I was a teenage invader
I have a confession to make: I’m one of the invaders. My ancestors did not come to these shores with the First, the Second, or even the Fifty-Second Fleet. In fact, while my namesake was bringing his merry band of convicts, sailors and marines into the Sydney Harbour, my ancestors were being invaded, oppressed and dispossessed by the Russian and the Austro-Hungarian despoilers and partitioners of the once mighty Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In other words, my indigenous Polish forebears were otherwise occupied at the time, no pun intended. Unlike most of you, I didn’t even grew here, I flew here, to borrow phraseology from the ‘Bra bogans beating up on the Lebs. I didn’t land from Rome, via Singapore, on the 26th of January, but as a white Christian European male arrival I still fit the profile of a typical coloniser.
I bring all this up because the debate, which rears its leftie head every year, but this year seemingly even more so than previous times, about changing the date of Australia Day to another day, which doesn’t commemorate the First Fleet landing, strikes me as a complete furphy. Whatever alternative date you pick, whether it is something else meaningful from our history or an entirely random combination of digits, some people will still be unhappy because what Australia Day signifies: a celebration of the existence of an advanced liberal Western democracy, a new country, a new state, and a new nation, where there was not one before. The Australia we have today came about because a Stone Age hunting-gathering society was superseded by another culture, in yet another example of a historical inevitability played out hundreds if not thousands of times throughout the human history, where those less technologically advanced, less dynamic, less aggressive are overcome and displaced by those who are more so. From our common Cro Magnon ancestors coming up on top of the older Neanderthal population between 100 and 40 thousand years ago all the way to today, people have been conquering and getting conquered, dispossessing and getting dispossessed. Native Americans, Africans, Asians, all have been colonising and building empires throughout their entire history; it’s just that the Europeans have been the most successful at it in the modern times.
Whether we celebrate Australia on January 26 or April 26, we are celebrating the creation and the continuing existence and growth of a new nation, which came about through the British colonisation of Australia. Had the continent been left alone (not that this was ever a real possibility – if not the Brits, than the French, the Dutch, the Germans or other Europeans or perhaps Asians would have permanently filled the colonial vacuum) there would be no Australia today, and no Australia Day to celebrate. Indigenous Australians got the raw deal, in as much as their traditional way of life has been irrevocably disrupted and eventually lost; but there is no such thing as peaceful colonisation. Endless apologies for it are as pointless as feeling guilty about human nature. Yes, the world has changed now, and it is an objectively good thing, but as a historical – and ethical – development it is but a blink of an eye on the timeline of human history.
I will be too busy today to whack some sausages and steak on the barbie and crack a coldie while listening to JJJ’s hottest 100, but neither will I be feeling bad, ashamed, guilty and apologetic about the holiday. In 1788, after some 40,000 years of stasis, Aboriginal life in Australia changed forever. As did my grandparents’ life in 1945 when the Red Army dispossessed them and expelled them from the lands their families occupied for centuries. My ancestors in turn probably displaced some of the indigenous Ukrainian Slavs and Lithuanians a few centuries earlier. These in turn probably shafted the previous Celtic, Sarmatian and Scythian residents a millennium and a half ago, who in turn took over the lands belonging to even earlier inhabitants. History is not a morality play.
For myself, I invaded Australia on 30 November; I guess I should celebrate my own private Australia Day that day. This is the crux of it – or one of them, in any case – if you believe that Australia was indeed invaded on 26 January 1788, then every new arrival to our shore since then – convict, settler, European, Asian, refugee – has continued and perpetuated that invasion and occupation of the Aboriginal continent. You can even call that each individual instance a micro-invasion, or micro-aggression.
And if you indeed believe, as many do, that the defining aspect of the Australian experiment – at the risk of sounding inxsive, its original sin – is the invasion, colonisation, dispossession and even genocide of the original Australians, then the very act of celebrating that nation-building experiment is gross and offensive it itself. You could change the date to May 8 – M-ate… geddit it? – as some on the left propose – and what a way to privilege maleness and (toxic – is there any other) masculinity at the expense of women and minorities that would be! – but it won’t actually change a thing. It’s not the Day, it’s Australia.
Australia Day, love it or not, leave it.