The establishment of Australia (aka a Storm about a T-Shirt)

Disclaimer: I am a New Zealand citizen who has adopted Queensland as my new home, started a family here and a business. This does not make me an expert on Australian history. (Actually it’s really expensive & almost impossible for me to get citizenship here).

Ever written a controversial blog post that makes you want to disable the comments and your social media accounts, in preparation for the backlash that may come? This is the one for me. Deep breath, here goes.

Social debate is raging over Aldi stocking a t-shirt stating ‘Australia Est. 1788’. After some negative feedback, they pulled it. Some other retailers are stocking Australia Day merchandise with the same slogan (but a different design).

What saddens me is that the debate really isn’t a debate, it’s name-calling & trolling. Like kids in the sandpit, the ‘conversation’ around this issue is infantile and doesn’t seek to explain or understand. It’s not helped by the limitation of the length of social media posts.

From what I can see (and this is why it’s called an opinion piece), here are the two sides:

A) The use of the word ‘established’ is unfair because Australia existed as a land with worthy people on it before the Europeans landed on it. To say the Europeans established it somehow implies it was ‘less than’ a country before, that’s it’s history prior to 1788 is irrelevant.

B) Australia was established by the Europeans. It didn’t exist in it’s current form with states & government and stuff before that. It wasn’t even known in the rest of the world as a country, and it wasn’t called Australia previously either. So what’s wrong with Est 1788?

Are we arguing over the good old English language? Are we looking at established:to cause (someone or something) to be widely known and accepted versus established:to bring into existence?

The land existed. It’s people existed. In 1788, it changed. One side seeks to make sure that’s well known & accepted. One side isn’t debating that but is celebrating the Europeans settling a new home.

I’m not going to draw a ‘right vs wrong’ line here about the different side of this issue (which may even be overly simplified here). I’m just really really sad that we couldn’t have a civil conversation about it. “What do you mean? Where are you coming from? What are you saying? What do you think?” Seek first to understand. And maybe it’s because I’m slightly removed from the topic that I’m looking beyond the comments and the emotion to get to the actual meanings.

No doubt this will rear again in a couple of weeks on Australia Day, our Public Holiday which falls annually on that same 1788 day/month. There’s certainly been debate to move that to Federation Day (but it gets in the way of New Years Day).

New Zealand has it’s own controversial European settlement, brought into the media spotlight annually on Waitangi Day. Don’t think I’ve ever seen (or ever would see) a New Zealand Est. 1840 t-shirt over there though, perhaps because the signing of NZ’s ‘founding document’ is so well known as being culturally sensitive.

Breathe out. So, there it is. Regardless of your perspective on the date, air your views/opinions/thoughts & feelings without putting the other side down. You’re better than that.

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