Nothing says Australia Day like army trucks towing cannon down St Kilda Road and a few haggard RAAF Roulettes manoeuvring over the CBD. After all, colonisation began with a small military garrison asserting itself in Port Jackson.
It’s always a curious event, in part because confusion surrounds the celebration’s meaning. Independence Day in the US is clear: the 4 July declaration of 1776.
Here, Australia Day is not even a celebration of federation, which was totally lame anyway. The British granted independence (albeit with the monarch nominally commander-in-chief of the armed forces) through an Act of parliament.
January 26 is just pomp about the British landing. Not James Cook, though. Arthur Phillip. Not his actual arrival, which was several days earlier at Botany Bay, but when he declared a colony at Sydney Cove.
Confusing things more, a state government-sponsored semi-trailer parked near Kings Domain is emblazoned with, “Victorian. And proud of it”. “Victorian” feels more apt than “Australian”; closer in spirit to the Britishness of the event in question, which albeit occurred 50 years earlier than the reign of queen Victoria.
That isn’t what the government is getting at, of course. The vehicle expresses a pathetic southern-state parochialism clinging to the patriotism of the moment.
For the state government perhaps, a Victorian is the best and proudest sort of Australian. Better than the New South Welsh, who nevertheless are better than the Welsh. And better than Queenslanders, who are at least held in higher regard than prince Charles.
But that’s what this day is about – celebrating how good we are compared to others. What better way to do that than by waving thousands of tacky, cheap, plastic imported flags. And boy are they a dime a dozen on Swanston Street.
Past the city celebrations, the absolute best Australians today are in St Kilda.
Their event, billed as a “beach party”, starts at 2pm. A fascist family day on the foreshore. Sixty or so turn up at the Moran Reserve – nothing like the tens of thousands who marched in the Invasion Day rally, showing solidarity with Indigenous people.
John Williamson’s “True Blue” drifts with the sea breeze. The national anthem soon follows. No-one seems to sing along.
A hatchback passes along Marine Parade. The passenger, flying the Aboriginal flag, remonstrates. A brief back and forth ensues, but the car is gone with the traffic and Williamson’s drone about Vegemite and Cockatoos is hardly getting anyone’s adrenalin pumping.
A number wear Australian flags as capes. It’s cute when small children dress as superheroes. More disconcerting is when grown men play out a power-fantasy of saving civilisation with their fists.
A dozen flags are planted around the gathering point north of Elwood Canal. It is unclear if this is to help people remember where they are. Without the flags as constant companions, do they fear being teleported, or confusing St Kilda with San Francisco?
Now Cold Chisel is playing. Maybe they can take Williamson, but the fash don’t get Chisel. Still, it’s a bonus for an onlooker to at least get some decent tunes out of it all.
When I last wrote on this mob, the Comedy Company and Monty Python came to mind. Today is more goon show. The event is not particularly intimidating, but it’s not supposed to be. Here are Nazis on their best “concerned citizen just like you” behaviour.
“Notice the coppers have fucked off?”, one woman says walking past. Half a dozen were here initially, but they left after a few friendly chats.
Despite the good cheer of the day – kids, cricket and a bit of Aussie Rock – a menace lurks. Soon, the festive flag waving will be replaced with an organising drive in Melbourne’s west. After attacking Muslims the last several years, the leadership here has been gifted the “African gangs” hysteria.
They want to form a vigilante-style street patrol in Tarneit. We’ll see how they do. But here is a reminder that “mainstream” media and politicians’ relentless campaigning against refugees, Islam and migrants is the best news for the far right.
Few as they are, we can’t rule out their development in the current climate. If they grew from tens to a couple of hundred seasoned fighters, it would mean hospital visits for Black and Brown skinned people crossing their path.
And progressive organisations would face an emboldened far right increasing its level of intimidation and disruption. In recent years, fascists have barged into Moreland council and 3CR Community Radio in Melbourne, among other places.
When “Flame Trees” blares through the speakers, I’m tempted to hang around for a few more minutes. But the company doesn’t suit the song.