this is my latest blog post over at goldcoast.com.au:
SO, what is an Australian, anyway?
I found myself asking this question as this increasingly bizarre summer has gone on.
There have been times lately when it has been immensely irritating to be an Australian.
The cricket, of course, but I’ve written about that before. And besides, I’m the last person to defend Australian cricket, right now. The players have been largely awful, the selection panel has been worse, and the PR machine that is Cricket Australia has been a joke.
No, I can handle the chirpings from the English section of my family when it comes to cricket. After all, it’s only a matter of time before the cycle turns and we’re kicking their scrawny pale buttocks all over the planet again.
There’s the weather of course. Droughts one decade, killer floods the next, bushfires in between to keep things … interesting is definitely not the right word.
What I can’t cop is, in this of all months – when Australians have been at their best, damn it – being told by an Englishman just what constitutes a ‘real’ Australian.
I have an uncle of whom I am fond – I’m very like him in many ways – but in one way we are very, very different.
He is English. I am Australian. And therein lies so much difference in outlook, in attitude, in perspective – oh, don’t get me started.
Uncle has been out here staying with my Parental Units for the past month or so.
(Fortunately he has now gone home to his computer-free, mobile phone-free, cable-TV free, technology-free Luddite-and-proud existence where yesterday’s football results are today’s news. I feel confident he’ll only read this if some other member of the family bothers to print it out and stickytape it to a pigeon’s leg.)
Over the past six weeks, every time Uncle has stepped out of an Australian taxi his first port of call conversation-wise has been: “Yeah he said he was Australian, that cab driver, but he wasn’t a real Australian, was he?”
Because, you see, the English – at least a certain type, of which Uncle is clearly one – believe that if an Australian doesn’t look, and sound, like someone who might have originally sprung from the Mother Country, then they can’t be real Australians.
‘Real Australian’ means, apparently, a little English person who has deigned to come out here and add his or her superior genes to the pool.
Maybe I’m being overly sensitive, but with Australia Day looming on Wednesday and with all the unbelievably generous fundraising and volunteering going on – not just here in southeast Queensland, but across the country – I take mortal offence at being defined by anyone but a fellow Australian.
See, I’m an Aussie by choice. Maybe that makes me like an ex-smoker – perhaps I have a tendency to proselytize. But it also makes me very, very proud.
My parents and I came out here when I was six years old, from England, and I’ll give my PUs this – they committed.
There was no vacillating, no keeping one foot in England in case it didn’t work out. No supporting English sporting teams. They signed up for a new life, lock, stock and barrel.
I lost my Birmingham accent in three weeks – I learned early about the Australian art of the pisstake – and we became Australian citizens as soon as I was old enough to decide if I wanted to swear an oath or take an affirmation.
(I affirmed. None of that God rubbish for me.)
The English – particularly those of Uncle’s generation – will never understand how a group of people with wildly different international accents, wildly different physical characteristics and wildly different heritages can ever consider themselves to be countrymen.
Some pundits who like to be the cool kids say there’s nothing unique about being an Aussie. ‘Mateship’? That’s just another word for being buddies, or pals, or friends, they say. Australians can’t claim it for themselves.
Well, I call cowpatties on that.
If mateship was nothing unique, we wouldn’t have had to find a new word for it.
I can’t define it, but I know what it looks like.
It looks like the thousands of volunteers turning up at strangers’ houses and mucking in. It looks like flood victims in other parts of Queensland reaching in to their pockets and donating to help the ones in Brisbane and the Lockyer Valley. It looks like Sam the Koala, and those blokes fishing that kangaroo out of the flooded waterway. And yeah, it looks like Long Tan and Gallipoli and Changi as well.
I’m not saying other nations don’t help each other in tough times – of course they do. Look at Brazilians in the wake of the awful landslides and floods they’ve had recently.
I’ll bet they have their own word for it too. And some Brazilian pundit will be saying ‘oh that’s not unique to Brazil’. And he or she will be wrong as well.
I know a few things ‘mateship’ and ‘being Australian’ don’t look like. They don’t look like racism. They don’t look like superiority. And they don’t look like stinginess or ‘charity begins at home’.
I wouldn’t swap being Australian for a chance to be any other nationality. Not because I think we’re ‘better’ or ‘smarter’ or ‘superior’. But because we are different from any other nationality.
And, damn it, I LIKE how it feels. And I like how it feels to look around me and see Australians who may not look like me, or sound like me, or share my origins, but who know exactly how it feels to feel Australian. Even if we can’t put it into words.
Enjoy Australia Day, mate. We’ve earned it.
what’s been amazing to me is the number of commenters who’ve told me via their comments that i’m a racist because of what i said in this column. stunning. my whole premise is that australians are multicultural and that’s one of the things that makes us both australian and great.
apparently, that makes me racist. all i can say is that the english teachers of australia are clearly not doing their job when it comes to the good old-fashioned comprehension test.
ah well … the reader is always right. isn’t that right, gentle reader?