January 26: An Exhibition of Patriotism
On January 26, exhibitions are held throughout Australia’s campgrounds. The central themes of said exhibitions are that of patriotism and its associated behaviours. These grounds present a strange and twisted reality in which decency is substituted for brash lad-culture, extreme excess and environmental abuse.
As a single critic, it’s impossible to review all of the said exhibitions, so it was decided that the state of focus this year would be South Australia. While the campground will remain unnamed, I can disclose that it is based along the coast, where the sun, sea, and cliffs work together to form an enclosed haven for Australia’s proudest at their worst. Admission for such a place? $7.
Below are the thoughts I conjured upon witnessing five of many pieces from some of Australia’s most unapologetic artists:
Screams of Musical Democracy
An audio-centred work, Screams of Musical Democracy is an ode to a time before a now “unpatriotic” radio station changed the date of its yearly countdown of the best anthems from Australia’s favourite American artists.
Focusing on the reactions of its attentive listeners, this piece highlights that its primary audience remains unaffected by the change, a worrying concern for patriots who are appalled by the “worst” act ever committed on January 25. Hear the horrified screams of the unpatriotic as Travis Scott’s ‘SICKO MODE’ fails to obtain the best song of the year or the caveman-like grunts of approval followed by the cracking of several beverages on foreheads as Fisher’s ‘Losing It’ blares through a Commodore’s sub-woofer.
The Refuge of the Elderly
An almost uncharacteristic work, The Refuge of the Elderly aims to depict the later stages of patriotism in its most mundane but seemingly most extravagant form. Often present a week before the most important day of the year, the two subjects claim their territory with a gleaming white retirement-funded palace on wheels. They then ensure flags are visible from every angle, as they will not let anyone out-pride them.
The elderly’s main objective is to provide silent judgement, reminiscing on how much better everything used to be, and how those younger than them “just don’t get it”. At first glance, one could almost mistake them for wax figures if not for their occasional rummaging of the portable generator-powered fridge.
A defiant look at societal values and a twisted commentary on invasion, Family Tradition is brutally honest work. A local group have returned to their sanctioned piece of land to find that it is no longer their own. Littered with empty packets of salty snacks and empty cans, those responsible, a family of four, are equipped with not only traditional attire (adorning the colours of red, blue, and white) but a ceremonial bong.
This ‘pride-pipe’ is shared amongst the self-appointed leader (identified by his bucket-like headpiece), his ‘missus’, and their two offspring (15 and 12). Together they mark the land as their own, shrouding the previous owner’s belongings in thick clouds of dank herbal aroma. Making the most of the opportunity, the leader ensures that the experience is educational for his children, carefully correcting his youngest for “not hitting it hard enough”.
Solace in Pain
A compelling piece of resilience, Solace in Pain is raw and unfiltered in its depiction of the need for self-medication. With the subject — mid-40s, wearing nothing but jorts, thongs, and the sun-dried leathery skin on his back — sitting in his rusted and partially broken chair; one may overlook the centre prong of a fishing spear that has been ‘accidentally’ pierced upright through the ball of his ankle.
He seems almost unfazed, merely finding joy in the opportunity to sit back and enjoy his red tin, he has the same casual nature of someone waiting for an Uber rather than an ambulance. However, as help arrives and begins to carry him away, he stops and mumbles a collection of words to a dumbfounded paramedic: “Get me out, I need a quick dart before the road.” Tears of fellow campers are wept away as they acknowledge the spirit of a true Australian.
A commentary on the consequences of excess, Spontaneous Cleansing deals with the abrupt nature of the body’s reaction to too much pride. The subject’s kryptonite (commonly referred to as “goon”) will often lead to violent outbursts of the contents of their stomachs. From the ashes of defeat, comradery shines bright, as those who have fallen are aided by those soon about to do so themselves.
Chunks of half-cooked sausage, tomato sauce, squares of onion and cheap white bread infused with alcohol slowly erode the sands, the ocean, the crisped yellow paddocks and the interior linings of tents and swags alike. But there is a sense of remembrance among the fallen, for they leave their bottles and bags scattered across the land as tokens of warning, a warning of the perils of patriotism.
White Australia has a black history. Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.
Cover via NT news, drawings by the wildly talented author