by Kim Kelly
TELLING TALES FOR AUSTRALIA
Anyone who’s read my stories knows I love Australia with a massive depth of passion. I love her as my mother. And I love her as a naughty child. I love her even when she does unforgivable things.
But I don’t usually make a particular point of celebrating Australia Day. I never have. It wasn’t fashionable when I was growing up, and seems only to have become A Thing after the bicentenary in 1988. Splashy Ken Done prints have never suited me, though; neither has wrapping myself in the flag – any flag.
Anyway, as a student of history, which flag should I rightly wrap myself in even if I did have a yen (or a yuan to buy one)?
The Australian flag that we know today as The Flag has a bit of a chequered past. It was chosen via a design competition in 1901 following Federation, which was of course when Australia became a nation, which was of course also when we instituted the White Australia Policy, which was designed to lock out anyone of unacceptable skin-colour from participating in Australian society.
It’s worth remembering, too, that this flag was flown across our shiny, brand new nation before women could participate in society by voting, and that for most of the Boer War across those nation-birthing years, Australian soldiers fought under their various colonial ensigns or the Union Jack of Great Britain. Even after Federation, in all the wars Australia has taken part in, Australian soldiers have fought under British flags or the Red Ensign version of the Australian Flag, and our official flag was for swathes of the previous century a white backgrounded reconfiguration called the Federation Flag. Confused?
People don’t fight for flags, though, do they. They fight for home. People, ordinary people, fight for love, which is why war is such an enduring debacle of the worst ironic order – and why we are so easily manipulated into fighting in the first place.
Australia is a land of many flags, and home is a complex concept for many of us.
For people of the First Nations, the experience of the day can be fraught with grief, and for some the unresolved anger that comes from continuing injustice. A day of unhealed and aching wounds.
For many others, Australia Day can be a conflicted time of celebration and homesickness for the piece of their heart that remains in another country. It might be the day you call your mum in some place far away before you fire up the barbie. It might be the day you shed some tears for those lost in bloody battles your new Australian neighbours will never understand. And you pray they will never know. It might me a day of grateful prayer for you.
I’m a sixth generation Australian with both immigrant and convict ancestry. The only Brits related to me came here in chains almost two hundred years ago for petty, pathetic crimes against the Crown. The immigrants came later, from Germany and Ireland; their reasons are lost to the mists, but at a guess they came for same reason most did, to make a home in a peaceful place of sunshine and quality food and education for their children. Hardworking people, just wanting to get along in life.
Hard as it might be to believe, Australia was once called the Working Man’s Paradise. Our spirit of mateship, our egalitarianism was once world famous. The Aussie fair go was not a myth, even though it often seems so now. Before we signed up for any foreign war, men fought and died under the Eureka flag, the Southern Cross, against greedy authoritarianism, and for the right for all men of the bloke variety to vote, which they would eventually force into being in 1856. That flag was sewn by the women who stood beside them – women who would slowly but surely win the right to vote themselves in 1902, among the first across the globe. And when that occurred – when every man and woman could vote and put up their hand to run for parliament (albeit only if you were white) – we were, for that golden moment, the most democratic nation on earth.
These kinds of fierce acts of love, of progress and justice, make me proud to be Australian, and if I have a purpose in this life beyond living it, this excellent life Australia has allowed me to enjoy, it’s to do whatever small but significant thing I can to make our myth of togetherness, tolerance and equality our reality once more.
I try to do that by telling stories about this land I love, unearthing our truths, our quirks and contradictions, shining my little light so that at least I might see her wild canvas of colours more brightly, more deeply – so that hopefully others might, too.
Which is all a very long-winded explanation for why, this year, I will be celebrating Australia Day – in stories – over at the Book’d Out blog hop. I’ll be hooraying Australian tales because they tell us, in all their diversity, who we really are. And I hope you’ll join me there, too.