In a nation relatively devoid of fear, why do some feel the urge to create it?
The Australia Day Address for 2016 was delivered this year by solicitor Deng Thiak Adut. Born in a small town in South Sudan, Deng was taken from his parents as a young boy to be used as a child soldier. Marched thousands of kilometres he witnessed many other children dying of starvation and exhaustion. He was forced into war at an age most children are forced into brushing their teeth. Before being smuggled out by his brother with the help of the UN, Deng experienced the kind of fear that made some of his fellow child soldiers shoot their own brains out rather than continue to live with that fear.
The theme of Deng Thiak Adut’s Australia Day address was freedom from fear. He spoke about how lucky he felt to be accepted into a country which is overwhelmingly, free from the kind of fears that plagued Deng as a child. He was right – how many Australians celebrating with fervent jingoism on January 26 this year can appreciate what it’s like to experience fear like Deng Thiak Adut? The fear of having to kill or be killed. The fear that comes from having bombs arbitrarily dropped on your town. The fear of having to take an overloaded, unseaworthy ship across the ocean because that is the safest option for your family. The fear of death because of your religion. The fear of rape because of your sex. The fear of death because of your sexuality.
The fear of not knowing if your son will be safe in police custody because he’s indigenous.
Australia’s citizens are fortunate to receive a number of provisions that ensure they live, ideally, without fear. We are a nation that provides its people with social welfare, safe sources of food and water, free basic healthcare and free education. We live on a giant island with a stable government that has avenues to express ourselves politically. We should have nothing to fear.
And yet we Aussies can come across as such a fearful bunch. In fact some Australians seem to be so unaware of the freedom from fear they’re afforded, that they feel a compulsion to create fears where none need exist, whilst belittling the real fears that impact on Indigenous Australians.
In a country where 90% of the fauna is potentially lethal, constructed fears are by far the most dangerous creature. They are the cause of the Cronulla riots, the Reclaim Australia rallies and the Bendigo anti-mosque protests. They are the reason why an indigenous actor and Australian of the year was refused a taxi and why footballer Adam Goodes was booed for celebrating a goal with an indigenous war dance.
Discrimination and prejudice – the backbone of concepts like racism, sexism etc. – develop from a combination of fear and ignorance. When a man says he hates refugees, what he really means is that he’s afraid. Afraid that they’re a security threat. That they’re going to steal jobs. He fears that they’ll change his way of life.
This fear of change, this idea that anything different is without exception bad, is what undermines discrimination. Many of Australia’s social inequities could be amended if our nation’s fear of difference and change was addressed. With the impending Australia Day holiday there is no better time to let go of past prejudices and work towards change.
How can we have a national day – a day supposed to unite the country – on a date that marks the beginning of widespread fear and suffering for indigenous Australians? I imagine when the first settlers arrived the people of the Gadigal indigenous nation may have felt fear, a fear that no doubt intensified as colonisation progressed. For many indigenous Australians it is a fear still felt today. Unlike non-indigenous Australians, they do not have the freedom from fear the majority of Australians take for granted. To say that indigenous Australians should just “get over” past injustices and that “it’s in the past, nothing can be done” is both profoundly insensitive and inaccurate.
- die younger
- be in poorer health
- not complete a year 12 certificate or equivalent
- be incarcerated
- die in police custody
- live in poverty
- be unemployed
- experience youth mental health problems and suicide
I am not against Australia. I am not against the idea of a national holiday celebrating our country. But it should be a day which all Australians can wholeheartedly take part in. Not held on a date of great historical sorrow for the traditional custodians of the country. January 26 1788 is not even the date that Australia, as a nation, was formed. When there are so many other potential significant dates to celebrate Australia, why do we continue to choose a day that creates such division in our nation?
Do not fear change. There is nothing to be feared from changing the date of Australia Day. It will not stop you from having a barbeque, playing cricket or drinking beer. Changing the date will not erase your freedom to wear cheap, Chinese-made Australian flag apparel. For most Australians changing the date of Australia Day will mean postponing the party, nothing more. But for Indigenous Australians it will mean acknowledgment of social injustices and a willingness to work towards a nation that allows – as Deng Thiak Adut advocated – freedom from fear for all its citizens.