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Race and gender at Australia Day

By Andrea Hogan

Australia Day often means many great things. For starters, it equals a day off work for many Aussies, perhaps one of the best things when you are slogging it out 9 – 5 on a regular basis. It often also means a chance for a day baking on a beach or of course participating in the great Aussie ritual where we throw meat on a barbeque whilst being around all of the best people in our lives – our mates, of course.

And for those who worship at the alters of the musical Gods, Australia Day is of course the day that these Gods gracefully give back with some of the greatest gifts known to Aussie music lovers, those being the Big Day Out music festival and the annual Triple J song countdown, the Hottest 100.

Just like how at Easter we enjoy the mass consumption of chocolate but then hate finding out we can no long fit into our jeans a few days later, Australia Day has its’ downers, some of which are a bit more serious than a couple of extra kilo’s or even the horrific sunburn and hangovers some of us wake up to on January 27.

The first thing to think about is the fact that Australia Day is a day that not all Australians agree with. Some Australians do not see the day as cause for celebration, with a number seeing it as Invasion Day’, the anniversary of Captain Cook’s arrival in Australia and the start of a long history of suppression and issues for indigenous Australians.

Although this is obviously something significant, that I believe all Australians should at the very least take some time to think about, there is something else to consider as well. Since 1960 Australia Day celebrations have been marked with the giving out of the Australian of the Year Awards; prizes intended to recognise our best citizens. As most Australians know, there are a few different titles given out, like the young and senior Australian of the year. However there is the main award, the official ‘Australian of the Year’ title. For 2011 this title went to Simon McKeon, clearly a deserving receipt with all the work he has done for Australia. Yet when hearing all about the awards in the news this Australia Day, I just couldn’t help but think of a fact that I came across last year – since the establishment of the awards, only eleven females have been named Australian of the Year.

Going through the list of Australian of the Year winners on the award’s website, it is not only obvious that there is a lack of female presence, but few indigenous recipients of the award as well. There are in fact only eight indigenous individuals who have ever been given the title.

Yet with the above facts acknowledged, I still do not believe that we should be giving individuals Australian of the Year titles just because they are female or indigenous in some form of token gesture. The awards should be based on merit.

These facts however are just one of those little reminders of the gender and race gaps that are still with us. Yet the awards this year for me also showed potential for the future, especially with the Young Australian of the Year award going to the female sailor, Jessica Watson. With a young girl being recognised for her strength, drive and for doing something no one would really think of a young girl doing, there is a glimmer of change.

(Image Credit)

One thought on “Race and gender at Australia Day

  1. I’ve heard that apparently it’s actually really rare for countries to give out national honours like the Australia Day Awards. While they recognise people (e.g. through knighthood or what have you) they don’t seem to think that it’s appropriate to try to pick ‘the best’ person of the year. I tend to think Australia Day Awards are too exclusive and don’t recognise the huge diversity of contributions people do make.

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