Why Australia Day is Unique

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Australia Day is perhaps unique. There are few countries in the world that conduct such extensive self-examination on their national day. Today, within these pages, on the airwaves and on our television screens, there will likely be the usual exchanges between cultural warriors. The complaints will by now be familiar. There are those who will say that to celebrate the national day is to celebrate a day of invasion, and that any patriotism is just disguised racism. As for others, they will denounce any pause for reflection as collective self-loathing or political correctness run riot, and declare anyone not aware of the perfection of the Australian achievement might as well renounce their citizenship. Such divisions are unlikely to be reconciled any time soon. Yet Australians can be confident that much common ground exists. There are few among us who don't have a genuine affection for our landscape. And we can see something of the national character and spirit in each of us: an informal friendliness and generosity, a dislike of pomposity, a belief in people's innate equality, an ability to rise to our best in times of adversity. These are cultural bonds that we share, alongside a rich diversity. Once it could have been said that Australians all loved "football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars" as the 1970s advertisement claimed. Our tastes and lifestyles are no longer so uniform or homogeneous. But at the same time, our Australianness remains distinctive. This is one of the great enduring achievements of Australia over the past six decades. We have managed to incorporate successive waves of immigrants - from Europe, Asia, Oceania, Africa and the Americas - into a stable society and national culture. And all, for the most part, without major strife or conflict. There have been some troubling episodes. But occasional outbursts are of a different order to the challenges faced by other countries that haven't managed immigration as well as we have. One thinks of...
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