Went to the beach for a picnic on Friday, which was Australia Day (January 26). Most of Australia seems to have had the same idea, so it took us a while to find a parking space and a relatively unbusy bit of beach, but we did and it was fantastic. Clean, fine white sand that squeaks as you walk across it, blue water and surf, sun… and the family. Celebrating living in Australia.
Noticed a heap of Australian flags flying that day, on people’s tents and shelters, on cars, in hands. That’s something new for Australia, and something I associate with America. Nice to see the Aussie flag get an airing, definitely. And yet…
Nationalism in all its forms worries me, just because it can so easily become xenophobia and supremacism. What’s the step from saying ‘Australia is great’ to ‘Australia is the best (and everyone else is inferior)’? Not that big. So I do think there’s a place for patriotism… and even just gratitude for the blessings our country has. But the flags worried me for more reasons than that.
The political context, and I’m sure the motivation behind the large number of flags this year, is in two linked events. Serbian and Croation fans (or actually, Australian fans of Serbian and Croation heritage) wore their respective flags and colours to the Australian Open tennis, and that led to some fairly minor brawling. In response to *that*, organisers of the Big Day Out music festival discouraged (didn’t ‘ban’ I don’t think, although that’s how it was portrayed in the tabloids) the wearing and waving of flags at the festival. Politicians on both sides waded in ‘defending’ the right to fly the Australian flag, plenty of people did, and there was no violence at the Big Day Out.
I guess what worries me is if the attempt to define an Australian identity is in opposition to other identities, and is about exclusion – ‘I’m a real Aussie, not like them’. Maybe I’m just too curmudgeonly an old leftie and internationalist, and I should just kick back and enjoy the beach… and maybe get a flag.