IT pays to take a long view about Australian history, on this our national day. It puts debate about January 26 in perspective.
The landmass we know as Australia is ancient, with some of the oldest features in the world. It is flatter than other continents because it has weathered time for far longer. It started near Antarctica, before continental drift inched it closer to the equator over tens of millions of years.
There were once volcanoes along the eastern edge of Australia, and huge lava plains. And while there are mountain ranges of note across the country, with spectacular examples of individual landforms such as Uluru and Kata Tjuta which resisted erosion, Australia is a landmass marked by the action of wind and water.
We should never forget the ancient heritage of the land on which we walk, how resilient it is but also how fragile.
And we should never forget that all human habitation of this continent is but a blink of an eye against that ancient history.
Uluru and Kata Tjuta stood in majestic and silent isolation for millions of years before they became the focus of divisions between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. That was before non-indigenous Australians acknowledged a 200-year claim on the country sounded hollow when compared with that of people who had walked the desert for millennia.
January 26, 1788 is the date Sir Arthur Phillip and a small band of marines and officers claimed land at Sydney Cove in the name of King George III and established a penal colony. It is significant because it is the day this continent changed irrevocably, and we can’t go back.
It’s been said that it’s the event that brought “civilisation” to this continent, as represented by agriculture, industry, increased population and subjugation of the environment to “civilisation’s” needs. On that basis the statement is correct.
But there’s just as strong an argument that indigenous Australians paid an extraordinary price for the loss of their civilisation, their culture, their heritage, by force if necessary.
History is about change and it’s often convulsive, tragic and leaves a lasting legacy.
Australians, all, should celebrate the splendour of this rugged and unique landscape, but we need to think twice about seeing January 26 as a unifying day.
It is care of this land that should unite us.