January 16 is marked as the Religious Freedom Day in some calendars. Religious freedom supposedly means people should be free to choose or refuse to belong to any religion, to follow or not the tenets, commandments and other, such as uniform, requirements of a religion without interference, expectation or enforcement by a government, church or other self-proclaimed authority. This may well be the hallmark of a democratic and multicultural country.
In Australia we are free to belong to any religion, as long as we celebrate Christmas, Good Friday and Easter, the big public holidays, plus the birthday of Mrs Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (aka the queen of England) as well as Australia Day. We are free to respect and cherish this land, but only under the Union Jack flag. We are free to live any way we choose, as long as we behave like good “royal” subjects. Perhaps this is the reason the Religious Freedom Day is not observed in Australia.
As Australia Day approaches we should cast our eyes across the Pacific Ocean to the “United” States of America, where Colombus Day is being increasingly rejected. In 1992 the city of Berkeley, California replaced that day with the “Indigenous People’s Day” and they were followed by several other localities including Sebastopol and Santa Cruz, California; Dane County, Wisconsin; Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota and Seattle, and Washington. Several tribal governments in Oklahoma chose to re-designate the day as the “Native American Day” or named the day after their tribes. In Caracas Venezuela the statue of Colombus was knocked down in 2004.
America and Australia has similarities in their recent history. In the USA there is a widely held belief that the land was discovered by Colombus, when in fact the Vikings were there before him. In Australia we are told similar lies about Cook. These men were explorers but their arrival in America and Australia marked the beginning of the exploitation of the people and lands. To simply put why Colombus is not worth celebrating read the communique of the American Indian Movement, “Columbus was the beginning of the American holocaust, ethnic cleansing characterized by murder, torture, raping, pillaging, robbery, slavery, kidnapping, and forced removals of Indian people from their homelands. …We say that to celebrate the legacy of this murderer is an affront to all Indian peoples, and others who truly understand this history.”
In light of this, it is time we re-evaluate our “heroes”, such as James Cook, Lachlan Macquarie and the likes. Macquarie spoke thus in 1816 when addressing his soldiers, “All Aborigines from Sydney onwards are to be made prisoners or war and if they resist they are to be shot and their bodies hung from trees in the most conspicuous places near where they fall, so as to strike terror into the hearts of surviving natives”. There is a bank, suburbs, streets and a university named after him. Cook had the idea of declaring this land “terra nullius” and simply turned a blind eye to the 750,000 people already here. His arrival marked the genocide of those people in the name of George III. There are also statues of Cook and schools, streets and even a crater on the Moon named after Cook.
There are no streets or schools named after Stalin, Hitler or Mao and rightly so, but Cook and Macquarie, despite their inhumanities, are still nationally celebrated in Australia. Some may cite tradition for this, but traditions and systems can change, just ask Gandhi, who is now recognised as a hero. It took decades, but it happened. In Mostar Bosnia-Hercegovina, another multicultural city, the residents erected a statue of Bruce Lee as a symbol of solidarity. The Little Dragon had never been to Mostar. There is also a statue of him in Kogarah, much to the disappointment of some people. Some are fans of Cook or monarchists, some just plain hate Chinese or state that Lee was American and had never been to Kogarah.
Wouldn’t it be nice and fair (dinkum) to allow everyone to select three or four days every year which would be their personal holy days? Yes, it would be challenging at first, but if we really embrace our multiculturalism, we might as well do it properly. And some may still choose to celebrate Cook, Macquarie or Australia Day and this is their right. We should not enforce any holy or other day on anyone.
Who would you celebrate in Australia? Just make sure they have no blood on their hands…