hijacked by marketing and consumerism as to be almost devoid of meaning anyway), the only one which seems to bear much weight is Australia Day. It celebrates the landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay in 1788. For the nation’s Indigenous people, this day is actually not one to be celebrated, but mourned, hence why some refer to it as Invasion Day. The other one is Anzac Day, which is important, although it also seems to have become about drinking alcohol in the sun. But it is weighty, especially for those of us with relatives who served in one or more of the armed conflicts Australia has engaged in.
Public Holidays are off the charts in South Africa. There are many of them and they are all important, marking days in history weighty with meaning and memory. There’s Youth Day which commemorates the start of the Soweto riots in 1976, where many schoolkids were shot by police in protests over mandatory Afrikaans in schools. Then there’s Freedom Day which remembers the first open and democratic elections in 1994. And Women’s Day, in honour of the efforts made by women during the struggle against Apartheid. It particularly references a march in 1956 by women to protest the Pass Laws. I always loved the South African public holidays because they were imbued with such important history and meaning that was so potent for many of my friends and their identity.
I feel like we’re missing some of the meaning of public holidays in Australia. It’s not that we don’t have any important history to remember. If I knew more about the history of Labour Day I would certainly want to celebrate it. I think part of the problem is that because as a nation we are still so far from properly reconciling with our nation’s Indigenous people, this shadows potential celebrations. Maybe we should celebrate the formal dismantling of the 1970’s White Australia policies, or even the 13th February 2008, when Prime Minister Rudd finally apologised to the Stolen Generations of Indigenous people. If these days were celebrated I would feel better about marking Australia Day, or other important days in our colonial history.
Today, I did what many coastal Australians probably did. I sat at the beach with my family. Maybe we should have a national Beach day. Although, that is pretty much every day in Summer anyway, it wouldn’t have a lot of special meaning.