Tuesday, January 26, 2010

26 January = Australia Day

I can vividly remember the day my dad, Hughie passed away. I had put some new fins on a board and surfed some nice glassy waves out the front of where he lived. It was stinking hot with no wind. It was Australia Day. So, to honour him and the early part of his life he spent as a sailor defending my freedom, I thought that I would start today's blog with one of his old Kodachromes, taken from a boat.
It's the Sydney Opera House at Bennelong Point taken on his old german camera in winter 1967. It's an Australian icon - beautiful sails set against a beautiful harbour, known around the world. The guy who designed it, Jorn Utzon was not an Australian. He was from Denmark. Kinda ironic - we've got an iconic national symbol designed by a Dane for the purpose of Italian song (opera), situated on a spot named after a local Aboriginal leader who went to England in 1793 to meet the King of England. The old shot reflects the multicultural undercurrent of Australian society.

After 1967 everything changed. Aboriginal people like Bennelong finally got the right to vote, and some of the lands they had lived on before white settlement. Women got equal wages to men and were allowed to drink in public bars. The "White Australia" immigration policy ended. The moon was visited thanks in small part to our radio telescope dish at Parkes. Surfboards got shorter (then longer) and went from one fin to two, three, four and then to none and back to one. Australian cinema resurrected itself with movies like Mad Max, Picnic At Hanging Rock, The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, The Cars That Ate Paris, The Last Wave, Gallipoli. Aussie bands like the Easybeats, the Masters Apprentices, Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, The Saints, The Angels, The Church, The Triffids, The Go-Betweens, Midnight Oil and good old AC/DC would let the world know that we know how to rock n party.

So today we remember the folks like my dad that made this such a great place and reflect on what we all can do to improve it.  You can believe whatever you like, ride whatever you like, worship whomever you like. And that's what I like about Australia.  It doesn't have a single culture. I believe it's a great place BECAUSE it's so multi-cultural. Whether it's American surfers like George Greenough or Rusty Miller up Byron way or Danish architects or Italian builders or Indian food chefs - it's all Australian now. It's all part of the big cultural melting pot of influences we live amongst.

The Aussie flag has the Southern Cross constellation on it. And a lot of Aussies claim it proudly and tattoo it to themselves. There's a great yarn of a local trawlerman whose boat sank in big seas off Moreton  Island and found his way to land using the  Southern Cross and the Two Pointers constellation to show him south. But the Southern Cross is not OUR exclusive constellation. The Ancient Greeks wrote about it. The Italian cartographer Amerigo Vespucci mapped it on a voyage to South America in 1501. Arab sailors had their own names for it. In Maori culture it is the anchor. In Tonga a duck.

And here in the Great South Land the Aborigines had various descriptions for it including a possum sitting in a tree and an old fella with lights for his hands and feet stretched across the sky, so that he could watch forever over the tribes he loved. And the tribes could look up to him from the earth and see the stars which were his eyes gazing down on them.

My dream for Autralia is for a cleaner, greener, more peaceful and respectful country where there is a fair go for all, and where we harness synergy - the idea that the whole is more than the sum of it's parts. As it's our diversity that enriches our country.