Don't change the date - Australia Day is a story of survival
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Don't change the date - Australia Day is a story of survival

If Australia had ever produced an orator of the eloquence and poetic grandeur of John F. Kennedy, whose peerless inaugural address was delivered 57 years ago last Sunday, he would have needed to curtail his majestic cadences to reflect the pettiness and aridity of contemporary Australian public discourse.

"Now the trumpet summons us again," he may have proclaimed on Australia Day "not as a call to battle, though embattled we are" but rather as call to our annual rabid futile feud over whether our nation was founded by the British and whether it was a triumph or disaster.

Catherine McGregor with Indian batting master Rahul Dravid in July 2014.

Catherine McGregor with Indian batting master Rahul Dravid in July 2014.

This year, the hysteria of the fearless beer hall patriots, with their jutting jaws and shallow sense of history, has reached peak synthetic outrage. The amusing thing about the alt right is it reserves the right to denounce the loyalty of any fellow citizen who does not conform to its narrow, idealised version of a dinkum Aussie bloke (oi, oi, oi). They hector us about identity politics, as though their own obsession with gender, sexuality and Islam is not the crudest form of identity politics. They are strangers to themselves and their subconscious motives.

They have the temerity to sneer at gay and transgender Australians who serve in harm's way in our military forces, while fighting their culture war in mummy's basement on their keyboards. They are insipid echoes of one of the greatest moral and physical cowards ever to occupy the White House.

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Ishant Sharma congratulates Virat Kohli on his 100 runs against Australia in the Adelaide Test on January 26, 2012.

Ishant Sharma congratulates Virat Kohli on his 100 runs against Australia in the Adelaide Test on January 26, 2012. Credit:David Mariuz

Donald Trump evaded service in Vietnam. He had spurs on his feet. No doubt had the war gone on another decade, he would have deployed after appropriate treatment.

It was one of his leading local shills who led the way in the cowardly, anonymous trolling of a grieving mother whose son had died violently. That novel manifestation of alpha masculinity may have ultimately influenced the fearless candidate for president to take up the cudgels to vilify the grieving parents of a young Muslim American who died serving his country.

That episode alone stamped him as unfit to be Commander-in-Chief. But perhaps his admiration for the generals of the Confederacy, who committed treason, exonerates his contempt for contemporary soldiers. Again, one local "Trumpet" referred to our own troops as "homicidal meatheads".

In an era when nuance is dead, and civility is scorned as a weakness, I am reluctant to admit to equivocation about Australia Day. It has never carried much resonance for me. As the child and grandchild of Australian Imperial Force veterans, Anzac Day always touched a deeper chord.

Illustration: Simon Letch

Illustration: Simon Letch

But just as I respect the rights of those who consider Anzac Day a glorification of war, so I also respect the deep sense of loss Indigenous Australians express about January 26. Surely we are big enough to accept the expression of doubts about both Anzac Day and Australia Day? Surely we can adapt those dates to unify and heal, rather than to wield them to bludgeon other Australians into conformity?

That is especially so when the inquisition is conducted by bullies, whose primary allegiance is to a foreign head of state, Trump, those self-appointed sentinels on the fortress of Western civilisation and the custodians of untrammelled free speech.

January 26 suffers from many defects as a unifying day of which all Australians can be proud. In my youth it was pretty much ignored. My family made more of a fuss of "cracker night", which was moved from the original date of Guy Fawkes on November 5 to May 24, then known as Empire Day.

It was revitalised by the Bicentenary in 1988 and has come to command majority allegiance. This cannot lightly be dismissed. Just as I opposed renaming Margaret Court Arena, after her reprehensible comments about trans children and their parents, I do not believe that succumbing to minority agitation to "change the date" is acceptable in a democracy.

Indeed, it fuels the disingenuous, grievance narrative of the loudest, most bellicose voices among the powerful majority that they are actually victims of the minority. Better to leave them to their febrile tabloid columns and quaint little shows on Sky News, where most Australians are spared their droning, sanctimonious voices, their faces only visible on screens in airport lounges, with the sound muted - the optimum the way to watch them.

So where to from here? I think Anzac Day does speak to a vast majority of Australia. One does not need to glorify war to grasp the nobility of an individual facing death for an intangible cause, whether you agree with it or not.

Personal sacrifice for an ideal is the most primal and altruistic instinct of the human race. We are mature enough to each find a way to reflect on it without being swept away by the jingoism of keyboard warriors and faux patriots.

Despite my reservations about January 26, it carries an indelible personal significance for me. I had planned to end my life during the fourth cricket Test at Adelaide on this very day in 2012 due to the agony of my gender conflict. My gazettal as a member of the Order of Australia had appeared in the press that morning and upon my entry to the media box, both the Australian and Indian media contingents rose as one to applaud me. I wept.

It is also the national day of India. Yet despite being forged on the anvil of civil war and sectarian hatred, India is not afflicted by the pettiness and intellectual bankruptcy seen in our low-stakes culture war over our national day.

That I survived that Australia Day was due to the grace and dignity of the Indian champion Rahul Dravid. That story will be told more eloquently in a play at the Sydney Theatre Company called Still Point Turning, in April. Today let us all reflect on life, survival and the blessings of being Australian.

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