Saturday, January 22, 2011

australia day

Australia day is looming. 26th of January is the day we celebrate the landing of Captain Arthur Phillip at Sydney cove in 1788, one week after the five English ships landed at Botany Bay only to find it too windy and lacking in fresh water. So a party was sent to what’s now known as Sydney (then known as Port Jackson) and Phillip landed with several sailors to perform a small ceremony on the Saturday.

What we don’t learn in school is that the next day, after all the other ships arrived in Sydney cove, the women convicts were unloaded and literally handed over to a large party of sex-starved marines. A drunken, violent orgy ensued, and to this day in cities all round Australia, that party is reprised.

Yes, thousands of white Australians gather on the shores of their prospective rivers beaches and city centres to get plastered, sing the praises of their country then bash whoever needs bashing (and many who don't). Whether they go home and re-enact the largely non-consensual sex bit is hard to say, it’s not an easy thing to do a survey on (although I’d like to see someone try – Excuse me sir, after you’ve bashed this man senseless are you intending to go home and rape your wife?)

So, if you’ve ever wondered where the chauvinist yobbo behaviour might have come from, it started on day two. Every nation has its stereotypical characteristics, and Australia’s is all about mistreating women. One of the few Aussie jokes I know goes: An Australian bloke walks into a bar, goes up to a woman and says, “Do you want a fuck?” The woman says, “No” so the bloke says, “Well do you mind lying down while I have one?”

And Australian men will laugh louder than anyone at that joke. It’s a given that Aussie blokes like to get smashed, punch on for a bit, then ‘root’ whatever sheilla’s at hand.

But chauvinism isn’t just about mistreating women. The word comes from the behaviour of a legendary French yobbo (yes, they have them too) called Nicolas Chauvin, one of Napoleon’s soldiers during the Italian campaign, who not only mistreated women (hey, he was a soldier) but also liked to kill, maim, rob and rape the locals with a vigour that surprised even Napoleon. The story goes that Napoleon gave him a medal of honour for his commitment to fighting for his country. Thus the original concept of chauvinism connects it more with patriotism and violence rather than sexism.

And it seems that aspect of the Australian national psyche – the violent, racist one – is receiving traction as a key part of our reputation. A young fellow recently sent me his version of an ‘Aussie’ joke: What do you call an aboriginal flying an aeroplane? A pilot you racist prick! No doubt people like Pauline Hanson and John Howard helped that reputation along, but they weren’t operating in a vacuum. No, fear and hatred of aboriginal people began in the first settlement too, we simply don’t have records of it.

According to most historical records, however, including historian David Hill (in his book 1788), not long after settlement Phillip decided one day to attempt to convince the aboriginal people that the whites were a friendly and trustworthy mob. He did this by ordering his soldiers to bring him a well known aboriginal character called Arabanoo in order that Phillip might teach him English customs and language, and Arabanoo might then go back to his people to explain what he’d learnt.

Okay, sounds sensible. But did Phillip tell the soldiers to go talk to Arabanoo and make overtures to him in order to carefully encourage him into the settlers’ society? No, he told them to ARREST him! This in the age of enlightenment.

Anyway, a long and perhaps not so proud tradition began.

Another national tradition we attempt to hide, which also seeps unwillingly from our collective pores, is an obsession with homosexuality. So many Australian jokes are about buggery, so much of the ‘jokey’ behaviour between Australian men is to do with the possibility of anal sex ‘(taking it up the poo shoot’ or ‘vegemite mining’). Go to a pub or workplace in Australia and witness the ‘poofter’ antics.

This behaviour, like our collective treatment of aboriginal people, isn’t officially recorded by the early settlers (strangely!) but any observation of anglo saxon prisoners allows us to make some basic assumptions about what must have been happening. There would have been man on man action all over the place. The convicts, the marines, the sailors – all would’ve been into each other. But they certainly would’ve been shush about it; in fact Captain Phillip, who was originally against capital punishment for acts of violence (including murder) issued a threat that any man caught in the act of buggery would be sent to New Zealand and marooned amongst cannibals. Yeah, that’s right. All poofters will be eaten by Maoris. Gives a whole new significance to the Haka!

But, as any school teacher will know, once you prohibit a behaviour it becomes both taboo and delightful to perform. And that taboo is permanently imprinted on our national psyche along with the racism and the sexism.

With a day or two to go the flags are really popping out now, mainly on big white four-wheel-drives, particularly in working class suburbs such as mine. Even my neighbour Kim – who emigrated from Korea with his wife and kids – has flags on his car, big flags. No doubt this is his way to say, “Hey, I’m Aussie and I’m proud too.”

Just today he pulled into his drive, flags flapping away, and got out of his car with a big smile.

We greeted each other before going inside. And a naughty, provocative part of me felt like going up to him and saying, “Okay Kim, you’ve got the flags, the thongs and you’ve probably started eating shit food, but not once have I heard you tell a poofter joke, give the bird to a black fella or yell at your wife.”