We have only been celebrating Australian Day on the actual date - 26 January - since 1994 when the public holiday was declared. The message of inclusiveness has stayed the same but Sue Ellson asks if it's time for an update.
Australia Day 2012 has enabled various initiatives to gain media coverage highlighting the issues faced by indigenous Australians and migrants.
The Aussie cynic in me would suggest that Australia Day is being treated as another occasion to trumpet out an old message and enable retailers to have additional products to sell (now Australian merchandise is put in the shops straight after Christmas, next we will have hot cross buns well ahead of Easter).
But, I am encouraged to see an Australian of the Year nominee share a message of multiculturalism
and Indigenous Australians and professionals make recommendations for a change to our Constitution – an opportunity for recognition, reconciliation and respect.
When faced with change, particularly significant change that seems all too hard, we are tempted to simply pass over the story once again, put a referendum in the too hard basket and say that we have already spent enough money on saying ‘no’ to racism.
If the majority of Australians are still white Caucasians born and bred in Australia, that does not mean that we have the right to assume power over our fellow citizens. If we do believe that the lifestyle we have in Australia is worth preserving, then I believe we should make an effort to keep it but we also need to be mindful and respectful of our fellow citizens who are legally and morally entitled to live here.
As an example, I am a white Caucasian born and bred in Australia. As a child in my local culture in Adelaide, I learnt that Asians could never do anything as good as a white person, Asians consider themselves to be a superior race, that Greeks and Italians could never get married and I could never marry anyone with a skin colour darker than mine.
Unfortunately, I cannot remember HOW I learnt this. I am quite sure it was not part of the school curriculum. Despite this upbringing, and as a result of my experience of ‘migrating’ from Adelaide to Melbourne, I set up and run a network for newcomers of all backgrounds. Curiously, I still find it hard to fight these ingrained prejudices.
In 2010 I visited Europe and I found it completely uncivilised and I could not wait to return to Australia. Even more than before, I favour education, affirmative action and regulation to help us develop and grow into a progressive and cohesive society.
I would not want to lose the values of egalitarianism, mateship and volunteering. I would like to see all Australians reignite their commitment and passion for their country and their fellow man. Whilst respecting all faiths, let us enable Australians to strive for the greater good rather than their own selfish desires which have been stimulated by consumerism.
For now though, let us continue the dialogue, share the stories and implement the winning projects that change lives and societies. If the government is our collective nanny and moral arbiter now that the church has less of an influence on everyday society, let us ensure that it is well informed and supported, encouraged and assisted so that we can all continue to develop Australia as a first class country and community that sets the standard for the rest of the world.
Perhaps in the future we will be able to celebrate a ‘Multicultural Movement Day’. What has been happening in your neck of the woods that you are proud to talk about?
Sue Ellson BBus AIMM MAHRI CAR (REIV) is the Founder and Director of Newcomers Network (started in 1999), an independent provider of information, events and advocacy for newcomers and networkers in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth. Sue is also the Convenor of the International Human Resources Network Victoria for the Australian Human Resources Institute and a regular feature writer for various publications.