Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Australia Day 2016

Today is Australia Day.

For overseas readers who may not be familiar with it, the day is celebrated annually on 26 January and is a public holiday, marking the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet of British Ships at Port Jackson, New South Wales, and the raising of the Flag of Great Britain at Sydney Cove by Governor Arthur Phillip. These days there is no longer a sole focus on the founding of Australia, the celebrations also reflect the diverse society and landscape of the nation. Communities now commonly have community and family events, reflections on Australian history, official community awards and citizenship ceremonies welcoming new immigrants into the Australian community

For indigenous Australians, the day is categorised as a day of mourning and referred to as "invasion Day".  

Other issues also come into prominence on Oz Day:  independence from Britain, a republic, a new flag . . .

For those interested, my preference is to keep the existing flag and simply remove the Union Jack:

Enjoy the day, the traditional barbie and the day off.

In 1904, at the age of 19 while homesick for Oz in the UK, Dorothea Mackellar (1885-1968) wrote the poem that has become the unofficial patriotic poem of Australia, "My Country".  Every schoolchild learns it.

“My Country” – by Dorothea Mackellar

The love of field and coppice,
Of green and shaded lanes.
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins,
Strong love of grey-blue distance
Brown streams and soft dim skies
I know but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!

A stark white ring-barked forest
All tragic to the moon,
The sapphire-misted mountains,
The hot gold hush of noon.
Green tangle of the brushes,
Where lithe lianas coil,
And orchids deck the tree-tops
And ferns the warm dark soil.

Core of my heart, my country!
Her pitiless blue sky,
When sick at heart, around us,
We see the cattle die –
But then the grey clouds gather,
And we can bless again
The drumming of an army,
The steady, soaking rain.

Core of my heart, my country!
Land of the Rainbow Gold,
For flood and fire and famine,
She pays us back threefold –
Over the thirsty paddocks,
Watch, after many days,
The filmy veil of greenness
That thickens as we gaze.

An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land –
All you who have not loved her,
You will not understand –
Though earth holds many splendours,
Wherever I may die,
I know to what brown country
My homing thoughts will fly.

Mackellar grew up in the country, her family owning substantial rural properties in the Gunnedah district.  Whilst Mackellar saw the events and scenes she described - sweeping plains, droughts, floods, cattle dying - most of us are more familiar with urban Australia.  It is one of the most urbanised populations in the world, with 88.9% of the population living in urban areas according to the 2011 census.

Oscar Krahnvohl's poem "My Country", written between 1960 and 1970 (hence some of the dated references) takes a more realistic look  . . .

“My Country” by Oscar Krahnvohl

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of open drains,
Mid-urban sprawl expanded
For cost-accounting gains;
Broad, busy bulldozed acres
Once wastes of fern and trees
Now rapidly enriching
Investors overseas.

A nature-loving country
Beneath whose golden wattles
The creek is fringed with newspapers
And lined with broken bottles.
Far in her distant outback
Still whose cities chafe
I find hidden pools where bathing
Is relatively safe.

A music-loving country
Where rings throughout the land
The jingle sweet enjoining
Devotion to the brand.
O, hark the glad transistors
Whence midnight, dawn and noon,
Cry forth her U.S. idols
A trifle out of tune.

Brave military pylons
That march o’er scenic hills;
Fair neon lights, extolling
Paint, puppy food and pills!
I love her massive chimneys,
Production’s, profit’s pride,
Interminably pouring,
Pollution high and wide.

A democratic country!
Where, safe from fear’s attacks
Earth’s children all are equal
(Save yellows, browns and blacks).
Though Man in Space adventure,
Invade the planets nine,
What shall we find to equal
This sunburnt land of mine?

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