MUNGO MACULLUM. The Land of Hopeless Tories

January 26 is , in the end, no more than an excuse for a self-indulgent and self-deluded piss-up.

I have absolutely no problem celebrating on January 26 … when I’m in India.

That is the anniversary of the day in 1950 when India was declared an independent republic, free of both its colonial masters and the British crown. A coincidence that makes the Australian festivities next week all the more perplexing and demeaning.

For obvious reasons, the First Nations will not, cannot, ever be happy with a national holiday marking invasion, dispossession and the long lie of terra nullius. But surely rational immigrants must feel uncomfortable in rejoicing at the idea of raising a foreign flag to inaugurate a penal colony designed purely as a dumping ground for despised and unwanted of Mother England.

Obviously the Land of Hopeless Tories hardly saw it as a patriotic occasion for the outpost on the other side of the earth and the bureaucrats of Whitehall, who neither knew nor cared whether their human cargo lived or died, or even acknowledged the existence of those who had lived there for some 50,000 years, simply ignored it.

They did not think of it as Australia Day – indeed, Australia would not even exist for another 113 years.. There is much to be proud of in our modern history, but January 26 1788 is not part of it. On every level it is more of a shame and embarrassment than a matter for self-congratulation.

Yet in 2020 the cultural warriors of the reactionary right carry on as if the timing of the birthday of our nation, as they like to put it, is a matter of such earth-shaking importance that even debating it is a kind of treason.

Arrant nonsense, obviously – but it should make sensible Australians, black, white and everything in between, consider not only the absurdity if the date but possible alternatives.

Apart from the considerations above, the hard fact is that the British connection to Australia has become so tenuous as to be all but irrelevant. We are already, triumphantly, a multicultural society – arguably, as Scott Morrison boasts, the most successful on earth.

Australians of British ancestry are an increasingly minor component of the great mix, and although we (like most democratic nations) owe much to British law, politics and culture, we most certainly do not see ourselves as the descendants of what used to be called the Mother Country.

As we now sing with gusto, we are one, but we are many – I am, you are, we are Australian. So if we are to have a national day (and this is itself is worth debating) it has to be unequivocally Australian. And then comes the problem. January 1, the anniversary of federation in1901, presents obvious logistical problems, and the other suggestions (like May 9, the opening of the first parliament) are no more than stop gaps. So let’s look to the future – and specifically to India.

When this country eventually and inevitably becomes a republic, it will be the obvious time. But more thoughtful commentators are now pointing out that the republic will be incomplete without the reconciliation with the original Australians. So this must come first: the treaty, or Makaratta, which confirms that all of us are indeed one, that we can genuinely sing with one voice.

Once that is negotiated, we can take our place as a proud, united and independent people, willing to face our history, and, for all its flaws, missteps and prevarications, to take real control of it and celebrate it.

That will be the time for flags and fireworks. January 26 is , in the end, no more than an excuse for a self-indulgent and self-deluded piss-up


Mungo MacCallum is a veteran political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy.

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7 Responses to MUNGO MACULLUM. The Land of Hopeless Tories

  1. Charles Lowe says:

    The question is: “How can we induce a self-accepting adulthood in Australian culture as opposed to the resentful adolescence in which we have been remaining imprisoned?”

    1. Education;
    2. Lancing of the putrescent boils;
    3. Acceptance of (and shared pride in) First Nations’ legitimacy;
    4. Increasing popular support for relevant Constitutional change.

  2. Allan Kessing says:

    Wot you said! 10+
    There are so many reasons to loathe and rue what he did to this country.
    It’s hard to believe that during that nightmare decade he did so much ill that can never be undone.

  3. James O'Neill says:

    Not to be picky, but the latest research suggests that the first Aboriginals arrived in this island more than100,000 years ago. They did pretty well considering, until the 18th century. For all the good qualities you mention, the status and conditions of the Aboriginal people remains a disgrace.

  4. Ian Robinson says:

    Mungo, we also need to bear in mind that 26 January partly came about because of a long campaign by the white-supremacist organisation, the Australian Natives Association (ANA). Indeed, when I was growing up, 26 January was usually called ‘ANA Day’, and the ANA was in charge of the festivities, which paid tribute to the superiority of white male native-born Australians. So the roots of the 26 January commemoration lie in racism, sexism and jingoism.
    The ANA was aided and abetted in the 1930s by a Victorian Labor Government which wanted a to establish a long weekend for Victorian workers in mid-summer. They seized on 26 January, as a convenient excuse, and enacted an annual public holiday on the Monday closest to that date. So until 1994, in Victoria, 26 January was just an excuse for a warm long weekend.
    Thus the origins of 26 January as Australia Day are mired in racism and indolence – scarcely things to be proud of.

  5. Do we need a national day at all?

  6. Niall McLaren says:

    When I was young, Jan 26th was just a public holiday, nothing else. There were far more festivities on Labor Day. It would have remained nothing and there would be no drunk cultural warriors besporting their idiot flags on their cars had it not been for one J Howard, who felt he needed to whip up the masses by emulating his friends in DC, standing in front of a row of flags with a solemn expression and his hand over where his heart should have been.
    Can we just turn the clock back a bit? Forget the whole thing?

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