Australia Day – What’s It All About?
Flags stuck on cars. Thongs, board shorts and Bonds tank tops in festive designs. Beer-swilling. Barbecues. Fireworks and days spent on the beach. These are the images of Australia – that is, these are the images of our country presented on our national day, Australia Day. Every year, we celebrate our national values of mateship, the willingness to give a fair go, and a larrikin, care-free attitude to life.
At least, that’s what you’re celebrating if you actually do bother to do so. Many people refuse to celebrate Australia Day. Some do so for political reasons (the question over whether we should celebrate the day when the British invaded Aboriginal lands). However, many simply do not understand the celebrations that occur on Australia Day. They feel disconnected with these images of all-Aussie BBQs, alcohol binges and flag-waving. Why is this?
I think it is partly an issue that we feminists can analyse. What exactly are we celebrating as Australian women on Australia Day? What in Australian culture serves us? I’d argue that there is very little that is celebrated on Australia Day that we can really share. The image of Australia that is shown on national days emphasises ‘mateship’. This word is often applied to the men of Gallipoli, as is ‘larrikin’, who fought and died in service to the nation. Women are not involved in this myth, except as nurses or wives. The word ‘mateship’ itself has no connection with women whatsoever. Women do not have ‘mateship’. We have ‘friendship’ or ‘relationships’. The terminology is important, considering its historical roots and its doubtlessly male meaning.
Nor do we have many historical events we can celebrate as a victory as Australian women, unlike men. We can most certainly count the feminist movement, but that is generally not done so, due to modern women’s disassociation to the word. The ‘achievements’ celebrated by Australia in national celebratory culture are all war-based. Women are reduced to caring roles in most of these narratives. Even the greatest tale of our nation’s women, the capture and internment of Australian nurses by the Japanese in World War II, is often forgotten in comparison with the Kokoda Track.
So, I ask a difficult question: What are we celebrating as Australian women? Is there anything we can genuinely recognise that is celebrated on Australia Day, Anzac Day and the other various national days as something we identify with? Do we all live by the ideals of mateship, the fair go and larrikinism? Or are Australian women – and men – defined by something more?