So – I’m coming out with a big one here folks. I got myself in trouble the other day (and possibly am again right now) for finally admitting to my very proud Australian workmates that I have once burnt an Australian flag.
Here’s the scoop.
I was about 25, drunk in Canberra on Australia Day and surrounded by Australian Flags, and White Australians, male and female, getting shit faced and chasing each other around like dogs sniffing at arseholes. I make no secret of my misanthropic tendencies in day to day life so let’s be clear here and now. My frequent hatred for people and society generally is pivotal to a complete understanding of my arguments – so remember it.
One of the only two good places to drink in Canberra’s CBD, a dingy alleyway of a bar called Bar 32, had festooned itself in mini Australian flags and had a cheap full sized one hanging on the wall. After a few hours of drinking, smoking and getting generally worked up over the state of things (an umbrella statement covering, as I recall, violence perpetrated by drunken ADFA recruits in the Capital every weekend, Australian involvement in two wars, The Northern Territory Stronger Futures bullshit, the lack of any real choice in our two party system, the fact that even the proudly alternative Bar 32 had tarted itself up for Invasion Day etc.) an old mate (who will remain nameless) and I decided to steal that shitty flag from the wall, take it to the middle of Northbourne Avenue and set it on fire.
I guess we hoped that, rather than kick the shit out of us, some belligerent ADFA gentlemen might take a more scholarly approach to our display of antipathy and willingly engage in a discussion on the meaning of our destruction of the symbol of our nationhood. The former was unfortunately the much, much more likely outcome. Australia’s loyal sons and daughters were robbed of the chance to wreak fervent patriotism upon us however, because before the nylon idol had even properly caught aflame the fuzz arrived by patrol car.
They slowed, rolled down a window and sternly commanded us to “Put it out ya dickheads. Now.”
Fearing the prosecution of swift justice we, of course, obliged. We stamped it out on the asphalt of the main drag of Australia’s Capital City and, as I recall, threw it in the bin and went to a better pub.
Bringing us back to the present day, my work mates and I have had many a conversation before this one in which I’d made it very clear that I wasn’t as “proud” to be Australian as they were. By that I mean I appreciate that I’m glad I’m not starving to death in Sub-Saharan Africa or being brutalised in Palestine, but I’m not one of those Australia Day-Flag Wearing-Big Day Out Attending fuckwits either. I don’t approve of Nation States as a form of government (although I can’t think of a better model to replace them, at least not today) and I have no problem with asylum seekers, immigrants or boat people, legal or otherwise. I regularly and fiercely attempt to combat the ill defined xenophobia I’ve found in my work mates’ attitudes because mostly I feel sad and bitterly angry about the mistakes, flaws and hypocrisy in our national myth more than any kind of pride or belonging.
I’d questioned them pretty vigorously in the past on what made them so proud of the Nation they happened to be born in and I got a pretty inarticulate range of responses, which I’ve tried to paraphrase below. All of it is pretty standard fodder – you might even agree with one or more of them. But I take issue with them vocally, regularly and at length. I’ll try and do so coherently;
1) Because you should be proud of your country.
Being born into a nation doesn’t mean you should automatically be proud to be a member of it. Especially if your national culture has a documented history of violence towards its indigenous population, racism and exclusionism spanning its entire existence, a tendency towards anti-intellectualism, a pervasive culture of misogyny and unquestioned hero worship of soldiers and its role in international conflicts despite any real understanding of war.
2) Because we’re not as fucked as everywhere else in the world.
Just because Australia isn’t collapsing into violent anarchy, torn apart by civil war or a Fundamentalist Islamic Theocracy doesn’t mean I should blindly adore my country. It’s pretty clear that Australia’s got a lot of its own shit to deal with and I believe it’s a responsibility of citizenship, whether willing or not, to acknowledge the good and the bad in our nation.
3) Because we have government funded education, a (relatively and temporarily) strong economy, and a (relatively and temporarily) low unemployment rate that affords us incredible opportunity.
All our country’s strengths are dependent on the people who govern us and, while they do guarantee us remarkable privilege, they do NOT necessitate patriotism on my part. In fact they demand a willingness to “bite the hand that feeds”; to expect better of our nation and its populace. I know that racism is not okay; I know there’s a massive gap in the health and education of the indigenous population in this country and that of white Australians. I also know that where I grew up many white Australian kids dropped out of school, had kids, worked hard, bought a house and two cars and are to this day willfully ignorant. Just because we’re lucky enough to have the luxury of apathy, and the apathy of luxury, doesn’t mean we should be patriotic. Demand more from your country than that it continue an unfair unsustainable status quo.
4) Because we are a secular and multicultural country where anyone can get a “fair go”.
This one was a hard fought concession from my workmates, made on the proviso that those “fucking Muslims respect our way of life”. From the early days of the gold rush when Chinese migrants formed a common enemy for Australians of mongrel European heritage, we have always feared what doesn’t fit into the cultural myth of the white, Christian Australia. This didn’t begin with Pauline Hanson – in 1901 the government passed the Immigration Restriction Act to ensure only people of European, preferably British, descent settled in Australia under the White Australia Policy. After WW2 ended, it was Italians & Greeks migrating to Australia, taking our jobs and freaking people out – but least they were kind of white and believed in the same god as us. Whitlam’s Labor Government passed laws to undo this policy in 197, yet the spectre of the yellow tide has never really left Australia’s imagination. But now it’s embodied by a burka or a curly black beard instead of slanted eyes and a rice hat. This religious division is just as useless as the racial one –no one can deny that Australia was (and is) built on migrant backs from all over the world. It’s just a big empty continent – share it around you greedy fucks.
5) Because Australian soldiers died to defend “our way of life”
This one almost makes me laugh. I grew up reading history, and studied a lot on Australia’s involvement in both World Wars, Vietnam, The Boer War, The Boxer Rebellion, amongst others. I love history, and the history of war – but I don’t love war. I admire the bravery and courage that saw young Australian men and women, the fruit of our first flowering, go off to war. And yet at the same time I’m disgusted by the policies of a government that has committed lives to multiple wars that we had no need to be a part of. The argument that Japan was going to invade Australia in WW2 has long been refuted, and every other Australian military endeavour amounted to little more than currying favour with our international allies. The only good to come from Australia’s involvement in ANY war was the dismantling of the White Australia Policy following WW2. The notion that I should be more patriotic or respectful to my country simply because a series of bad government decisions sentenced thousands of young people to death for no good reason is ridiculous. Absolutely. Fucking. Ridiculous.
So friends, let me say this. Once, while I was drunk, I set the Australian Flag on fire. The flag is just a symbol, and means different things to me than it might mean to you. I did it out of defiance against societal norms that see blind patriotism as a virtue in this country. I did it because I think White Australia has a Black History. I did it because I thought mean something to get bashed for my convictions. I did it because I believe that the white Australia idea didn’t die in 1975. I did it because, in the words of Propagandhi : “If this country is so goddamn free, then I can burn your fucking flag wherever I goddamn please!”
And then I’m gonna stick it up your fucking arse.