Friday, 14 December 2012

I Am, You Are, We Are.

I live in Australia. Do I like it? Yeah, of course, it's my home. But I just sort of take that for granted. I like Australia because it's Australia, but I never really analyzed why. I mean, a lot of people keep saying we have the best beaches in the world, and it's true. But I don't go to the beach. A lot of folks love the drinking culture, but I don't go out as often as I used to. And some people love the sports and think we have the best footballers or cricketers or figure skaters or lawn bowlers . . . whatever. But I think that promoting someone for being able to run around in weird clothing carrying a stick or a ball, is something we celebrate when said person is ten years old or younger.
So, in the interests of taking a closer look at national identity and Australian culture, The Word of the Day is 'AUSTRALIAN'.
Let's take a look. The word 'Australian' obviously comes from the word Australia. But the word 'Australia' is taken from the name they used to write on old maps before they got here: Terrae Australis, which is latin for "Land of the South" or "Great Southern Land"
So you look into the sand and it will tell you a story, a story 'bout a legend ended . . .Oh, ahem, sorry about that, I just remembered an awesome song by Icehouse. But the point is, they didn't know what was down here, so they just called it the southern land. Then eventually shortened it, because we're too lazy to use syllables.
So, Australia, just means "Southland"
Of course, then, everyone should know the rest. But the important parts (for this discussion) are that England colonized [here, 'colonized' should be read 'invaded'. Oh yeah, I went there.] and it was called New Holland for a while, I think. Then, once we staked a claim, the place became a big ol' Alcatraz. Full of everyone from bread-thieves to cut-throats. And eventually people had children, they grew up had children, bada-bing, bada-bloody hell are you? We had Australia.
So why am I talking about this? Well, as far as I can see it, I'm not really Australian. Remember that part how all the English came over and invaded? Well, my bloodline is 6/8ths English (or close to) with some French, Swedish, Irish and all manner of European mix-breeds in there. So, genetically speaking, I am not Australian. Aboriginals are.
Don't worry, I'm not going to pull a Baz Luhrmann and spend this whole time talking about how we raped the Aboriginal culture. It's not that I don't think we did. WE DID. But I'm not going into it. Why? Two reasons:
1, because it was my grandpappies and all them old people who destroyed the culture, not me. It's not my responsibility.
2, The Most Important Point: If I cry foul and tell people we should 'fix' the problem, then I'm doing the same thing those grandpappies did. Try to 'fix' a problem they saw with Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people need to take a stand and fix themselves, otherwise they'll lose their culture entirely.
What I am talking about is pure semantics. Genetically speaking an "Australian People" would have to be the Aboriginals. Talk about the atrocities of the Stolen Generation on your own time, people. Anyway. My point is, that I am, at best, Genetically English. But that's not what Australian means. Dictionary says:

Australian /os'traylyən/ adj. 1. of or relating to Australia. ♦n. 2. a person born or living in Australia.

So, it doesn't matter where you come from, because if you live here "you're Australian". And for a while, I didn't really understand the whole "Australian" ideal. Since we kinda stole someone else's place, called it ours and made up the rest . . . but then I started hearing this term. Get this: "honorary Australian"
At first I thought it was just a meaningless throwaway term, but apparently it's a full-bore, honorary title. Politicians can give them out. It's for people who have done well in a particular field (usually socio-cultural).
And when I first heard it, I thought it was the height of narcissism. Saying "You're so good, you could be Australian", when I first heard it, it sounded like a white guy going to a black guy saying "Wow, you're so smart, you could be white!" It's worse than the "God Bless America" in pretense. Y'see what I mean?
But then it hit me. Because 'Australians' aren't really from Australia, and just live here. It takes all the wind out of the inherent racism of that statement.
So, 'The Australian People' aren't really defined by height, skin colour, creed or culture. But rather as people who live in Australia, and espouse our work hard, rest harder, laidback ideal.
And people who live here now have come from all over, ever since the abolishment of the White Australia Policy [really, history? Really?]. Just looking at the people I've come across, people have come from Africa, America, China, England, India, Malaysia, Pakistan and Russia. But there are more.
So, when we talk about being 'honorary Australians' it's not so much 'Wow, you're better than your culture should allow', It's 'Wow, you're better than our culture! Want to join?'. Because Australia's not really one culture. It's a multi-culture, with others coming in all the time, and bringing their stories. Not to mention the rich Aboriginal culture hidden underneath years of neglect.
That's why I like Australia. Because Australia is the whole world . . . just in one place.
And that's that I think it means to be 'Australian'.
And when I think about it even more, that's sort of the whole premise of that song, isn't it? And a perfect place, I feel, to end this blog:

      I came from the dream-time, from the dusty red soil plains . . .
      I am the ancient heart, the keeper of the flame.
      I stood upon the rocky shore, I watched the tall ships come.
      For forty thousand years I've been the first
Australian . . .

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