I was asked, so I'll answer. Normally, I try to be more eloquent here than I am when speaking. But given that most of this was spouted at 1am, two nights ago, I am definitely writing more from my gut than my mind.
I'm currently in my home town of Perth and the local newspaper The West Australian has asked for a 100 word story that somehow typifies what Australia Day means to me. The idea that, somehow, celebrating genocide is a given. So much so that I could no doubt be able to get there in 100 words. Perhaps an amusing BBQ anecdote, or maybe the time I got punched out the front of a pub to squeegee my boozy goggles of nostalgia.
The fact is, I wilfully forget it. I live in the UK and I need to be reminded every year that it's even happening. Often prompting the question, (well actually, pretty much anyone that knows me, knows to only ever ask this question once) "How come you don't celebrate Australia day?".
The length of my answer depends on my mood. The short answer being, "You don't see Germans having a happy Auschwitz day now do you?" The long answer is a meandering, enraged, ashamed stream of conscious rant running anywhere from 15-30 minutes, beginning with the words, "Are you fucking kidding me?"
Now no one has ever accused me of being a politically correct douchebag. I make just as much fun of the left for their phony posturing and hypocrisy as I do the right for their pompous entitlement. But c'mon, wherever your politics may lie, surely you can see that Australia Day can fuck right off. And not just for the sheer gumption and disregard it shows to the indigenous population - not that that isn't number one on my list of "reasons Australia day can fuck off" either.
In fact, let's get there in a list: Reasons Australia Day can fuck off
1) It shows a staggering level of disregard for the indigenous population.
We committed genocide. Probably best not to rub it in. Even the deep South of the US have finally admitted that the confederate flag is fucked up. And those people arm their kids at 12. South Africa celebrates and documents the end of Apartheid, not the day it was invented. That's right, racially, we are behind the Deep South and South fucking Africa. It's gross, just so damn gross.
2) Pick any other fucking day or better yet, be honest about what the day really means.
There are other days! Anzac Day, AFL grand final... whatever. Even better still, I think we should shift it to Sorry Day.
26 May is a shitty day for Sorry Day anyway as it's the beginning of winter and at that time of year 'Sorry Day' will continue to stagnate. It will forever be morose and regretful. We need our day in January for sure. So let's change Australia Day to Sorry Day. You can still have your fireworks, your family gatherings, get drunk. Whatever you need to do. But if the whole country can tune in to watch men kick balls, or smash things with bats for hours, even days on end. Surely we can stomach a minute's silence with our friends and loved ones just to at least acknowledge who paid the price for this world-beating enviable lifestyle? But also just to be honest about what the day actually means.
Because hopefully 'Sorry Day' will eventually evolve into 'Thank You Day'. I'm not even joking. If we actually put the effort in perhaps we can all unite on what is so great about this country. Not just great, remarkable, miraculous even. (More on this in reason number four...)
Because the idea and origin of 'Sorry Day' was so gracious I well up every time I think of it. After years of being screwed by the left and the right, after years of no one really understanding the aboriginal community, white Australia held their hands up and cried, "What do you want, we've given you land, we've thrown money at this issue, we just don't get it. WHAT IS IT YOU PEOPLE WANT?"
And the indigenous population replied, "Well, an apology would be nice." And the conservative PM of the time replied, "An apology? No way, get fucked. Fuck off". (To the tune of The Angels' Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again - Google it foreigners and you'll see that this country wasn't without its influence on me).
Then the following PM, Kevin Rudd apologised and decreed a national day of amends. To the rest of the world such an action may seem like condescending tokenism. But the rest of the world could never understand that when it comes to black/white relations in Australia, things are so messed up that anything that reeks of effort is progress. And effort and acknowledgement is all the indigenous population are asking for. When you think about what we did and what we continue to do, that's pretty damn magnanimous.
Bill Bryson put it so succinctly in his brilliant travelogue, Down Under when he opined the slogan, "Do more, try harder, start now". I couldn't agree more.
3) It's not like we've turned it into anything cool.
Drink driving goes up, as does domestic violence, street violence, alcohol poisoning, and hospital A&Es are full. At least Thanksgiving in the US is about families getting together for the winter - and they call it 'Thanksgiving' not 'Fuck you! This is America!' Day. That's right, the land that gave you a reality star running for President still handles their patriotism and genocidal invasion with more tact and class than we do. What's more when you consider how much alcoholism has absolutely decimated the aboriginal community, getting drunk and punching each other in the street might not be the best way to atone for our sins.
Now this is where I'm pretty sure I could not be accused of being a PC wowser (or whatever the far right's latest derogatory term for compassion might be). And anyone on the international scene would no doubt scoff at the idea that I would ever described as such but believe me, for this, it will happen.
But actual PC douchebags in Australia would never wish for me to acknowledge this fact: alcoholism is rife in the aboriginal community. That is not stereotyping, it is a statistical fact. It has decimated their people. And quite frankly, fuck any trite, factually unarmed, pseudo-liberal wanker that wants to deny that truth. Because you're in denial, you're an enabler and you're part of the problem.
It takes a few hundred years for a community to be able to handle alcohol and I say that as someone who can't. The introduction of alcohol to a previously teetotal society screwed them up royally. If I were to take you to the North or even to the dry areas (where alcohol is not even allowed), you would be horrified to see just how many people are hammered in the street in the middle of the day.
Ever found yourself in the dark in this life? I have. Ever found yourself in so much pain you tried to drink yourself to death? I did. And you know for me it was over a simple break up, for some it may be the death of a loved one. Well I put it to you: take that feeling and times it by fucking genocide.
Up in the Northern Territory and Kimberley region you could even be forgiven for thinking there was a huge meth problem but in actual fact, it's even sadder. Meth would be an upgrade, a lot of the people there have issues with petrol sniffing, even falling asleep night after night with soaked cloths over their mouths and noses. Like a lot of alcoholics and drug addicts these people aren't mad, they're sad. You can see it in their eyes, they carry centuries of sadness. It's brutal, we're at the root of it and we rub it in with stubbies on the one day we should probably do it the least. Getting hammered on Australia Day is a bit like turning up to a bar mitzvah in full SS regalia, and going, "Hey where are the gas chambers? I thought this was a party?"
"Hey now come on, you can't possibly compare Australia Day to the Jewish Holocaust."
No I can't.
Because the Nazis didn't succeed. They lost.
The Australian genocide was successful. There are massive parts of Australia where the indigenous population was completely wiped out. There are none left. Mission accomplished, raise your glasses and enjoy your fireworks show, wankers.
4) We're totally celebrating the wrong thing.
Again, I'm not suggesting we don't have a national day, nor to not get together with friends and family. Hell, I'm not even suggesting it isn't a great country. It's an awesome country, with sunshine, beaches, great food and a lifestyle second to none. I love the people of Australia. In the western world there is an all pervasive sense of thin skinned fake outrage everywhere that bores me to tears. Consequently I find Australia's overall demeanour of candour and pragmatism a breath of fresh air. There's plenty to love. Australia made me who I am. But it is also supposed to be the land of "fair go". And this ain't fair go - it's preposterous navel gazing.
Celebrate anything else - or for that matter what really sets this country apart from the rest of the world. Australia is an anthropological and geological miracle. It is the world's oldest, untouched and frankly utterly bizarre ecosystem. New species are found here on a weekly basis. Many of the land masses are billions of years old. There are living dinosaurs in crocodiles some 98million years old. There are a million ways to die and yet we thrive. We have rock formations that geologists salivate over and internationally we are a paleontologist's wet dream.
We even have living examples of the first organisms to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen - stromatolites. Stromatolites previously only existed in scientific theory then they found fossils of them in Australia in the Fifties. Then, shockingly in the Seventies living and breathing examples were found alive and well in Shark Bay in Western Australia. The lungs of the earth - billions of years old - still ticking along.
Our real history is the history of how life on earth came to be. Screw your Sydney Harbour Bridge you self absorbed over-glorified beavers. We are more than urban structures, we ARE man. We ARE earth. Yet we're all jumping up and down because some white people got here a mere 200 years ago. That is a blip, a dot, barely a nano fart of this country's real history. We can see more stars than most yet we're marvelling at our toes.
We have the world's oldest culture that told us how to survive, here, on this deadly yet beautiful island. With tales that predate history that have recently been proven true by geologists and anthropologists. Yep, I always thought the tales of the big lizards and rising tides were bullshit too. But nope, turns out they're true. Giant crocodilian fossils have been found in the outback. Proven by paleontology and geology - a history not written down but passed on by word of mouth - that predates history itself. That's nuts, that's awesome and we don't give two shits.
Oh yeah, and while we're at it - they invented pantheism before we even knew what it meant. Possibly the only sensible viable religion on the planet. Basically, the belief that nature and god are one and the same. Or better yet, there is no God only nature. And that it is to be loved but respected. Makes way more sense to me than any other "civilised" religion. And a lot less vain for that matter.
So, I'm sorry this Australia Day. I'm sorry we don't celebrate what's great. I'm sorry we don't celebrate what came before us. I'm sorry that we get drunk and rub it in. I'm sorry we don't use this time to prop those up that are so very clearly ill.
Perhaps if we spent a few decades of apologising on Australia Day we might remind them of their dignity and how remarkable they actually are. And maybe, just maybe, those that are still suffering under alcoholism and drug addiction, might put it down and realise, as Stan Grant so eloquently put it last week, "We're better than that".
This isn't personal propaganda, I have no desire to be the voice of outrage. But if you, like me, actually like being Australian, were never sure why, but you knew definitely why not. I hope I've helped you put it into words somewhat.
Happy Sorry Day Folks. Enjoy your BBQ.
Brendon is currently on tour in Australia until 5 March