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August 31st 2017 print

Leo Maglen

Why Australia Day Matters

The heroes of our nationhood were not resistance leaders or freedom fighters, but politicians and statesmen, most now forgotten or only half-remembered. Their creation is an achievement worth celebrating

australiaAn amazing, but little remarked, fact in the current concern about securing Australia’s borders – cue ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’ – is that they are entirely maritime.  We have no land borders, and Australia is the largest country in the world not to have any any.  According to Geoscience Australia, we have a coastline of almost sixty thousand kilometres (mainland plus islands).  The perimeter of our territorial waters is probably longer, and the outer edge of our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) longer again.  Back on shore we have, of course, state borders, and we once built a rabbit-proof fence over thousands of kilometres of outback, but only at sea do we share international borders with other countries (PNG Indonesia and East Timor).

Australia is the only inhabited continent that is not criss-crossed with international boundaries and a patchwork of nation states.  Not for us razor-wire fences, concrete barriers, guard-posts, check-points, manned border-crossings, heavily armed border patrols, disputed terrain.  We are one country, one nation, spanning an entire continent and its offshore islands.  The shape is so iconic, so much the image of our country, that we take it for granted.

It is pertinent to ask how this happy situation came about.  It was not, it must be said, anything to do with the first inhabitants, the Aborigines and Torres Strait islanders.  Whilst they had spread across the entire continent and adjacent islands, and shared a nomadic hunter-gatherer existence, they were divided into around 250 separate tribal groups, each with its own traditions, customs, language and territory, with which it had a strong and deep affinity.  Whilst there was, of course, contact between adjacent groups, it is doubtful whether there was any knowledge of, or affinity with, groups beyond this range of contacts, with those living on the other side of the continent.  Nor is it likely that the first inhabitants had any concept of the country, of the continent, of Australia, in its entirety.  This awareness could only come in the modern era.

It was the British, at the end of the eighteenth century, who changed all that.  It was an Englishman, Arthur Phillip, who with a small ceremony on the shore of Botany Bay on 26 January, 1788, began the annexation of the continent for the British Crown.  It was another Englishman, Matthew Flinders, who first circumnavigated the continent and revealed in detail its size and shape, and it was he who bestowed upon it the name Australia.  In just a mere 113 years after Arthur Phillip established the first British settlement at Sydney Cove, Australia became a united sovereign nation, taking its own place in the world.  This it achieved freely, and with the encouragement and consent of Britain.  There was no ‘throwing off of the British yolk’, no need for an independence struggle.  The heroes of Australia’s nationhood were not resistance leaders or freedom fighters, but politicians and statesmen, most now forgotten or only half-remembered.

From the moment of Phillip’s annexation Australia became part of the British Empire, and through this the Anglosphere, that group of English-speaking countries that subscribe to the same values and share the same heritage of democratic institutions, parliamentary system of government, separation of church and state, equality before the law, respect for private property, strong civil society, protection of basic freedoms.  It has been upon this base that Australians, old and new, have built our remarkably prosperous, free, open, tolerant, outward-looking, progressive and enterprising way of life.  It is this bedrock, not the continent’s great wealth of natural resources, that makes Australia a ‘lucky country’.

It is, of course an article of faith amongst Aboriginal activists and the grievance industry generally to see things in a different, much darker, more doom-laden way, to view the running up of the Union Jack by Phillip on that day as the beginning of the end, the start of an invasion, one that would lead to the subjugation of the first inhabitants and the destruction of their culture and way of life.

What this view overlooks, of course, is that such an ‘invasion’, or even a succession of them, was inevitable.  On no other continent have the original inhabitants been successful in holding on to their lands and traditional ways of life.  Through waves of invasion, conquest, migration, settlement, by people ever more technologically and organisationally advanced, similarly nomadic hunter-gatherers either adapted, or were forced into ever more remote, inaccessible and inhospitable terrain, as in Asia, Africa and the Americas, or driven to extinction, as in Europe and the Middle-East,.  What is remarkable in the case of Australia is that it hadn’t happened earlier, and that the first inhabitants were able to enjoy their idyll for as long as they did.

So it if hadn’t been the British, it would have been someone else, or a bunch of others, contesting the terrain, carving it up, claiming it as their own.  Given the location of ‘the Great South Land’, there was, however, only a shortlist of likely contenders, with the requisite technological and organisational capacity, the global reach and the territorial ambitions, to accomplish the feat, either on a full-scale or piecemeal basis.

No-one else in the region, the Papuans, the Javanese, the Japanese or the Chinese, for example, felt so inclined or had the logistics to invade the place.  Otherwise, presumably, they would have done so ages before.  Arab traders, who for centuries had conducted business as far east as the spice islands to our north, and who brought their religion with them, apparently never reached these shores or contemplated coming here.  Even the Moluccans, who for a long time had fished and traded along the northern coast, failed to establish any permanent settlements on the Australian mainland.  By the modern era, therefore, it was most likely that it would be a European maritime power that would do it and, of those, there were only four other real contenders – the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Dutch and the French.    As it happened, it was the British.  It was they who brought the country into the global community.

But we could pause, perhaps, to contemplate had it been otherwise.  The Portuguese and the Spanish, of course, had been around Australian waters for hundreds of years before 1788, but did not take the extra step of planting settlements in Australia.   Had they done so, then the country certainly would have been different, and perhaps more akin to Latin America today.  The Spanish and the Portuguese had a record for being less enlightened and more despotic colonisers than the British ever were, and their legacy in the lands they did conquer has not been as stable, democratic or economically as successful.  The Dutch were in the East Indies, also, for centuries before, without seriously contemplating colonising the great land to the south.  Had they done so, then perhaps Australian settlement would have been much more like that of the Afrikaaners in South Africa, where they did put down roots, with all that would have entailed, particularly for the original inhabitants.  The French, like the British, were much later on the scene, and had La Perouse not been pipped at the post by Phillip’s First Fleet, then New South Wales, or whatever other name it would have had, could possibly have become French territory.

Many Anglophobes and Francophiles, of course, would perhaps think that would have been a better outcome, but one thing is certain, Australia today would be much more French than it is recognisably British.  The French, of course, have had a different attitude to de-colonization to that of the British.  They, the French, have been most reluctant to give up any of their colonies, and in those in which the locals have not been able to force them out, they remain to this day, as they do in nearby New Caledonia and French Polynesia.  Contemporary Australia is clearly no longer outwardly British, (despite some republican assertions to the contrary). Indeed, it hasn’t been so for some time, and it is difficult to say when it was the British actually left. That would not be the case, I venture, with the French, had the country started out as a colony of France.

The other possibility, already mentioned, is that the continent of Australia could easily have been not a single nation, but one divided into competing European colonies, with all the likelihood of frontier disputes and inter-colonial wars.  Australia was spared this because British claims to the whole continent were never successfully challenged by either the inhabitants or by other European or regional powers.  Not having to share a land border with another nation has bestowed upon us huge benefits, especially in the areas of defence, quarantine, customs, immigration and in terrorism prevention.  Australia is its own customs union, free-trade area and common currency block.  It has only one official language and a unified legal system.  If we think that protecting a sea border is a difficult enough exercise, and that the interstate rivalries and constitutional wrangles that bedevil the federation are often tedious and troublesome, we should spare a thought for what it may have been like had Australia been not one country but many.

So, all in all, the country could have done worse than have Arthur Phillip plant the Union Jack on its soil 226 years ago.  Although they didn’t appreciate it at the time, Phillip probably gave the first inhabitants as good a chance of surviving in, and adapting to, the global world as any ‘invader’ could have given them, and the waves of immigrants that subsequently came, and are still coming, to these shores, a much freer, safer, fairer, equitable, open, tolerant and prosperous place in which to start a new life than might otherwise have been the case.

January 26 1788 is well worth commemorating, and celebrating, as Australia’s Day.

This essay was first published at Quadrant Online in January, 2017.

Comments [26]

  1. August says:

    Very enjoyable read.

    • August says:

      Readers may care to read Professor Alan Alan Frost who wrote two very informative books about the First Fleet and the decision to settle Australia, Botany Bay: The Real Story and The First Fleet: The Real Story. They are published by Black Inc. They don’t do anything to dispel the Australia Day event one way or another but do provide a clear understanding of the reasons for settlement.

      Interestingly it seems that much of the Australian ethos owes its origin to Arthur Phillip and the decisions he made based on his life observations of many parts of the world. For example, Phillip was at pains to ensure slavery was never established here as he was to ensure the First Fleet was well provisioned and catered for. Frost compares the First Fleet to a moon shot in terms of technical audacity and human determination. Australia is half way around the world and months of sailing time from Britain, whereas the Americas were just a couple of weeks sailing away.

      Convicts once here rapidly achieved property rights and levels of responsibility that they would never have aspired to at home.

      Anyway I hope you read and enjoy these books as Frost is writing after many years of research and of battling against the other fake news, history, as he sees it. Perhaps the biggest problem in defining an Australian Day is the fact the we have had too much fake news and too much fake history. Could it be that we have an immense debt to Arthur Phillip and a cause for celebration of our first real decent bloke.

      Regards,
      Ray Cadmore

    • Mike_O28 says:

      As I understand Phillip landed on the shores of botany Bay more like the 24th or perhaps earlier. He found it unsuitable and explored up the coast finally settling on Sydney Cove. The entire fleet was then moved to there and the final landing made on the 26th. Am I wrong are really just want to get a handle on what is correct Wikipedia agrees with me is it wrong?

  2. Bran Dee says:

    This Australia Day message by Leo Maglen is much appreciated. Governor Phillip was an excellent leader with good Christian standards and it is pleasing to see him commemorated in his Anglican church in Bathampton nearby the canal to Bath. His British ‘yoke’ was non galling.

    Recently I reread with pleasure the Ion Idriess book ‘Our Living Stone Age’ published in 1963 and it is a sympathetic portrayal of aborigines as he had noted in his diary and as he had photographed. He writes of ‘aboriginals’, ‘white man’s civilization’, and the brand of ‘nigger twist tobacco’, any of which term, regrettably, would cause affront to the postmodern censorious eye of the PC guardian of public decency.

    The aboriginal flag seen flying beside the Australian flag today hides the fact that a big change was unavoidable in 1788 when a British civilization already into the steam age met a hunter-gatherer people who could not boil water.

    • padraic says:

      Well said, Bran Dee. I grew up on a diet of Ion Idriess and have most of his books. He gave us a great insight into the interaction of Aboriginal, Torres Strait and European Australian cultures and showed respect for all three. Another influence was the book by Bishop Gsell which I acquired at a school prize giving night. In those days people saw things as they were and were prepared to work towards solutions to any identified problems – none of this modern confected PC garbage which consigns such authors to the tip. We see today so many people who think the past is the present.

      • Druemac says:

        Idriess’s books are a PC eye opener..

        • padraic says:

          They sure are. But Idriess covers the good, the bad, and the ugly and the reader can make up their own minds. He tells it as it was. Just because I read about “racist” language and actions in his books that did not cause me to behave likewise or believe he was a racist. The modern PC mob cannot accept truth and deal with it and live with it, and get on with their lives. I read a description of them somewhere recently as “Generation Snowflake”.

          • Druemac says:

            Idriess’s books are a PC eye opener..
            Yes…He loved them as people, part of the greater humanity and could call a spade a spade!

  3. Bill Martin says:

    An excellent, most enjoyable and timely essay. One wonders if educated Aborigines have any appreciation of what is so well covered by these lines. Surely, they must have a fair knowledge of all these details or do they stubbornly refuse to acknowledge anything that is likely to interfere with the grievance meme? Given the extreme primitivity that characterised the Indigenous tribes at the time, less enlightened colonisers could very well have chosen to completely eradicate the native population.

    • whitelaughter says:

      Educated Aborigines have either been part of general Australian civilization for decades/generations, and so have opinions as diverse as everyone else, or are brainwashed snowflakes, no different to the other idiots our worthless universities are turning out.

  4. MichaelinBrisbane says:

    I, too, enjoyed this article. Just right at the end of an enjoyable family barbecue with the Australian flag stuck in a vase as centre-piece. I agree with all the preceding comments So won’t repeat.
    There was some discussion today about changing the date in response to Ian MacFarlane’s article in the Oz. The best suggestion was for “May the eighth” (dgya get it, maite?) But it will never happen, so the grievance mob had better get used to it and look for the positives such as recommended here by Leo.
    However, I’d like to pick up on the point about the perimeter of our territorial waters and the EEZ. They are each considerably LESS than the Geoscience Australia’s measure of our coastline at 60,000 km. Our coastline length can be almost anything you choose depending on the scale of the map you are looking at, or how diligently you venture in and out of the bays, gulfs, inlets and sounds. Geoscience obviously used quite a large scale map. A larger scale again may even indicate a longer coastline. Another estimate you can Google up is 36,000 km which might be the distance Flinders logged on his trip. Adventurers chasing a record time for circumnavigation talk about 24,000 km — they probably scoot straight across the Gulf, for instance. The point is that the smoother one makes the line the shorter it becomes and indeed the line defining our territorial waters is much smoother than the coastline itself. And just 12 km off-shore which might add just another 40 km to a very smoothed-out coastline. From my armchair perspective with the last drop of red still in my glass, let’s say 36,040 km.

    • Bill Clark's nephew says:

      Point taken Michael. Measuring coastlines could get as detailed as running a tape around every rocky outcrop and ledge, depending upon what scale you are working to. The greater the detail required the longer the (measured) coastline between points A and B. This is not so much of an issue with perimeters of territorial waters and EEZ.

      I’m glad you enjoyed my article, and trust you savoured that last drop of red.

  5. Jody says:

    I wonder if this has anything to do with Australia Day; my aunt from Griffith emailed me yesterday (she was born there 86 years ago) saying that there are now 72 different nationalities living in that small, regional centre. She lived through the mafia strangehold after WW2 but now says she doesn’t recognize her home town any longer. It begs the question; what is now the prevailing, identifiable culture of Griffith or any other Australian city?

  6. Bran Dee says:

    Good point Jody because in some quantities and in some countries, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Burma, Lebanon, Turkey, Britain, France, US, etc., multiculturalism becomes the scourge of communalism. We saw in Sri Lanka the viscious communal civil war, also in Lebanon, and somewhat in Burma. Turkey has a multi-ethnic population and fiercely suppresses multiculturalism for national stability.

    Malcolm Turnbull who talks up multiculturalism like a Labor or Green Party voter should visit Japan to experience the pleasure of a proudly monocultural advanced society.

    Ps. What faulty system gave credits to the failed politicians Julia Gillard and Anna Bligh on our Australia Day.

  7. Keith Kennelly says:

    Only one dominated by elites.

  8. Ian MacDougall says:


    January 26 1788 is well worth commemorating, and celebrating, as Australia’s Day.

    I would go along with that, except to say that Arthur Phillip did not exactly come here with the goal of starting a liberal democracy. The 18th C Britain he left behind was more like “oligarchy tempered by riot”. In the class conflict of the 1700s, the yeomanry Shakespeare knew were being kicked off their lands by aspirant aristocrats and cashed-up gentlemen farmers, backed up by His Majesty’s army. Some of those evicted duly finished up in the prison hulks that stretched along the Thames.
    That land was duly switched over to less intensive use, largely as sheep runs. The surplus population had the choice of either joining the burgeoning proletariat which was forming the Britain of Charles Dickens, or emigrating somewhere else, where they could play landowners and aristocrats, and the local natives could be displaced; like in say Australia. These genuine elites regarded democratic reforms as concessions to be reluctantly made, bit by minimalist bit.
    The whole Australian continent quickly became Britain’s back paddock, as described here so well by Leo Maglen. But the train of causation that would lead to modern, democratic Australia had to wait on a siding until the discovery of gold in 1851. Then began what Geoffrey Blainey later called ‘the rush that never ended’. Eager diggers from every other part of the world lost no time getting themselves across the oceans to join the stampede into the latest bonanza.
    The oligarchic colonial political systems as set up by Phillip and his successors were fatally cracked in 1854, on the Ballaarat field in Victoria (as it was in the original spelling). Australian democracy arguably began the day the original Eureka flag was hoisted up “a very splendid pole, eighty feet in length, and straight as an arrow” by rebellious diggers, as described by the eyewitness Rafaello Carboni.
    Today, Australia has a very prosperous economy, but with enormous, growing and problematic wealth and income differentials. If the history of the rest of the world is anything to go by, these are on the cards to lead to severe social problems and disturbances down the track.


    In just a mere 113 years after Arthur Phillip established the first British settlement at Sydney Cove, Australia became a united sovereign nation, taking its own place in the world. This it achieved freely, and with the encouragement and consent of Britain. There was no ‘throwing off of the British yolk’, (sic) no need for an independence struggle. The heroes of Australia’s nationhood were not resistance leaders or freedom fighters, but politicians and statesmen, most now forgotten or only half-remembered.

    It was a different British elite in power in 1776, and the lessons learned then were incorporated into the Australian Constitution, which is actually an Act of the British Parliament. It is arguably the best in the modern world.
    Otherwise, not a bad article.

    https://noahsarc.wordpress.com/november-29-and-the-birth-of-australian-democracy/
    http://homepage.westmont.edu/hoeckley/readings/Symposium/PDF/201_300/233.pdf
    http://vcp.e2bn.org/justice/page11382-sentencing-to-departure-prison-hulks-convict-gaols.html

  9. gardner.peter.d says:

    I should first declare that am a British immigrant, arriving in 1989. I haven’t killed any Aborigines or stolen anything from them as far as I know. I am surprised at the hostility emanating from many Australians. Even if 1788 was a black day for Australia by some measure, I do wonder what Australia would be like had nobody come in 1788 or at any time since. Oh, say my persecutors, Aboriginal culture would have been preserved and they would be a free people (well, 250 free peoples). Well, says, I how about we divide Australia up into an Aboriginal part and an everyone-else part so the Aboriginal culture would be preserved and they would be free in their part – after all it is big enough and there are hardly any white people in most of it. Oh no, that’s no good, why shouldn’t they have all the good things in the every-one-else part?

    I guess you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

    I find it hard to understand another thing in this debate: terra nullius is decried as meaning the British thought the Aborigines were sub-human and treated them as animals. It doesn’t take much effort to discover that it is: ” .. a Latin expression deriving from Roman law meaning “nobody’s land”, which is used in international law to describe territory which has never been subject to the sovereignty of any state.” It is a perfectly accurate description of Australia at the time and proper basis for Britain’s conduct at the time. Do these campaigners, even the intelligent and well read among them ever read anything or do any research to establish the facts of the issue?

    Then there’s the demand to amend the constitution to recognise the Aboriginal people and remove its discrimination against them. I was puzzled that a constitution would do such a thing, despite the White Australia policy. I read it, every single word. It does not recognise Aborigines but neither does it recognise any particular ethnicity because it does not need to. And it does not discriminate against any people, although it does not explicitly prevent discrimination. Again why should it? It is a matter for the law appropriate from time to time. Again, why don’t people do their homework before sounding off?

  10. Ian MacDougall says:

    POSTED 28 DECEMBER: STILL “AWAITING MODERATION”!!!

    Ian MacDougall
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    January 28, 2017 at 12:25 pm

    January 26 1788 is well worth commemorating, and celebrating, as Australia’s Day.

    I would go along with that, except to say that Arthur Phillip did not exactly come here with the goal of starting a liberal democracy. The 18th C Britain he left behind was more like “oligarchy tempered by riot”. In the class conflict of the 1700s, the yeomanry Shakespeare knew were being kicked off their lands by aspirant aristocrats and cashed-up gentlemen farmers, backed up by His Majesty’s army. Some of those evicted duly finished up in the prison hulks that stretched along the Thames.
    That land was duly switched over to less intensive use, largely as sheep runs. The surplus population had the choice of either joining the burgeoning proletariat which was forming the Britain of Charles Dickens, or emigrating somewhere else, where they could play landowners and aristocrats, and the local natives could be displaced; like in say Australia. These genuine elites regarded democratic reforms as concessions to be reluctantly made, bit by minimalist bit.
    The whole Australian continent quickly became Britain’s back paddock, as described here so well by Leo Maglen. But the train of causation that would lead to modern, democratic Australia had to wait on a siding until the discovery of gold in 1851. Then began what Geoffrey Blainey later called ‘the rush that never ended’. Eager diggers from every other part of the world lost no time getting themselves across the oceans to join the stampede into the latest bonanza.
    The oligarchic colonial political systems as set up by Phillip and his successors were fatally cracked in 1854, on the Ballaarat field in Victoria (as it was in the original spelling). Australian democracy arguably began the day the original Eureka flag was hoisted up “a very splendid pole, eighty feet in length, and straight as an arrow” by rebellious diggers, as described by the eyewitness Rafaello Carboni.
    Today, Australia has a very prosperous economy, but with enormous, growing and problematic wealth and income differentials. If the history of the rest of the world is anything to go by, these are on the cards to lead to severe social problems and disturbances down the track.

    In just a mere 113 years after Arthur Phillip established the first British settlement at Sydney Cove, Australia became a united sovereign nation, taking its own place in the world. This it achieved freely, and with the encouragement and consent of Britain. There was no ‘throwing off of the British yolk’, (sic) no need for an independence struggle. The heroes of Australia’s nationhood were not resistance leaders or freedom fighters, but politicians and statesmen, most now forgotten or only half-remembered.

    It was a different British elite in power in 1776, and the lessons learned then were incorporated into the Australian Constitution, which is actually an Act of the British Parliament. It is arguably the best in the modern world.
    Otherwise, not a bad article.

    https://noahsarc.wordpress.com/november-29-and-the-birth-of-australian-democracy/
    http://homepage.westmont.edu/hoeckley/readings/Symposium/PDF/201_300/233.pdf
    http://vcp.e2bn.org/justice/page11382-sentencing-to-departure-prison-hulks-convict-gaols.html

  11. Alistair says:

    “Australia” began on the 26th January 1788. “Australia” was settled by a group of people with a “history” of recognition of heroic figures with monuments dating back to the Roman Forum. “Australia” was settled by a group of people who valued and respected the concept of “history” back to Herodotus, Pliny the Elder (or was it younger), the Venerable Bede…. All this is European cultural baggage which have nothing to do with Aboriginal culture but which Aborigines are attempting to appropriate for themselves. We should not allow them to so without the appropriate recognition of where those cultural traditions came from.
    If Aborigines want to celebrate their continent, they should settle on a name for it amongst themselves. They should settle on a date for celebrating their arrival. They should work out their own cultural achievements and build their own “monuments” appropriate to their own culture to celebrate those. They should recognise that the whole concept of “history” is an anathema to Aboriginal culture – which was all about the cyclic re-enactment of the Dreamtime creative period over and over via “increase ceremonies” in order to maintain the continuance of the Land. There was no concept of “history”. This is obvious when one considers that in THEIR culture, the speaking of the name of the dead was taboo, specifically to exclude the whole concept of genetic continuity and devalue their genetic lineage. What was valued was the immediate personal continuity with the totemic ancestors.

  12. Don A. Veitch says:

    Yeah OK, I accept much of the above.
    I have a vested/ethnic interest in Australia. My family arrived here, guests of His Majesty into Hobart in 1804 and the Veitch’s arrived from Scotland into Melbourne as free settlers, in 1852.

    However, England was half-arsed over ‘Australia’. The British Empire did not wish to upset Portugese/Spanish feelings.

    The Treaty of Tordesillas a baby of Pope Alexander VI, , 1494, divided the newly discovered lands outside Europe between the Portuguese Empire and the Crown of Castile, along a meridian 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands, off the west coast of Africa.

    Continue that line around up into Australia and you get what England ‘claimed’; this line defined the boundaries of New South Wales as extending from the Northern Cape of Cape York to the southern coast of Van Diemen’s Land and west to 135° east longitude,

    Selection of 135° east longitude meant that New South Wales extended from the eastern coastline across almost half of the continent. The western half of the continent remained unclaimed by any foreign power, and continued to be referred to as New Holland. Western Australia (Confederates?) does not recognize Australia Day

    England started it, but great ‘Australians’ finished it, and we got what we have today!

  13. Patrick McCauley says:

    I have it on good authority that when Vasco De Gama was returning from his trip to Australia – he came across three boatloads of Indonesian Muslims on a pilgrimage to Mecca. He boarded the boats and cut the tongues out of every person on board, set the boats on fire and pushed them back toward Java.

    So … I suppose it was just as well the Portuguese did not invade Australia as the fate of the Aboriginal people might have been much worse than it was under the English rule of law.

  14. rosross says:

    Excellent piece. Many thanks.

  15. pgang says:

    This is an argument from the negative and therefore not particularly strong (ie- ‘it could have been worse’). Surely it’s better to argue from the positive. More than 200 tribes were raised out of darkness and the nation flourished.

    The aborigines were living an idyll? Hardly. The wonder of it is that we/they maintain the myth that anybody in their right mind would want to go back to that so-called idyll, or consider it worth preserving.

  16. An excellent piece Leo, thank you. I wish that this was taught in schools. What gelled most for me is “The heroes of Australia’s nationhood were not resistance leaders or freedom fighters, but politicians and statesmen, … “. I wasn’t born here, nor were my parents who never lived here either. My Australian citizenship is right up there with what I treasure most and what has provided me with all the opportunities for shaping my fortunate life. I think that the Aborigines should also consider themselves very fortunate, firstly for having been introduced to western civilisation and, secondly, to have had the English to do that rather than the Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, or French, all of whom would have imposed a less tolerant culture. The only other name for January 26 that I would be comfortable with is Thanksgiving Day.

  17. Bushranger71 says:

    I offer a disparate view, believing that British colonization and the Federation of Australia have ultimately become grossly mismanaged and it is utterly incorrect to presume that Australia is a sound, united and economically prosperous country.

    My forebear emigrated to Young, NSW from France mid-1980s and married into Irish stock. As with many early settlers, there were multiple early deaths among the progeny and 2 later perished in The Great War. My maternal grandparents emigrated from England in the early 1900s and that grandfather was recalled to enlist in the British Army, surviving 3 years of combat before dying of wounds. My Australian-born paternal grandfather was Shipping Master at Sydney Harbour and one of his sons was captured at the fall of Singapore, spending 3.5 years as a POW on the Thai-Burma railway. A brother, myself and 2 nephews also saw operational service in various conflicts and my wife was an Air Force Nursing Sister.

    Virtually all of our military endeavours have been responses to hegemonic influences of Britain or America. Australian has never been threatened by invasion, as comprehensively outlined by Historian Peter Stanley, and it is fair to say that Australian Governments have generally been too inclined to involve in conflicts in faraway places that arguably have little if any relationship to our immediate regional security.

    Without question, ultimate sacrifices and many noble deeds have been performed by those involved in Australia’s military forays; but it is my belief that we have focused far too much on our military performances and far too little on developing a sound nation.

    So what is wrong?

    The Federation model in my view is a failure. It creates sovereign States within the same land mass, which has led to diverse systems of government with all sorts of anomalies in standards and inefficiencies. Would it not have made more sense to create a Federal Government with Provinces in lieu of sovereign States?

    The efficiencies would be enormous, not least being budgetary considerations. And all of the once vital infrastructure (ports, airports, power, communications, resources, defence facilities) that have since been privatized and/or sold off by Federal and State Governments might have been properly retained in national ownership.

    A greater tragedy has been wrought upon the nation regarding deskilling. In the 1950s, there were but a few high standard universities although multiple very high standard technical training colleges. Before long, these latter outstanding institutions were converted to low calibre universities and a TAFE system substituted for lower grade technical training. In the 1990s, the Federal and State Governments ceased supporting comprehensive apprentice training schemes that had been the bedrock of national technical expertise so Industry, Airlines, the Military all closed down their wonderful longstanding institutions, perhaps substituting much weaker systems. Now, the TAFE system has been diminished and replaced by a dubious credibility outsourcing system.

    No nation is worth a spit if it does not have a sound industrial base and Canberra seems to have been working assiduously for some years now to greatly weaken Australia in that regard.

    Financially, Australia is in a quagmire with national debt nearing half a trillion dollars so claims that the nation is prosperous are clearly fraudulent. And Federal Governments of both persuasions seem so bent on laissez faire capitalism that they are unwilling to curb bank lending practices for virtually unfettered development and investment. Sucking enormous numbers of people into the country annually, a large proportion of whom require taxpayer support, only compounds this situation that is weakening national integrity.

    That is just a thumbnail sketch of how I now see this country in my 80th birthday month. I have returned to live in Rockhampton, Queensland for my final years so I can be back in touch with real Australians and near the pioneering spirit that built the nation. My guess is that 90 percent of those in Australia these days would have no idea of the hardships endured by the tough people who forged the nation.

    We have a bad trait in this land of trying to create heroes; but they ought not be considered the politicians and/or military leaders of past years in my view. It has been people of that ilk that have got us into our parlous situation.

    If we are going to maintain an Australia Day, it should be totally reconfigured to honour the pioneers. Go visit the Stockman’s Hall of Fame at Longreach, Queensland and you will better understand what I mean.

  18. Bushranger71 says:

    Errata – a Senior’s typo! My forebear emigrated to Young, NSW from France mid-1800s…