January 25, 2013
(Editor's note: There must be something amiss at Australia Post, as that is the only explantion why an Age opinion column to celebrate the nation's birthday would have been delivered to Quadrant Online. Rather than return to sender, we have decided to publish and save the cost of a stamp.)
As many gather today around their barbeques to celebrate the arrival at Sydney Cove of an imperial invasion fleet it is worth making the effort, just for once, to look beyond the rim of plates laden with sausages and chops. What will be obvious to those with the eye and education to discern them are the “three Ds” of European tenancy – death, disease and despair.
What the more astute and better educated will see reflected in the fat-glistened sheen of those sizzling offal tubes is the dark side of the so-called Lucky Country. The best little country in the world? Laugh and cheer until you cry, Australia, for tears are your deserved legacy and assured future. It is all there, the shame and the guilt, in the semiotics of a smoking Weber.
Begin with those green cans of a fermented beverage popular with people for whom an appreciation of a knowingly innocent pinot gris is too much to expect. The colour should be their visual cue to remember that Australia is at the brink, the very brink, of total and catastrophic ecological collapse.
That smoke in the air, it’s not all from the grill. Some of it is wafting in from our burning forests, where firefighters – almost every single one a male – are attempting to impose a hegemonic masculinity on the alien flora with which they refuse to come to terms. First they burn the bush when there are no fires, presenting it in the fora of national conversation as a “safety” measure to reduce fuel. Then, when the real fires start, they try to put them out. The Greens understand this conundrum of a policy, but as with an empty beer can, their wisdom is crushed and discarded.
Also worth noting is the machismo spectacle of Tony Abbott strutting about in his yellow bunker gear, squirting Australia’s sparse water resources on fires the settled science says climate change will make catastrophic fixtures of our withered futures.
By contrast, our Prime Minister is redressing the genocidal crimes of the past by elevating to the Senate a genuine black woman – identifiable as such and immune to the Murdoch-brewed racist venom of Andrew Bolt. Always worth remembering, as the exemplar of modern journalism Anne Summers reminds us, is the fact that the columnist’s mother lived for several years as a child in a Dutch village with a Nazi mayor. Need anything more be said?
Australia’s ignorati must also deconstruct the social layering of the guests in their McMansions’ backyards. Why do people who work with their hands need houses more fitting to a vice-chancellor or internet entrepreneur with many prominent Greens and visiting Guardian journalists to entertain?
And where are the women? Gathered in their suburban seraglio, as usual, and sentenced by the endemic sexism of Australian phallocracy to endless discussions of shoes and salads. A little feminist awareness would go a long way to improving their lot, but you can’t expect women who do not recognise ovaries as their very definition to understand that rage is not merely an option, it is an obligation, especially when we consider that no woman has ever enjoyed sex.
Extensively educated feminist intellectuals understand that true freedom means the responsibility to crush others’ speech and, ideally, jail those too headstrong for re-education. Your typical suburban milch cows will respond with expressions of bovine vacuity to that prescription, incapable of comprehending that giving offence needs to bring stiff fines and obligatory jail time. Clearly, those crimps on university budgets are denying a guided enlightenment to far too many.
Will you find gays at backyard celebrations of a nation steeped in shame? Perhaps, but their presence will be a shallow manifestation of true tolerance, which demands that otherness be celebrated as the norm. Just let them try nipping off behind the rhubarb with a marriage celebrant and see what the reaction will be. If they bag a toaster for a wedding present and some polish for the little leather cowboy chaps that define the Mardi Gras spirit of loud, proud queerdom it would be a miracle.
On this Australia Day, please look to your sausage, contemplate the carbon poison involved in a carnivorous diet and despair. It is the only appropriate response – and our best hope of national redemption.
Dr Onan McBroadsheet is the author of My Right to Trample Yours. He teaches feminist calligraphy and climate modelling at a gussied-up former trade school.
The Quadrant Book of Poetry: 2001 - 2010
edited by Les Murray