Confession time – is there a song you’ve known for many years but never really paid attention to its lyrics? Perhaps the upbeat tempo or the joyful melody lulled you into holding assumptions about the song’s meaning. You click your fingers, tap your foot, dance to its beat and even sing the chorus without really knowing the meaning of the rest of the song? Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” is often portrayed as a patriotic American song to be played with the stars and stripes in the background. It is nothing of the sort – it’s an anti-war protest song whose lyrics describe a local loser who gets signed up for military service in the Vietnam war, loses his good friend, gets scarred by the experience and completely forgotten about by the USA when he returns home and can’t find a job.
I myself confess that I only discovered the true meaning of Red Red Wine recently when an acoustic version started playing on my YouTube list. UB40’s uplifting reggae version (itself a cover for the original by Neil Diamond) fooled me for many years into assuming it to be a romantic song imbued with a cheerful islander theme. The sort of song you attach to candlelit dinner scenes or amorous midnight whirls with a first date. But Bailey Pelkman’s acoustic cover on YouTube stripped away the upbeat melody and exposed the lyrics.
Bailey’s delightful cover deserves to be heard. For me however, I was thrown off guard by the actual words she sings – the true lyrics. It’s a song about a man who cannot forget his ex and becomes an alcoholic to try and overcome the memories of their time together. In hindsight, I should have known better as the title of the song is a dead give away… (face palm emoji which I can’t seem to add to this blog). How am I only now learning the song’s true meaning having heard this song several times since my university days? Maybe I just have a lazy ear? Perhaps my mind is now more receptive of the song’s actual lyrics having gone through a break up 3 years ago and the struggle to overcome the vivid memories of our time together.
Today is Australia Day. The 26th January. The country’s national day. The largest public holiday in the calendar. It is a day that the current Prime Minister demands that all Australians celebrate. It is the day that supposedly defines the country’s identity. After all, the name is “Australia Day”!! First Australians call it Invasion Day for the obvious reason that it signifies the invasion of the continent by a foreign country.
Yet, how many Australians truly know the historical event behind the 26th January? How many actually pay attention to history to learn the true meaning of the 26 January? I’m not referring to themes of invasion and the destruction of First Australians’ pure culture. A later blog will touch on that topic as I’m not in the mood to get into that right now. I’m simply talking about the actual event on the day.
If you were sat on the hot seat and this question popped up as the $1m question, which answer would you go for?
This past weekend, I was invited to sell my novel The Last Gundir at two local markets in Brisbane. With Australia Day coming up, I created a quiz in the form of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire to market the novel. I posed the million dollar question to more than 50 people this weekend.
What historical event happened on the 26th January “Australia Day”?
The choice of answers were:
- Arrival of James Cook
- First Colony at Port Jackson
- Arrival of First Fleet
- First Colony at Botany Bay
The responses I received were approximately as follows:
- 2% (1 person)
If this was the result of the Ask The Audience option, you’d be cursing the audience for their ignorance and you’d ultimately be torn between A or C. Perhaps you would recall Scott Morrison’s comment this week about the First Fleet’s arrival in relation to the upcoming Australia Day and lean towards C. Or perhaps you recently sat your Australian Citizenship test and recall this question was actually on there. On the Department of Immigration’s website, the question is given as:
What was the date from which first European settlement started in Australia?
- 26 January 1878
- 16 January 1788
- 16 January 1878
- 26 January 1788
Selecting D gives the following answer:
“Correct. European settlement started when the first 11 convict ships, which became known as the “First Fleet” arrived from Great Britain on 26 January 1788.”
With 100% certainty, I can tell you that that statement above is factually wrong. An official question posed to people wanting to be Australian Citizens has an incorrect answer which they must select if they want to pass the Citizenship test. (Note that this isn’t the only historical question on the Citizenship test with an incorrect answer assigned to it but I passed mine with 100% result by remembering the type of people who prepare such a test and the ignorant response they would assign to such a question).
Had you gone with the 52% of the audience and said “C) Arrival of First Fleet, final answer”, Chris Tarrant would gaze at you silently for a few tense moments before the dreaded words would come out:
“I’m sorry Sco Mo, that’s the wrong answer.”
The audience (along with the embarrassed folk employed by the Department of Immigration) would catch their breath. The 52% would chew their lips off in guilt.
As for the staggering 40% that selected the arrival of James Cook… a scene from FRIENDS comes to mind where Joey meets an encyclopaedia salesman who tries to sell him the book…
The 1 person who answered it correctly at the markets actually did not know the answer but applied logic to rule out James Cook (who died 9 years before the First Fleet set out from England). She then pondered on the First Fleet but wasn’t sure. Her eyes lit up as she remembered reading about Botany Bay not being suitable as a strategic harbour and the Brits having to move somewhere north. Thus, she surmised that it would have been Port Jackson (present day Sydney) and not Botany Bay. So she went with B) First Colony at Port Jackson, final answer.
This may be a small spoiler for anyone wanting to read The Last Gundir but the actual series of events that led to Arthur Phillip firing the ship’s cannons on the 26th January is rather sensational involving the sudden arrival of French frigates (potentially looking to colonise!) a mere 3 days after the arrival of the First Fleet and the rapid movement of the Brits to secure the best strategic position for a harbour in the area followed by a loud signal on the 26th to let the other European country know that Britain was here to invade and colonise.
It’s easy to get caught up in the melody of the song, the euphoric celebrations of a national day and the supposed patriotism depicted by the media for the 26th January. But do yourself a favour, strip away the cheerful melody and listen to the true words of our history.
Of our black and white history.
The Last Gundir out now in Avid Reader bookshop, Amazon, Kobo or by e-mailing me for a personalised copy (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The quiz can be downloaded below.