Monday, 13 December 2010

A Crash Course in Australian History

We Aussies are very proud of our cosmopolitan population. There is the tens of thousands of years of gentle occupation and respect of the land by the Australian Aborigines. Then Captain Cook found a good dumping ground for the British criminals condemned for starving and stealing stale bread. The settlers who conquered the land by trying to be English farmers and settling on breeding and farming what ever animals didn't die. There were the gold rushes in the 1850s that brought the Chinese immigrants and their vast knowledge of farming practices and hard work to improve what the settlers had started. The gold rushers rebelled and gave us the Eureka Stockade and made the southern cross an emblem of our independence.

Then we decided to dam (or damn some would say) one of our most beautiful and powerful rivers to make electricity. That brought the Italian and other southern European immigrants to build the Snowy River Dam.

In between, we loved our criminals. There was Ned Kelly who was our Irish Robin Hood but the poor people he gave the money to were his family so they hanged him. This led to the habit of the Victorian Police shooting people first and asking questions later. The NSW police weren't angels either. There is a great story about the Victorian and NSW Police meeting at the border of the two states to do a joint operation. The Victorian Sergeant in charge said "We won't shoot anyone if you guys don't steal anything. Deal?"

We can't help it though. A lot of people don't like our national anthem: Advance Australia Fair. It doesn't really represent anyone who actually live here. It's more the kind of anthem that would be written by a music geek in high school who had never listened to Triple J and thought the Carpenters were so happenin'. Instead, most locals will claim that the true song of the nation is Waltzing Matilda. It's a story about a starving guy in the country who steals a sheep to kill and eat. He steals it from a rich settler which were called squatters at the time. The squatter called the cops in. They were most likely Victorian because they found him and shot at him. He refused to let them catch him alive and he jumped in to a small lake that we call a billabong. Now he haunts the billabong and every school kid and sporting fan in this country sings that first when they think of a national song.

The World Wars came and went. They took a lot of our young men. Many as canon fodder for Churchill, who didn't return the favour when Darwin was bombed to smithereens in 1942. That was the one time that a foreign country attacked Australian soil. It was our Pearl Harbour. That's when the Americans who Australians so love to hate came and helped us after Churchill said he could not spare our boys or his at that moment. When I'm whinging about American world domination, I always stop and remind myself what they did for Australia, Papua New Guinea and the whole of the South Pacific when the rest of the world was too busy protecting Europe to care about the antipodes. There is really no excuse for Sarah Palin or Tom Cruise though.

Australia had The White Australia Policy that lasted from the founding of our country in 1901 until 1973. That was 3 years before I was born to a white father and a black mother.

That is when it became cosmopolitan. With immigration from all over the planet, this finally became a place with a little more flavour. No more "meat and three veg" meals. The country blossomed in the 1980s and became known as the lucky country.

It still wasn't very lucky for the Aborigines who had to live with centuries of racial segregation, extermination and the heartbreaking and quite unjustifiable Stolen Generation. I went to school with kids whose parents were victims of the stolen generation. Half castes were always the first to be rescued and brought up as whites in the world that hated the mixed coloured skin.

Yes, there are plenty of wonderful things to say about Australia and being a melting pot of different cultures is one of those wonders. I don't think we are all the way there yet. We aren't a place without racism and bigotry but I think we generally try to be good people. There is a lot of ignorance out there about a lot of things. My quick history of Australia might not mean anything to you but the more I read and learn, the more I understand the distrust and reasoning behind the inequalities. We have so far to travel but we are this cool collection of misfits who kinda make up the rules as we go along. I think that will work for us.

This is the song that I think should be the National Anthem...

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