Americans are familiar with the woke left: noisy activists who feel the need to rewrite the nation’s history. But this apparent need is hardly confined to America. Young Australians are increasingly taught to feel shame about their nation’s British heritage. This will come as no surprise to the British themselves, whose children are also increasingly taught to hate their past.
Common to these Australian and British forms of shame is the notion of an imperialist past—that the British Empire was solely about the theft of land and the exploitation of indigenous people.
Some of that is undeniable, and only a lunatic would be proud of it. But what seems to count for very little is that the British—and what used to be called their Australian kinsfolk—also have a past that includes great common achievements. The defeat of Germany and Japan in 1945 come to mind, but so does the export of the rule of law and parliamentary systems to nations around the world.
The old tradition of holding citizenship ceremonies for new citizens on Australia Day has been broken. Some employers are telling staff they can work on the holiday and take a day off that doesn’t mark such an egregious historical event. A concerted campaign is under way to convince us that the foundation of our country was an aggressive act that deserves condemnation, not celebration.
Never mind that if the British hadn’t colonized Australia, another nation would have done so: the French or Dutch perhaps, or even the Japanese. Never mind, too, that Australia has in the ensuing 235 years established itself as one of the world’s leading nations, embracing humane values such as the rule of law, liberty and democracy. It is no coincidence that Australia has also created significant prosperity for its people.
One has only to walk around the smallest Australian town to recognize that the country is a place that uses the technologies, resources, expertise and experience of a nonindigenous civilization—and that its prosperity, its standard of living and its institutions flow from that. These are great Australian achievements and part of what the country should be marking on Australia Day.
The critics sum up our nation in a way few Australians, and few of Australia’s friends around the world, would recognize: as institutionally racist (a label now automatically applied to any society in which white people are perceived to wield most of the power) and offensively nationalist.
Most Australians appreciate the indigenous people and their culture. Far from belittling or disregarding indigenous civilization, they respect and acknowledge it. The Aboriginal flag is flown on top of Sydney’s iconic Harbor Bridge alongside the Australian flag with Britain’s Union Jack in the top-left corner. An acknowledgment of the traditional owners of the land is often made at the start of public events.
National and state governments have striven to include and support indigenous people and to ensure they are equal under the law in every respect. No one would pretend that the past treatment of indigenous people was acceptable by today’s standards. But those days are gone, and history can’t be undone.
There does remain an alarming gap between remote indigenous communities and the rest of Australia, including Aboriginal Australians in the cities. The remote communities are plagued by welfare dependency, alcohol and drug abuse, crime, intimate-partner violence and languishing education.
But some serious political figures, led by conservative legislator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, have begun to push back, rejecting the lofty but meaningless gestures of symbolism in favor of a new political paradigm. Their proposals are based on the importance of empowerment, the virtues of a strong work ethic, and a recognition of the limits of state power to correct social ills.
Ms. Price, herself of indigenous heritage, has exemplified how the Australian people, whatever their background, can respect each other’s way of life and still unite behind the same ideals of liberty and prosperity. “We should be thankful Australia is so peaceful,” she says. “Forgiveness has always been an important aspect of Australian indigenous culture. . . . Holding on to resentments leads to further conflicts, which can very easily result in serious violence.”
Ms. Price understands exactly what many of European heritage also believe: that they are all Australians and that Australia Day is a day to “reflect, respect and celebrate” that unity and not to seek, for political reasons, to undermine or destroy it. What a shame some Australians don’t feel able to join in the party and celebrate the great nation to which it is their the privilege to belong.