Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci ignited a minor culture war with the company’s decision not to stock Australia Day merchandise ahead of 26 January. Peter Dutton called for a boycott of Woollies, prompting Banducci to plead that he was not “anti-Australia” or “woke”.
But who was stocking up on Australia Day merchandise anyway?
Generation Z would have no recollection of the flag-waving spectacle Australia Day once was. Sydney’s beaches were the centre of Australia Day mania in the 2000s. News.com journalist Mary Madigan toured Bondi Beach on 26 January this year, and remarked “there were no flags, hats, or painted Australia Day faces ... the lack of celebration left tourists confused and needing clarification”.
In 2007, the Big Day Out festival had been the musical mainstay of 26 January and a notorious nationalist orgy. Stephanie Ashworth, a regular performer at the festival, told Melbourne’s Age newspaper in 2007: “People I know were in the audience last year and witnessed people basically being made to kiss the Australian flag and if they didn’t they would get their head beaten in”.
It has now been seven years since ABC’s Triple J moved its “hottest 100” to 27 January. Triple M’s bid to fill the space with an “Ozzest 100” was condemned and fizzled shortly after.
The Age reports that 40 percent of Victoria’s local councils have scrapped citizenship ceremonies on 26 January. The City of Perth recently cancelled its Australia Day festivities.
So Australia Day is dead, and the left killed it: for the last decade, the major event on 26 January has been the big Invasion Day protests.
Ten years ago, Red Flag celebrated when 400 people turned out in Brisbane, which consistently had the biggest Invasion Day marches in the country. Now, tens of thousands take to streets across Australia every year.
Years of protest, initially led by a minority of Indigenous activists and supported by socialists and others on the radical left, have flipped the script on what had been a conscious attempt by Australia’s conservative right to stoke nationalism and race hatred. Liberal Prime Minister John Howard pumped Australia Day with steroids as Western imperial forces launched bloody invasions in the Middle East. Indigenous people were aggressively demonised by politicians, with Howard popularising the myth that the land rights movement was about stealing the backyards of hard-working Aussies.
Today, the conservative culture warriors have to eat shit.
Steve Price, one of Victoria’s most prominent right-wing commentators, lamented in the Herald Sun this year: “I give up. The rabid left and ignorant brain-washed younger Australians who believe the activists fake news and baseless take on history have won”. He also grasped the unique and international significance of the left’s victory against patriotism, complaining: “I can’t think of any other nation on earth where there is such an active campaign of self-loathing and a demand, we all apologise for everything post-colonial settlement”.
Not everyone is on board, of course. A recent Ipsos Poll indicated that almost half the population supports Australia Day remaining on the same date.
But mobilising power is what counts when it comes to shaping politics, and our side has it. 26 January is irreversibly associated with genocide, inequality and colonisation. Politicians and the media can’t get away with attacking Indigenous people who rightly ask what they have to celebrate in Australia. Attitudes among young people are the best in the country. The regular Invasion Day event for many tens of thousands is not a BBQ or festival, but a street protest against racism.
Invasion Day protests have for some years been about a lot more than the national holiday, raising many questions of Indigenous oppression. Linking the day of protest with opposition to Israel’s war on Gaza is a further left-wing shift, standing up to the crimes of Australian nationalism more broadly.
Andrew Bolt, another right-wing Herald Sun columnist, noting how a Palestinian speaker at a Sydney protest connected the struggle of Palestinians and Indigenous people, said that it is “frightening” that people in Australia are “inspired by a terrorist-led war against a democracy like Israel, and to think it’s the same war here”.
That the political right is frightened by the level of anti-racist solidarity on Invasion Day is something to celebrate.
Human Rights Watch, an international investigative and reporting organisation, says that it has “significant human rights concerns” about Australia’s treatment of refugees and Aboriginal people.
To drive a whole people out of their land—to turn it into something akin to the Zionist myth of Palestine, supposedly “a land without a people for a people without a land”—requires many things. Most obviously, it requires the killing and terrorising of Palestinian people on a colossal scale.
What would you do with $1.5 million? You could put down deposits on ten median-priced Sydney houses, or you could buy one outright and spare yourself the crushing mortgage repayments.
The level of suffering in Gaza is more than the human mind can comprehend. As the war enters its twentieth week, it feels increasingly obscene to be going about daily life while an entire people are being systematically destroyed, their lives, histories and culture blown to pieces or buried under rubble.
The Banyule Palestine Action Group has collected more than 600 signatures on a petition calling on Banyule City Council, in Melbourne’s north-east, to pass a motion supporting an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, in line with motions passed in other councils across Australia.
Asked how she stays hopeful as a 63-year-old socialist and Palestinian living in the diaspora, Reem Yunis replies: “I don’t have the luxury not to be inspired. My grandparents died without seeing a liberated Palestine, my parents died and were buried in the diaspora. Most of my people are living in the diaspora, and the ones in Palestine are being robbed of water, resources and every bit of land they have. We need to have hope and fight, because if we won’t fight for a free Palestine, who will?”