Happy Australia Day to all my fellow Aussie mates. Hope you are toasting somewhere by the beach or the pool with a stubby in one hand and a sausage sanga (Sausage Sandwich) on the other watching over your mates playing backyard or beach cricket.
For most Australians (Australia Day) simply represents a public holiday which gives them an excuse to fire up the Barbie (BBQ), sausages, beers a game of cricket, pavlova and pretty much talk “shit”as Aussies would refer it. Most Australians at most times are pretty chilled people. This has been noted by most tourists who come to this country. We are a nation of genuinely nice people. We may not have the polish to cover up and talk politely and be politically correct but even the guy who sounds racist is usually a pretty nice guy.
A friend of mine who came over from North America was amazed how random people just opened up to her in the bus or the plane and were super helpful. I recollect a time when I went to Canada with then my two very young children, I went via Hawai. My youngest was a runner/escape artist. So I had to hang on to him on one hand other with all the luggage. Had three passports and all other documents to hold as well. Unlike in Australia there were too many check points. And each time I think that’s the last of it and put the passports back in the handbag and then come across another check point. Ughh! They had no sympathy for a mother with two young kids, instead they would get irritated that I didn’t have the papers ready. Same treatment when coming back, I was on this constant stress mode when I arrived at the Sydney Airport. Waiting for my bags to arrive and keep the young one on check, a middle aged man standing next to me said to me “love just stand here and point me to your luggage and I will get it for you” and he just did that, packed all my luggage carefully on the trolley and put my boys in it too. I got to the counter and as there was no queue in front of me I didn’t get a chance to get the documents out. I was again on panic mode trying to get them out. The lady at the counter “love take your time, it’s ok” and she started to chat to my kids. I thought “I’m home”.
I am a migrant from Sri Lanka, I arrived here twenty eight years ago and became an Australian Citizen 26 years ago exactly today. Hubby and I were expecting our first child and the Citizenship ceremony took place in Hornsby, NSW. It was really an awesome day. It felt like the beginning of many great things to come by. And it sure did. A conscious effort was made to make us feel welcomed and a new chapter was opened in our lives. Even so, I think within me for a long time I felt like a guest. I was happy where I was staying but didn’t feel it was my place. When ever I mentioned “back home” it meant Sri Lanka. I think the first time I referred to Australia as my home was on this return journey from Canada.
Hear me out completely before you cast that stone “ungrateful”. I wasn’t ungrateful, far from it. As each year notched I became more relaxed in my new environment and I could feel a shift in my mannerisms and way of thinking. I was becoming used to the Aussie Larrikin and was starting like him/her. I am still a mixed bag in terms of my identity. When I am asked “where are you from” at times I would say “from Sri Lanka” but there are times I have caught my self saying, we are originally from Sydney, then we moved to Adelaide…” I have no shame or issue of my ethnicity. Do I ooze with so much pride that I refuse to call myself Australian? On the contrary, I feel so much pride in saying I am an Australian.
So much so, I am comfortable calling out on the mistakes, errors and simply things we should rectify. I am no more a guest, I am now a family member. I will support, I will stand up for, I will protect but I will also call you out when you are wrong.
The great debate at present – should we change the date of Australia Day?
For the first Australians the Aborigines this seems to be very important, as this day represents something very dark in their history. It wasn’t the day that English really landed in Australia however throughout history, on the 26th of January the English set up or did horrible things to Aborigines. There was even once a Beach umbrella type thing set up called the ‘Aboriginal Embassy’ as to represent ‘Aliens on our land’ They kept reminding them with their actions that they stole this land from them and now they are foreigners in their own country.
The aborigines lost their land, their identity, their language, their families and eventually their self worth.
I do not believe in punishing or blaming the current generation for the mistakes of the old. We all need to move on. But for the victim it is easier said than done.
I know many fair minded White Australians despise the way some Aborigines behave. Using the past issues as excuses for their drinking, gambling and unemployment. As a fellow tax payer I can understand their frustrations. The only way forward is education, empathy and mutual respect. All these actions has to be two way. We need to educate ourselves about them and them about us and same goes for empathy and mutual respect. It goes well past not calling each other “white fellas” and “Black fellas”
For me 26th of January is an important day as that was the day I became an Australian legally. However, happy to move the celebrations to another day so everyone in this country can celebrate it.
I even have a day for that. February 13th. It was the day we said “sorry” to the aborigines. It was day that moved the first Australians and descendants of the first fleet Australians. “Sorry” is a simple word but a damn powerful word.
After the big riots in 1983 in Sri Lanka when the whole country went on a rampage of killing innocent Tamils no one said “sorry” not even close. The country’s then President J.R Jaywardene went on T.V for his first press conference and explained that the “Sinhela people reacted to the 13 Army soldiers being killed by the militants in the north” not one word to say that this was in fact something wrong. pointless, mindless act. Not one single word, the whole speech almost condoning the actions of the masses. Months later my friend Lalith sent me a letter, it was not a long letter, it simply said “I’m sorry, I am ashamed” he went on to ask if I was okay, etc. But none of that mattered. The only words that keep ringing in my ears were “I am sorry”. He was just a young teenager at that time. But he was sincere, he was courageous, He was respectful.
If we are serious about reconciliation we need to start with respect. Even if you do not care about reconciliation and simply want them to get off their back sides and do a days work and get off the dole, this is the only way – RESPECT.
The day we said sorry to them was a great starting point. Let’s start there. Let’s remind ourselves each year, what we did on the 13th Feb 2008. Let it be a day that we are all proud of.
Time for another piece of Pav.