Abolish Australia? Looking back to 1988

YouTube delivered some remarkable footage to me yesterday, footage I had not seen before of an event I participated in. As I said on Faceboook:

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following footage may contain images and voices of deceased persons.

I was there, in that very park, on that very day! An amazing day! I don’t expect you to spot me, but I was up towards the railway line on an embankment near those trees. You can see the spot more or less in some shots. I have never seen this footage before — it’s German. And I marched with them from Belmore Park all the way to Hyde Park.

It didn’t occur to me on the day, but watching this footage I am really struck by the absence of police!


Back in 2019 I posted a touch impatiently:

I don’t have a problem with recognising the 26 January 1788 event — can walk and chew gum at the same time! It is BOTH a solemn day of reflection AND a day to celebrate the achievements of all Australians. And as I said in 2014:

I was there that day and joined all these people in their march. 26 years ago on the 26th!


26 January 1988 – image by the great Michael Riley

But none of us are going anywhere, are we?

There may be a time in the future when we have an opportunity to forge a new national day, free of the ambivalence that accompanies Australia Day. But for now, January 26 is it. Let’s use it as an occasion to celebrate our achievements and reflect on the things that we share as Australians.

Let’s also use it to ask whether our country is living up to the best of its traditions. In the words of one patriot, ”My country, right or wrong: if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”

See also my 2012 post  There is a land where summer skies…  Some earlier Australia Day posts: 20072008 – 12008 – 22009 – 12009: 22009 – 320102011 – 12011 – 22011 – 32011 – 42011 – 52011 – 62011 – 7; the page series Being Australian2012 photo blog; 2013 – 12013 — 2.

These days the agenda of protest has moved on, as we saw in places on Australia Day in 2020:


There are banners there that I myself would not choose to march behind. To me they express propositions that are at least dubious, and ambitions that are unrealisable — but I am totally in favour of sharing an honest history and protecting country, not only in a general sense but in the specific sense understood by First Australians. But get one thing clear: I am totally a fan of  “I am, we are, we are Australian” — and I don’t just mean the song!

Back to 1988. On Facebook I noted related memories.

Through my friend at the time, Kristina Nehm, I had the privilege of meeting many people, including the Mornington Island Dancers — who some months later in 1988 performed memorably at Masada College where I was then working. I had the thrill — no other word for it — one night as we sat on the floor at Kristina’s place of having a songman tell me privately the Dreaming story of the bees of Mornington Island.

Kristina Nehm and Ernie Dingo 1987


Mornington Island Dancers

Mentioning Kristina brought to mind a lovely story about blogging and the power of the Internet.

And Jim Belshaw comes into the story too! He wrote: “On 3 October [2006] Stozo [the Clown] emailed me from Chicago seeking information on a friend he had lost contact with, the Australian actress Kristina Nehm. He referred to an article I had written on a blog. The name was familiar but I could not remember.

“I did a web search to check on Kristina, realised that I could not have written about her because we had never met and had no links (initially I thought that she might be one of the New England writers I had spoken about in a different context). So I emailed Stozo and asked for the story details. He came back with details.

“Looking at the link I realised that this was a comment I had made on Neils’ blog on 1 September. The comment was about Aboriginal education in the past. But in Neil’s response he had mentioned Kristina. So I emailed Neil. Neil fowarded the email chain to Kristina. All this is on the same day. Three days later Kristina sent a thank you email to Neil to say that she had established contact and that Stozo was just so happy.”

Kristina and I kept in touch until quite recently. In 2007 there was a memorable occasion at the Shakespeare Hotel in Surry Hills.

Dinner on Malcolm at The Shakespeare

M was unable to come, but Sirdan and Kristina did. Lord M would be pissed off that The Shakespeare is now offering a $10 Sunday roast, something he had long advocated/desired as the place is so handy as well as being a great little family pub. When Sirdan gets back from Africa we will definitely give it a go. So Sirdan headed off home, and Kristina and I continued talking for a while outside the pub. But then, Kristina being Kristina, she ran into an old friend and we all got chatting: Geoffrey Rush! And a few others…