Thoughts on a Holiday

Karen Radford Treanor 


Copyright 2020  by Karen Radford Treanor

Photo of an Australian aboriginal mosaic.

Some potted history for friends who are not Australian. It's the day after Australia Day, our national holiday, but it's a Monday so we are celebrating today. Some are celebrating--others are questioning whether one should celebrate a day that marked the beginning of one group's long persecution of another. I'm neither celebrating nor ignoring--just sittin' and thinkin'.
The First Fleet arrived 26 Jan 1788. (Americans can read "Mayflower" to get an approximation.) Things weren't too bad initially, but as has been the case in many other colonisations, disease and death and extermination soon followed. The English settlers declared this huge continent was 'terra nullius', which is rich boys' school talk for ''ain't nobody's home" and proceeded to move in to all the best bits. Two centuries of talk followed (interspersed with violence) about how original the original inhabitants were, if they were in fact human, and if they should be entitled to anything. This naturally caused some ill feeling.
In the late 20th century some rights were granted by the dominant power: the right to be paid for working, the right to vote, the right to keep your children, and the right to be seen as owners of some of the land. Eventually one Prime Minister said "Sorry" for past bastardry. Many of us thought that was a good first step towards resolving the problems that began in 1788, and some that predated that as well.
Our cousins across “The Ditch” in New Zealand managed things better.  The original population was much more homogenous and concentrated in its own settlements, so was better able to organise against invasion than the more nomadic and diverse Australian aboriginal peoples.  The Maori had a warrior tradition and were able to put up a good fight against the English settlers.  This led quite quickly to the Treaty of Waitangi which while not perfect, let the original people hold on to rights and real estate.  

The Treaty of Waitangi is New Zealand’s founding document. It takes its name from the place in the Bay of Islands where it was first signed, on 6 February 1840. The Treaty is an agreement, in Māori and English, that was made between the British Crown and about 540 Māori rangatira (chiefs).
At present there is an annual argument about whether Australia Day should exist at all, or if it should be on January 26 or some other date. One of these years I trust we'll stop the arguing and start actually doing something to address the legacy of the past. More and better schools and clinics for all people living far from urban amenities could be a foundation on which to build something better.  Giving more power to local government to do things such as to declare a town “dry” to combat alcohol abuse could be a good thing.  Recognising traditional culture as having value  (except for things that allow harmful practices like child marriage) might help engender respect.  There is much room for improvement in intercultural understanding.
Perhaps my grandchildren will live long enough to see a better life for everyone on this big dry island. 

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