TED EGAN. Matthew Flinders: Conditor Australis.

Two items  are prominent in the news at the moment:  Matthew Flinders’ remains have been unearthed at Euston Station, London; and there is heated debate in Australia about the most appropriate day to recognise as ‘Australia Day’. 

Matthew Flinders’ remains have been unearthed at Euston Station and it has been proposed that he be re-buried in “an appropriate churchyard” presumably in England.

There is  heated debate in Australia about the most appropriate day to recognise as ‘Australia Day’.  Dates discussed seem to be restricted to 26 January (the present gazetted ‘Australia Day’); 25 April (Anzac Day); and 1 January (Federation Day). There are many reasons why none of these three dates is suitable as a day revered by all Australians as our “national day”.

26 January – There is a concerted move to have this (only recently acknowledged) day labelled “Invasion Day”, a movement led by a minority of pale-skinned First Australians unprepared to acknowledge in most cases that a major percentage of their individual DNA scores derives from the invaders. This minority movement has credibility, but its supporters seem unable/unwilling to offer a suitable alternative, acceptable to the majority of our citizens, to establish a day of national celebration.

25 April – The anniversary of two important military exercises, firstly the aggressive landing at Gallipoli by the Anzacs seeking to capture Turkey (1915).  The same date is also the anniversary of the participation of Australians in the defence (1918) of Villers-Bretonneux, a truly heroic victory that helped bring an end to World War I.  Nonetheless, this date, while important in military terms, is a day of Observance, not celebration.

1 January – The day on which (1901) the Australian Federation was proclaimed, based on a national Constitution, in which it was decreed that, in reckoning the national population figures, “Aboriginal natives of Australia shall not be counted”;  they were deemed to be a sub-species. Additionally the self-styled Fathers of Federation (all white, elderly males) bequeathed to us an inflexible Constitution, a hotch-potch of railway gauges and selfish clauses destined to preserve power for themselves within their various states and through their political parties. 1 January is an important date, a natural consequence to the definition by Flinders as an “island continent”, but hardly a national day of celebration, other than as New Year’s Day.

SUGGESTED NEW DATE

Thursday 8 September 1803 was the date Matthew Flinders considered that the circumnavigation of Australia was complete. He had in fact completed the journey in June 1803.  See his Journal, Voyage to Terra Australis, Volume II. p. 321. On 8 September he officially reported to Governor King that he had circumnavigated an island continent, Terra Australis – occupied by First Australians in many of the coastal places he visited, where their distinctive languages were spoken. He accurately recorded words of some of those languages. He was also aware, of course, of the later British presence that had been established at Sydney Cove in 1788 and that English was the language of those new citizens. Details of his incarceration by the French at Mauritius and his death in London on 19 July 1914 – the day after publication of his Journal and charts – are well-known.

I suggest :

  1. Bring the remains of Matthew Flinders  to Australia for ceremonial burial at Circular Quay (Port Jackson), where he began and ended the circumnavigation. It should be possible to establish with his family connections and the British government that he is indeed a hero in Australian as well as British history, perhaps even more so here. He could be awarded the honorific Conditor Australis, Founder of Australia.
  1. Establish 8 September as “Australia Day”, commemorating 8 September 1803, henceforth called Foundation Day.
  1. Establish Pitjantjara as Lingua Australis and have the (?amended) National Anthem translated into that language, in order that dual versions – Australian and English – may be presented.  If the language of Bongaree/Bungaree, a First Australian man who accompanied Flinders, is still valid, that is a consideration, but a more acceptable tactic might be an invitation for any surviving Australian language to be used accordingly, provided the version is certified as accurate and appropriate (the Commonwealth of Australia holds copyright authority in this respect). There is no doubt that Pitjantjara is the most widely known Australian language and its orthography is very straightforward.

Ted Egan is a former public servant, entertainer and Administrator of the Northern Territory. He lives at Alice Springs.

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