Australia Day or Sorry Day

Australia Day or Sorry Day

On this day we celebrate a future but should also also remind ourselves of the present and the past. Celebrated annually on 26 January, it marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet. The invasion/settlement of Australia began with agrarian promise, due to the reports of Sir Joseph Banks, which caused much disappointment and devastated a network of peoples, cultures and languages.

‘Detention of indigenous youth worsens: The over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in the youth justice system worsened over the past year.’ Nicola Berkovic, The Australian, Jan 28. The statistics were already so bad, it’s heartbreaking that they are worsening.

How stupid Europeans can be:
‘We soon understood that our hosts wanted to exchange their names for ours. This custom that travellers have found to be widespread among the archipelagos of the Southern Ocean certainly amazed us among these poor human beings who seemed to us so little endowed with intelligence. It is the mark of an already advanced society, and we could not have expected to find it established among a nomadic troop in this wild country. Whatever the case, the exchange of names took place to their great satisfaction and several of them, to mark the occasion, sang songs in which we were able to recognise our own names. One young man of the group seemed to enjoy some renown as a poet among his comrades, for when he started to sing everyone fell silent and from time to time a flattering murmur seemed to applaud him. M. Guilbert and I sang then a very lively duet, and we had reason to be proud of our success, for not only did they observe complete silence, but at the end of the song they deigned to applaud us with shouts and handclapping. This latter method of expressing pleasure, also in use in our Europe, was yet another cause of astonishment for us among this miserable people.’
Louis Auguste de Sainson
11 Oct 1826, King Georges Sound, Albany, Western Australia. From Colin L. Dyer, The French Explorers and the Aboriginal Australians, 1772-1839.

Sainson, Port Du Roi Georges, Hand coloured lithograph, 38 x 30 cm

Sainson was one of the two ship’s artists on the French frigate Astrolabe captained by that remarkable man, Dumont d’Urville.

The local Aborigines had most likely already met English sealers and whalers. It looks like they, the Noongar people, beat the English to this location by at least 45,000 years.

Sainson’s description does remind me of the time I was staying in an Iban Longhouse in Sarawak, c1989 and some young women were ushered in and sang a song for virgins before a marriage ceremony, then I had to sing a song in response, and the only song that came to mind was a Neil Young song which I sang with half the lyrics missing. They applauded politely, the whole evening was a series of people singing and each time I could only respond, befuddled by tuak (rice wine), with the same song, the lyrics getting more and more incomprehensible. They must have thought I was very funny.

I am humbled when I think that John Clare’s father could sing over a hundred ballads.

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