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Our Australia

I have not lived in Australia, apart from the twelve weeks in 2017 that I spent in a glass-tables-and-beige-carpets serviced apartment in Canberra, for more than seven years. A lot of Australians live overseas for a while, but this is an unusually long time: I made friends in London with people who did their mid-twenties year or two then went home. Seven years has a different character to it. Most of the people I know who've stayed away that long have no particular intention of going back.

Still, we all miss it, with varying degrees of longing and desperation. It would be nice to have a day to mark that homesickness which isn't also the day that marks Indigenous dispossession and heartbreak. When a well-meaning local thinks to wish you a happy Australia Day, you reply with an Oh..., and as much of an explanation as you have the energy for. It would be nice if you could just smile and dream of pavlova. It's not that you need a state-sanctioned day to miss your home. But if there's some power in having that feeling together, that gets thrown away when we use the commonaltity to dance on people's graves.

Beyond the inconvenience of a missed celebration, though, this day misses the point. When we think about the Australia we love and miss, we're not thinking about Botany Bay. In London, there were a few places I used to go to feel more at home. One was Lantana, or one of the other smattering of 'Antipodean' cafes across the city, exports of a coffee culture made possible by immigrants and good labour conditions. Another was Chinatown; and as much I missed Anzac biscuits I missed cheap pho more.

None of it has much to do with the First Fleet. None of it is anywhere close to what the settlers, who wilfully refused to sign treaties because they wanted their new country to be a white British monoculture, were planning when they showed up on January 26th in 1788.

Of course Australia today is still marked by injustices that were born in that era. It would be foolish to pretend that, some time between 1967 and 1973, we closed the door on a white settler colony past and cut all our ties with it. Reconciliation, obviously, is not that easy.

Still. I don't think the Australia I love was born in 1788. It's not the main reason we should change the date. But it's something to remember: that getting rid of January 26th isn't just about the country we're trying to be. It's also about the country we already are, and how far away - how much better - it is from those colonial dreams. Our Australia isn't that. Our Australia Day shouldn't be either.