I will not be rising at noon tomorrow to sing Advance Australia Fair. I hate the damn song, but even more do I hate the idea that one demonstrates one's love of country, or "Australianism" – whatever that is – by singing it or any other ditty. Affection for one's background, history and place of domicile is much much more than loud and noisy, but quasi-pious flag-waving and hand-on-the-heart singing.
Far from promoting that inclusive sense of common citizenship and purpose which we should be cherishing, it tends to celebrate instead that rednecked sense of exclusivity by which some Australians triumph the repulse of boat people by our armed forces.
Sam Johnson once said that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Ambrose Bierce disputed this, remarking that it was generally the first resort. In Australia, Ambrose is right. Whenever I see a person wrapping himself in the flag, or even wearing an Australian flag in his coat lapel, I know that things false, fake, bogan, counterfeit and fraudulent are not far away.
It may be excusable among those in the ever-increasing ranks of those who now make themselves a living from confecting events, entertainments, ceremonies and cringe-making rituals of our "nationality" – an industry much increased by that truly horrrible celebration of Anzac planned for March.
I pray for drenching rain, here as well as at Gallipoli.
Some waffle or flag-waving may have a discreet part when Australians abroad have an annual piss-up where they are, for once in the year, away from their immediate neighbours and not somewhat embarrassed to admit their origins.
But ordinary Australians here deserve protection from those whose noise, noisesomeness and bogus love of country gives them some sense that they are somewhat better than those who have no taste for such bullshit. We do not deserve their exaggerated and emotional pretence love of meaningless abstractions, their triumph of things, such as flagpoles, instead of ideas, and their hymns to the triumph of the white man over every other race to which Australia is home.
Even more than that, modern Australia Day celebrations, flag-wavings and national anthems are not even Australian in character. They are shamelessly borrowed from the United States. No doubt the standard white man in America – and perhaps even the odd standard white woman, if there is such a thing – actually means the somewhat tiresome always-risible pseudo-emotional litanies by which they try, unavailingly to reassure themselves, 50 times a day, that theirs is the greatest country on earth. Honestly, does any other country, even North Korea, require affirmations of love of country as much as America?
But once we sniggered. Now all of our prize second-raters, from the Governor-General, the Prime Minister (and the Leader of the Opposition, and the (present) director of WWI jollifications, Brendan Nelson, down, are falling over themselves, and reaching deep into thesauruses, to copy. That each of these would-be goat riders is a Catholic makes the irony and the poodlefakery the more pathetic and bathetic. No matter how hard they try, no matter how many toads they kiss, none of them can ever be King of Australia.
My distaste for bogus nationalistic liturgy, and for the burgeoning $100 million a year fake-nationalism expenditure, is not, of itself, from a feeling that Australia Day might better be celebrated on some day other that January 26, the notional day of the first English white settlement of Australia. [Actually the First Fleet had anchored at Botany Bay days before, and the proclamation date commemorates, instead, the day that the convicts were let out of the holds of the ships at Port Jackson. By tradition an orgy followed, but that is neither here nor there].
A better anniversary (if, please not Anzac Day) might allow some unambiguous recognition of Australian (including indigenous) history and achievement, culture, diversity, unification as one nation and social progress. These are all matters, along with the naturalisation (not nationalisation) of immigrants well worth a generous and, probably, not too self-critical shindig.
But the sense of self, of community and of national unity being celebrated is not well encompassed in a flag, or by the current anthem. Indeed a separate reason for eschewing the anthem is that our present politicians, Labor and Liberal, as well as our various paramilitary forces are currently making some of its lines particularly meaningless and shameful.
The Australian tradition did not forswear symbols of nationality in earlier days. But it treated them a good deal more casually and disrespectfully than our faux patriots pretend.
Like about 25 per cent of the present population I grew up at a time when God Save the Queen (or, earlier, the King) was played in every theatre before (and sometimes after) a cinematic or dramatic performance, but, while people shuffled to their feet, I cannot remember any hands on hearts, or joyful singing along. It was generally taken as read among ex-servicemen that the more blusteringly patriotic anyone was, the less likely that they had ever actually been in the slightest peril. If anyone, even a retired officer of the Army Catering Corps, had an instinct to give loud exhibitions of sham emotion as he thought of comrades who had perished at his hand, he suppressed it for fear of general derision.
Australian soldiers were patriotic and sentimental enough (even about their King), and they were certainly proud and defiant (particularly when in the company of our allies) about being Australians. But it was not something one got flowery about it.
One hears suggestions, sometimes, from returned servicemen of the officer class that Australian diggers fought and died under the Australian flag. Thus, somehow, in a manner a bit like transubstantiation, the blood on an example of it has consecrated all other linen dedicated to the same purpose.
Actually Australians, in both big wars, fought under any number of different flags, because we lacked a singular one. There is no tradition whatever matching the Betsy Ross fable, the American idolatry of the Stars and Stripes, their pathetic superstitions about damage to it or about its touching the ground. Americans are welcome to worship their flag, in their own way, just as half of them are free to openly regret the loss of the war for slavery, which is when their flag thing began. But it is not Australian and will always seem silly to most Australians, new or old.
Nor did Australia have the equally absurd American or European traditions about battle flags and regimental standards being carried aloft into action. Our war making was focused on efficient killing of the enemy, not suicide for ridiculous notions. Had anyone tried to institute such silly traditions, even at Duntroon, they would have been laughed out of the joint. Professional soldiers might have regimental icons for parade grounds, away from war, but, in action, it served no purpose.
Indeed the digger tradition, so far as it suffuses our national legend of ourselves, is much more one of open disdain for gesture, pomp and ceremony, and even parade grounds. The joy of parades was, usually, in inverse proportion to the risk that a soldier would be fired at, and to the risk that an officer, Australian or British, would be saluted. Those now trying to impose a spurious historical tradition of reverence for mere things are having us on.
Nor is theirs innocent mischief. Or inexpensive.
It happens as parties and interests are attempting to colonise, define and "own" the sense and feeling of being Australian, to their own aggrandisement and to the detriment of others. It is so that they can exercise power over those they define out of the equation, and claim the tacit consent of the community by insisting that the they are un-Australian.
There is no coincidence that a good deal of the overt and triumphalist nonsense occurs as Australia is trying to close its doors on the outside world, and not only to refugees but to neighbours who once relied on us for aid. It is hardly a coincidence that prime ministers and politicians take it upon themselves to call some citizens un-Australian, or to empower police, security and welfare services to spy on and create different categories of Australians. It happens as politicians demonise some categories of settlers as less entitled than others, segregate Aborigines for welfare, and call welfare cheats, but not wealthy tax dodgers, people with "a sense of entitlement".
We should take some pleasure and some pride in being Australian, recognising that here, as well as elsewhere on earth, it is our usual fate to be under the government of fools and knaves. Our celebration, so far, includes some satisfaction that there is only so far their chicanery can go, and that, try as they might, they can only con themselves and us so far. Long may it be so. The vital national characteristic of particular scepticism for pious nationalistic bullshit is at the core of what we honour.