Today marks Twenty Seven years since we landed on this soil. Today I speak/write as a Proud Australian, proud but sometimes sad and sometimes mad. Before you start slinging stones at me for being ungrateful, please read on…(special note to Pauline Hanson some words may make you say “Please explain” fear not, there is a book called the “Dictionary”, no scratch that, just google it)
I like to visit why we left for Australia, my feelings then and now, what have I observed, and the big question What it is to be an Australian.
Why did we leave Sri Lanka? More importantly why would you leave if you were financially stable. I am currently in the process of writing about the civil war in Sri Lanka and the main reasons for my departure from that country etc. But a shorter version would be to say, due to the Civil war.
As a Tamil we constantly lived in fear. Famous words were “If you are in the wrong place at the wrong time”, well there was no right place or right time either. Any place could turn into a wrong place. For the Government forces you are a terrorist because you have a Tamil surname and if you are in the North and if you don’t comply or adhere to whims of the militants then you are a traitor. When your life is in danger having a healthy bank balance alone will not convince you to stay on. So in our case we didn’t move for the greener pastures, but rather for safer pasture.
The final nail was when I lost my dear friend, who happened to be a Sinhalese. I was asked not to even attend his funeral, as our relatives feared that someone at the funeral might turn on us as emotions would be rather high. I had lost relatives and some friends had lost their dad or brother to the war as well. But for some reason my friends demise stirred something very deep within me.
A boy who was not a racist, the only boy/person who wrote to me apologizing on behalf of his people, for the mass killings of the 1983 riots, now lay dead. The instigators of the war on both sides send in little pawns to be slayed while their kith and kin were sent overseas. They stay out of harms way, while stirring trouble and use young kids to the fore front. This country used my dear friend as a pawn. He was posthumously awarded many medals. He is probably hanging on a wall in a very important building. Just mere ceremonies for Politicians to feel good and earn those precious votes.
War Sucks People, Never invite it or instigate it
I can tell you right now, I would rather have my friend alive rather than on a wall with pretty medals.
With all the unknowns still a foreign land seemed more promising than my own. I could see corruption was only getting worse. The gap between the have’s and have not’s were getting wider. Future in this country looked rather grim. Reluctantly dragging our feet we made the decision to leave a well paying job, house and all the luxuries, such as driver, aides and everything else and move to another country to start over.
Mixed emotions for me when I left. My mum had just undergone a Kidney Transplant surgery. She donated a kidney to her brother. Timing wasn’t great. I really didn’t want to leave when I left. I would have liked to stay for a few more months. But then again when you are surrounded with relatives each one with their own view and everyone else view taken into consideration but just not yours, you have no choice but to pack your bags. I left thinking okay let me get far away from all of you as well. After I had reluctantly agreed to the departure date there was another group who thought I shouldn’t be leaving my mum behind and I was being a selfish daughter. I had to keep reminding myself of, “The story of the father and son taking the donkey to the market”. I needed a new beginning.
We landed at the Melbourne Tullamarine Airport on the 1st Sept 1990. It was a chilly morning. Everything felt crisp, clean, new, overwhelming and exciting.
The day after we arrived, we went and registered for our tax file numbers, medicare and all other mundane official applications. Twenty Seven years later, I now have the privilege to be annoyed and berate about the inefficiency of our Government Departments. But at that time I was amazed that I was able to get all those things done within the same day. And I didn’t need to ‘know’ anyone to get those things done. No one jumped the queue, and no one said “Oh you are so and so’s daughter, come, come, come. have a seat”. The guy with the tattoo was served the same way as the woman with the designer bag. I smiled.
We also chose to migrate at a time when Paul Keating decided it was a ‘recession we had to have’. This made hubby very anxious for the first time in his working life. With no proper working experience under my belt it was even harder for me. I enrolled in a TAFE program to get job ready. I was so thrilled to have access to a public library for FREE. We had a mixed group of students in my class. Different ages, different race and cultures. But we all got along really well. No one shouted out “Go back to where you came from”. I don’t know how I would have reacted if that had happened. I don’t think I would have gone back. I would have thought I did nothing wrong, I am staying put.
I would have become resentful rather than thankful as I am.
Hubby had to wait till October/Nov to get his first job and that was in Sydney. So we moved to Sydney.
Slowly started to learn the lingo and the accent.
I still remember, I was working at my hubbies office. I used to run errands and had to stop at the Post Office everyday and so I became a regular. One of the ladies one day said “How you going?” I was rather perplexed. Office was just two blocks away and you’ve seen me walking here everyday, I was like a stunned mullet (for non Aussies refer above). They all had a good laugh. I felt rather embarrassed until later listening to an Interview with Michael J Fox, where he was thrown the same question and he thought “thats a strange question by Plane of course”. Again for Non Aussies “How you going” but when saying it you have fuse all three words into one and what ever that noise is, means how are you.
I got used to the Taxi driver, the Newsagent, the random guy at the bakery and anyone else addressing me as “love” – yes love, no love, here you go love, No worries love.
For me that is very Australian.
We bought our first unit in 1991. I was studying Accountancy and working. It was tough. But, I was loving the fact I had less family interference and I loved this world where everyone was an equal. But Hubby was struggling. Hubby had a job, but it didn’t pay him or treat him anywhere near what he was used to. He persevered. But I am sure at times he wanted quit everything and go back.
We became Aussie citizens in January Australia Day 1993. I fell pregnant. Hari was due first week of May 1993. We just had the one car. Hubby was working in the South of Sydney while we lived in North West. One day, I find a note stuck under my door. One of the old guys who lived in one of the other units had left it. We’ve met him and his wife once or twice at the Body Corporate meetings. They’ve seen me waddle around towards the end of my pregnancy and knew that hubby worked far away. He has put that note saying if I needed to get to the hospital and Hubby wasn’t there I could call him. I shed a tear seeing that note. I was feeling rather emotional, as this was going to be my first child and I was missing mum. But seeing that note made me think I am not alone after all. I smiled and I cried.
For me that is very Australian.
I think it was 1994 my mum arrives and later we buy a house and move out of this unit. First day in our house, a very tall gentlemen arrives at the door and introduces himself as Ken from the opposite house. Let’s us know that if we needed any garden tools we were most welcome to borrow his. Yes, just like that.
Once again I am pregnant and it is now 1996. Keith my neighbor sees me agitated, I had rung for taxis and none were coming. He gets his car keys without hesitation.
I think the year was 2005, we decide to have a sea change and move to South Australia. Hubby was starting his new job in November. I wanted to wait till the school term ends and join hubby in January. Hubby just mentions to Keith that he is leaving for Adelaide and “Uma and the boys will be here, just keep an eye on them Keith please”. Saturday morning dawns and I hear a noise outside. I look through the window and I see Keith mowing my front garden, I yell out to Keith “what are you doing Keith?” He yells back “Open the side gate, so I can do the back”.
For me that is very Australian.
Views on what it is to be Australian seems to be taking center stage in the recent times. Unfortunately by the wrong people (most times).
I love the fact that a plumber and his lawyer could sit at the pub next to each other have a beer and call each other mate. I love the fact that someone could hurl a shoe at the Prime Minister and he wasn’t put to death for that.
Patriotism and Racism share a fine line. Very easy to merge across but there is that fine line. When Donald Trump Said “I will make America great again”, many were up in arms about it sounding like Hitler. If we take that resemblance out and just focus on that sentence alone, it sounds okay. Nothing wrong with that. But then to continue on about Mexicans being rapist etc is where he loses credibility and walks from Patriotism to Racism.
Sometimes change is scary. But that doesn’t mean it is bad. Think about the migrant, change is all he has. You help him out, he will be ever so grateful. You push him, push him to a wall, what else can he do other than to fight back. There is nothing wrong with Patriotism but know the difference before you start the slogans.
If in doubt watch the movie “The Castle”. I think we should throw away the citizenship test and show every migrant this movie. Take them to a game of Cricket, Rugby or AFL. There are more ways to become an Australian than on an exam paper.
I carried the Australian flag rather proudly when I went for the Sydney Olympics. I carry the flag whether it has the union jack or the boxing kangaroo, as long as it is the flag I will honour it and carry it with pride to the Cricket, Soccer or any other sporting event. But when I see it used at racist rallies, it really breaks my heart. It makes me sad and makes me mad.
My 75 year old mother tirelessly works as a volunteer five days a week. Sometimes on the weekend as well. She was married off rather young, I think by the age of 17. So she didn’t really complete her formal education.
She teaches sewing to migrants at the Junction Community Centre. She also does similar work at the Cheltenham Community Centre, St Vincent de Paul, World Vision, and so many more. She also takes part in many Charity events such as Biggest Morning Tea, Cooking for the homeless the list goes on. For all these events she will take multiple forms of public transport and get there whether its rain or shine.
As per the first picture you see, she does wear the saree very often, she does wear long skirts and sometimes pants. Now is she an Australian?
I will write more tomorrow. But just for tonight hope you see Australia through my lenses.