Scary stories from a lovely place
This time next week Australia Day ‘celebrations’ will be winding down. If it’s been a sunny day, many an Irish tourist will be lobster red, lifeguards will be tired and beachside parking meters will be choked by coins. Wasteful fireworks will have been exploded, empty beer bottles will litter our streets and there will probably be some alcohol and middle-class-boredom-fuelled violence in our cities. I’m sure it will be a great day.
We don’t celebrate Australia Day in our family. When we lived in South Africa, I felt a vague kind of obligation to mark it somehow, but I was always pregnant or breastfeeding, so partaking of beer didn’t seem appropriate. Usually I would sadly tell people how I missed my home, but felt conflicted celebrating Australia Day, so cheers to me and Captain Cook, and the dispossession of the Aboriginal people and the violent erosion of their culture (which is totally what the 26th January 1788 was).
I probably wanted to try last year, since we were actually living in Asutralia, but then I was horrified to see in the supermarket that Huggies were selling special Australia Day nappies for my kids to wear on their butts. Nothing says national loyalty and respect for one’s culture like pooing on the flag. I complained on the Huggies Facebook page; that I didn’t think it was appropriate that a flag which many Australians have fought and died under in war should be used in this way. I couldn’t believe the outpouring of vitriol that I received from angry mothers, proudly wiping their kids poo on their flag. That was it for me.
Since then we’ve seen an increase of cruelty from both major political parties towards people seeking refugee status in Australia, via the seas to our north. And evidence that Australians are not only happy about the way our Government’s policies are heading on this issue, but hoping that they will continue to debase our commitment to the UN refugee convention. Australia’s Indigenous people are still maligned and misunderstood and ‘white Australian pride’ is all too latent and pernicious.
As if marking Australia Day isn’t already a fraught enough celebration for our nation and it’s disparate people groups, now we must be subject to a flood of marketing and consumerism. I’m disgusted to see in every supermarket myriad cheap Australia Day branded clothing and accessories – towels, thongs, bikinis, flimsy t-shirts, plates, suncream, giant hands, tents, cooler bags, chairs and umbrellas, etc.
As if this commodification of our flag isn’t enough, on the weekend I read in the paper about how people are shocked that all this merchandise isn’t made in Australia! For a moment I thought it was the year 2000 again when there was outcry that all the cheap Sydney Olympics stuff was made in China. People in the news story were saying that as Australians we don’t only care about the lowest possible price on our crappy merchandise, but we care about supporting local industry. If this were indeed true, I don’t think Big W’s catchphrase would be “cha-ching”, indicating their budget prices, but rather something about supporting the Australian manufacturing industry.
When my Grandfather was a slave in a labour camp in Singapore for three years during the Second World War he thought about his home in Australia every day. After the war he wrote down many of those thoughts – mostly he longed for his love, my Grandmother, but also wondered about his friends, family and colleagues, and dreamed of favourite places in Australia. I’m pretty sure when he finally sailed into Sydney Harbour, coming home, and was warmed by the sight of the Australian flag, he didn’t hope it would end up splayed across all manner of disposable merchandise.