The Australia of Australia Day is a place, a nation, a people, and an idea. Australia Day is not a political occasion. Nor is celebration of the nation and its people an occasion for dividing the population according to whether they are in or outside some definition of "Australianness". Nor is it about exceptionalism -- a notion, in some other countries, by which people imagine that their land has been blessed or chosen, above other nations, with some consequent right or duty to lord it over others. What is being celebrated here is what we are, and have been and could be. It might be natural for some sense of triumph, togetherness and optimism, but it is not an occasion for abandoning truth, self-criticism or some hope that we can do better.
The idea of Australia Day is expansive, inclusive and generous, opening not narrowing, parochial, exclusive and selfish. The Australia of Australia Day is a land, a nation and a people with many different histories, cultures, ideas and stories to tell. They may not merge into a single, or a binding, story about ourselves, and some of them will involve tales of conflict and of matters that divide us. Collectively, however, they come to a story of unity, growth, of development, of achievement. We know and respect our differences, but we affirm again a great stock of common ideals, hopes and aspirations, founded in a tradition of freedom, of mutual respect, of personal safety, and stable political institutions, and of a strong sense of local, national and international citizenship.
Among yesterday's, today's and tomorrow's citizens are people whose origins are from all parts of the earth. Many have wanted to make Australia their home because just such freedoms, stability, safety and civility have not been available in their places of origin. Some have fled from war, discrimination and persecution. We have welcomes them and offered refuge, though we could do more. Others have come to make better lives for themselves and their children. They have come to share with original Australians and others who have been here many generations some of the advantages of our geography, histories, cultures and senses of ourselves, but we have never required that they abandon their own identities and adopt our perspectives. They have also brought to share their own stories, ideas and identities, and, in time, Australian perspectives have widened to acknowledge theirs just as theirs have come to incorporate the experiences of their fellow citizens. For over 200 years, Australia has greatly benefited from the exchange. In each generation, since at least the 1850s gold rushes, the community of Australians has changed and become materially, culturally and socially wealthier for the inflow of people, ideas and other cultures.
Australia Day is not, of itself, a day of celebration of immigration, any more than it is, except by coincidence of date, a celebration of the original white settlement 227 years. But it is a day of recognition of the polity the settlers and immigrants, as well as the original inhabitants, made, of the things they have achieved, individually and collectively, and of some sober but optimistic consideration of what all might achieve together in the future. That necessarily involves some contemplation of those original first Australians whose lives were put in turmoil by settlement, and who have yet to share the material and spiritual prosperity of other Australians. And understanding that Australians, living in an oasis of peace, stability and prosperity must help citizens of other countries which have not been as fortunate. Even those who are mean of spirit might recognise that playing good neighbour and friend is a cheap investment in a good neighbourhood.
The superstructure of modern Australia owes much to the culture and history of other lands, not least Britain. Yet there has been much local genius in adapting what was given or inherited, just as there has been a long history of adapting to the environment, borrowing from the experience and talents of others to adapt to changing economic, cultural and social conditions. We have developed singular national characteristics, including of an egalitarian sense of mateship and lack of fuss. If it has been a country which has celebrated individualism and cynicism about the custodians of power, it is now and in the past one with a strong collective sense of itself. We are all in this together.