FLAG, ANZAC DAY, REEF, BUSH
No longer is anything sacred or certain or permanent.
Icons now have fleeting value and we are challenged either to defend them or create new ones that may adequately replace them.
With this in mind, I reckon it is worth our while to spend a moment looking at four of them.
New Zealand will hold a referendum in 2016 to decide whether or not the Union Jack should be removed from their flag and replaced with something that symbolises their unique identity as an independent nation.
There is nothing strange about this, as the Canadians did it decades ago.
I have no doubt that the referendum will pass comfortably, as New Zealanders are an intensely proud nation. We only have to watch the way the All Blacks play Rugby Union, compared with the Wallabies, to see how much they honour and value the privilege of representing their country.
A crucial factor in the success of the referendum will be the role of New Zealand’s immensely popular conservative Prime Minister, John Key, who is the instigator of the new flag proposal. People follow leaders and he is one.
It will be a much tougher task to get Australia to vote for a new flag. Resistance to change is almost inbred as a national trait.
The fact is that only a tiny fraction of referendum proposals have ever passed, and too many Aussies live in fear of cutting our ties with England.
A significant factor in this has been the lack of leadership by our Prime Ministers, most of whom have felt that their political survival depended on maintaining the status quo.
I am enjoying John Howard’s book on ‘The Menzies Era,’ as our former PM has blossomed from statesman to historian in eminent fashion.
One of the historical facts outlined in the book is Menzies’ radio address to the nation when Britain declared war on Germany in 1939. He said: “Because Britain is at war, Australia is at war.”
When one looks back on that, the only reasonable viewpoint is to declare it to be utter nonsense. What right did the Brits have to order us to fight anyone. And how weak were we just to accept their demand.
The folly of this subservience was shown when our troops were involved in North Africa at the same time as the Japanese moved closer to our shores.
Our fear of change will mean that we will keep the Union Jack on our flag for decades to come while we advertise to the world that we still feel, deep in our souls, that we are a British colony.
I have travelled twice to Gallipoli and stood in awe of how the Anzacs almost achieved the impossible, while seething with anger at the stupidity of the politicians and generals who unnecessarily sent them to their deaths fighting a Turkish nation that had done nothing to harm Australia.
Turkish President Ataturk summed it up magnificently in the memorial he built to honour our dead. It says: “Mothers of Australia and New Zealand, weep no more for your sons rest in a friendly land.”
My relatives were not at Gallipoli. They fought in France where the carnage was much greater, yet is far less recognised for reasons I have never been able to understand.
But, for me as a schoolboy in Toowoomba in World War 2, when we did regular air raid drill, it was the Battle for Kokoda that was the most meaningful to me and all my schoolmates. Had our outnumbered, undertrained and poorly supplied troops not stopped the Japanese advance, Australia would have been invaded. They were valiant heroes of the highest quality, but we do not have a national observance of Kokoda Day.
It is time to have a national day that honours not only our gratitude for those who gave their lives in war, but also those who were the great pioneers of our nation.
Australia Day is inadequate as this was the day when the British invaded Australia.
Greater minds than mine can work it out.
In the meantime, let us have a wonderful 100th Anniversary of Gallipoli, then move into a new century in which we express our national pride in a way that fosters a vision of a world without wars.
A great way to prepare for this memorable occasion is to read Peter Fitzsimons new book ‘Gallipoli’. Peter is Australia’s most popular historian. He has a marvellous talent of bringing vital issues to life in an unforgettable way. This is a book that brings vividly to mind all the factors that will determine the future role of Anzac Day in our national life.
Even the most passionate anti-environmentalist will admit that The Great Barrier Reef, the largest and most unique reef in the world, is in under threat.
The only issues to debate are how severe the danger is and what can be done to halt its demise.I have tried to get realistic views of this, but it is difficult to do so.
The reports from UNESCO are highly politicised and media articles reveal the political bias of every journalist.
But there is a great book that I can recommend that gives a splendid history of the reef and makes a passionate call for its preservation without blaming anyone. It is written by Iain McCalman and entitled ‘The Reef — a passionate history’. I enjoyed it and it stirred my soul.
I am convinced that we can save the Great Barrier Reef without destroying our trade, if we are willing to pay the price of ensuring that miners clean up their act, shipping is pristine and the water in our rivers is crystal clear when it reaches the sea.
Don Watson has written a splendid book called ‘The Bush’.
You will remember him as a key adviser to Paul Keating who incurred the wrath of the great man by writing an unauthorised book about him.
Watson was born and bred in rural Australia, and has written with great feeling about the role of the bush in our history and folklore. It is well worth reading, as he loves his heritage.
But the book reminds us that, all over the world, people are moving in their millions from rural to urban areas, mostly as the result of political decisions, but also in recognition that the days of the small farmer are over in economic terms, particularly as technology replaces farm workers.
Australia is moving in the same direction but, hopefully, rural cities will thrive rather than our capitals growing ever larger.
Of course, no realistic person can look at the future of the bush without taking into account the future of Indigenous Australia.
Noel Pearson has written thoughtfully and challengingly about this in the current edition of Quarterly Essay. His contribution is called ‘A Rightful Place’ and it is worthy of serious debate, as all policies for integration and reconciliation have failed.
At some point, we must face the painful reality that indigenous people may not have a viable future in the bush, but the decision to change rests with them.
Indeed, by 2100, Australia will be unrecognisable from today. It is worth reading the book ‘The Next Hundred Years’ by George Friedman. I had a sleepless night wondering how my grandchildren will handle the very significant changes it forecasts.