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Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Aboriginal Activist is Australian of the Year 2009


Photo ANU


Aboriginal activist, lawyer and academic Professor Mick Dodson (above) has been named Australian of the Year 2009. The appointment has been widely acclaimed.

Professor Dodson is of the Yawuru people of the isolated Southern Kimberley region of northern Western Australia. He has previously held the position of Social Justice and Equal Opportunity Commissioner, and is on the staff of the Australian National University in Canberra.

Mick Dodson is a no-nonsense Australian who has already asked us to have a conversation about the possibility of changing the date on which we celebrate Australia Day, now January 26.
He said on television last night that he didn't feel strongly about the matter himself but understood that many of his people did.

January 26 commemorates the landing in Sydney of the first British Fleet which carried chained convicts who were thrown out of Great Britain in 1788. From this grand (!) beginning sprang our nation.

But so did incessant wars which reduced the number of the original black inhabitants from about a million to 300,000. The wars were of the guns against spears variety, with gifts of poisoned flour and sugar aiding the white cause. Many Aborigines died of newly introduced diseases.

The early British/Australians also took half cast children from their mothers, placing them in institutions with the hope that the culture would die out. Today these youngsters are known as the 'stolen generation'.

It is thought that the Australian Aborigines came here as immigrants from Asia, perhaps 120,000 years ago. They lived a hunter gatherer existence, with caring for the land the centre of their culture. And yet the British declared that Australia was terra nullius - a land without people - and used this lie to justify their takeover.

No wonder many of today's Aborigines call January 26 'Invasion Day' and commemorate it separately to celebrate their survival.



Photo Auspic

Kevin Rudd (aboved) , elected Australian Prime Minister thirteen months ago, does not want to change the date, even though one of his first acts in the job was to say 'sorry' to the Aboriginal people, a moment of intense healing for Aboriginal people and whites alike.

Personally, I feel pretty mixed up about Australia Day. We do have a pretty great nation now which is moving back to its traditional egalitarian values. And that is something to celebrate.

John Pilger, Australian journalist, internationally acclaimed and sometimes regarded as controversial, talks about these values in his book 'A Secret Country': 'One of our distinctions as Australians was that, unlike Britons with their walls of class and Americans with their vast disparities of wealth, we struck a fine balance between the needs of the community and the individual.

'We measured social progress, it was said, not so much in terms of productivity and "consumption" as by the well-being of the producers - all the producers, especially the providers of labour.'

For about ten years - during the time of the Howard Government - we seemed to move away from those values.

It is inconceivable to so many worldly people that the English Queen (although also known as Queen of Australia) is still our Head of State. We are now a confident multicultural people and the republican movement is gradually gaining strength, although mired in red tape.

I reckon the happy solution to the Australia Day date of celebration would come if we declared ourselves a republic and moved the celebration over to a new, neutral day. Then, we could all relate to a truly unified celebration.



Photo Auspic

To my mind in the past thirteen months there has been a big positive shift in Australia, despite the global economic crisis which is moving closer to us every day, to the extent that a recession is now regarded as almost inevitable.

The Rudd Government's inclusiveness and seeming transparency has already earned it much kudos, and many feel Australians are moving closer together again, away from the dog-eat-dog of the past few years. I believe that Sorry Day helped that no end as well.

There are other matters which the new Government has done which have brought more Australians together.

An Aboriginal woman Faith Bandler was awarded the nation's top honour this week for a lifetime of service to Aboriginal people. Ms Bandler also led the campaign surrounding the 1967 referendum which was to result in an astounding decision in which 90 percent of the Australian electorate agreed to a proposal to give Aborigines a vote. It had only taken 179 years since the dispossession began.


Th new government is dismantling the terrible refugee detention centres - a plus so far as the migrant community is concerned.

And we have our first female Deputy Prime Minister whe less than a month after the election served as Prime Minister herself when Kevin Rudd was in Bali for the global climate change meeting. Julia Gillard (above) is a single woman, a lawyer and a determined red head with a great sense of humour.

She has the astounding job title of Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister fo Social Inclusion.

Such a huge job!



Photo Auspic


There are many more women in parliament, with ministerial positions.

And then, of course, we have our first ever female Governor General, the Queen's representative, Ms Quentin Bryce AC.

Her Excellency is a 65 years-old mother of five, with five grandchildren.

In practice, the Governor-General follows the conventions of the Westminster system of parliament and acts only on the advice of the Prime Minister of Australia. However, there have been four exceptions to this, including when Governor-General John Kerr exercised the reserve powers of his office in 1975 to sack the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam - a decision that rocked the nation.

Quentin Bryce is a lawyer and academic who has held senior public office, including Governor of Queensland.

She is a feminist and former Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner.

Australia's first female Governor-General says her appointment sends a message to all girls: 'You can do anything; you can be anything.'

Ms Bryce was born in a small Australian country town with a population of 200 people.




I have never seen so many Australian flags as I saw yesterday, Australia Day.

They were everywhere - on flag poles, on cars, draped around young people's bodies, made into hats and shirts, skirts and pants.

The Aussie flag (above) carries the Union Jack in the left hand corner, attesting to the connection with Briton. The seven pointed star below the Union Flag represents the states, and the group of stars on the right signify the Southern Cross, a prominent constellation in the southern sky.

To me, people seemed to be more enthusiastic about the celebration this year than ever in my experience.

Mind you we celebrated much in the same way as we do on any long week-end - by going to the beach, and with outdoor concerts and barbecues.




I noticed that my local supermarket stocked a huge array of Aussie Day gear last week which, by yesterday, was sold out.



Someone even draped the local beachside free gas barbecue with red white and blue streamers and flags.



There were more sedate picnics in the shade of large native trees in a local park ...



This little guy battled with his flag ...



And this BIG guy's traditional 'Esky' doubled as a seat as he waited for mates to arrive. The box would have been filled with ice and what we call 'coldies'.



This was one tribute to Australia Day ...



And here is another.

This is public art in a park in Tweed Heads, just inside the New South Wales border, in Australia, where most of these pictures were taken.

It depicts in bronze a group of little children looking lovingly at their nation's flag.

It will be interesting indeed to see where the conversation about the Republic, the design of a future flag, and Australia Day will lead us in the next few years.


I'd really like to know what everyone thinks about this. Particularly my fellow Aussies. Let's start a conversation ...

40 comments:

  1. Oh June! This was a wonderful post! I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I think about the stolen generation and how badly the Aborigines have been treated. I'm glad to hear that a healing process may be starting...

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  2. June,

    Its been such a pleasure reading Australia articles in your blogs and Lilly's; I have learnt such a lot of Australia , its history and its people. Along with the delightful pictures that you post of course.

    About this thing of having a different day for celebration as Australia Day, maybe it will be more meaningful, if you guys actually become a republic, and say goodbye to the Queen on another jan 26th. That way it will kind of negate the "invasion", and everyone,with the possible exception of UK will be happy. It , of course will be so neat for both India and Australia to have a Republic Day on the same day , even if it is happening 60 years apart.

    Maybe they can have an India-Australia Republic Day One Day test match every year, alternately held in New Delhi and Canberra.....the mind boggles at the possibilities of celebrations...

    Greetings.

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  3. Yes LADYFI I think the healing may be real now - although in early days still, with a lot of understanding needing to happen. And careful consultation.

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  4. Suranga - nice ideas.
    But I think the feelings on both sides in Australia are very deep and sensitive.

    January 26 was the beginning of such tragedy for the Aborigines, and for the white people there are shadows of injustice and cruelty - coming from the British as well as feelings that came from what happened to the black people of this land.

    Many of the convicts were transported from seven years to life, most never to see their families again. And very often their crimes were committed because people were hungry. It was a terrible time in Britain.

    The sufferings of the Aborigines have compounded with each wrong and with each generation.

    Rationally I know that I could have done nothing about these things, but I do know that on Sorry Day I felt a lightening that was absolute relief that something just and right had occurred.

    Maybe when we move on to another, neutral day of celebration we could declare January 26 as a get together day with India anyway. A sort of extra celebration that things had changed.

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  5. This is such an incredible post! Thank you for sharing all this information about Australia. It is sad and fascinating and informative and hopeful.

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  6. I loved learning about your Australia Day and the women that have made it into those positions. Anytime a woman makes it big in a job that was typically for a man, it pleases me! Your pictures are great. I like the red corvette one.

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  7. It's nice to see healing of rifts in your country and my country. Let's hope it keeps spreading across the globe.

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  8. SYLVIA
    It was as though I wrote that! At least, that's what I would have liked the post to be ... sad, fascinating, informative and hopeful. That's how I feel you perceptive lady. Thank you.

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  9. JUDY
    I can see you in a red Corvette. That would be a fun thing.
    The recognition now being given to women in Australia is growing quickly now - and needed to.

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  10. WILD CHILD
    The sad thing is that many many countries and individuals have been affected by these terrible economic wrongs of the past few years. They are not to blame but can do nothing to stop the rot. We'll all need to help each other.

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  11. Dear june,

    thanks for a beautiful glimpse of australia.
    coincidence perhaps but 26th Jan is India's republic day.

    It is nice to know that the aborigines are finally getting their due and i hope the trend continues...

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  12. Hi PINKU
    Thanks for the visit. How was the date of your Republic Day chosen?
    Our national day was chosen because it was the day the first British fleet arrived ...

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  13. At least in my circle of Australian friends, no one gives a toss about Australia day: it's just another holiday. All this Republic Day, Indpendence Day, this day, that day...what does it mean anyway? Patriotism is embarrassing :) Especially when you consider how few people share your view of your own country....we all have our own experiences, and...anyway I could go on but I don't live there and it doesn't mean much :))

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  14. Hi BRAJA
    The fact that Australia doesn't mean much to you is fine - you don't live here as you say.

    I don't see my blog as patriotic in the jingoistic sense at all. I see it as a forum for information and an exchange of views. And friendship.

    I often criticise aspects of our culture, and I believe that is particularly important. No-one should accept anything without investigation. Like I said - an exchange of views, and a source of information.

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  15. Madam June
    My respectable salute to you saying " Namaskar" to you In Indian way. Thank you very much for educating me and possibly couple of many soules. Please keep us informing, Kicking away the ignorance in more than 70 ways. I am following your blog whenever I come back to towns after doing field work in Hills and forests.

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  16. I have visited you blog several times, I am really enjoying it. You have a lot of energy, that's great. Beautiful pictures and well presented.

    This little guy battled with his flag, lovely picture I loved it beside the other ones.

    I am pleased to tell you that I placed a link to your wonderful blog.

    Good luck

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  17. It is so interesting to read Australia's history from the eyes and heart of one of its citizens. I am struck by the similarity of our two countries. Our Independence Day celebration looks a lot like your Australia Day, and the displacement and destruction of native peoples is hauntingly familiar. I'd like to think that our newly elected President will bring the kind of energy and renewal that yours has. There is much healing to be done everywhere.

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  18. Namaskar to you Pradip Biswar. (with an Aussie accent)
    Thank you for the kind words. I am very happy that you visit and enjoy.
    You must tell us a little of your hills and forests in West Bengal ....
    June

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  19. KHALIL
    It's great that you find my blog 'great'. He was a dear little boy with the flag - I agree.
    I see you don't say where you are from on your profile so I can't return your favour of putting a link on your blog ...
    Thanks anyway.
    June

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  20. June
    I know so little of this and yet found the reading fascinating...as I always do when reading your work
    Linda

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  21. Thanks LINDA.
    Always good to know what's happening on the other side of the fence eh?
    Cheers
    June

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  22. I am reminded of the Canadian Prime Minister's apology to the Chinese for the Head Tax of the early 20th century. No doubt it helps, but the better option is to make future as comfortable for these wronged people as possible.
    Though 26 th January is very sacred for we in India, and it is a great feeling that we share it with Australia. But I feel that if it hurts even one community, it should preferably be changed.
    Very great post. Got to learn a lot from it.

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  23. Hi June,
    This was a really interesting post June and I would send Congratulations to you on 'your' day. Our 'Westminster Numpties' are still 'over us' as is 'Lizzie' though God help her she's OK- it's all the hangers on that drive me bonkers - I wish that we (Scots) were free of them all though in all probability our separate country M.P.'s are bound to make blunders too ! But at least they will be our blunders and we are such a small country that there will be 'no hiding place' for numpties here hehe...

    The news on D is not so good, she's has been very tired after each of the 5 radium treatments she's had so far and we go next Wednesday to see the 'Professor' You would end yourself June if you saw him - he's only about 30 yrs old and looks about 17 ! he looks a lot like a grown up version of that character called 'Harry Potter' the boy wizard ... hehe.. So we shall soon see what 'magic' he has come up with for the 'sneaky secondaries' he has found.
    OK mate think I'll put up the shutters - BTW We saw sunshine yesterday and we even had a peek of it today have you been mixing some magic potions ???
    Cheers for now Kate x.

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  24. Hi again, I forgot to tell you that your country has another two admirers Agnes and John are raving about the fantastic holiday they had and how everything is wonderful - Gosh the weather is even great too hehehe ... Cheers again K.

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  25. Hi Mampi
    Thanks for the feedback. Yes, I can't see why we couldn't change it myself - given a sensitive decision for a neutral situation.

    But the other side is that there are many Australians who claim a positive emotional attachment to the actual day. Probably something about 'tradition'? (Mind you only 220 years old.)

    My feelings are based on the reasons for the emotions and I can't think of any better basis for a change than the Aborigines' whose whole existence was shattered as a result of that day ... after living here undisturbed for thousands of years.

    I wonder what others think?

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  26. Dearest Kate
    I'm so sad about your news. I was hoping things were on the up. Young professors who look like Harry Potter often do have great powers however ...

    I agree about 'Lizzie'. She's done a great job keeping the situation on the straight and narrow. But that's sometimes a problem isn't it? Can stop things moving on to more productive paths.

    I didn't see Agnes and John ... or at least they didn't say g'day ;).

    Hugs Kate
    from June in Oz

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  27. Happy Australia Day. Nice to hear things are changing and the 'dog eat dog' mentality is fading. Learning a lot about Australia by visiting your blog and I am enjoying.

    I have posted on Indian Republic Day, and I saw a lot more involvement of the youth this year. Good, times are changing for the better.

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  28. Came across your blog through another blog that I follow. I'll come back for more :)

    Very nice post about Australia and the new ideology trends there.

    I'll take some time off to read your other posts too, but what I wanted to specifically mention is that I love your spirit that you've so well captured in the name of your blog. Keep writing!

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  29. Thanks for the visit Priya.
    I've just come back from a long bike ride in the cool of the evening. If you don't use it you lose it!
    Cheers
    June

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  30. Wonderful blog with rich content. Well organized and nice pictures, so I placed a link to your blog.

    My blog URL is http://homemade-recipes.blogspot.com

    With my best wishes

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  31. KMS
    Thanks for visiting and for the kind words. The recipes on your blog look delicious and I'm looking forward to trying some Lebanese cuisine.

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  32. So glad to find you! I love your blog.

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  33. Hi Polly
    Thanks for wandering over from the US of A. You're very welcome and I hope we see you again.
    June

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  34. I wrote a post about Australia Day on my blog.
    I have enjoyed my visit here, very much.

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  35. Hi June, it is Sudhir from India. Discovered your blog through blog surfing. Recently we saw this movie 'Australia' and liked it. It does touch upon the plight of Aboriginals. Even if comes a bit late in the day, peoples and nations should not shy away in correcting the past mistakes. We in India have to correct many of our wrongs.
    www.himalayanadventurer.blogspot.com

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  36. Thanks for visiting SUDHIR
    Absolutely agree about righting wrongs - whenever they were committed.

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  37. HI,
    I really like your blog. I think it is very important to talk about those things. I visited Australia and outback and had chance to speak to Aboriginal people. I have seen the Rabbit proof fance movie and I am happy to see there is something going on to improve the life of native people.
    Julie

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  39. JULIE
    Thanks for your kind words. Films such as The Rabbit Proof Fence have done a lot to thrust the Aboriginal situation into sharper public focus, thank goodness. Still a long way to go!

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  40. DANIEL
    I think that's what blogs should be all about - meaningful interaction. Why waste our energy otherwise?

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Thanks for your comment. It's good to know who's taking a peek! I will certainly reply to your message.
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