What’s Your Australia?

The unbridled patriotism of an expat can often be confronting. At an athletics meet in Qatar a couple of years ago I watched as the Kenyan and Ethiopian supporters attempted to out cheer each other on the hill.  When I asked our Ethiopian friend about the rivalry her reply was given with a cheeky grin “Ethiopia and Kenya both run well, but we run better.”

For fifteen years I have cheered for Australia from afar. I’ve tried to understand where it comes from, why it feels so intense, a travellers inexplicable burst of national pride. I’m sure it has something to do with being part of a tribe, or perhaps it’s just the culmination of childhood memories of Olympic swimmers, Wimbledon winning tennis players and America’s Cup triumphs that serve as a connection to times gone by.

I was convinced, perhaps even brainwashed in the 1980’s that Australia was indeed the lucky country. We had space, sunshine, an endless supply of resources, national healthcare, and great diversity. Immigration in the 1950’s and 60’s had meant our nation was rich in culture, sure the cultural cringe was strong (just watch an episode of Kingswood Country) but there was no denying that the community had benefitted from immigration.

At the time I was unconsciously proud of being an Australian, it only became a conscious thought upon leaving the country. Once I’d become an expat I found myself both defending and promoting Australia, it was my home. How could it be that not everyone loved it? Saw it for the magical place that it is?

For the past couple of years my self enforced role of lead cheerleader has been a struggle. Not sports wise, the Australian cricket team has made sure of that. Politically it’s been hard to talk about our multiculturalism and diversity when friends from all over the world question what they read about us in the newspaper. “So where do you send the refugees? And how about the children? Are they locked up as well?” “Ive heard your country doesn’t like Muslims? That communities sign petitions not to have mosques in their neighbourhoods?”

I think back to the 80’s, when the first group of Vietnamese refugees arrived in our country town of 7,500 people. How the old high school was converted to a place of refuge and the Church of England community set up a space and asked for donations and help.

At the dentist yesterday I walked in to be greeted by a Scottish receptionist, had my teeth cleaned by dental hygienist who was originally from the Philippines, and then saw my Australian born dentist whose parents had immigrated from China. I asked the dental hygienist about the immigration process, waiting to hear a tale of woe “you’re not going to believe this, but it was actually quite easy”. If only everyone could arrive by plane.

It was an ABC television promo that caught my eye. The usual thing, snippets of Australia in cinematic brilliance. Our wide brown land, crashing waves, sport, food, scattered amongst it all are our multicultural smiling faces. There must be hundreds of these types of promos in a vault somewhere, I think we love them as Australians. Look at us, look how pretty we are, look how interesting we can be.

And we can be. That’s the thing, that’s my Australia. My Australia is multi-cultural, embracing and understanding of all religions. It’s a place where hard work will win you respect side by side with a strong appreciation of a long weekend.  And if it’s having a hiccup right now, making a few dumb choices, I have faith that it will sort itself out.

What’s your Australia?


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