Earlier this week, my country’s people, wherever they were at the time, banded together to celebrate our nation’s national holiday – Australia Day. It is a mixed bag for a lot of the community, as the day traditionally commemorates the moment that the British first stuck their flag into Australian soil. Our Indigenous population commonly refer to it as “Invasion Day” and really, they have every right to feel that way.
Politics aside, the day itself can be celebrated in a multitude of manners – BBQs, volleyball at the beach, a Hottest 100 party or with a bit of “casual” racism as I discovered the hard way, back in 2007 when someone yelled at me to “Go back to where you come from” out from a car window. I turned, confused, to my then boyfriend, who was half Filipino.
“Do you think they mean Sydney?” I asked him. He sadly shook his head.
I have always had mixed feelings about Australia Day. I love my country and I am proud of where I come from, but feel far less affection for our blood soaked, child stealing and culture destroying history. This year, we ended up donning green and “gold” socks, going to some club in Clapham and dancing to a terrible, foul mouthed band who played a lot of “Acca Dacca” and not one Kylie Minogue song. Very disappointing.
There was one thing I could say about the event, was that it was the first time (not counting Oktoberfest) that I had been in a room full of Australians (with perhaps a couple of Kiwis thrown in for good luck) since August. It brought to the forefront a weird mix of emotions… a sort of longing, mixed with homesickness, with a tiny bit of revulsion thrown in, as most were drunk and intent on amplifying the more bogan aspects of our culture. I was also blown away by the sheer concentration of Aussies bouncing around London, despite the fall in immigration – as is always the case when I am abroad. I’ve rarely travelled to a country and not run into at least ten other individuals who hail from my own.
I often wonder what it is that compels a vast number of Australians to travel so much, to get out there and truly experience (at the very least the drinking culture of) the world. I am often embarrassed by the behaviour we exhibit overseas; I’ve had foreigners become instantly bored with me when they find out where I’m from, or in some cases, refuse to talk to me from that point onwards. On the other hand, some of the best people I have met whilst travelling and living abroad, are Australian.
It is no cheaper to travel from Australia, than it is in any other country. In fact, you pay out the nose to fly from one side of Oz to the other, let alone leave the continent all together. Americans, who are notoriously under-travelled, often make the argument that they wouldn’t need to leave their country as it has so much to offer; it is vast, varied and contains any kind of holiday-esque endeavour you could ask for. We could state the same; we have the mountains, we’ve got the snow and there are natural wonders sprinkled all over the country. We even boast our own city of sin. You could live out your entire life without leaving the shores of our island continent and it would still find new wonders to offer up to you. Yet, we’re always bustling, always travelling – flying to Melbourne for the weekend, road tripping up the coast for a camping trip on the beach, planning a three month summer hiatus in Europe, spending our gap year back-packing in Asia or moving abroad for years on end. If the American dream is the house with a white picket fence, two point five kids and a dog, then seeing and experiencing the wonders that this planet has to offer has got to be the Australian equivalent.
Setting any kind of shameful, drunken behaviour firmly aside, I am glad that I hail from a country that prioritises a venture that seems to be such an important part of your overall growth as a contributing member of society. Travel opens your eyes. It makes you a better person. It provides you with more of an education than a classroom ever will. It humbles you.
The British like to make a joke where they compare the amount of culture our country has with the concentration of culture within yoghurt (which I like to respond to with: “so, 40,000+ years of Indigenous culture doesn’t count?” There’s nothing anyone can really say to that!) We ourselves seem generally confused about what it actually means to be Australian. It can’t all be about drinking, the consumption of BBQ’d meat, the acquisition of the perfect summer tan, the wearing of unflattering footwear and an over-excessive use of the c-word.
There has got to be more to it than that.
Our country’s indigenous people were nomads, who had a strong spiritual attachment to our beautiful land and a deference for the creatures that inhabited it. Perhaps it is both naive and disrespectful of me to say this, but I do not think that connection was entirely lost along with the decimation of their people, their language and their culture. You can say what you wish about modern day Australians, but we too are wanderers. We are seekers of adventure. We are cursed with itchy feet.
You feel it when you gaze out onto the ocean, watch the mountains of the east glow golden in the light of the setting sun or even when you emerge from Circular Quay station and the beauty of Sydney harbour stretches out before you. You can hear it in the call of the magpie breaking through the mist of a crisp, spring morning, or in the deafening buzz of the cicadas in the summertime. You can smell it in the aroma of a July bonfire, as you burn the branches gathered from the foot of our evergreens and crowd around the flickering flames, attempting to ward off the chill of those long winter nights.
My country casts a spell over you. It teases you with a promise of what it itself has to offer. And it makes you hunger for more.