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  • lydiajulian1

A fortnight to go, but what to celebrate before then?

Tomorrow, January 26th, Australia and India have national days of celebration.

For India it is their Republic Day, which commemorates that on 26th January, 1950 their nation’s Constitution came into effect, thus fully creating a sovereign nation state following India’s declaration of independence from England in 1948. Republic Day is an unequivocal celebration of their nationhood, when control and management of the former jewel in the crown of the British Empire became entirely India’s.

For Australia the 26th of January, Australia Day, has become a day that is, at best, equivocal in meaning and, at worst, divisive. Far from being our shining jewel of national pride, it is now a flawed day of many facets that becomes more controversial every year.

There will be two very different moods of celebration in each nation this year for another reason.

Ironically, 1948, was the year when Australia’s “Invincibles” cricket team commenced their unbeaten tour of England. After the Australian test team thrashed India last December in the first of four test matches in Adelaide- a game which saw India dismissed for an aberrant 36 in its second innings-many believed Australia would be invincible for the rest of the series.

However, notwithstanding the return to India of their captain, Virat Kohli, who is widely regarded as one of the two best batsmen in the world, to attend the birth of his family’s first child, and a series of injuries to key players, the Indian team defied all predictions and became “the indefatigables”. After winning the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, the Indian team denied the Australians victory in Sydney by drawing the game and then defeated Australia in Brisbane in the final test last Monday to win the series 2-1. In winning the final Test, India achieved a record run chase for the fourth innings at the Gabba ground and inflicted Australia’s first loss in Brisbane since 1988.

There was more than begrudging admiration for the pluck shown by the Indian team. One suspects that admiration for their efforts was also tempered by trepidation that Indian cricket stands on the threshold of a golden era of success. The team that was once seen as only difficult to beat in India is now more than a genuine contender in all arenas in all nations.

Maybe to deflect attention from Australia’s unexpected defeat Cricket Australia announced this week that references to Australia Day would be lost from its promotion of its Big Bash Games to be held on 26th January. Its announcement was the catalyst for Australia’s annual debate about the meaning and purpose of Australia Day. Cricket Australia declared that the day was one of “deep mourning” for many Australians. The Prime Minister said that Cricket Australia should “stick to cricket and not politics” in a radio interview in Rockhampton and declared that most Australians would agree with him.

Sometimes, I wonder whether politicians are deliberately disingenuous or just daft. Scott Morrison knows the role that cricket plays in Australia’s national and political psyche. Think about the banning of tours by South Africa’s all-white Test teams in the apartheid era. Think about the diplomatic furores that the “Bodyline” Tests and the “underarm incident” created. The Prime Minister was incensed by the decision as he knows it will add substance to the views of a significant number of Australians who feel ambivalent about the suitability of 26th January as the day to celebrate our nationhood.

The list of concerns about the aptness of the day are well known:

1. Critics of the day note that it celebrates the arrival of the British which, for indigenous Australians, is a day associated with an unending story of dispossession, conflict, social, cultural and constitutional alienation: to have our cardinal day of national celebration held on a day of agonising memory of the wretched beginning of British/Indigenous relations is argued to be unconscionable;

2. A related concern is that the day suggests that Australia’s existence as a nation can only be traced from 26th January, 1788 and that its indigenous history of 60,000 years is ignored- our anthem has just been changed to recognise the truth that ours is not a young nation;

3. Whether focussing on ancient or modern nationhood, 26th January is not the day. The day was when a colony was established in New South Wales- it is Sydney’s modern day of founding, but of no import to the rest of Australia as we now know it; and

4. For Australia’s Republicans the day is a dismal one. In stark contrast to India where 26th January celebrates attaining the status of a fully-fledged republic, 26th January is the day when the first of our colonies swore allegiance to a constitutional monarchy, with our Head of State being a foreign monarch. This framework of government was adopted when Australia became a Federal nation on 1/1/1901 and remains in place.

So, what to do? The debate is not going to disappear. There can be no doubt that the debate has become as much a fixture of our national discourse as the events of the day itself. If words of our anthem can be changed with an Executive order, why not the date of Australia Day? Well, of course, it could be done, but what is the universally accepted alternative?

1st January is the date of our Federation as a nation, but we were federated under a Constitution that specifically excluded “native aboriginals” from being counted as citizens of the newly created country. Also, as Tony Abbott once noted 1st January is already a public holiday for New Year’s Day and many people are too “tired and emotional” to celebrate the day in earnest. 9th May is the anniversary of the opening of our first Federal Parliament, but, again, it was an apartheid chamber, with indigenous Australians not being able to either vote or stand for parliament. Some have suggested 27th May, being the anniversary of the 1967 referendum that changed our Constitution to grant indigenous Australians citizenship.

The absence of a clearly accepted alternative day on which to celebrate nationhood will not diminish the clamour for change. Recognising this State Premiers have sought to achieve the difficult task of discouraging traditional protest marches against Australia Day tomorrow because of concerns about a lack of social distancing during the pandemic.

Regrettably, further comments by the Prime Minister have only magnified the cultural and political debates surrounding Australia Day which, even the most objective, would hardly describe as one of national harmony. In discussions last week surrounding the plight of indigenous Australians after the arrival of the First Fleet, the Prime Minister said it should be noted that the day was “not a particularly flash one for those on the boats.” This was daft.

The burdens and sufferings of the convicts and their officers were immense, but in no way can their suffering ameliorate the practices and attitudes that “those on the boats” imposed on our indigenous people. The Prime Minister has painted a glib and false picture of the nature of the original colony to suggest that all was and is equal. Even if you applied and accepted his argument at the time of the establishment of the new colony, subsequent decades confirmed the ostracism and partial obliteration of aboriginal society in New South Wales and other colonies.

South of the recently reopened NSW/Victoria border, there was no shortage of disingenuous twaddle from the organisers of the Australian Open and the Victorian government. When asked whether the Victorian government would be paying the forty million dollars required for the quarantining of the tournament’s player, the Tournament Director, Craig Tiley, said, unequivocally, yes. Only hours later, Victoria’s Police Minister, Lisa Neville, said Tennis Australia would be footing the bill. Tiley has previously confirmed that quarantining and other extraordinary costs associated with this year’s Australian Open will exhaust Tennis Australia’s reserves. For this reason, the Victorian Government has granted Tennis Australia additional, undisclosed, funds, to stage the tournament. So, Lisa, it’s what you call “robbing John and Jane taxpayer to fund Novak”. If the State government gives Tennis Australia money to pay the costs of the Open, then it is the government and taxpayer that ultimately pays the bill. Please do not pretend otherwise.

Speaking of Novak Djokovic, he has launched a charm offensive from his quarantined quarters, claiming his published list of special requests for quarantining players was a “brainstorm” that has resulted in him being misunderstood. Disingenuous, strike 3! Novak desperately wants to be loved by everyone in the way that Roger and Rafa are. Sorry, but it will not be so!

I am afraid for Novak it will always be “two’s company, three’s a crowd”. The tennis world loves Roger and Rafa but has no room in its heart for an intruding third party. Novak is the stalker of the two occupants of tennis’ Mt. Olympus, and he is not welcome. He stands, shirtless, on the balcony of his hotel in Adelaide and wonders why he is not afforded the reception that the Beatles received when they stood on the balcony of the Southern Cross Hotel in Melbourne in 1964.

Even before a ball had been struck at the forthcoming Australian Open it provided another flashpoint to confirm that the Prime Minister’s wish to isolate sport from matters political is impossible. This time Australia Day again came into the fray! Social media leaked news that tomorrow Margaret Court will receive Australia’s highest civilian honour, the Companion of the Order of Australia, an AC. Court currently has the second highest civilian honour, being an Officer of the Order of Australia, an AO , not to be confused with the Australian Open that she won a record eleven times!

The Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, reacted with all bile flowing. Having said, very immaturely, that “he was sick of talking about this woman every summer”, he then proceeded to do so for quite some time. His splenetic tirade was as predictable as it was tiresome. Accusing Margaret Court of displaying all the ‘un-woke’ attributes known to the virtuous, he expressed his distaste for Court’s latest award. My distaste of those that claim to foster inclusivity and diversity, but in doing so demonise those who disagree with their opinions is greater.

And the tennis drama keeps coming! In a case of pandemic karma, one of the players most critical of quarantining arrangements, Spain’s Paula Bardosa, announced she had tested positive to the virus. Andy Murray, five times a runner-up at the Australian Open, has announced quarantining arrangements will make it impossible for him to prepare properly for this year’s tournament. What else could possibly go wrong? There is now to be a pre-tournament Women’s event starting next week for those players currently unable to train and practise outside their hotel rooms. This makeshift event has been coined the“Quarantine Open.”

Speaking of monitoring people and enforcing necessary controls, fears abounded about how Joe Biden’s inauguration might be derailed or sabotaged. Thankfully, all went to plan in a security conscious, Covid lockdown sort of way. At 78, Biden assumed office as America’s oldest President. The performers and personnel on Capitol’s stage reflected Biden’s wish for a new “unified and diverse” America.

From Kamala Harris of African-Asian background, inaugurated as America’s first female Vice-President through to the young female African-American poet, Amanda Gorman, it was clear that the cultural context of this Presidency will be markedly different from his predecessor’s. About the only person who was “pale, male and stale” at the inauguration was the President himself!

After the inauguration ceremony came the fireworks. After the fireworks, came a score of Executive Orders, including Biden’s plan to vaccinate 100 million Americans in his first one hundred days in office. Ms. Gorman’s poem was entitled “The Hill We Climb”. Biden’s policy trajectory is necessarily steep, but he must ensure he carries the hearts and minds of most. Positive results from his policy changes will be his greatest insurance policy. As many commentators have noted, Biden’s early steps must speak to all those in America he wishes to unify, not just those Democrats in Congress who may be overly keen to exact vengeance on the Trump legacy. It is the subject of another debate, but many believe pursuing Trump’s impeachment trial may risk derailing Biden’s unity crusade and creating a martyr of the former President.

Convincing doubters is no easy task. Scores of millions of Americans voted for Trump. Many suggest Biden’s challenges are Biblical in nature. Forgive the corn, but Biden must pray and hope that, as he makes tackling the pandemic his cardinal priority, he can lead all Americans on a ‘road to DaMASKus’!

Biden claimed in his inaugural address that his day was “democracy’s day”. Sadly, the absence of democratic days in Russia continues. Recent protests across the nation of eleven time zones by tens of thousands about the detention of Vladimir Putin’s political opponent, Alexei Navalny, are a reminder of how long those living in the world’s largest country have lacked democratic freedoms and suffered from autocracy, be it Imperial, Czarist or Soviet.

Now we have the thuggery of a former KGB operative oppressing the people. Watching the protesters braving Arctic cold to demand Navalny’s freedom evoked the legacy of Father Gapon leading protesters on a march to the St. Petersburg palace almost exactly 116 years ago to demand democratic reform. The brutal response of Czarist troops who fired on the demonstrators led to hundreds being killed and wounded. Bloody Sunday, as the march became known, became the catalyst for the introduction of Russia’s parliamentary Dumas. Sadly, the ghost of Gapon would look at the violence of Putin's response to the recent protests and still consider his country largely unchanged.

In the equally frigid, but more genteel and democratic land of Canada, there has been political upheaval of a regal kind. Canada’s Governor-General, Julie Payette, a former astronaut, has resigned amid a controversy about the workplace culture she created at the Vice-Regal residence, Rideau Hall. One wonders how there could be the need for bullying and harassment when the role of the office is largely ceremonial. Neither granting Royal Assent to legislation nor opening and closing Parliaments usually leads to a rise in blood pressure but there you have it. Maybe being in control of spacecraft in the galaxy does not translate to presiding over statecraft in the world’s second largest country?

A year on from Australia’s first reported case of Covid-19 Happy / / / Day for tomorrow- (fill in the gaps as required).

Julian Dowse

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