Carsten’s blog post led me to write today.


cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by attila acs

In the last few months, on returning from Denmark, I have often tried to articulate what are the similarities and differences between our nations. The events and coverage of Australia Day 2012 encapsulate my main argument. The vast majority of Danish people deeply love their flag, monarchy and democracy. It unites them. Australians are divided by our flag, monarchy and, to a lesser extent, democracy, for a number of clear, historical reasons.

The two questions that students, teachers and Danes repeatedly asked about while I was enjoying their country were related to Aboriginal issues and more humorously, ‘animals that will kill you’. I was often asked about how our democracy worked. It did not surprise me that our Danish exchange family would be interested in the events of Australia Day this year.

In the lead up to Australia Day celebrations there was much discussion about our flag being a rallying banner for racists. This is very hurtful to many Australians and others think this is so obviously true it surprises them when others take offense at the suggestion. The Australia Day Address, given by neurosurgeon Charlie Teo, also pursued the theme of racism in our country and called for greater tolerance of immigrants. Interestingly enough, many Danes talked about issues of racism in their country too and if you are even passingly cognisant about the politics in that country over the last decade, would recognise many similarities. However, the difference is in the strength of the symbols, that unite the people, their flag, monarchy and democracy.

Larry Ferlazzo asked me to write for his blog about Australia Day, earlier this month. This is what I wrote:

Australian history has been fiercely contested by historians and politicians in recent decades. ‘History Wars’ have been fought over the various interpretations of ‘our past’. The two major opposing views have been pejoratively described as, ‘The Black Armband’ and the ‘Three Cheers’ version of our history. One interpretation emphasises Australia’s march to nationhood and progress, the other, acknowledges the destruction of both the environment and Aboriginal culture. Past government policies, including removing Aboriginal children from their homes (‘The Stolen Generations’) were particularly contested. The central position of the ‘ANZAC legend’, the positive story of Australia’s armed forces, is also questioned. To understand Australian History it is important to understand this debate. You can read more here.

Australia Day on the 26th January is a good example of the debate about our shared history. How can Aboriginal Peoples, dispossessed of their land, celebrate the European founding of a colony on this date in 1788? Here are some important questions about Australia Day posed at the ‘official page’ suggesting Australians are often working positively to reconcile the challenging, disturbing aspects of our shared past. Many people applauded former Prime Minister Rudd’s apology to ‘The Stolen Generations’ after his predecessor, John Howard, had refused to do so for more than a decade.

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore

Readers of this blog know I am enamoured with Danish democratic engagement and really admired the open nature of debate in the country, especially from students. I think we need to do much more in this country to nurture democracy and our civil society. Education is the key to a strong democracy. We must be able to adapt and change, innovate and grow. I agree with Charlie Teo’s sentiment and think it should extend to more than just the doctors but educators and politicians too:

Unfortunately, a small number of doctors have forgotten the nobility of our profession…unwilling to adapt to change and new treatment regimens and failing to continue self-education. This should never be allowed to happen.

I am concluding with Teo’s quote as it seems perilously real that we need more leadership, at every level, to heal rifts and forge a stronger Australian democracy. The education systems in Australia are fundamental if we are to be successful in extending our civil society.


One Comment

  1. My debate team recently encountered the topic that ‘we should not celebrate Australia day’ in the DAV debate competition. Students were unaware at first of why Australia day would even be controversial. They are in year 8 and 9. Upon further research my students came back with some interesting arguments, similar to your point I think. They said that we need to continue to celebrate Australia day not just because it is a celebration of the multiculturalism and identity, but also because it allows us to reflect and learn from the past. My students decided that without Australia day controversy we would lose an opportunity to address the smouldering issues that exist under the surface in our community. It is no good to hide from the past but rather to embrace it and move forward with knowledge, acceptance and understanding.

    In my Humanities classes it often concerns me the lack of knowledge about politics and democracy. Students aren’t watching the news or involved in conversation about the operation of our country. I think in part that it is because it is ‘rude’ to ask who someone is voting for or why. Maybe also because students feel disempowered, as if when they vote it won’t count for anything or change anything anyway.
    It has been an interesting journey trying to change these perceptions.

    It sounds like your trip to Denmark was an enlightening one. I have heard such great things about their country in general but also about their educations systems!

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