This year, the bushfires have well and truly dulled the usual noise around Australia Day. There has been a notable absence of activist voices either calling to change the date of Australia Day or stop celebrating it altogether.
The extraordinary response of the Australian public to the devastation has brought to the fore a strong sense of community, a sense of belonging and a deep sense of patriotism.
The last few weeks have shown that those of us who are ashamed of being Australian are few and far between. They have shown that that Australians are not in the slightest bit ashamed of being Australian, andin fact feel the opposite.
In new polls of over 1,000 Australians commissioned by the Institute of Public Affairs, 85% of respondents said that they were proud to be Australian. This is the same across all age groups, with the polls finding that 82% of all 18-24 year- olds feel the same way. This lays to rest the media narrative that somehow younger Australians are disillusioned, pessimistic and unpatriotic.
The polls also reveal that 71% of us are proud of our history, while only a tiny 5% disagree. This highlights that Australians do not share the negative view of our history as taught in our universities and propagated in the media. In fact, 83% agreed that ‘Australia Day should be an opportunity to respect the contribution that everyone has, and can, make to Australia’.
Australians acknowledge our shared history, and wholeheartedly reject the repetitiveness of the grievance industry. 71% of us want to continue to celebrate Australia Day on 26 January and only 11% think the date should be changed. The same percentage believe that ‘Australia Day is an authentic way for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians to celebrate being Australian’ – only 12% disagree.
Australians are tired of the same old debate fuelled by strident activists who say that we must be ashamed of our country and that we should not celebrate our success. The polls also reveal that 70% believe that there should be less political agreement about Australia Day, while only 11% disagree.
There is a yawning gulf that exists between what the liberal elite, the media and academics like to tell us what we should think about ourselves, and the reality of what we actually think about ourselves. This is epitomised in the tweets of Walkey award winner and novelist Jane Caro AM, who regularly takes to twitter to tell everyone how deeply and utterly ashamed of Australia she is. “I’m so ashamed of my country” she tweets. “So ashamed of NSW”; “It makes me ashamed to be Australian”; “I’m ashamed of Aussie politics”; “I am ashamed of those of my country men and women”; “Ashamed of its leaders”;“Ashamed and shocked.” And so on.
The way in which Australians have rallied together over last two months is hardly indicative of a country full of self-loathing and unpatriotic men and women.
Modern Australia has been historically successful. It is the home of a diverse nation with a proud history. Australia has an inheritance which extends both into the ancient past through Indigenous Australia and across the world to the United Kingdom from where we draw our political system and to all the other countries from which our people have arrived.
The complexity and depth of our history has produced a political culture bound by particular values that are adaptive to the way we live and the aspirations we have for our families and our communities.
The fires have not only united Australians as a nation, but they have also done much to refocus our minds on what is to be Australian, and what Australian values actually are. These values are immortalised at the Isurava battle site on the Kokoda Track where the words ‘courage, endurance, mateship and sacrifice’ have been etched into four stone pillars. And although though ‘mateship’ is quite difficult to define as a concept, it has long since summed up what it means to be Australian.
These values are time tested, providing the opportunities for all Australians to live good and successful lives. This is what Australians will be celebrating on 26 January.