I was tempted to take a picture of the Australia Day offerings in my local Coles this week. That whole brouhaha seemed a seriously flawed response to an ongoing discussion in our nation.
Australian test captain, Pat Cummins, did a far better job, in my view, of speaking into this discussion. “I absolutely love Australia. It is the best country in the world by a mile,” Cummins said. “We should have an Australia Day, but we can probably find a more appropriate day to celebrate it. Once you start realising January 26 and why it is chosen, Australia Day is meant to be a celebration of everything Australia and our history. [So] we could choose a better date.”
Whatever day we settle on (I know Dawn Waterhouse is lobbying for Wattle Day, 1 September) we will still need to ‘reflect’ and ‘respect’ as well as ‘celebrate’. But it will be a step toward a more shared celebration if we can find a day that doesn’t mark the landing of ships of convicts and the raising of a Union Jack and the dispossession of Aboriginal people.
A couple of years ago, Felicity Volk sent me a copy of Jeanine Leane’s poem O Australia (below) and reading that (and enjoying some time with family) is how I will be marking Australia Day this year.
O Australia I want to follow the transit of Venus/ sail around the corner of the world/ discover your terra incognito/ catch the first fleet/ get a ticket of leave/ take up land/ cross your great divide/ unlock your pastures/ dive into your jewelled sea/ Australia I want to chart an inland river that leads to your opal heart/ be a part of your Australian legend/ work in a working man’s paradise/ have a fair go/ ride to wealth on a sheep’s back/ spread myself out across your wide sandy beaches/ be a bronzed Ozzie/ feel you move from beautiful one day to perfect the next/ sing suburban sonnets to summer sprinklers/ be swaddled in the southern-cross of Eureka/ tattoo freedom on my forearm/ weep for your droughts and flooding rains/ Australia I want to sing I come from a land of plenty/ be a happy little vegemite/ Australia I want to find my piece of you/ sing I am one but many/ advance you fair/ say you’ll be right mate/ feel your blue sky lap my ankles/ see you shimmering through my windscreen/ say you are the wide brown land for me/
O Australia I want to drive through your layers of bulldust/ untwist your furphy-history/ pull the wool off your eyes/ tell you you’re dreamin/ hang your dirty laundry on a rotary clotheslines/ get the Black velvet out of your closet/ dig deep down under where the bodies are buried/ stitch up your open-cut mines/ Australia you are sick at heart my Country/ Australia we watch our people die/ Australia you are a poor fellow my Country/ what you hid is surfacing/ what you beat is defending itself/ what you scorched is burning you/ Australia there are Countries screaming under your nation/ what you killed is haunting you/ what you silenced is talking up at you/ Australia listen to your ghosts/ hear that terror still nulling you/ Australia what you buried is rising/ Australia you killed your first-born/ Australia you are not young and free/ Australia we want to cure your national amnesia/ Australia we want to wake you up/ ease your cored-out heart/ Australia we want to sing you/ Australia we want to let you Dream again/ Australia you keep drowning out our voices/ Australia you won’t know us/ see us/ hear us/ listen.
Jeanine Leane is a Wiradjuri writer, poet and academic from south-west New South Wales. Her first volume of poetry, Dark Secrets After Dreaming: A.D. 1887–1961, won the 2010 Scanlon Prize for Indigenous Poetry and her first novel, Purple Threads (which is a great read),won the David Unaipon Award for an unpublished Indigenous writer in 2010.
Grace and peace,