January 25, 2012

Guest Blogger - Tim Soutphommasane

Australians have always been a little uncomfortable with formalities. So it has been with our national day. The Americans may have their Fourth of July parades, and the French their Bastille Day processions, but insofar as there is a definitive way of celebrating Australia Day it’s a barbecue.

And yet, a new ritual is emerging across the country. In town halls and squares around the country this week, more than 10,000 people will become Australian citizens. They will pledge “my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey".

If there is a lack of civic rituals in our national life, I can think of no better way for Australians, new and old, to come together and celebrate our fraternal bonds.

Australia Day is, after all, a day of citizenship. By this I don’t mean that it’s a day only for those who become citizens. Rather, I mean that it’s an occasion for us to reflect upon the things that we share as Australians. It's not all about landscape and lifestyle. We shouldn’t forget the democratic rights and freedoms that comprise the Australian tradition. Though we are a young country in some respects, we’re also one of the oldest democracies in the world.

It can be easy for many of us to take our membership of the community for granted. So this Australia Day, if you’ve nothing planned, think about popping by a citizenship ceremony in your town or city. Witnessing others naturalise as Australians is a reminder that citizenship is not for everyone a birthright. As any naturalised Australian will tell you, it is a status worn with immeasurable pride.

And you can be more than just a spectator too: after new citizens take their pledge of loyalty, you can affirm yours with the same pledge. It’s a humble ritual, more about substance than style. I’d say it’s just about right for a country that doesn’t like going over the top with its rituals.

Tim Soutphommasane is a political philosopher. His books include Reclaiming Patriotism and The Virtuous Citizen (forthcoming this year).

January 20, 2012

Endless Horizon

Dame Mary Gilmore is the person featured on the back of our ten dollar note. She was a passionate social reformer in the 1890’s and a poet. She wrote ‘Europe has its peaks piercing the sky but we have the horizon’. Geoffrey Blainey wrote that ‘This land is endless horizon’. Dorothea Mackellar wrote...

I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me!

I love the horizon in Australia. The sun rises and sets on it. It promises the opportunity of something new and exciting...just over the horizon. It offers the prospect of a growth and advancement. Our ancient land has profoundly shaped us as Australians. Perhaps the endless horizon has made us a nation of optimists.

That spirit of optimism is what drives our Australians of the Year.

January 17, 2012

Australia Day – our place in history

With Australia Day approaching fast now is a good time to think about what we celebrate on our national day and why.  Australia Day started life as the anniversary of a minor movement of the First Fleet from Botany Bay where they had made landfall some eight days earlier. It wasn’t the official commissioning of the colony either, which took place on 7 February.  And of course, it wasn’t the arrival of people on this great land mass, an event which took place millennia before.  So it turns out that in many ways the date, 26 January, is unimportant. 

And yet, this 26 January will be the 223rd time that Australians have gotten together to celebrate their good fortune and (particularly in the early days) to thank their lucky stars that they have survived another year in this great but harsh land at all.  Celebrations have ebbed and flowed during that time, sometimes enjoying a great groundswell of support, at other times bearing the marks of a cultural cringe.  History is rarely one straight line of smooth sailing and Australia’s history is certainly a mottled one.

Today, we look forward to Australia Day in a land that enjoys one of the strongest democracies in the world.  A place where our lives and lifestyles are rich and varied.  A place where, for most of us, we are safe, well fed, and enjoy support from our communities.  What a wonderful thing to be able to say!  A quick look at how other nations are faring is enough to make us too thank our lucky stars. Australia is not perfect, however, and Australia Day is not a day to pretend that it is.  Rather, it’s a great opportunity for us to band together as Australians to celebrate the good things, acknowledge the hard things, and recommit to working together to make Australia even better for the generations to come.

Tam Johnston
National Program Director

“...Australia Day has never really been about the founding moment as such, but about Australia and Australianness in a more general sense, whatever that may mean to any particular group, at a particular time.” David Andrew Roberts in Turning Points in Australian History.

January 12, 2012


Today the NationalAustralia Day Council launches our third Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). The plan is our statement of commitment to work towards reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait peoples and the wider Australian community to enrich the lives of all Australians. 

The NADC’s approach to Reconciliation is one of leadership. We recognise that some ATSI people and some non-ATSI Australians may have mixed feelings about celebrating this day. January 26 has multiple meanings: it is Australia Day and it is also, for some, Survival Day or Invasion Day. The NADC acknowledges that the date brings a mixture of celebration and mourning and we believe that the programs presented by the NADC should play a powerful and positive role in advancing Reconciliation.

The NADC believes that our national day should be authentic and mature where we can celebrate and mourn at the same time. We can honour all that is great about Australia and being Australian, remember the sufferings and our shortcomings and commit to build a more cohesive and inclusive nation. We do so with an underlying spirit of optimism.

We believe that the NADC’s programs play an important role in the symbolic aspects of Reconciliation. Acknowledging the contribution of ATSI people and their cultures to our past, present and future:
  • offers an appropriate mark of respect on the national day;
  • nurtures pride amongst ATSI peoples and all Australians; and 
  • raises awareness of the issues that still challenge the nation, such as the life expectancy gap between ATSI Australians and the wider community.
You can view the RAP here.

January 10, 2012

It’s all in the question mark

True Blue, is it me and you?
Is it Mum and Dad, is it a cockatoo?
Is it standing by your mate
When he's in a fight?
Or will she be right?
True Blue ... True Blue.

This is the chorus from one of Australia’s folk anthems. Look how many question marks there are. John Williamson never actually answers the question what it is to be ‘true blue’?

Discussions about Australian identity always seem to have a question at the centre. The answer to our shared identity is wonderfully elusive – just when you think you might have captured it – it slips away.

While we might not have the exact precise set of words or an agreed sharp edged image of who we are, we still successfully live as Australians each and every day. We are a diverse people in a diverse land, valuing our democracy and our freedom and often our larrikin sense of humour.

There is no one single answer to what’s true blue. On Australia Day there are 22.5 million ways of being true blue.

January 5, 2012

A Serious Sense of Humour

The Government takes our humour very seriously.

Are we the only country on earth that features a story about our national sense of humour on its official Government web portal? Check it out.

In the face of a harsh natural environment we seem to have developed an ability to laugh at ourselves. I love the Scared Little Weird Guys song ‘Come to Australia’.

It makes me smile.