Wednesday, 27 January 2016

"Change the flag" and

"We must become a republic!" are the two cries Downunderites hear each Australia Day. The two cries go on in a more muted form throughout each year.
People are told that the flag is a reminder of the colonialist past and that it is an insult to indigenous Australians and....well, you get the idea I am sure. Some people don't like the flag. 
And people are told that Australia won't be an independent country until it becomes a republic.
And yesterday the "picture" on the Google home page was a highly political one which was intended to remind Australians that, unless they are indigenous Australians, it is not their country. It was as divisive as it was racist - and yet, had it not been put up when the request was made, Google would have been accused of being both racist and in denial. It was a no-win situation for Google.
I believe the flag should stay as it is. It is a reminder of the past but that is a good thing. Australia as a nation was first built on migration, some of it unwilling, from the UK. The first colonists came from the army and the prisons. It was a penal colony. It was also, in the case of the state I live in, built on pioneers who worked hard - very hard. Why should any reminder of that be removed? Why should heritage be denied?
Australia is also a completely and fully independent country. It does not need to "become a republic". The argument that "the Queen is our head of state" is nonsense. The Governor-General is the head of state. The Queen is head of the Commonwealth. Republicans know that but refuse to accept it. Many of them probably believe that they would make a good President - and have the chance of being the first one. Forget it.
The Google Australia picture for the day was, to put it mildly, political. I would also question whether it was appropriate. I do not want to deny for a nanosecond that some truly appalling things were done to the people who were present before the first ships landed in Botany Bay. The measles-infested blankets and the deliberate hunting down, the denial of land rights and culture are an appalling and shameful chapter in history. 
That said we should also be aware that Australia as such did not exist. The landmass did. People lived on it. They had a diverse and rich cultural heritage. Note I said "diverse". The people who lived on the landmass now known as "Australia" were not "one people". They were not a "nation" as such. They lived in small tribal groups and most of them travelled within a limited area. Their many languages were not always mutually intelligible across the entire country. There has been cultural genocide and most of what they had has been lost. That's wrong. Much of what remains has been corrupted and that is wrong too. 
There are complex, very complex, legal, moral and philosophical arguments around such issues as the right to be called "indigenous" and "land rights" and whether there actually is or was a "stolen" generation.  The answers to those questions and problems are not simple although the media often makes them out to be. There are also those who have an interest in trying to make others believe in such simplicity.  
Some of it is simply myth and that is perhaps doing the greatest harm. Myths tend to take on a life of their own.

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