By JAMILA RIZVI
Seven years ago, 5000 idiots ruined my Australia Day.
Just weeks before, footage of the Cronulla riots had been aired on nightly news reports all around the world. Internationally, Australians were being labelled as racist and our country described as a dangerous place for foreigners. Images of drunken, violent protestors, chanting racist slogans and damaging public property, while draped in the Australian flag, firmly imprinted themselves in our cultural psyche.
On Australia Day 2006, I remember wandering across the lawns of Parliament House ahead of the annual celebratory concert. And I flinched as I saw a bunch of teenage boys kicking around a footy; they were wearing the Australian flag as capes, superhero style.
Why did I flinch?
Those kids weren’t doing anything wrong. They were well intentioned, harmless, ordinary kids doing exactly what they should be on Australia Day – celebrating what’s great about our country. And yet, for the rest of that evening I looked around anxiously when I heard a bottle smash, or heard someone yell out ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie’; worried that violence might ruin the hundreds of happy family picnics happening around me.
That night, I hated myself for my own nervous reaction. I hated those violent idiots at Cronulla who had caused our nation’s flag and a chant of patriotic pride, to become so closely associated in my mind with violence and intolerance. I was filled with rage and filled with hate and quite honestly – filled with fear – on a day, which is supposed to be about celebration.
Today is Australia Day.
I truly believe that we live in the greatest country in the world. A land that is girt by sea and with boundless plains to share. As the terrible noughties advertisement goes – a country that was founded in 1901, by a vote and not a war. Yes, our citizenry is a multicultural one and that can present its difficulties as well as innumerable advantages.
We have our fair share of idiots. Every country does.
And we have our fair share of less-than-noble history. (Something that our Aboriginal brothers and sisters know all to well.)
But every country does.
Our challenge today is to rise above the idiots and not let them give our country and our national day a bad name. Our challenge is to recommit to never again make the mistakes of the past – whether they be those of eight years ago or of 250 years ago – while also taking the time to be proud of our country’s achievements. Because they exist and they are plenty.
Our challenge is to embrace Australia’s diversity: appreciating the stable and peaceful system of governance the British gave us, cherishing the different cultures and faiths who have arrived since then and of course, respecting and valuing our 40,000 years of Indigenous history.
I love Australia Day.
I love every silly tradition, every ridiculous cliche and every kitsch piece of memorabilia.
And so this year I will make a fool of myself with a cricket bat, share around my failed attempt at making pavlova and smile with pride when I see kids mucking around dressed in the flag.
I will pack the sausages and sauce, right next to the curry and rice and take my picnic to the grass next to Bondi beach and celebrate what’s great about our nation.
Because nothing says Australia Day more than hanging out with mates, overlooking the most beautiful stretch of sand and sea in the world and listening to a bunch of poms complaining about their sunburn.