Thursday, January 26, 2006

What’s an Aussie?

The ten centimetre layer of snow on my car this morning reminded me I couldn’t be much further away from the hot sunny celebrations of my home country’s national day, Australia Day. Nonetheless I cheerfully explained to my students the events of January 26, 1788 in their varied interpretations: the establishment of a new colony; the arrival of prisoners to begin Australia; the invasion of a land. It always gets a chuckle when I tell my students I wish I had a convict ancestor, and they don’t really understand that we could be proud of that!

All this nationalistic pride got me thinking – certainly not for the first time – of what it means to be an Australian. I haven’t lived there for almost five years, I’m not even allowed to vote in Australian elections at the moment, but my nationality is always my identifying mark for me as I work and travel in different parts of the world. Almost everyone is tremendously welcoming to an Australian, and conversation inevitably turns to what they consider our oddities to be: an overabundance of dangerous snakes, spiders and sharks; endless and unimaginable distances; Christmas celebrated in warm sunshine; and a country of surfing, laidback, beer-swilling people who get skin cancer a lot.

For me, personally, Australia is a country where people are open and friendly to strangers and use “cheers” to mean thank you, please, here you are and goodbye interchangeably; a nation lacking old Gothic cathedrals and centuries-old museums but boasting incredibly photogenic landscapes; the best beaches in the world – nobody can talk me out of that; and the place where the water gurgles down the drain not the wrong way, just another way*. Thanks to my darling Mum for help with this photographic proof!

But don’t let me be the only judge – what IS an Australian? Comments welcome.

*NB: I have been told by scientific types that this reverse drainage thing is rubbish. I still think I saw it with my own eyes though.

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