GLENN ARENDTS lives in Fremantle with his partner and three children, and has been a ratepayer for over 25 years. He divides his work time between medical practice and university research, and believes in dispassionate analysis, even if he doesn’t always use it. In this week’s THINKING ALLOWED, he takes Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt to task over his Australia Day opinion piece in last week’s Herald.
I THINK I could count on one hand the number of citizens of Fremantle I have met that don’t desire political and personal reconciliation with the indigenous people of Australia.
Naturally I would include Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt, as one of us that want this outcome.
I was pleased to read the mayor is a strong supporter of the Uluru Statement and is as perplexed as many of us as to why it was treated so shabbily.
Why, then, is it so hard for him and his supporting voices in the community to acknowledge that there are legitimate criticisms of his approach to achieving this common aim, and to listen to those voices without impugning their character and legitimacy?
In his Thinking Allowed last week (“Join In”, Herald, January 27, 2018), the mayor again justified his One Day event with a series of smears at those, like myself, that support maintaining January 26 as Australia Day.
Some of those smears were fairly trivial misuse of words—for example, his critics in this paper are accused by Brad of “hyperbole”, yet the man he supported to perform at One Day last year, Dan Sultan, is apparently not hyperbolic when he accuses Australia of being a racist nation practicing genocide.
But some of them are I believe more calculating, in particular, that only his way can provide an “inclusive event” for us all to celebrate.
The implication being, of course, that those of us wishing to acknowledge not only an ancient indigenous past, but the great gifts bestowed on our lives by our British heritage augmented by contemporary multiculturalism, are somehow “excluding” Aboriginal people.
I will be honest, I don’t make it to many Australia Day public events, certainly less than the mayor.
I prefer a quiet barbecue and a few beers with family and friends and, until recently, a look at the fireworks over Fishing Boat Harbour.
But I have never known of any such event in modern Australia to exclude Aboriginal people.
That some people, Aboriginal or not, have such loathing for the day that they wish to exclude themselves from celebrating it is not under question.
But that is not the same thing as saying that an alternative event with no fixed date and no historical significance, borne out of a self-aggrandising belief that we are special in Fremantle and can lead the way (as the mayor is fond of saying) is more inclusive than the status quo.
It is my view that One Day is undoubtedly well meaning but hopelessly naïve.
In it’s most benign form it will be a largely ignored sideshow to the much greater debate we need to have as a nation. But the real risk is that the sneering that some supporters of One Day are fond of, the labelling of those of us that want to celebrate this amazing county as racists or bogans, will drive a backlash against the very cause of indigenous advancement.
It may be a trite example, but witness the emergence of The Ozzest 100, and other alternative playlists for January 26, when Triple J decided to move the date of The Hottest 100.
Then imagine the potential danger if this were multiplied many times over, and a conservative led schism develops where January 26 becomes the Australian equivalent of Confederate Memorial Day in the USA.
In the past week alone, more sensible and considered voices than the mayor’s from the progressive side of politics have emerged, with logical and researched suggestions for maintaining January 26 as Australia Day whilst ensuring it’s significance to indigenous people is further enhanced.
Noel Pearson has advocated the celebrations begin on the evening of January 25 and extend into January 26, marking the day the country changed custodianship irrevocably but remained a continuously great nation.
Anthony Albanese has proposed a referendum be held on January 26 in a future year for indigenous constitutional recognition.
Both of these positions offer much more to the debate, and are more “inclusive” of all viewpoints, than the “look at me” exceptionalism of our mayor.
A while ago a friend of mine, one I know to support Brad with a passion, was extolling to me the mayor’s humanity on the subject of refugees wishing to come to Australia.
And how could anyone disagree? Can anyone think of a greater country for refugees to want to come to?
Yes we can be greater, but our greatness, our way of life, our democracy and egalitarianism and freedom of thought and expression is not borne from nothing.
It isn’t an accident.
It deserves to be celebrated, warts and all.