Welcome to this week’s editorial . As many of you might know I arrived in Australia at the age of 19 having grown up in Papua New Guinea.
I soon discovered that there was an Australia Day and thought this was a wonderful idea. How incredibly mature of a country to have a day when everyone stops and takes measure of where they live. A day to celebrate the incredible and diverse geography of this massive island and the richness of its unique and incredible wildlife. In growing up in PNG one of the first things you learn when you arrive in a new tribal area is their knowledge of country. You are introduced to rivers, to the local wildlife, to trees and fruit and then to spiritual places. The traditional people of PNG recognise that they are transient in the world they live in and they show respect to the land and country around them recognising that they play only a part in the whole of their landscape, and only for the briefest of time. For me Australia Day has fortunately come to be my everyday as I enjoy this “lucky” country and delight in the incredible diversity of wildlife we have, the stunning landscapes, the rivers, beaches and all it has to offer. Most disappointingly however I soon discovered that most Australians had a different perspective of Australia Day and few celebrated it as I did. Instead I discovered Australia Day was about Australians, the humans, and how they perceived themselves. Patriotism with flags fluttering on rear view mirrors, BBQs of lamb with slabs of beer, thongs, Aussie flag, thongs and clothing at every turn and a contrived bravado for one day of the year that suggested being Australian is the best thing in the world with a few “cobbers” “mate” and “bonza” thrown in. To them, Australia is their country and that is the Australian culture to be accepted for to challenge it is to be un-Australian. Cronulla? St Kilda?
Flying in the face of all this bravado however is the undercurrent that not everyone sees Australia Day the same. The first Australians aren’t that happy and actually call the day Invasion Day, much to the curiosity of more than half **** of the nation who have no English heritage at all and only arrived in the country in the last 50 years as immigrants simply wanting to embrace a new land and having no connection at all with the scurrilous Captain James Cook and all the crap that went down in the first decades of colonial settlement. **** In 2016 nearly half (49%) of all Australians were either born overseas or had at least one parent who was born overseas. ... 21% of the population were second generation Australians (born in Australia, but had one or both parents born overseas). To these new Australians this is a new country filled with wonder and hope for a better life. It is a land that perports to be free and multicultural where all are welcome, embraced to the fold on Australia Day, and sworn in as new citizens in ceremonies around the country. Ask these new citizens what they love about Australia and they tell you with a passion of the incredible countryside, the beaches, the wildlife, the weather, the room to move, the freedom to explore. They rejoice at the clean air, the freshness of our produce, the bounty of our seas. To them Australia Day is not about an Invasion, it is not typified by a BBQ with a cold slab and a stereo blaring Barnsey and Colin Hay. For many of the new citizens it is a day to reflect on having made it to this land of plenty and opportunity. Few if any know the Chicken Dance and would ever say Oi, Oi, Oi I will be celebrating Australia Day as I have done for the last 42 years by walking around my neighbourhood, from the river to the sea, and taking in the bush, the birds, the wildlife and the stunning vistas up and down the coast of this small corner of the planet and hoping that the Australia I enjoy today might remain to be the Australia that future humans who walk these lands might also enjoy. In 2017 the New Zealand Government passed its first rights for nature law. There, as an example, the Whanganui River, which flows across the North Island, has been granted rights of personhood. That means the river – but not nature writ large – can act as a person in a court of law; it has legal standing. I hold some hope that the Australia I call home might also one day do the same. Whatever your Australia Day might be—have a good one. Until next Lei