CHANGES in the way Australia Day is observed have attracted much comment in recent years.
Many have noted a new and more fervent patriotism among the young, manifesting at times in some disturbing displays of xenophobia (and Southern Cross tattoos).
It’s not that Australians love their country any more or less than they did before, but it is as if more people believe in the need for a positive and public affirmation of national pride.
Some commentators have suggested that this need for more visible affirmation may stem from a diminution in Australians’ sense of certainty about their identity and their place in the wider world.
If true, that would hardly be surprising. Australia has changed dramatically over the past few decades. The nation’s population has grown from fewer than 18million in 1993 to about 23million today. That’s considerably more people, mostly concentrated in the existing urban population centres.
Much present population growth is fuelled by immigration, with new Australians coming from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. The 2011 census found Mandarin to the be the most commonly spoken language in Australia other than English, with Italian, Arabic and Cantonese not far behind.
The population is more urbanised than ever, and the economy’s shift into the post-industrial era shows no sign of slowing.
Those factors alone illustrate great change in Australia, but much bigger changes in the relationships between nations – and especially the economic rise of China – are equally profound. China is now Australia’s biggest trading partner, but the nation retains strong traditional ties to the United Kingdom, including our flag and monarchy, and a pre-eminent military alliance with the United States.
Trying to preserve traditional relationships and alliances while adjusting to new global realities is a major challenge for Australia and Australians.
Against this backdrop of change and challenge, it remains clear that Australia is still an extraordinarily fortunate nation. Its resources and capabilities are enormous, and the advantages of its fundamentally democratic institutions make it one of the world’s most attractive destinations for people and for capital.
However Australians choose to spend today – whether they wave the flag at public events or privately enjoy the fruits of the nation’s peace, prosperity and freedom – most of them will spend a moment acknowledging their good fortune in being a citizen of such a blessed and bountiful land.