On TV this year, cricket legend Adam Gilchrist encouraged everyone to celebrate Australia Day in their own way. And so he might. After all, it’s never been clear to anyone what the 26th January is actually for.
Sure we all know it represents the founding of New South Wales. But what are we, on the other side of the country, meant to do in response to that?
Some young ladies like to put on small and cheap patriotic bikinis from Red Dot [no objections here from the Dodgy Perth offices], some young men like to drape themselves in the flag, get pissed, and shout “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, Oi, Oi!” [many objections]. Most people have a BBQ and listen to JJJ.
What we learn from the past is that they had no idea how to celebrate it either. For starters, they couldn’t even agree on a name. Some states called it Australia Day, others used the term Foundation Day or Anniversary Day. It was only in 1936 the Commonwealth Government ordered everyone to use the words Australia Day. But even this didn’t make it any clearer.
In the 1910s it was a day for kids and the place to be was South Beach. There were pony rides, fruit, swings, toys, swimming and running races, and a greasy pole in the pool. But by the 1930s no one was organising anything except a rowing regatta on the Swan. Which didn’t seem very patriotic to anyone, really.
Enter the Australian Natives Association (ANA). While they might sound as if they had something to do with Aboriginal rights, they couldn’t be further away. The ANA were the leading jingoistic mob, always demanding more be done to keep Australia white and British. There is still an ANA rowing club at Bayswater, but we imagine they’ve dropped their appalling racism by now.
It was pressure from the ANA and a bucket-load of nationalistic speeches from them about celebrating White Australia that forced the government’s hand in 1936 to make the day ‘Australia Day’ for everyone.
But no one cared. Each year the Perth newspapers tried really hard to educate the public about the arrival of Captain Phillip on Sydney Cove and why they should be celebrating this historic event. But no one cared. Even during World War II, when patriotic sentiment was at its height, the City of Perth forgot to put out the national flags on 26th January until the ANA shouted at them.
Australia Day has long been a holiday for Western Australians. And that’s all its ever been. Our only tradition has been to take the day off and enjoy it. We’re not particularly interested in Captain Phillip, just JJJ. And there are no objections here from the Dodgy Perth offices.