By Mike Welsh I had no say what so ever in my conception and birth, nor in that of our nation but I’ve always felt special to have been born on January 26. A birthday I proudly share with the late actors Paul Newman and Eartha Kitt, WW 11 hero, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and a bunch of Australian Test cricketers including ex skipper, Kim Hughes, with whom I share the same birth date, Jan 26 1954. Traditionally not a red-letter date such as Dec 25 or New Year’s Eve, but Jan 26 is still a momentous day, and one which would be difficult to forget, especially if it was your birthday. Yet back in the day I actually spent most of one birthday, blissfully unaware of its importance. The penny dropped when our GG came on the radio to deliver his Australia Day address. But it was too late. Fifteen hours of my birthday had already disappeared. How could I forget my birthday? How could I forget Australia Day? These days I would have been primed for the big event weeks in advance thanks to Australian flags fluttering from all points of all manner of vehicles in traffic and the ubiquitous TV commercials warning of a tsunami of beer, BBQs and backyard cricket bashes. My birthday has not only been comprehensively commercialized by “slammin” Sam Kekovich but it has morphed into a dangerously jingoistic mentality of… “If you don’t eat lamb or drape the flag you are unAustralian”. A surprisingly articulate, fat, former full forward succinctly “taking the piss” out of vegans has, sadly become as familiar in January as the flag flogging racists who first poked their ignorant and shockjock tutored heads over our backyard fences on Australia Day 2005 at Cronulla. The day the fuse for the December 11 2005 explosion was lit which gave birth to the “Cronulla Cape” (a term coined for mindless drunken Bogans who drape their naked upper bodies in the Australian flag). An Australian stand-up comedian described Australia Day to a group of international tourists thus… “the day Aussies get drunk and racist” and academics decided to drill into the causes and consequences of Cronulla. A “loose” University of W.A. study on Flag Waving V Non Flag Waving, found racism embedded in the Flag wavers. The team discovered that most of the 513 people surveyed from several hundred thousand gathered to watch a fireworks display, were fearful of losing their identity. One in five said they had attached flags to their cars. While the study results were neither conclusive nor solid, the basic inference was, “those who are flying flags on their cars do express more racist opinions with 43 per cent convinced that the now defunct White Australia Policy had saved Australia from problems that other countries had experienced”. I love Australia Day and most of what goes with it. I don’t have a problem with a brewery promotion of an Aussie flag for your car when you buy a “slab” of beer, but the “FUCK OFF WE’RE FULL” stickers I find highly offensive. Australia Day is my birthday but I don’t have to swim between the racist flags fluttering at Cronulla.
I had no say in any part of my conception, nor in that of our nation which took place on January 26, 1788, when a fleet of ships under command of Captain Arthur Phillip, landed at Botany Bay and hoisted the Union Jack.
I’ve always felt just a bit special to have been born on January 26, Australia Day. It’s a birthday I share with the late actor Paul Newman, Actress Eartha Kitt, WW 11 hero, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and chat show queen Ellen DeGeneres, as well as a bunch of Australian Test cricketers including ex skipper, Kim Hughes, with whom I share the same birth date, Jan 26 1954.
Given the general significance of the day and my particular connection , it’s hard to believe that I actually forgot my birthday once. I don’t remember the exact year I forgot but it was towards the latter part of the 70s.
Not a red-letter date such as December 25th or April 1st or even August 1st ,the horse’s birthday , but still a significant day and one which would be difficult to forget.
Now before you slap me around the head with the un- Australian stick, the occasion of our birth as a nation was not celebrated as wholeheartedly thirty years ago as it is today. Then, for all we knew, Cultural Diversity (a colt by Diver Dan out of Cultural Cate) was the name of a horse in the race which stops a nation. Now it could easily be the reverse.. the nation which stops a horse of a completely different colour and race. Mixed metaphors aside the whole complexion of my birthday has changed.
I spent most of that day, my birthday, blissfully unaware of its importance, casually returning to my home base, a three hour car journey, after a week away. I’d even delayed my ETA by two hours. After all it was a long- weekend and I had put in a hard week. It was only when Queen Elizabeth 11’s representative, our Governor- General came on the radio to deliver his Australia Day address that I finally twigged. It just wasn’t fair. Fifteen hours of birthday had vanished without me knowing anything about it. And here I was all alone. On my birthday.
These days the penny would have dropped the instant I pulled into traffic. There would have been Australian flags fluttering from all points of all manner of vehicles on the road. That’s if I had miraculously managed to avoid the ubiquitous warnings of the beer, bar- b-que and beach and backyard cricket bash about to begin..
And we won’t revisit the awkwardness when I eventually made it home, to be greeted with the very Aussie saying “the cold shoulder” and surprise dinner equally cold.
Australia Day is now loudly and wildly heralded many weeks in advance. My birthday has not only even become heavily commercialized ( a lamb producer cleverly employs a loud mouthed, overweight but surprisingly articulate former sports star to, satirically whip up national pride with the suggestion if you don’t eat meat you’re un- Australian) but ,frighteningly also politicised.
While the concept of the fat former full forward “taking the piss” is very familiar in this country…the racism on display in the summer of 2005 at Cronulla Beach was extremely uncomfortable and foreign to most Australians.
The dark cloud of racism which had simmered across Australia boiled over from Cronulla that December and into the January Australia Day weekends since and dampened the celebration.
Flag waving has became the issue after Cronulla . Academics drilled deep into the causes and consequences of Cronulla (the flag becoming the “Cronulla cape” suggesting a local turf war problem) but I think, in a very Aussie way, a stand up comedian’s explanation of the Australia Day long weekend to a bunch of visiting Americans as “the day Aussies get drunk and racist:….is a more accurate definition of the majority of Australians. We are upfront and honest when necessary and can “take the piss” out of ourselves.
Most of us don’t have a problem with a brewery promotion of an Aussie flag for your car when you purchased a “slab” of beer, but “FUCK OFF WE’RE FULL” stickers popping up on bumpers and back windows all over our roads is highly offensive.
Not surprisingly there’s also a Facebook page with the same attitude. And this is the point at which most fair minded Aussies rise up from the laid back they take to most issues.
A study was done on Flag Waving Vs Non Flag Waving and found racism embedded in the Flag waving fraternity….The University of Western Australia team discovered that most of the 513 people surveyed from several hundred thousand gathered to watch a fireworks display, were fearful of losing their identity. One in five said they had attached flags to their cars.
The study concluded “those who are flying flags on their cars do express more racist opinions with 43 per cent convinced that the now defunct White Australia Policy had saved Australia from problems that other countries had experienced”.
In his Australia Day address in 2012, neurosurgeon, Charlie Teo, born to Chinese Singaporean parents who immigrated to Australia, called on Australians to use this Australia Day as a time to embrace our immigrant culture and recognize that racism remains a problem in the community.
And as for the birthday I forgot….I will never forget that day.