Greg has contributed a guest post about Australia Day:
With the sky over Sydney now clear of bushfire smoke, much of the heat has gone out of the public clatter about the warm weather we’ve been having – sorry, I mean about climate change – and the chatterati have turned their attention to the other staple of the Christmas holiday news vacuum, faux concern about the meaning, the true, deep, meaningful meaning of Australia Day.
Old New Australians—those whose ancestors got here before yours, so there!—line up to parade their grievances against newer New Australians, the class most of us inhabit. Still heavy with the season’s gluttony, grunting bogans rig up Chinese-made Aussie flags on their clapped-out Commodores, while in more leafy suburbs the Wokes of faux outrage, retrospective history-fixers, play Sensitive Snowflake over their pinot grigio.
It wasn’t always so. When I was a boy no one cared much about Australia Day. In January the Land of the Long Weekend was still half asleep after its holiday break, and apart from a few fussy citizens and sweaty politicians no one could be bothered to notice the reason for another day off work. Most people assumed it was something to do with Captain Cook’s landing in Sydney harbour.* Gallipoli may have come into it, or was that later in the year?
I asked Anne what she could remember about her Australia Days. She did her research:
Beginning of Anne’s post
I thought I’d check my memories of Australia Day against Trove’s digitized newspapers.
The Canberra Times from 1926 to 1995 has been digitized and put online, so I looked at its Australia Day reports at five-year intervals from 1965 to 1985. Actually, to be honest, although I grew up in Canberra, I didn’t in fact attend any of the festivities the Times reported. Every summer we had our holidays at the beach, a hundred miles away. My Australia Day was my family’s Australia Day, hardly noticed, and rarely commented on.
[Below, where there is no image of a newspaper page or article I have hyperlinked in the text to the digitised image of the article at Trove.nla.gov.au]
In 1965 26 January fell on a Tuesday. The lead story concerned the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill. None of the stories on the front page were about Australia Day or Australia Day honours. (In fact the Australia Day Honours system was introduced only in 1975.)
The editorial on page 2 discussed the possibility of Australia giving 500,000 tons of wheat to India as a gift.
The front page of 27 January 1965 also had no mention of Australia Day. On Saturday 30 January an article under the heading ‘Rain may mar holiday‘ noted there was a chance of scattered thunderstorms over coming the long holiday weekend. The front page of Monday 1 February, the public holiday marking Australia Day that year, also had no article mentioning Australia Day or honours. The editorial that day discussed universities.
In 1970 Australia Day fell on a Monday. The front page of the day did not mention Australia Day. Northern Ireland, Vietnam, Israel and Egypt were in the news. The editorial concerned police arrests of homosexual men in public toilets. The Canberra Times on 27 January reported that about 10,000 people had visited the city’s swimming pools on the previous day. In 1971 Canberra’s population was 144,000.
In 1975 Australia Day fell on a Sunday and the Canberra Times was not published on Sundays. On Monday 27 January one of the front page stories reported on festivities at Manuka Oval viewed by 3,500 to 4,000 people. There was a brief glance at Australia before White settlement but the more prominenent reenactments concerned other things: the Boer War, Dame Nellie Melba, and the bodyline cricket crisis of 1932-33. I can’t remember where I was for Australia Day 1975 but I am quite sure I wasn’t at Manuka Oval. The editorial of the day discussed the consumer price index.
In Canberra the first Australia Day to be celebrated with fireworks was in 1977 on the holiday Monday of 31 January.
In 1980 Australia Day was on a Saturday. One of the front page stories concerned awards for Australia Day Honours. The weather was going to be fine for the holiday weekend. The editorial concerned dissidents in the Soviet Union. On Sunday 27 January 1980 the lead story was a protest by motorcyclists about motorcycle laws. Australia Day sport was promised inside the paper. The editorial was on dog ownership. The front page of Monday 28 January did not mention Australia Day. The editorial discussed the boycott of the Moscow Olympic Games. On 29 January the newspaper reported that Australia Day was celebrated by thousands. The entertainment included the dunking in Lake Burley Griffin of John Haslem, the local member of Parliament.
On Saturday 26 January 1985 the front page was dominated by a siege in a gunshop in the Canberra city centre, with only a small mention of Australia Day Honours on the front page. The editorial discussed the celebration of Australia Day. It mentioned Aboriginal ‘injustices’. The Canberra Times of Sunday 27 January reported on festivities at Weston Park and Black Mountain Peninsula. A ‘Miss Ocker’ competition was won by an eight year old girl. The festivities included Aboriginal dancers and entertainers. These 1985 festivities seem somewhat similar to the festivities still put on, thirty five years later. The editorial on 27 January discussed the Prime Minister’s cricket match.
End of Anne’s post
Does any of this sound like public breast-beating over the guilt we are supposed to suffer for our collective good fortune?
* Smarty pants will recognise the small inaccuracies here.