Australia Day Squabbles. And a Solomonic solution

I buy The Weekend Australian firstly to read Review for great literary and film criticism and the occasional Indigenous story from Nicholas Rothwell, the best whitefella writing on the subject.

Then there’s Inquirer, the home of the rabid right and the loonies – with occasional humorous pieces from Maurice Newman, the comb-over king and doyen of the Old Men Shouting at Clouds division of commentary. There’s Golum Henderson and the anti-environment reporter Graham ‘Don Quixote Lloyd’ and others, leavened only by the token voice of reason, Peter Van Onselen.

But this week, a bundle of disparate views on the Australia Day debate. Paul Kelly, Geoffrey Robertson and Noel Pearson. I’m not going to touch Luke Slattery’s valiant but ultimately risible defence of Lachlan Macquarie (sample: ‘It’s true that he did order that any aborigines killed in the action be strung up on trees – but he does not order his men to kill for this purpose’ a truly humanitarian action). I’ll start with the Oz’s Elder Statesman, Paul Kelly.

The premise of his piece is summed up in its headline ‘The nation needs to embrace its two truths’, a worthy ideal. But from there it is all downhill. A combination of whitepslaining and Greensbashing

‘We should exist neither in perpetual grievance nursed by the indigenous peoples and those, like the Greens, who recklessly exploit their grievances, nor in the complacency of those Europeans (with a capital E unlike ‘indigenous’ without as against current usage) who still pretend there was no dark side to the civilisation we enjoy.

An almost reasonable statement, if stripped of the mandatory – for a Murdoch hack – swipe at the Greens Party. Which doesn’t stop there. Later, he blusters:

‘The self-interested cynicism of Greens leader Richard Di  Natale is gob-smacking. With his eye on stealing future votes in inner-city Melbourne, Di Natale announces        changing Australia Day will be a priority…during the rest of the year since the day is about theft and genocide.’

Of course it is only Di Natale using the day for political gain, not  Turnbull wedging  Shorten by demanding that he speak ‘proudly and passionately’ in favour Australia Day. Which he didn’t. It is here we see Kelly nervously looking over his shoulder for the approval of His Lordship Rupert who once invoked all of his journalists not to ‘…let the bloody Greens ruin’ Australia. They haven’t had a chance yet.  And besides the two majors are doing a wonderful job without them.

But here is the killer. Kelly reminds us that Phillip said that ‘The convict colony that the began would, one day be “the most valuable acquisition Great Britain ever made.’ Acquisition? Yeah sure, in the same way that a bank robber acquires the contents of a bank’s safe. It wasn’t an acquisition. It was stolen.

And just one more thing. Without the Greens standing up for social justice (which is one of their four principles) by campaigning to change the date, the weighty yarns adorning the pages of the Inquirer would not be there, and they would be, as usual, full of the usual climate change denying anti-progressive political clap-trap.

Actually Di Natale should be applauded for spearheading the campaign that gave us a week free of Gollum Henderson’s whining. Alas we still have to suffer our eyes to glaze over another tortuous and semi comprehensible piece by Albrechtsen on the ‘Moral vanity of a virtue-signaller’ whatever the Rupert that is.

But now to Geoffrey Robertson’s spirited and well-written defence of Arthur Philip which founders on two important points, although many others are well made. Phillip did care for his ‘human cargo’, did insist that the ships of the first Fleet were well-provisioned and did write the admirable injunction ‘There can be no slavery in a free land.’ Sadly, there was, but it was long after Phillip had gone. But what cannot be forgotten is how quickly Phillip’s attempts to ‘bond with the Aborigines’ gave over to Georgian arrogance and brutality.

Governor Arthur Phillip had orders from George III to ‘endeavour, by every possible means, to open an intercourse with the natives, and to conciliate their affections, enjoining all subjects to live in amity and kindness with them’. Unfortunately, the locals wanted nothing to do with these newcomers, and stayed away from them after February 1788. This so frustrated Phillip that he kidnapped a local called Arabanoo by subterfuge. Arabanoo was then dragged, bound hand and foot, to the Governor’s table, and in that way was the first Indigenous inhabitant to dine with Europeans. But worse was to come.

In December of 1790, when Phillip’s gamekeeper, McEntire, by all accounts a nasty piece of work who had been accused by local Aborigines of shooting and injuring them (corroborated by Watkin Tench) was speared and killed. Phillip sent a squad of subalterns and others to find, capture and cut off the heads of six ‘natives’ or, if they cannot be caught then they should be shot, or if they can capture the six, two were to be hung and the four remaining to be sent to Norfolk Island. Thus George’s command to compassion did not last the year.

And finally to the only blackfella in the section. The wise but often flawed Noel Pearson. This time, wisdom is displayed, and a solution of elegant simplicity offered.


Under the heading ‘Let us honour the before and after’ Pearson suggests that’ The observance of Australia day could commence on January 25 – the eve of the proclamation of British sovereignty and continue into January 26.

This would, he writes, ‘straddle two sovereignties’, that of the First Nations and that of the British. His argument is long and carefully reasoned, but can be summarised thus: ‘Linking January 25 and 26 would be a noble compromise between the old and the new. It would bring together honour, empathy, remembrance and celebration’

And so should say all of us. For all his faults, Noel Pearson is a jolly good fellow. And outthinks and outfoxes all the whitefellas surrounding him.




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