Thoughts on Australia Day...
Written: 27th Jan 2005 | Last Updated: 27th Jan 2005
What does Australia Day mean? Itís not a holiday linked to a declaration of freedom and independence like the splendid American Fourth of July - quite the opposite, really, as itís the date eleven ships of the First Fleet landed on our shores (January 26, 1788) and established the first English colony in our wide, brown land. While many different tribes of aborigines already resided throughout the country, the newly-claimed settlement meant a new order existed under the Union Jack.
While our colonial beginnings remain historically significant for having opened up the land and forced us to join a wider world, our early status as a colony was anything but distinguished, being defined more by infamy than any specific greatness. We were in effect a dumping ground for felons, a target-rich environment for dodgy entrepreneurs and a private rum house for opportunistic soldiers.
That we possessed odd animals and bona fide savages made our continent a curiosity in 18th century England and elsewhere Ė our plants and marsupials got sent back to London for botanical/zoological classification. Even a few aboriginals were taken back for show and tell like so many anthropological specimens.
Artists from Europe endured long sea voyages to come and paint romantic, softened versions of our harsh landscape and took commissions for portraits of landed gentry and Sydney social-climbers. Enormous, lush pictures graced early colonial salons, and a few of the better ones made their way back to galleries in England where they gave an impression that the great southern continent was indeed a Garden of Eden, the Land of Milk and Honey.
While the struggle to become something other than a colonial outpost for vagabonds and ex-convicts preoccupied the higher thinkers, brave explorers and ambitious pastoralists, it was a long and bitter fight for recognition that really only climaxed during World War I. It was on the hills of Gallipoli that Australians won their stripes with sacrifice, and our national persona was minted - individualistic, brave, adventurous, cocky.
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