Editor's Column

Australia Dystopia

first fleet IIAustralia Day on January 26 celebrates not just the anniversary of the First Fleet’s arrival in Sydney Harbour in 1788 but the establishment on this continent of British civilisation. The date is heavy with the symbolism of the radical change that occurred within a few decades: the dispossession of the Aboriginal people and the replacement of their hunter-gatherer way of life with a cultural, political and legal system far more sophisticated and powerful. Those who are opposed to the celebration of Australia Day on January 26 are signalling their opposition to British settlement and all it brought with it. They regard the founding of modern Australia as illegitimate and immoral. An ABC news interview with the Aboriginal author of the recent novel Terra Nullius, Claire Coleman, quotes her saying: “We don’t have to imagine an apocalypse, we survived one. We don’t have to imagine a dystopia, we live in one—day after day after day.”

It should go without saying that those who take this position are hypocrites, especially those Aboriginal identities loudest in condemning the arrival of the British. If the continent had never been colonised, Ms Coleman would not be writing novels. She would be illiterate, without a roof over her head or a room of her own.

Nonetheless, this movement seems immune to introspection and is bound to escalate when the next opportunity to seize the headlines arrives this coming January 26. In recent years, protestors have been able to marshal very large numbers in the capital cities. In Melbourne last year a crowd of 50,000 was reported at Federation Square to protest about “Invasion Day”. In Sydney, a crowd with similar intent began a march from Redfern to the city, punctuated by violence against police trying to control them as they burnt the Australian flag.

This column first appeared in Quadrant‘s January 2018 edition.
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The flag-burning gesture, performed with much publicity in 2012 in front of Old Parliament House in Canberra during a demonstration from which security personnel had to physically rescue Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, is now routine on Australia Day. As one of the organisations involved in these protests, Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance, explains: “Like its predecessor the Union Jack, the Australian flag is a bastion of colonial arrogance. Burning the Australian flag is an act of anti-colonial resistance.”

Since then, a number of local government bodies have declared their sympathy for Aboriginal feel­ings and moved to end those Australia Day celebrations under their control. They include Yarra and Darebin councils in Melbourne, and Fremantle Council in Perth. In recent months, another four Victorian councils—Moreland, Banyule, Whittlesea and Hepburn—plus Cockburn and Bassendean in Western Australia, and Lismore and Byron Bay in New South Wales, have consulted electors with a view to change. In June, the Hobart City Council took a motion to the Local Government Association seeking federal government approval to change Australia Day’s date. Darebin’s mayor, Kim Le Cerf, said she banned the ceremonies because if Australians were better educated they would “feel ashamed to be celebrating on January 26”.

There is also a predictable campaign on social media with much the same ends. The Juice Media website, which is behind the #ChangeTheDate campaign, provides inspiration for its online followers, including the graffiti artist who used the same words to deface the statue of Captain Cook in Sydney’s Hyde Park last August. Just as predictably, the ABC has supported the movement through its radio station Triple J’s decision to remove to another date its Hottest 100 program, until now always broadcast on Australia Day. The station said it was “heavily involved in the growing dialogue around indigenous recognition and perspectives on 26 January”.

Does all this mean we are witnessing the emergence of a new national movement in identity politics that has prospects of success? Is this the beginning of a campaign that will sweep the country, like the demand for same-sex marriage, which only five years ago seemed a political bridge too far but is now a fait accompli?

Well, that is possible but there are some formidable obstacles in the way. The main one is the very strong endorsement Australia Day now has in Australian popular culture. As Bob Murray’s article in this edition shows, celebrations of the arrival of the First Fleet began in the time of Governor Macquarie and have continued ever since. They provide a basis for the identity of modern Australia, both for those born here and those who become citizens.

Rather than being a day of shame, the date provides Australian history with a firm foundation. We know precisely when civilisation came to this continent in the form of literacy, modern commerce and industry, judicial independence and rule of law, individual rights, free speech and the Christian religion. We can see how in just 230 years this formula worked so well to transform the country into the prosperous and vibrant social structure we enjoy today.

Moreover, Australia Day has become one of our most popular holidays, not far behind Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. In every suburban park and beach and almost every country town in the nation, community groups and families organise social functions of their own, with almost no role for the heavy hand of government except for fireworks at night to cap it all off. While Australians are not big flag-wavers, on Australia Day you can see Aussie flags on almost every HiLux ute in the outer suburbs and even on a few BMW SUVs in the inner suburbs.

This is why Tony Abbott made such a gaffe when he made an award to Prince Philip on Australia Day 2015. It wasn’t the award that offended but the date it was given. Australia Day is our day, unique to this country, and not for honouring anyone but Australians. This one gesture seemed so alien to the patriotic constituency who voted the Prime Minister into office that he never recovered. One of the few things his successor has got right is his support for Australia Day and his threat to local government bodies that if they fail to commemorate the occasion he will deprive them of their right to conduct citizenship ceremonies.

For most local councils, the citizenship ceremony on Australia Day is their biggest single event of the year. It is by far the most popular day that new citizens choose themselves to pledge their allegiance and it is also the best chance that little-known local politicians get to show themselves off before a gathering of potential voters. It should also be noted that many local Aboriginal identities regard the ceremony highly. They get to do a welcome-to-country before an especially attentive audience and collect very healthy four-figure fees for their trouble. After the Darebin Council decision to abandon all Australia Day activities, the loudest dissenting voice from the locality came from Wurundjeri elder Ian Hunter, the man who regularly performs the council’s indigenous ceremonies. “This was a few individuals saying ‘We know best’,” Hunter complained. “Who did they consult? We are all Australians. We put our differences aside and go forward as one.”

Ian Hunter is right. At this moment in history all we can sensibly do is move forward together.

The colonisation and modernisation of Australia is a clear example of an historical inevitability that is out of our hands. Once the societies on the great Eurasian landmass had developed agriculture and organised themselves into sizeable states with standing armies and navies, any society that could not keep up with the ensuing arms race was doomed to be either subsumed into the larger polities, or extinguished forever.

It was inevitable that, in the age of European expansion, one of the imperial powers would colonise this continent sooner or later. It is not hard to argue that the most benign possible outcome was the one that occurred at the hands of the British. The First Fleet landed at Sydney Cove at a time when the prevailing religious and secular ideas in Britain, especially those of the Evangelical revival and the campaign to abolish the slave trade, both argued that all mankind were brothers and all individuals were equal before both God and the law. The Scottish Enlightenment’s theory of historical stages held that all people, Aborigines included, had the potential to reach the same advanced stage of development. These were views that guaranteed the first contacts between British and Aboriginal culture would involve far less violence than any possible alternative scenario.

Aboriginal society never had the power to deny any of the strangers from overseas the right to drop anchor in their waters or pitch tents on their shores. Under these conditions, to expect the continent of Australia to remain in the hands of hunter-gatherers is naive. To denounce it today, more than two hundred years after the event, is moral indulgence. To try to reverse it is utopian. Australia Day, hooray!

21 thoughts on “Australia Dystopia

  • denandsel@optusnet.com.au says:

    Thank you Keith, the last two paragraphs summed the situation up fairly well, settlement of Australia by a more advanced people/civilisation than aboriginal society was inevitable. More, the settlement by the British was the most benign in recorded human history. Whenever somebody wants to lecture me on the virtues of ‘reconciliation’ [whatever it is supposed to mean] I always ask who am I supposed to be reconciled with? Descendants of the first wave of aboriginal migrants? Or the descendants of the latter aboriginal migration waves?

  • madd320 says:

    Just more “Black-arm” grizzles from the progressive revisionists. They really need to think themselves lucky it was the British that brought civilisation to this continent. It could have been the French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Portugese, or Moslems who planted their flag here. Then they really would have had something to grizzle about. Those who survived that is!

  • Keith Kennelly says:

    Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Olsen.

    Anyone know the name?

    Arty was a Perth Dentist who commanded part of the Australian Light Horse at Damascus.

    He achieved the distinction attained by only two others in history.

    He like, Napoleon, and Alexander the Great took the Surrender of Baghdad.

    One Lawerance if Arabia and the British High Command had been lined up outside Baghdad anticipating the defeat of the Turkis Caliphate.

    Olsen had chased fleeing Turkish troops into the city centre where he came upon a large crowd. On investigating he found the Turkish dignitaries with the formal surrender. They gave it to him and fled.

    He passed it onto the British.

    The very significant victory has never been celebrated … anywhere

    • whitelaughter says:

      ? How did Napoleon take the Surrender of Baghdad when he never went anywhere near the place? Mt Tabor and Acre were as close as he got.
      Oh, anyone claiming that “the Muslims have never forgotten the Crusades” should be reminded that they clearly had when Napoleon was invading the Holy land: and they didn’t ‘remember’ until stirred up by anarchists in the 19thC and Marxists in the 20th.

      Will have to read up on Olsen though, thanks for sharing!

  • Keith Kennelly says:

    Sorry not Olsen

    Auto correct.

    Should be Olden.

    Even auto check is trying to hide his victory.

    Surrender of Damascus, not Baghdad.

    • whitelaughter says:

      And I need to learn to read all the comments before commenting myself, sorry.

      Seriously, Quandrant needs a revamp. Heck, the *paper* issues had advertising! And the inability to edit comments is absurd. The kids on breitbart should be able to recommend a free platform that Quadrant can use; and remember, this will be their paper 30 years from now.

  • Ilajd says:

    Thanks Keith,
    We will be flying the flag from the roof racks again this year while we enjoy the life the Brits bestowed on us.

  • a.crooks@internode.on.net says:

    Australia Day is Jan 26th.
    The ball has been in the Aboriginal Industry’s court for the last 200 years to come up with national days that Aborigines would like to celebrate for their own “nations”, rather than moan about our’s. Do they not wish to celebrate their “nations”. 200 years, and we still don’t have a list of Aboriginal “nations”. We don’t have a list of “national” languages, we dont have “national” boundaries, we dont have “national” constitutions, we dont have “national” leaders. If they want to have their nations recognised and sign a treaty with the Australian national government – I would have thought all these are preconditions, not something to be sorted out by white lawyers after the event. Where are all these “nations” that we are supposed to recognise?

  • mags of Queensland says:

    Considering that most of the ” aboriginal” population is of mixed blood I get sick to death of these loud mouths who decry Australia Day. They wouldn’t have been born if the British hadn’t come here. As for the local Councils, what are the relevant Ministers for Local Government doing? Do they ever do anything to pull these councils into line?

  • Advertise@AustralianByte.com says:

    Keith you are wrong Claire Coleman would not be living in a bark cart. Her ancestors are Caucasian she would not exist!

  • Advertise@AustralianByte.com says:

    Keith you are wrong Claire Coleman would not be living in a bark hut. Her ancestors are Caucasian she would not exist!

  • Doc S says:

    “We are all Australians. We put our differences aside and go forward as one” Exactly. To not celebrate Australia Day but move it is to enshrine those differences, not put them aside. Identity politics and the resulting condemnation of the reality and denial of history and our colonial past only serves to enhance our differences and promote further division and conflict. It also disenfranchises our Aboriginal peoples as it reduces or even denies the crucial role that they played in transforming this country into the magnificent and tolerant society we ALL enjoy today.

  • talldad says:

    Ahem, has anyone told these “reconciliation progressives” that the “Invasion” meme is in total opposition to the “Welcome to Country” meme and contradictory to the native title concoction of the High Court?

    If they repudiate the entire European trappings of civilization – morals, law and land title, for instance, then the Constitution is meaningless and the High Court Mabo and Wik decisions plus all the Parliamentary legislation which followed are vacated.

    Back to the humpies, canoes, and seed & berry gathering!

  • Robinoz says:

    It’s always of interest to me that many, if not most of the “Aborigines” complaining about Australia Day, White Privilege and so on are part Caucasian, educated by the system they say they despise.

    I’ve often told people complaining about Australia and our forebears that there were numerous other nations who could have taken over the land and we should be pleased it was the British (as the author stated). They brought with them a workable system of government, law, and democracy that has served us well. Others may have simply set about annihilating the existing native population.

  • en passant says:

    To Keith and all the commentariat: there will always be a ‘hard core’ wanting their taxpayer supplied SUV, their compensation every fortnight AND their traditional lands.
    I say give them all the land they want – and more, then withdraw every service provided by the evil colonisers. Things like roads, vehicles, telephones, medical services, money, booze, internet, education and electricity. It’s the right thing to do …
    Let them have South Australia in total. It’s a basket case that the rest of us don’t need anyway …

  • Ed King says:

    “The European discovery rather than Aboriginal occupation constitutes Australia’s pre-history. Australia – its economy, society and polity – is a construction of European civilisation. Australia did not exist when traditional Aborigines occupied the continent. Aborigines have been participants in Australian history, but that story begins with all the others in 1788.” – John Hirst

    Before the British arrived, there were 500 to 600 tribes on the continent speaking different languages. As the late Dr Hirst argued, they did not have a common name or share an identity; they regarded each other as enemies and fought each other. The Aborigines as we know them today, a national group with a common identity, did not exist before European contact; they are a product of British settlement as much as the rest of us.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Darebin’s mayor, Kim Le Cerf, said she banned the ceremonies because if Australians were better educated they would “feel ashamed to be celebrating on January 26”. “better educated’ as in ‘agreeing with me’

  • Peter OBrien says:

    I watched the ABC’s coverage of the Sydney Australia Day concert last night. All in all a pretty ordinary spectacle, unless, of course, you are imbued with the spirit of ‘reconciliation’. I missed the preliminary Welcome to Country but was assured by host John Foreman that it was sensational. Also that it is a tradition that goes back ‘tens of thousands of years’ – which might be news to Ernie Dingo and Richard Walley who invented it in 1976. We got more than our fair share of modern indigenous culture in the form of Yothu Yindi etc, OK, fair enough, we’re trying to build on the precedent set at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony and bend over backwards to make sure we don’t forget that we host the oldest living culture on Earth. I was mildly disgruntled throughout the entire spectacle until just at the end we were invited to stand for the National Anthem which turned out to commence with a verse in some aboriginal dialect. Then I got cranky. The National Anthem isn’t what anyone just thinks it should be. It is an official institution with the imprimatur of the Australian Government. It comprises the first two verses only of the song Advance Australia Fair.

  • Les Kovari says:

    I came to Australia from England as a ten pound pom in 1970. Before that I lived in England for 13 years, after escaping from the Hungarian Stalinist communist terror with my life. Before that I was a passionate Hungarian patriot until 1947, when a stranger I had never heard of assumed power over my beloved country which overnight became a peoples’ republic. So, forgive me all ye squabbling Australians who want to edify some primitive natives instead of your own or chosen country, for not joining you in your ill informed attempts to change history. I think you should edify those Australians who gave their life for this country, together with those dead and living, who dedicated themselves to creating wealth, culture and all things good that make this country the best country in the world to live in.


    “Like its predecessor the Union Jack, the Australian flag is a bastion of colonial arrogance. Burning the Australian flag is an act of anti-colonial resistance.”

    Did these immolators of our Australian flag employ traditional stick friction to spark this disrespectful arson?

  • whitelaughter says:

    “The Aborigines as we know them today, a national group with a common identity, did not exist before European contact; they are a product of British settlement as much as the rest of us.”
    Well spoken Ed.

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