Australia Day

Yesterday was the Australia Day holiday. Since the growth of nationalism leading up to events during the Second World War, many Australians had been loath to celebrate their national day (26th January) which marks the beginning of the country as a nation (1788). Yesterday, however, we noticed a change: hundreds of youth wearing Australian icons and cars carrying banners and flags. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves in an authentic and typically laid-back Aussie way. On the grass at the beach there were large groups of visitors from African countries and India enjoying picnics and entertainment.

One of the factors has been the Prime Minister’s apology to the Aboriginal people, especially to the Stolen Generation. It may be an unconscious thing, but people feel freer to celebrate, now that the shroud of racial discrimination has started to lift a little from Australia’s persona.

I thought back to the time when I taught English to newly arrived migrants and refugees. As a means of developing critical thinking in university students, we used the idea of an upside-down map of the world to show that placing the north at the top is no more than a convention. In fact, the first satellite image of the world from the spacecraft Apollo was of Antarctica at the top and Africa and Madagascar in central position.

I also thought about how more people in the world speak Mandarin than any other language, and how the fact that English is the most widespread language is merely a result of the growing economic importance of the United States during the last hundred years or so. This could change at a certain point in the future, of course, and another language (Arabic? Mandarin? Who knows?) might take over as the dominant one. Esperanto never really took off, because it was not linked to economic issues.

Most people who migrate to Australia do so for economic or political reasons, or maybe for the climate. If you lived in Europe, after all, why would you wish to leave the culturally diverse richness that you were born into, unless you were suffering financially? Australia, on the other hand, has a lot to offer in terms of natural beauty, spaciousness and climate, as well as its egalitarian reputation. Class differences barely exist, although some people hold up money as their raison d’être.

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