My dad was a Finn. As a child he lived through the Second World War and immigrated to Australia when he was in his late twenties, mostly to get away from Finland’s dark, cold winters. My mum is of convict stock, and although the family has tried to sweep that under the rug, the truth is that someone, somewhere stole a loaf of bread. I was born, relinquished and adopted in Sydney. We, all three, are a patchwork of Australia. Joined together in the way that so many Australians are – through journeys across oceans, involving separations from families, harbouring losses and hopes, woven together by our stories.
As someone who has travelled a lot, to places where blessings are oft hard to see, I rarely take these sweeping plains, this wide blue sky, this red earth for granted. I am blessed to live in this sunburnt country, privileged to call it home. But I am also aware that it is not always an easy country to live in. We stand on an ancient land, with a history of turning our backs on those who have resided here for centuries, brutally ignoring their voice and counsel, as young are wont do with their elders. As a nation we are still children, caught in a tangled web of cultures and languages, beliefs and histories – often falling back to the way things were done, rather than challenging the norm. In many respects we are still creating our shared narrative, and only just beginning to understand that we are on this journey together.
With Australia Day rolling around, it’s perhaps time to reflect on how much has changed in our current lifetime. Today being Australian is more than utes, meat pies and sunscreen. It isn’t just stories of brown snakes, redbacks, sharks and drop bears. And it’s more than a cycle of persisting droughts and flooding rains followed by unrelenting bush fires. We don’t all have pet kangaroos, say G’Day and want to learn how to surf. Today we are a continent of migrants from more than 200 countries, with over 450 languages (250 of which are Aboriginal) still spoken, and over 23 million shared and unique experiences.
We live in increasingly volatile and unpredictable times and, for many, being Australian is the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s knowing that at the end of a long day there is somewhere safe to rest your weary head. Being Australian is about being able to go to church, to mosque, to temple and worship freely, in peace. Being Australian is about freedom of access to education and health care, regardless of your ethnic origin, the colour of your skin, your gender or faith. Being Australian is about not just the right, but the obligation to vote, to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to stand up and have a say in the future of this incredible nation. Being Australian is about equal access to a fair and unbiased legal system. And being Australian is about recognising and respecting the voice of the traditional landowners.
But being Australian also comes with responsibility. First and foremost, is our responsibility to recognise, respect and celebrate the diversity that makes this country what it is – rather than trying to boil it all down into some sort of politically palatable concoction.
The depth of our diversity is the very foundation of our strength, majesty and power as a people. This tapestry of experience, should we allow it, can foster new ways of seeing the world, understanding our role and lead us into the future as a nation of equals.
Our story is still being written… being Australian involves deciding what the next chapter looks like.