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Abbott’s “defining moment” defines Australia as still subservient to England

(by Ray Dixon ~ an Australian blogger who blogs for Australia, not for bloody England)

abbotts-australia

“Defining moment”

noun : a point at which the essential nature or character of a person, group, etc., is revealed or identified.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s comments that the arrival of the First Fleet was the defining moment in Australian history are interesting … but wrong. And dumb. In my opinion.

Before you rusted-ons jump up and down, I’m not commenting on the reactions and rebukes from indigenous leaders, who have claimed that Abbott’s remarks were an insult “ignoring 50,000 years of (aboriginal) history” that preceded the arrival of the First Fleet on the 26th of January 1788.

No disrespect intended to our indigenous past but even the National Museum could not find much of significance from that period to add to its list of 100 ‘moments’. And I hardly think that either the first rock art, the invention of the boomerang or the arrival of the dingo revealed, shaped or identified the essential nature or character of this nation. Let’s be realistic, there was little or no change in that long 50,000 year period.

No, I actually agree with Tony Abbott that Australia (as we know it today) was more shaped by events after the arrival of ‘white man’. I just think he chose the wrong event.

So putting that aside (PLEASE put it aside because I don’t want this to be an argument over ‘the invasion’) and looking at Australia post Captain Cook claiming it for Britain in 1770, what would you call Australia’s “defining moment”, bearing in mind the definition above? At what point was the “essential nature or character” of Australia revealed or identified?

This is what Abbott said:

Mr Abbott made the remarks at the opening of a history exhibition at the National Museum in Canberra on Friday, repeatedly stating that he believed the arrival of the First Fleet “was the defining moment in the history of this continent”.

“It was the moment this continent became part of the modern world. It determined our language, our law and our fundamental values.”

And this is why I think he was wrong:

The best that could be said about the arrival of the First Fleet – which was primarily the establishment of a penal colony to relieve congestion in England’s jails – is that it marked the ‘birth’ of a nation. I’d actually call it the ‘birth’ of Great Britain’s bastard child, seeing the intent was to dispose of its unwanted dregs but, nonetheless (and regardless of how you see it), the fact is that most people wouldn’t consider childbirth to be the defining moment of their life.

What “fundamental values” were determined by that event? A “fair go”? Equality? Freedom? Hardly.

For Tony Abbott to claim the arrival of the First Fleet of convicts revealed our “essential nature” is actually to say we are still in servitude to Great Britain. We are still unwanted. We are still inferior. We are still ‘the dregs’.

And that’s a very poor choice, especially coming from a Prime Minister who was born in England himself!

The arrival of the First Fleet and subsequent settlement at  Sydney Cove certainly facilitated more arrivals (of both convict and free people), but surely it was somewhere in the events that followed our ‘bastard birth’ that more defined the true character of this great country.

For example, McArthur’s arrival and introduction of Merino sheep in 1797 had far more impact on our nationhood, especially as it gave us our first significant industry – one that still survives today.

And Matthew Flinders circumnavigation of the continent in a tiny boat in 1802 after which he named the continent ‘Australia’, certainly went a long way to define the land on which we lived.

The Gold Rush of the 1850s was also a great defining moment that brought many people from many nations to try their luck, leading to the rebellion (against the British) at Eureka Stockade, an event that was wholly justified and demonstrated our stance against an oppressive authority.

I’d even rate Ned Kelly’s last stand at Glenrowan in 1880 as more “defining” than Abbott’s First Fleet moment.

But I’d say the most significant and “defining” moments in our history are these:

The Federation of Australia on 1 January 1901 when the six separate (British) colonies of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia formed as one nation with a federal government responsible for matters concerning the whole nation. That was when the Constitution of Australia came into force and when the formerly British colonies collectively became states of the Commonwealth of Australia – i.e. it was our ‘Independence Day’, albeit still with the Queen as Head of State. That event – the marking of our independence from British rule – was surely the moment that defined Australia throughout the 20th Century.

And:

The 1942 thwarting of the Japanese advancement on the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea (following the bombing of Darwin) when for nearly six months our soldiers fought bravely (with no thanks to the Brits) to prevent the Japanese establishing a stronghold at Port Moresby from where it intended to isolate (and possibly invade) Australia. That was the first (and so far only) time we have ever really had to fight for our survival and very existence. And we prevailed. It was truly an event of monumental importance in our history.

So what do you think of Abbott’s choice of the First Fleet of British dregs defining who we are?

What do you say is the most “defining moment” in our history from this list of 100 events put out by the National Museum?

(Note: I’ve bolded those I think are the most significant … and added a few of my own at the end) :

at least 52,000 years ago: Archaeological evidence of first peoples on the Australian continent

about 28,000 years ago: Earliest known Australian rock art engraved and painted

about 20,000 years ago: Earliest evidence of the boomerang in Australia

about 12,000 years ago: Sea level rises, separating Tasmania from mainland

about 5000 years ago: Arrival of the dingo, Australia’s first domesticated species

1606 Dutch explorer Willem Janssen becomes first European to map parts of the Australian coast

about 1700 Makasar from Sulawesi visit northern Australia and trade with Aboriginal people

1770 Lieutenant James Cook claims east coast of Australia for Britain

1788 Captain Arthur Phillip establishes convict settlement at Sydney Cove

1792 Aboriginal warrior Pemulwuy leads resistance against Sydney colonists

1797 Introduction and improvement of merino sheep

1802–03 Matthew Flinders circumnavigates continent, which he names ‘Australia’

1813 Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth cross Blue Mountains

1830 The ‘Black Line’ — settler force attempts to corral Aboriginal people on the Tasman Peninsula

1836 Governor Richard Bourke funds Protestant and Catholic churches in New South Wales on equal basis

1838 Myall Creek massacre, New South Wales

1851 Gold rushes in New South Wales and Victoria begin

1854 Rebellion of goldminers at Eureka Stockade, Ballarat, Victoria

1854 Australia’s first railway line opens in Victoria

1856 Secret ballot introduced and all adult men given the vote, South Australia

1856 Melbourne building workers win an eight-hour day

1858 First organised game of Australian Rules football

1859 Rabbits successfully introduced into Australia

1861 First Melbourne Cup horse race

1868 Convict transportation to Australia ends

1868 Aboriginal cricket team tours England

1872 Free, compulsory and secular education introduced, Victoria

1872 Completion of the Overland Telegraph from Darwin to Port Augusta, South Australia

1879 Australia’s first national park created — (now Royal) National Park, Sydney

1880 The Bulletin established

1880 Ned Kelly’s last stand at Glenrowan, Victoria

1885 Victorian Employers’ Union formed

1885 BHP begins mining silver, zinc and lead at Broken Hill, New South Wales

1887 Chaffey brothers introduce irrigation on Murray River

1889 9 by 5 Impression Exhibition shows paintings by Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton and Charles Conder, Melbourne

1890–91 Depression and strikes; formation of the Labor Party

1894 Legislation introducing women’s suffrage, South Australia

1901 Inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia

1901 White Australia policy enshrined in law

1902 Commonwealth Franchise Act gives women the vote in federal elections

1903 William Farrer begins distribution of ‘Federation’ wheat

1906 Australia takes control of Papua as an ‘external territory’

1907 Justice HB Higgins hands down ‘Harvester Judgement’

1908 Legislation introducing national age and invalid pensions

1911 Douglas Mawson leads Australasian expedition to Antarctica

1912 Australian Government introduces a maternity allowance

1913 Foundation of Canberra as national capital

1915 New South Wales Government gains unfettered power to remove Aboriginal children from their families

1915 Australian troops land at Gallipoli

1916 Federal–state agreement for Soldier Settlement

1916–17 Conscription for military service overseas defeated in two referendums

1917 Completion of Trans-Australian Railway linking Western Australia and the eastern states

1920 Country Party founded at national level

1920 Qantas established

1924 Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association formed

1932 Height of the Great Depression, with 32 per cent unemployment

1932 Foundation of the Australian Broadcasting Commission

1932–33 England cricket team in Australia on ‘Bodyline’ Ashes tour

1936 Tasmania’s thylacine becomes extinct

1938 Sydney celebrates 150th anniversary of British settlement; Aboriginal leaders hold Day of Mourning

1942 Japanese bomb Darwin but are halted on Kokoda Track

1943 First women elected to Australian federal parliament

1944 Formation of Liberal Party of Australia

1945 Florey, Fleming and Chain win Nobel Prize for developing penicillin

1945 National introduction of unemployment and sickness benefits

1945 Australia plays a leading role in founding United Nations

1945 Australian Government announces post-war migration drive

1948 Australia’s first locally made car, the Holden 48-215, launched

1949 Chifley government begins Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme

1949 Election of the Menzies government — the longest serving in Australian history

1951 Australia signs ANZUS treaty with New Zealand and the United States

1954 Visit of Queen Elizabeth II, the first by a reigning monarch 1955 Split within Australian Labor Party; formation of the Democratic Labor Party

1956 Television introduced in time for Australia’s first Olympic Games, Melbourne

1960 Australian Government lifts restrictions on export of iron ore

1961 Introduction of the oral contraceptive pill

1966 Holt government effectively dismantles White Australia Policy

1966 Gurindji strike (or Wave Hill walk-off) led by Vincent Lingiari

1967 Australians vote overwhelmingly to alter the Constitution allowing Aboriginal people to be counted in the Census and subject to Commonwealth laws

1970 Moratorium to protest Australian involvement in Vietnam War

1972 Aboriginal tent embassy established in front of Parliament House, Canberra

1972 Conciliation and Arbitration Commission grants equal pay for men and women

1973 Sydney Opera House opens

1974 Cyclone Tracy hits Darwin

1975 Governor-General dismisses Whitlam government

1976 Australian Government passes Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act

1978 First Gay Mardi Gras march, Sydney

1978 Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) established

1983 Floating of the Australian dollar

1983 Protests against Franklin Dam in Tasmania lead to formation of the Greens

1984 Australian parliament passes Sex Discrimination Act

1991 Port Hedland immigration detention centre opens

1992 High Court decision in Mabo case establishes native title

1996 Port Arthur massacre leads to tighter gun laws

2000 Walk for Reconciliation across Sydney Harbour Bridge

2001 Australian troops take control of Tampa carrying rescued asylum-seekers

2002 Bali bombing kills 88 Australians

2004 Australia signs Free Trade Agreement with the United States

2008 National Apology to the Stolen Generations

2009 ‘Black Saturday’ bushfires kill 173 people in Victoria

And they forgot about these:

1966 St Kilda wins its first (and so far only) VFL/AFL Premiership

1972 Election of Whitlam Government marks the end of conscription and our involvement in the Vietnam War

1983 Australia II wins the America Cup

2005 Makybe Diva wins an unprecedented 3rd consecutive Melbourne Cup

2010 Julia Gillard shoots the Labor Party in the foot by knifing its most popular ever Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

2014  Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott lose the plot

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7 Comments

  1. deknarf says:

    Nice one Ray! I’m with you. Especially 2014!! 😉

  2. Iain Hall says:

    Ray
    I am of course mortally offended on two counts, firstly on your premise that there is anything to be ashamed of in this country having such strong cultural ties to England, because we could quite easily have had Cheese eating surrender monkeys as our colonial overlords and then we would now all be speaking Japanese because I can’t imagine that a Francophone Australia would have stood against the Japs…
    Secondly and far more important are the omissions form your list of great moments in Aussie history:

    May 1963 the arrival of the Hall family in Brisbane
    November 2005 the creation of my first blog that would eventually evolve into the Sandpit

    This is where you colonials go wrong when you try to interpret history, you ignore thetruly significant events in favor of the trivial and unimportant.

  3. Ray Dixon says:

    There’s nothing to be “ashamed of” in our colonial origins, Iain, but I strongly dispute we have any “cultural ties” with England. I agree with you about Australia being better off being settled by the Poms though, compared to the likes of the French or – God forbid – the Dutch. If the Dutch Boers had settled us we’d have been like Sth Africa and we’d all be speaking with Nazi accents.

  4. Ray Dixon says:

    (We’d be a nation of Andrew Bolts)

  5. richard ryan says:

    “We’d be a nation of Andrew Bolts” and all clones in his likeness, as we watch Bolt Report 24/7!

  6. Iain Hall says:

    Ray
    Culturally we have very strong connection in the structure and nature of our society, our language and system of law,even our sense of humour and our spelling conventions (like spelling “colour” with a “u”) I bet there is more than a small touch of the Blarney in your background isn’t there?

  7. Ray Dixon says:

    The structure of our society: No, we don’t have ‘Lords’, ‘Dames’, Sirs’, ‘Barons’, Earls, Prince & Princesses here, Iain. Even the few ‘Sirs’ we do (still) have are a hangover from the past. And we are far more egaliterian and do not recognise ‘class’ as much as England does.

    Language: Most of the western world speaks the English language.

    Law: Well yes, we copied much of it from England but then again we have a lot of contemporary, Australia-specific laws too. And law could hardly be said to be cultural.

    Sense of humour: Aussie humour is fairly unique, I’d suggest. I’m not knocking Pommy humour as they do some of the best comedy in the world, but most Aussie humour is in the toilet so to speak. We are rather crass, unfortunately.

    Spelling: We are becoming more & more American in that regard (to our great loss). Actually can Gen Y spell at all?

    Yes, I have some British ancestry, but it’s more a mix of Scottish & Irish (as well as Asian!).

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