Today is the Fourth of July, American Independence Day.
I’m not American. The photo above was taken when we spent a year of my earliest life living in Kentucky. I spoke my first words with an American accent.
Australians know all about Independence Day. It figures prominently in Hollywood and every US television series from Leave It To Beaver to The Wonder Years to Modern Family has had at least one Fourth of July themed episode (or so it seems).
In some ways, I envy the USA and the passion they hold for their national day. Along with their Northern cousins, they celebrate a day they became a nation in their own right, whether through war and bloodshed or, as my Canadian blogging friend Joanne put it, by asking “our British Motherland for permission“.
I also envy them their flags, unique to their countries and flown so proudly as a sign of their independence and singular nationhood.
In my country, we celebrate our national day – Australia Day – on the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove in 1788. We were still a British colony, a largely penal one at that and our indigenous brothers and sisters rightly refer to our national day as “Invasion Day”. It doesn’t make me proud; it makes me cringe.
Even our flag is under contention, a reminder of our British colonial past displayed prominently in the corner. I think it is a symbol of our never quite cutting the apron strings. There is a significant portion of our society that clings to our British roots despite the ever-increasing multicultural influence on our everyday streets.
If ever there were any doubts that we have never really left the nursery, confirmation came earlier this year when one of the first acts of our new Prime Minister was to re-instate knighthoods, previously abolished in 1983. With manufacturing in decline, spiralling youth unemployment, appalling conditions for our indigenous peoples and a widening gap between rich and poor in our country, this was one of his first priorities.
Every January 26th, there are rumblings about finding a more appropriate day. Federation – our ‘independence’ day – came on January 1st 1901. Australians love a public holiday, particularly one that gives them a long weekend. Celebrating the national day on a day that is already a public holiday and thus depriving them of an additional day off will not be tolerated. Some have suggested making ANZAC Day our national day but celebrating ourselves as a nation on the anniversary of one of the biggest military stuff-ups seems absurd. And how do we include our new Australians who hail from Turkey on that day?
On 13th February 2008, our then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, offered an official government apology to indigenous Australians and particularly to the Stolen Generations for the treatment they had received from our forebears. Many have suggested this as a possible new national day. It has merit and may highlight each year the ongoing plight of the aboriginal people (we are yet to acknowledge their first ownership of the land in our constitution and their life expectancy is well below their non-indigenous counterparts). However, it does not acknowledge the many cultures that have come to make up our peaceful melting pot of a country. From the Chinese who came to dig the goldfields in the 1850s to the latest migrants from Africa and the Middle East, ours is a country built on difference. We need to find a day that celebrates that and a flag that truly represents who we are.
I’m not confident I’ll see it in my own lifetime but I think my children’s generation, brought up in an increasingly global society, may be the one to recognise the contribution of all the peoples of the Earth who have come to form our home and to celebrate that in unity and peace.
Every country has its problems. The United States has a growing underclass of working poor and their lack of universal healthcare leaves us shaking our heads. Canada’s current Prime Minister is best buddies with our own so they have my sympathies. But both countries have a day that is theirs and theirs alone when they can feel proud to be an independent nation.
I wish I could say the same for my own country.
(I’d like to thank bikerchick57 for inspiring this post.)