As a new migrant to Australia in 1997, I was increasingly aware that although I came from a normal state-school background in rural England, I knew quite a lot more about Australia and her peoples than many who have grown up here.
Now, why is that?
It was not long before I discovered that Aussie children were taught more about British history than their own. I am afraid to admit having a dark feeling that Australian children were deliberately being denied a "window" into their own history.
Okay, I may be wrong but entering a society that venerates the likes of Ned Kelly and takes a pride in having convict ancestors is a little baffling to a modern-day British born Australian. Many descendants of our skilled Early Settlers also find this perplexing and a source of amusement.
Having an interest in archaeology leads me also to mention that human history in Australia can be traced back some 65,000 years through artefacts and rock-art and we have fascinating evidence of a Pleistocene community in the Willandra Lakes Region of South Western New South Wales, dated about 50,000 years BP (before present).
I remember one of my teachers noting that Aboriginal people retain many instincts and abilities that, through evolution, education and technology, we immigrants have lost over the course of time. Those of our First Nation have much to teach the migrant community and I respect them for that.
What has all this preamble to do with what we call "Australia Day"? Well, on June 3, 1769, our continent of Terra Australis was documented by the explorer, Captain James Cook, so Australia Day has nothing to do with him!
However, history does remind us that around 50,000 people had been banished to a penal colony in what was then called British Colonial America.
This represented about a quarter of those who migrated to America from Britain in the 1700's (including some of my forebears!). After the American Revolutionary War, Britain needed somewhere else to ship out her "miscreants", so on May 13, 1787, Captain Arthur Phillip led a fleet of 11 ships on a 252 day journey from Portsmouth in England to land in New South Wales on January 26, 1788.
Mentioning Portsmouth is of particular interest as on the ships' manifests were the names of all the migrants, each annotated with the abbreviation "Pom" which indicated their port of embarkation (Portsmouth). I have fun sharing that piece of trivia which can be checked of course!
So "the white man" pasted Terra Australis into its history on January 26, 1788, so it has become a tradition to recognise new migrant citizens on this date each year.
I started this article by highlighting the educational issue back then in the 1990's. Happily, things have changed dramatically since then because, through education, we all have a much greater awareness of the hurt that our traditional custodians feel and of what we are now recognising as "intergenerational trauma" that is being experienced by both the Aboriginal peoples of Australia and America.
As a Rotarian, I live by our rule of asking myself "Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?" With this thought, I invite you on behalf of the Rotary Club of Laurieton and Port Macquarie and Hastings Council, to Laurieton's Citizenship Ceremony from 7.30am on Sunday, January 26 at The Bruce Porter Reserve (next to the Marine Rescue Station on Tunis Street).
Enjoy the day off.