Saturday, January 24, 2009

delicate sensitivities

Today was a lazy day, a couple of hours volunteer work at the zoo, followed by a long, luxurious sleep and a take-away pizza. Deck chair cinema is on the cards in a couple of hours.

Tonight's movie is The Castle, chosen no doubt as it is the Australia Day long weekend. Australia Day (26 January) marks the date in 1788 when the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay, marking the start of the colony of Australia. I think a lot of Australians think Captain James Cook was there. Captain Cook 'discovered' Australia, but Captain Arthur Phillip was in charge of this little voyage and brought with him the kind folk who would colonise Australia (which in those days pretty much meant roughing up the Indigenous population and killing off a lot of fauna and flora. I should expect there was a lot of sweating too).

These days there's much discussion as to whether this is the most appropriate day to celebrate Australia, or Invasion Day as it is called by many Indigenous, and non-Indigenous, Australians. Many think that ANZAC Day, 25 April, is a much more appropriate date for our National Holiday. It marks the landing of allied troops on the beach in Gallipoli, Turkey, during WWI and is very, very much part of the national psyche. If push came to shove and I had to remove a public holiday from the calendar, I would say ANZAC Day is a more appropriate day to celebrate.

This issue aside there is, perhaps, a worrying trend developing with Australia Day. People seem to have gone flag crazy. On their fences, on their cars, draped from every available space.

And it scares me.

To me a national flag is something that flies over government buildings - The Lodge, Parliament House, the ATO etc. It also is a national identifier in the military, so you can work out whose aircraft carried to torpedo and whose not to, or at events like VE Day, as a marker of national successes on the champs du guerre.

However when the average person on the street starts waving one, it makes me uneasy. I think of nationalism, imperialism and jingoism. Frankly I think of Berlin in the 1930s. It's saying 'my country is better than your country' . This attitude can only lead to no good. Would the recent violence at the Australian Open between Serb and Bosnian supporters have got out of hand without flag waving? The Australian flag also made regular appearances at the Cronulla riots, one of the most ugly and shameful events in Australia's short history.

(if you're in this photo, you are a moron)

Surely there are other ways to celebrate what's great about Australia. Invite the next door neighbours round for a snag and an open and frank discussion about foreign policy. Take a bat and a tennis ball down to the beach and start a game of cricket. Have a garage sale and donate the money to a charity overseas where they're not as lucky to have the options that most people in Australia have. Stay at home and count your blessings.

Am I being over sensitive about this issue? Has the display of these type of national symbols changed in their meaning or strength? Or are modern day Australians so far removed from the dangers of these ways of thinking that we're not aware of a dark, dangerous mood that's swelling up from beneath us? Is it my Boring History status that helps to me recognise where this type of behaviour has led before. Should I be afraid? Very afraid?


A Free Man said...

I noticed a lot - a LOT - of drunk flag waving and wearing Aussies around yesterday and it made me a bit uncomfortable. It reminded me of the months after 9/11 in the States. You pretty much had to have a flag at your house, on your car, on your lapel or it raised an undue amount of suspicion. I think that we're veering back toward a disturbing level of nationalism lately.

Kitty said...

It's interesting, since I wrote this post i've seen/heard a lot of editorial on this. I think brought on by what happened at Manley on Australia Day. I guess the up-shot is that I should be afraid.

Suzer said...

We saw The Castle as well, outdoors as the local council was my 1st outdoor movie ever and bloddy fantastic!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kitty, am here checking out your blog as I come up with some interview questions!

I can't stand regular people flying Aussie flags - freaks me out too. I associate it with nationalism, but not the good kind, more like the bigoted 'stay out of my country you interloper' kind of nationalism. Only they probably wouldn't put it that nicely.