THE NAKED CITY: THE LAST REFUGE OF PATRIOTIC MERCH
Woolworths’ recent decision not to stock Australia Day merchandise in their stores this year appears to have been a purely commercial decision, rather than any ideological awakening. They noted that “there has been a gradual decline in demand for Australia Day merchandise from our stores over recent years”. It was the perfect opportunity for Peter Dutton to fire off a salvo and stir up some nationalistic fervour, as he called for a boycott of Woolworths stores Australia wide.
What if people took him seriously and millions did blacklist their local Woolies? Hundreds of thousands of employees laid off, suppliers unable to find a a market for their goods and perhaps worst of all the Chinese manufacturers who supply many of the tacky items bitterly disappointed. I for one will be keeping a close watch on Dutton on Australia Day and if he’s not decked out in a yellow and green Aussie sombrero, beer mug party glasses, a “Come On Aussie” cape flag and carrying a set of plastic boomerangs (all available from Discount Party Supplies if you interested), I’ll be calling him un-Australian and a hypocrite.
One of the positive things about Australia is that we don’t embrace the kind of deep rooted and often fanatical nationalism we see in many other countries. Sure we get worked up in the sporting arena when the Matildas are doing well but otherwise our largely multicultural makeup keeps a lid on the kind of flag waving jingoism that we see in America for example. Prior to 1935, 26 January was celebrated largely as Foundation Day and thereafter as Australia Day in most states but not declared an official public holiday until 1994.
It was an artificial acknowledgement, a bureaucratic decision and one that had little to do with any sense of who we are, where we all came from and any universal empathy for nationhood. Multiple surveys have shown that many Australians still think that it marks Captain Cook ‘discovering’ Australia as opposed to Arthur Phillip landing with the first fleet in 1788.
Whilst Australian Of The Year and other good citizen gongs are handed out and various cultural events abound, for most people it’s a public holiday with little time to get sentimental or patriotic about a bunch of nasty British colonialists setting foot on Australian soil. If it creates some superficial sense of national pride and unity then maybe there’s nothing wrong with a seemingly unlimited array of t-shirts, caps and other ‘Straya Day’ merch.
On the other hand, does anybody really reflect on the historical significance of the arrival of the British colonialists or just seize the opportunity to host a barbie, get on the piss and scream “oi oi oi”? Whilst the origin and true context of the phrase is disputed, I am happy to go with the literal interpretation of Samuel Johnson’s famous quote “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. It’s certainly worked for Donald Trump and maybe we could extend that by saying the overt display of patriotic merchandise, including Aussie flag thongs (yes, made in China), is the last refuge of the jingoist.
If we are to have some kind of public holiday, celebrating our various origins, why not a day of national unity that recognises over 60,000 years of Aboriginal culture and also acknowledges the arrival of the numerous migrant groups who now form an integral part of our population and form the true Australian identity. You can only imagine that suggestion would go down like a lead balloon with the likes of Dutton and Pauline Hanson, as they scurry to their nearest Coles to pick up anything emblazoned with the Southern Cross or a boxing kangaroo.
Good on Woolies, and Aldi as well, for clearing out the usual Aussie day merch. There’s plenty of early Easter hot cross buns to take their place. If you really want you can still pick up a pack of frozen Four’N’Twenty meat pies, assorted Tim Tams and a can of SPC Beans In Vegemite as a culinary homage to this great nation. Perhaps Woolies can now show some real ideological commitment and next year reintroduce some of the merch, all devoid of the loathsome Union Jack that’s synonymous with years of British imperialism, slavery, massacres and the subjugation of indigenous peoples.