Our state identities remain quite strong. We quickly mutter about the drivers of other states being dodgy as an interstate car flashes by. We cheer our favoured state sporting teams and are proud of our own famous cultural icons and always say our state based beer is best!
Now states have changed borders or rather had their borders changed: Queensland and SA both lost a slice of their territory to the NT and New South Wales was obliged to cede its southern quarter to the new territory of Victoria.
While most state borders are little more than notional lines which outside of roads with sign posts, could be crossed without any any knowledge what so ever of state change.
The most humorously noted border lies between NSW and Victoria. New South Wales controls territory to the Vic edge of the Murray. However the least defined part of the state border is the most easterly slice beyond the source of the mighty Murray, largely mountain based territory, with beautiful bushland until reaching the Pacific Highway near the coast. Jokes are made about angle grinders and moving the border posts a few kilometers further on in either direction depending upon which side of the border the joke is made. “A few beers at night time, a little angle grinding. Move the posts further down the road and no-one would notice the border move!” At least that’s the concept and it might well be correct.
As an island, lucky Tasmania is of course not included in any cross border disputes and can smirk at the big states in this matter. Short of some minor South Australian ship or speed boat landing and attempting to claim say … King Island for purely culinary reasons … good match, excellent cheese and great wine.
Federation as an overlay may unite us as a nation but culturally we are far more closely related to our state identities.
So let’s explore the rich traditions making up the current energy of our states. As the first colonized area, NSW has majestically carried on its image of corruption and Sydney as a den of inequity. From the Rum Rebellion onwards there appears to be a clear track of ill gotten gains in politics as well as business. Regrettably the second popular concept would have to be vulgarity, manifested in NSW language and style. Remember the desire to brazen the Opera House with racing adds. There are no shrinking violets in Sydney!
NSW folk would undoubted maintain this is all Victoria propaganda and apart from digging up an incredible amount of wealth in the Gold Rushes of the 1850s, frankly, they might argue, not much else happened culturally in VIC other than a few brush strokers (painters) fluffing around one hundred years later.
Tasmania as second state of the nation lies between the myth of enchanted mists and forests and infrequent appalling random acts within this magnificent domain. Indeed the exceptional nature of TAS is well illustrated by the agelessness of the place and its accompanying haunting sounds so mirrored by the last songs recorded of an Aboriginal woman’s voice.
Which brings us to our writers. In many ways they embody our state images, reflecting ourselves and territory. Both Randolph Stow and Tim Winton write text embodied in that extraordinary coastline of Western Australia and how this plays out in human lives. Thea Astley shows us the island and coastal nature of Queensland, with it protectors and speculators. The grand poet Kenneth Slessor illustrates Sydney’s harbour in dark and shaded words. And the grand man of letters Patrick White similarly describes his home town in frequently bitter language that glistens lustrously. And of course Tasmania’s Richard Flanagan mythically flings his books in and out of his home state. His wonder work, Gould’s book of Fish is breath takingly brilliant, words that seize and shock the senses.
So if our culture is largely tuned to our states what then has Federation given us?
Federation under the increasingly conservative auspices has not been capable of meshing our state identities together in a convincing story. But has instead provided us with shabby cultural images lionizing the fighting man or white settler without evaluating the impact of invasion on First Peoples.
Frankly Federation culturally and nationally is little more than a wet dream of conservatives, bearing little resemblance to our country’s historic or ethical reality.
In terms of blokey images we are encouraged in adoring the fighting military man. But the fighting man made his start in the frontier wars. Generally we have conveniently not understand the destruction we set upon the First Peoples, the kills, the decimation of tribes, cultures, the binding of their lives. Fighting white men shot, poisoned and massacred Aboriginal people.
White men dying at Gallipoli does not atone for this awful history.
The ANZAC legend, beloved of the conservatives, looms large and simply does not stack up: All wars we have entered at the behest of mother England or bloody old Uncle Sam, except one the Second World war (when Japan became aggressor of the Asian area), were wars of invasion.
And if we poke a little at history, Churchill wanted to keep Australian troops fighting in Europe following the Japanese entry into WW2. But Labor Prime Minister John Curtain demanded their return and bought them home.
Perhaps a moment of independence we could celebrate as Australians?
Massive demonstration against war and conscription during both WW1 and the Vietnam war are forgotten. But again part of our history and show a citizenry ready to confront a dishonest government and invasion wars.
Surely both proud events in our history.
And perhaps young Aussies seeking to visit Gallipoli should perhaps recall comments by the Turks concerning the invasion of their homeland.
Interesting to compare ourselves with the Kiwis who have matured since WW1 and no longer jump when the US seeks a war partner. Good sense!
Surely it is time for our national identity to mature, to face the past, talk about colonization and invasion. Hopefully develop a strong criticism of governments sending our beloved sons and daughters to neo-colonial wars.
There is much to celebrate in our past. But we must shake off tired old conservative rhetoric. A starting point is finding a better day to celebrate the history of ALL Australian and that is clearly not the 26 January.
Josephine Zananiri lives in the Independent electorate of Indi and currently works in the manual labour arena tending native and exotic trees, so has plenty of time to think. Followed everywhere by her two dogs Percy and Fino who generally agree on all subjects, only occasionally deserting the conversation in the chase for samba deer!