Red Coats on January 26 a cultural cringe for all Australians


There is obviously a debate around January 26th as a national public holiday for Australians. Regardless of people’s thoughts on that debate, a group of men dressing up as British Red Coats on that day, walking through the streets of Perth and brandishing a British flag, shouting “Aim, fire,” was a clear attempt to inflame animosity and racial tensions with Whadjuk Noongar people, on a day that has a degree of hurt and trauma attached to it for Aboriginal people, on a national scale.

To provide some context, Howard, as Prime Minister, changed the date of Australia Day to January 26th, because it marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet at Port Jackson in New South Wales. It included the raising of the British flag at Sydney Cove by Arthur Phillip. In 2012, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II awarded Howard the prestigious Order of Merit, which is bestowed personally by Her Majesty recognising distinguished service for the promotion of British culture in the Commonwealth, among other things.

This context makes the actions of the men unclear. For one, they were expressing pride in a foreign nation and its flag. Secondly, the Swan River Colony of Western Australia had not been established until 1829 meaning that red coats would not really been seen in the vicinity of Perth until 40 years after the flag-raising ceremony. It is a strong indication that many Australians simply are not aware of their history or the significance of the decisions made on our behalf about our apparent pride, values or narrative.

The actions of these men raises concern in the community for anyone who values Australia and our freedoms. It is also an embarrassing reflection on our community in and around Perth, that has taken many great steps toward inclusion for all people, including meaningful engagement with Noongar and other Aboriginal people. Whatever the legal implications of some men brandishing imitation pistols is, the cultural cringe is enough for most of us who are fed up and want times to progress.

Howard once referred to the injustices done to Aboriginal Australia as little more than a “blemish,” and yet the scar tissue of clearly harmful policies over successive generations is monstrously apparent, even today.

I am sure that I stand for many in the Perth LGBTIQ community, when I condemn outright, any action that deliberately causes distress or harm to a group of people, especially when it comes to race, creed and culture.

A patriotic Australian does not seek to divide our nation, nor does it express pride in the domination of a former empire—before Federation—where life-expectancy, living standards and legal rights had not yet been improved by hard-working Australians from every nation and culture on Earth.

I for one, do not want to see this kind of behaviour in our streets again.

Jesse J. Fleay is a Noongar academic, who has been involved with the Uluru Statement and the Republic movement for a decade. His PhD Research is the creation of the first model for an Australian Republic, when Australia goes to a constitutional referendum. Views are his own.

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