It’s #ANZAC day today – the national day of remembrance in both Australia and New Zealand. The 25th April commemorates the first major campaign of WWI involving forces from the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps at Gallipoli in 1915. In ‘normal times’, Anzac day usually involves dawn services at the local memorial statue, haunting renditions of the last post, march passes and parades in the big cities with military bands, veterans and their families, families baking and eating Anzac biscuits, and perhaps playing a bit of two-up at the local ex-services club (the only day of the year when it’s legal to play). It’s a public holiday and so there is a fair amount of booze involved too!
Growing up, I was ever aware of phrases like #diggerspirit and #mateship but never aware of how many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were part of the original campaign. To be honest, I’m still not sure what percentage of the Australian Army consisted of first nation people during any of the international conflicts that the country has been involved in. I find it astonishing that 1915 was only 14 years after Australia formally became a federated nation of eight states and territories (no longer a number of colonies of Britain). And it wasn’t until March 1962 that first nation people were allowed to vote in federal elections. This is the same country where white women gained the right to vote sixty years earlier in 1902. And the same country where there hadn’t been any white people walking on its land around 130 years prior to that.
We are going to the #polls in the UK soon – for local government and mayoral #elections in some of our big cities. Growing up in a country where #compulsoryvoting means a sausage sizzle on a Saturday morning at your local polling station, I still find it weird that polling day is on a Thursday in the UK and that #voterturnout is optional. Every election I find myself saying ‘but women died for the right to vote’ and there are ‘people all over the world who do not have free and fair elections’.
Today, as I write this blog, I am asking myself for the very first time – how many black people died in Australia trying to get the vote, in their own country on their own land? How many black people died in Britain trying to get the vote? When were black people able to vote in Britain? I know nothing of this story, and after living here for 16 years it is time to redress that ignorance.
More importantly however, why have these questions not arisen before now? Why is this not part of public discourse? My #whiteprivilege has meant that I haven’t needed to ask. My #whitefragility has prevented me from being curious. And now, my white consciousness is going to look this up and find some answers.
What questions are you asking yourself?