Wednesday, January 27, 2016

That Australian Life - Australia Day

Unlike India's Republic Day which falls on the same day, 26 January, Australia Day, is a funny kind of national holiday because it doesn't have a clear national significance.

By way of background, the First Fleet under Governor Phillip sailed from England on 13 May 1787 to establish a penal colony at Botany Bay, arriving between 10 and 20 January. It quickly became clear that Botany Bay was unsuitable for the intended purposes.

On 21 January, Phillip and a few officers travelled to Port Jackson, 12 kilometres (7.5 miles) to the north to see if it would be a better location for a settlement. They stayed there until 23 January, with Phillip naming the site Sydney Cove.

On the evening of 23 January the party returned to Botany Bay. Phillip gave orders to move the fleet to Sydney Cove the next morning, but a gale prevented departure.On 25 January, the fleet tried again, but only HMS Supply succeeded in leaving carrying Arthur Phillip, Philip Gidley King, some marines and about 40 convicts. The Supply anchored in Sydney Cove in the afternoon of 25 January. . Early next morning, 26 January, Phillip along with a few dozen marines, officers and oarsmen, rowed ashore and took possession of the land in the name of King George III.

After some difficulties, the remainder of the fleet joined the Supply on the 26th. It was not until 7 February 1788 that the formal proclamation establishing the colony under Phillip's governorship was read out.

The 26 January date had varying significance to different people and over time. To the new colonists and their descendants in NSW the day was celebrated early as foundation day. However, the other colonies that emerged selected other days to mark their history. The 1938 celebrations of 150 years since British settlement and the bicentenary celebrations of 1988 helped establish the date nationally, but it was not until 1994 that Australia Day became a uniform national celebration.

The Aboriginal position was more clear cut. 26 January marked the day on which ownership by the British crown was first asserted over part of their lands. Not all; dispossession would be a rolling process. 26 January became Invasion Day to distinguish from Australia Day.

I have been surprised at the extent to which Australia Day has become such a structured national celebration. This photo shows the party at eldest's Copenhagen flat to celebrate this year's Australia Day.

In the beginning, the mass celebration of Australia Day was very much an official thing, mandated and funded by governments at all levels. However, it tapped into the deep threads of patriotism and celebration, of the desire to party, within Australians. Around the world, Australia Day has become an excuse to party.

You will get a feel for this from the text on eldest's Facebook post.
Best first Australia Day celebrations away from home ever - thank you to all the fab people who came to party! ‪#‎copenhagen‬  ‪#‎australiaday2016celebrations‬ ‪#‎pavlova‬‪#‎lamingtons‬ ‪#‎homemadesausagerolls‬ ‪#‎timtams‬‪#‎teachingthedanesaboutsundaysessions‬
In terms of the discussion we have been having on Australian culture, the tags are quite interesting in terms of things Australian, as well as introducing Danes to the more informal aspects of Australian social life.

To Australia's Aboriginal peoples and their supporters, Australia Day remains deeply conflicted. Aboriginal elements have been introduced into all the official functions, but to Invasion Day theme is strong. Many want the date shifted. I have very mixed views here. I am inclined to support shifting the date to remove the conflict elements, but also recognise that this is likely to mute the protests themselves. From the viewpoint of Aboriginal activism, the present date is quite a potent weapon. That will be lost if the date is shifted.

As part of Australia Day, Australians of the Year are announced in various categories. Now here kvd in a comment pointed me to something that has been making me uncomfortable. Quoting a piece by Terry McCrann, it's behind the firewall unfortunately, kvd wrote:
Briefly he is saying that if you look at the list of AOTY recipients, it has moved from a national recognition of significant achievement (Nobel Prizes, Writers, etc.) thru sportsmen and 'celebs', to now more recently 'people with a cause' - Flannery, Batty and now the General - to which we are supposed to subscribe for our betterment. And that's all aside from the fact that (according to him) we are one of the few countries who indulge in an Of The Year award.
I suppose that we can think of this as the politicisation of the Australian of the Year process,
I don't have a problem with the Australian of the Year espousing particular causes, indeed of using the honour to promote those causes. I do have a problem when the award appears to be based on causes.

I suppose that its the republic thing that has most got up my nose in the case of the the latest recipient, David Morrison. Once you introduce cause based nominations, then one's response depends on personal reactions to to the causes.

I accept that this can be a slippery distinction, but my feeling is that it introduces a bias where the cause is important as compared to achievement. Without in any way detracting from General Morrison's achievements, I find myself wondering if I am going to have to campaign against him on issues that he espouses and wishes to use promote via his his new platform. I don't think that's appropriate.

I am much more comfortable with the idea of introducing Danes to the pavlova. Of course, even here there is a problem. Is the pavlova in fact an Australian dish? Many kiwis would say no. In any event, I love pavlovas and am glad that eldest is spreading knowledge of it in Copenhagen.


Problems attached to the advocacy role of the Australian of the Year are well captured in this Canberra Times story, Australian of the Year: Catherine McGregor sorry after saying David Morrison choice was 'weak' Apparently Australian of the Year finalist and transgender military officer Catherine McGregor branded the appointment of her former boss David Morrison to the position as a "weak and conventional choice", but then apologised.

A key paragraph in the story reads:
:The National Australia Day Council Board said it was "very disappointed by the comments made today by the Queensland Australian of the Year, Catherine McGregor, and her apology is appreciated and accepted". 
"The board stands by its decision to select David Morrison as the 2016 Australian of the Year as a champion of diversity and for marginalised communities in Australia, including the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) community," the board said in a brief statement.
I don't have a problem with the Australian of the Year adopting an advocacy role. I do have difficulties with selection apparently based on that role. This gets into difficult territory. For example, if someone has been a successful advocate for particular marginalised groups or indeed for social reforms, that would seem to me to be okay, although value judgements are necessarily involved. To select someone or to consider that someone should be selected because they are in some ways best for a future advocacy role would appear to be a very different question. 


Legal Eagle said...

I share KVD's discomfort about the Australian of the Year concept. I have to say that I'd never taken much notice of it until the furore with Goodes erupted. I had no idea that various sports people and celebs had been Australians of the Year previously. I don't know why we need it really. In fact, the whole Australia Day Honours thing freaks me out a bit. A friend noted that only a third of people who get Honours are women.

Jim Belshaw said...

There seems to me to be a distinction between the Australian of the Year thing and the awards as such. I am reasonably comfortable with the awards. I am also comfortable with the local equivalents of Australian of the Year, citizen of the year, since these are more representative, more constrained by what the community as opposed to a nomination panels

The gender bias is interesting. It reflects, I think, the interaction between the nomination process, the selection criteria and the particular demographic determined by the combination of the two. For example, academics and medics pick up a fair number of gongs but this group is still more male than female at senior level. Outside the metros, and this is a hypothesis, I would expect to find a higher proportion of women but at lower level. In writing, and again this is a hypothesis based on impressions, the proportion of women is higher.

There are definitely selective biases built into the process. For example, institutions or organisations may deliberately nominate people because the gongs awarded then shine on the institution or organisation.

One interesting measure of possible bias that I had not thought of until this conversation is to look back and ask the question how many of those awarded gongs in the past are now regarded as significant as compared to their equivalents who did not get awards.

Anonymous said...

If all these awards are decided on a sort of points based system, why not automatically grant the female women of Australia, say, a 30 point start?

A bit like golf tees or the Stawell Gift, only much more socially significant. LE would agree, I'm sure, that we need redress - only not the little black one, with pearls (don't want my mates getting any ideas, hey?)

And an extra 10 if they would just stop complaining incessantly that the washing machine has a leak, while doing the mowing. Sometimes I can't hear myself think about what's on tv.

Anything for a quiet life, I say.

And what time's dinner?

2 tanners said...

I'm serving up tonight at about 8 pm, due to earlier commitments, kvd. That's about 10 pm your time. With luck, the hospital will have treated your contusions and released you, rather than keeping you for observation. It'll be salmon and veg, maybe with a Camembert based sauce and a cold Riesling.

Anonymous said...

Contusions? I'm not contused - more just trying to stick up for the little ladies. Anyway, coming from a feller who lives in East East I think it's a bit rich for you to lecture me on contusion.


2 tanners said...

Oh no, I'm an expert on contusions and my latest ones are nicely healing, now the traditional colours of red, black and yellow, although no purple. As you've noticed, I don't have to be rich to lecture anyone on anything at all. And finally, it was a dinner invitation. In the end I ate your share, didn't want it to get cold, nor the Riesling warm.

Legal Eagle said...

I wouldn't want an added points system either (not a fan of affirmative action of that type). I'd rather a cultural shift on what's valued. But that's much harder to achieve. I note in the legal section there's only one woman honoured:

P.S. I don't think I'd fit into a little black dress at the moment KVD...big maternity black dress maybe.

Anonymous said...

Wow LE! Many many happy thoughts for you and yours. Just keep healthy and strong (stupid comment to any woman, but whatever - I hope you know it is well meant, if so inadequately phrased...) and please don't mind my (I hope, understood) playing with stereotypes.

Another eaglet! You made my day :) :) :)


Jim Belshaw said...

And that woman, LE was a rather special case. Now, 2t, what did you do to yourself?

Legal Eagle said...

Thanks so much KVD!