Recently, my household received a large (bigger than A4), glossy booklet entitled "A year in the life of Australia: Your Centenary of Federation
souvenir lift-out". I presume it arrived in the local tabloid
For the unaware, Federation
was "the joining together of six separate colonies to form the Commonwealth of Australia
". This occured in Australia in 1901; thus, 2001 is the Centenary of Federation. As most Australians can't be bothered learning the national anthem, the government became somewhat vexed that maybe no-one would actually care
about this milestone. Thus, the National Council for the Centenary of Federation
was formed. Its purpose was presumably to educate the general populace about Australia's history; this was done through a series of advertisements on television and billboards Australiawide (stating facts like, "Australia was formed with a vote, not a war"). These ads, while serving the basic purpose of sharing information, only served to alienate people. While this was obviously not the aim of this council's exercise, the absence of familiarity put forth the challenge, "this is Australia
, this is what it is to be Australian. Where are you in this picture?" For me personally, this feeling was exacerbated by reading the aforemnetioned glossy booklet
. The education of Australians about Australia was a great idea, with an abhorrent execution. And it'll be another hundred years before they have another excuse
to try again.
The booklet tells of events that occured throughout 2001. Some examples:
- Several Federation parades and festivals, some of which had Aboriginal themes
- Several mainstream musical performances, including a Johnny O'Keefe musical and a concert performed by John Farnham, Olivia Newton-John and Anthony Warlow
- The "Peoplescape" - about 4000 cardboard figures representing peoples' idols.
- People travelling around and across Australia in boats, antique cars, on bikes and on foot
- The opening of a new museum and the improvement of a war memorial
None of these affected my life in any way, and once again I felt alienated from this cause that was supposed to so strongly define Australia and its inhabitants
. I was born in Australia and love this place. So this got me thinking, which is never a good thing...
The back page of the booklet is entitled "What we did
in the Centenary Year." (emphasis theirs). It insists that the reader should include their own story and photo, to complete this souvenir. Feeling somewhat disillusioned, I responded in a desperate attempt to justify my own life and the subcultures that I find myself a part of. The following is written from the perspective of a South Australian
This year I completed Year 12. This was a small part of my own personal mental growth, as I learned to embrace new, open-ended ideas and different perspectives. I attended the Festival of Ideas, which also fitted into this category; it was a unique event which brought together some of the finest minds this world has. Although that Festival wasn't the first of its kind, it's a rare thing to have available to the general populace; and it was right here in Australia! Education, academia and mental growth in general are a strong point here; Australia has a highly educated populace, with 9 years of education being compulsory for all children. It seems strange that academia and philosophy weren't touched on in this booklet.
This year I attended several live musical performances, none of which were of a genre decided to be fit for publication in this booklet. Most of them were put on by talented independent artists (why not spend some money supporting them instead of broadcasting vague political advertisements?). One of these events united about 350,000 people; it was the Big Day Out. It involved a large amount of Australian artists (including local, unsigned Adelaide groups) and spanned several genres, some of which cross over into the coveted domain of commercial radio. In this, it quite possibly warrants much more than the 1/2 page granted to Olivia Newton-John, John Farnham and Anthony Warlow...
This year I revelled in the high quality greenery that South Australia has to offer, while being at all times responsible for my own (and others') health, safety and enjoyment. I reviewed the government's concept of their "War on Drugs". While I was once quite willing to assume that they hold people's safety up as their only motivation, I conclude that the political persecution of recreational drug users is just silly. This isn't a war on drugs, it's a war on an active and diverse part of our culture! Remember, the predators in the drug community are also the ones that best know how not to get caught. Drugs provide an alternative social setting and form of recreation. It doesn't take much education for people to learn how to use them safely. It's a shame that such a large part of our wider culture must be ostracised on the basis of ill-conceived laws, and subsequently excluded from this booklet.
This year I furthered my technical expertise in the field of IT; last year I couldn't program a computer, build a computer from the case upwards, or troubleshoot an operating system installation. Now I can do all this and more. There were at least two festivals regarding the computing/gamer culture this year, not including LAN parties (Linux Installfest and Wired Expo), but neither of these were covered much at all. I saw one Installfest poster on a random fence and heard of Wired through word of mouth, without getting enough information to attend either. The culture of computer enthusiasts is a valid, growing one; why don't we recognise and embrace this instead of calling its followers "whiz kids"? Once again, I was disappointed that this booklet managed to completely exclude this aspect of our culture.
It seems problematic to me that, despite the fact that my interests span many subcultures, nothing mentioned in this booklet crosses over into my lifestyle. There are so many people who, like me, find their interest in things that are apparently not part of our "diverse Australian cultural landscape". All those aspects of our country described here come nowhere near to the true diversity we have here. Why did the National Council for the Centenary of Federation spend so much on the invasive, vapid billboards and television commercials we saw this year without considering their ultimate effect on the general populace? I feel that this booklet has only served to divide Australians into two groups: "us" and "them". One category is a strongly spirited, pure Australian and the other is comprised of social deviants.
I don't class myself as a social deviant, so what does that make out of all those smiling faces in this booklet?