January 26 2013 - Australia DayThis is the day that so many Australians celebrate as the date that marks the birth of our nation. Once upon a time I would not have thought twice about marking this is a day for patriotic pride. But it no longer feels like such a "celebration" for me. Instead, I find that it makes me reflective. The date certainly marks the beginning, the first chapter in a historical narrative of the establishment of a penal colony, and the founding of what was later to become a federated nation under Commonwealth dominion. But it is also the day that Britain imposed itself on a country that was already free. That was already occupied by indigenous peoples, who already had designated territories and boundaries between different tribes. Who already had Nations within this nation. I can't help but mourn the terrible happenings, the destructive and unthinkable consequences of the imposition of one set of peoples upon another.
But that first "Australia Day" in 1788 is certainly a part of my history and my family's history. I have descended directly from three convicts transported from England for various petty crimes, and my husband has a similar heritage. I am a sixth generation Australian. My fifth great grandmother was transported in 1801 at sixteen years of age for stealing a handkerchief. She came from a tiny farming hamlet in Somerset, and I cannot quite conceive of the fear and uncertainty and the physical privations that she must have endured. It would be unimaginable to be torn from your family, and transported, friendless and alone, to a land so different to the green and abundant fields of the homeland you had known.
Some years ago, Christina Henri, a conceptual artist from Hobart in Tasmania, began a project that would commemorate the hardships and deprivations endured by convict women. She provided a simple bonnet pattern and invited anyone with a convict woman in their family line, or anyone who empathised with these women to sew a bonnet as a tribute and to send it to her. She has now received over 25,000 bonnets from all over the place. She has done much to raise awareness of what these women went through. Some of these bonnets were taken all the way from Australia and back to England for a special "Blessing of the Bonnets" ceremony in 2010. Her work is ongoing and forms an incredible tribute to these women of great fortitude.
So much has been written about the early years of the colony, the development of Australia as a nation. There is much in our history to be proud of. We come from tough stock. Our environment can be harsh at times. Dorothea Mackellar's famous poem, "My Country" describes it all so well:
I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror -
The wide brown land for me!
But still I love my country. I love living in Australia and knowing that I am an Australian - born and bred.