Sunday, June 6, 2010

Foundation Day, Australia

I've been seeing a lot of posts and sales recently about Memorial Day, an upcoming (or past? not entirely sure) holiday in America. I see this a lot, with Labour Day and Thanksgiving and such. It got me thinking a little - maybe I'm not looking in the right places, but I don't think I've ever seen similar attention by bloggers for Australian holidays. We do have them! In fact, there's one tomorrow - Foundation Day. It's actually an exclusively West Australian holiday: Australian holidays can get a bit confusing because each state was (and still is) quite seperate, and the same holidays will happen on different dates in each state. Foundation Day (info taken from here) "1 June, marks a significant date in the history of Western Australia for on this day in 1829 the State’s first European settlers, men, women and children, completed their long sea journey from Britain to the Swan River Colony.  They arrived on board the Parmelia under the command of Captain James Stirling and had their first view of mainland Western Australia."

Foundation Day actually changes date each year, it is celebrated on the first Monday in June. Thus, this year it takes place on June 6.

Public holidays aren't huge in Australia, not in my circle anyway. I don't ever remember having a big sit-down, here's-the-history in class or anything like that. This got me thinking. Australian history is quite chequered. There has been a huge upsurge of negative feeling towards Australia Day in the last twenty or so years. Australia Day in particular is one of the more 'contraversial' holidays - a bit like Thanksgiving in the U.S., I suppose. Though where you have white Americans and Indian Americans, we have white Australians and Indiginous Australians. Australia day pretty much celebrates the arrival and colonisation of the first white settlers, making Australia into the country that it is today. However, this country has a rather shoved-under-the-rug segment of its past (and sadly, the present also) which involves some truly shocking and inhumane treatment of Indiginous Australians. Slavery, no legal rights whatsoever, and the Stolen Generation, a horrible and racist act by the white Australian government which continues to have repercussions to this day. It was only two years ago that the government made a decisive move considering the utter wrongness of this act and the neglient modern response to it. Primer Minister Kevin Rudd made a public apology, which was recieved with mixed feelings. Sorry Day takes place on May 26, but is still hardly recognised by the public due to the controversy surrounding the whole thing.

Is this the bottom line? That we are too ashamed and confused about our past to be able to really celebrate our country? I don't know what the current state of relations are between American Indians and white Americans, so I can't make any comparisons there.

Another issue which is, I believe, a strongly contributing factor, would certainly have to be the extreme Americanisation of Australian media. I don't know how aware other nations are of this. My small forays into international media culture for my univeristy degree have shown the situation to be quite different from country to country. I'll summarise for you: on Australian TVs, 8/10 of programs are American. Movies? 9/10. Music? Probably closer to 7/10.

We know American culture inside out. We know the names of all your holidays. The average Australian probably knows more about American products than they do about any other country besides their own. Australian culure has become saturated with American terminology and products. It's quite confronting when you think about it. Australian media is making a slow comeback, with movies like commedian Peter Helliar's I Love You Too being released to good opinion, artists like John Butler Trio, and... well, I don't watch an awful lot of TV, so the only Aussie show I can direct you to that isn't an absolutely ridiculous soapie is The Chaser's War On Everything, which I don't think I've actually ever watched. A few of their more extreme stunts were on the news, which is how I know about them. (Please don't even mention the propaganda fest that was the Australia movie. I don't even know why they bothered showing it here, everyone thought it was lame as a one-legged sheep).

The majority of Australians (and probably nearly every television owner on the planet) know who Barack Obama is. How many Americans, U.K-ers, or Canadians, when reading this post, would not have known that Kevin Rudd was the current P.M of Australia? There's another point - Australians know that Canada is not a part of America. Most Americans I know, bless their little hearts, think that New Zealand is a part of Australia. Um, it's not. We may share ANZAC day, but we're neighbors, not roomies.

I'll admit, it does bug me a little when I'm on a forum or blog and the poster wishes everyone a "happy insert-American-holiday here" day. Or someone new posts "is there anyone from the U.K on this board?" I get that, even in English-speaking countries, there is a different culture. There will be things you can only discuss with someone living in the same environment. But it always makes me want to say "Hi, I'm from Australia and I have a brain! THE INTERNET IS INTERNATIONAL!" And sentances like "there has never been in the history of the world a better place for opportunity than here in the US" just make me gag. Sorry (yes, in case you were wondering, that was an actual verbatim quote taken from one of the forums I visit).

I don't mean any offense to Americans by this post. I was genuinely curious about the disparity I see in the view of American and Australian cultures, particularly online, where one might assume that the global nature of the medium would preclude such (arguably) blinkered views. Writing has always helped me think things through, and I thought this subject might interest people, especially since there seem to be so many common misconceptions about Australian culture. Like the New Zealand thing. No matter how many times I hear that, it still makes me laugh.

Until next I write,


  1. There are people who honestly think NZ is part of Australia? *sigh*

    My uncle used to live is Australia. He would tell me all these weird things that people did there, and I was little so I believed every word. "You have to throw pickles on the ceiling of McDonalds, everyone does it!"

  2. I used to frequent a website where people could contribute photos, videos, and there was a music and pop culture component, but it was SO US-centric that it shitted me off. The articles were so US-centric and the comments were too, sometimes I would just sit there like THERE IS A WORLD OUTSIDE YOUR COUNTRY.

    Lol our public holidays = excuse to get drunk

  3. Heather: actually, it was someone who thought Auckland was in Australia :) and we TOTALLY throw pickles on the ceiling! And then ride away on our kangaroos ;)

    Silhouette: who needs an excuse?! Lol. I myself will be going to an awesome patisserie and having a giant cup of coffee. Then going home to study my brains out for my exam on Tuesday :(


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