The 26th of January marks the day that the First Fleet arrived from Britain and the settlement of Botany Bay in 1788. We celebrate this day because it was the moment that the development of Australia as a nation began. It may not be politically correct to say so and Prime Minister Tony Abbott was criticised for saying so recently, yet he is correct. It was in this moment that the nation we know today was born. This should not be a controversial statement.
There were terrors bestowed by the British on the native population, the Aboriginals. They experienced famine, and illness. The extinction of many languages and damage to their culture. It is stain on our national history. Some have gone so far as to describe it as a genocide, I won’t go so far. It seems a grand exaggeration. The British were negligent, they weren’t tyrannical.
Overall though, the British settlement of Australia has been an overwhelming success. One that modern Australians should be proud of. Modern Australia is prosperous and wealthy. It is open, tolerant and multi-cultural. Our institutions, based in many ways on those existing in Britain have proven successful and stable. Australians are not nationalistic, not in the way Americans, Russians or even the British are, yet we should be proud of what our country has achieved.
As the son of two migrants I’ve come to appreciate more and more just how lucky I am to live in a nation such as this. I do so by juxtaposing my life here to what it could have been had my parents not emigrated. Australia is stable. I have never lived (until very recently, and I’ll come to that) in fear of attack. I have been provided with the greatest of education. I have always had access to care when ill. I have lived satisfied, with all my wants and needs accessible and affordable to me. When Donald Horne described Australian as the lucky country, he meant it as a criticism, yet it is appropriate to describe those who live in Australia as lucky, victorious at the lottery of life.
Compare this to my father and mother. My family, extended and immediate. They lived during wars and in varying states of relative poverty. They emigrated to Australia because they were promised jobs, they were promised stability. Australia gave them hope. Hope that their children would have better than they did. In almost every way Australia has delivered on these promises.
In many ways we’ve become so accustomed to our prosperity and stability, in the unquestioning superiority of our systems, that we are slow to believe or accept that it may somehow be in danger. 2014 shattered these illusions. Australians were subject to terror. People living normal lives, were directly affected by the actions of a mad man, espousing an even crazier ideology. Let’s hope we continue to be resolute and alert in the fight against terrorism, and never doubt the graces life in this country provides.
Happy Australia Day!