Many Australians read this blog and I’d love for them to come over and comment on this post and give me their insights or perhaps make a post of their own. Does anyone else feel like they don’t belong here in this country, or is it just me? The Hump Day Hmmm topic this week is – Race, Society and the Internet. We Aussies have a unique view on this topic, I think.
Australia is a multi cultural land. I have been raised to appreciate and respect other cultures, traditions, beliefs – and I do. We have people from many lands who have come here. The Australian Census in 2006 lists over 30 different countries of birth for the current residents of this country – and one of those categories was “other”, so the real truth is difficult to know.
If you ask an Australian what does multi-cultural mean, they will generally mention food. Yes we have many different foods here in this country but it is about so much more. Language. Religion. Beliefs. Genetics. Art. All of that plus a lot more – right down to how the homes smell and whether you take your shoes off at the door or not.
Where I grew up was a fairly typical Australian neighbourhood. Across the road lived people from Sweden. They spoke Swedish and taught me some Swedish. They had a REAL pine Christmas tree. They had exotic names. Next door to them were people from Poland. They were stand offish. They decorated their Easter Eggs in the traditional Polish Pisanka style. Next door to them were people from Italy. Oh, the food. They took me to Midnight Mass and I adored it.
At primary (grade) school, my first best friend was Ellen. She was Chinese and just as much of an outcast at school as I was, which was why we got along so well. We both had a crush on Iva Davies from Icehouse. In year 7 there was a school camp, and Ellen was the only person whose parents would not allow her to go. In solidarity, I refused to go, and the two of us stayed behind, the only two out of almost 100 students. Her parents had a Chinese restaurant and we would go there after school, folding napkins, eating chicken and sweet corn soup, spring rolls and prawn crackers and drinking Coke. I still find it hard to drink anything else with Chinese food. The two are forever associated for me.
My second best friend was Leila. She was from Iraq. Her home smelt mystical. I cannot describe it other than to say incense sticks and spicy food. She had arrived in Australia very recently and there was a lot of fear and concern for family and friends left behind. She had the most beautiful exotic clothes and gorgeous dark curly hair and this accent which seemed to be to be sent from Heaven. I wanted to talk like her.
My third best friend was Rachel. She lived three doors up. Her parents were second generation Australian, from English stock. Her mother had this major thing about naphthalene flakes and moths. She would sprinkle naphthalene flakes on the floor and vacuum them. The smell was impregnated into Rachel’s clothes and some of the kids teased her about it. Me personally I liked the smell from a distance but going into the house was difficult, you almost needed a gas mask to survive it.
We were the four – inseparable. We came as a package. When primary school ended, none of my three best friends went to my high school. I arrived there and I was the outcast. I was not stick thin. There were 500+ people in my year level. The only people who would accept me into their group were the “nerds”. Mostly I retreated within myself because people were so rude and nasty to me. I began to hate school and look forward to the weekends when I could see my old friends from primary school. By the end of that year the four became people I saw less and less often. They’d got involved with their own school lives – but where did that leave me?
I ended up going to church to seek out people I could be friends with. There I met my new best friend who was my best friend for all of high school and quite a few years after. She was second generation Australian, her parents were from the Isle of Man in the UK. She went to a different school than me, but she was an outcast there – she was also overweight like me and she was a diabetic. She spent a lot of time in the hospital which was near to me, and I spent a lot of time there with her. I’d walk to the hospital after school and stay there until my parents picked me up about 9pm.
Around this time next door to us on the right side a new neighbour moved in from Malaysia. He was a later addition to the neighbourhood, arriving in the late 80’s. He was not too much older than me and his parents had sent him and his brother out here to go to school. I had a major crush on him but I never said a word, feeling he would be terrified by it. Instead we became very close friends. He would go back to Malaysia for several weeks over Christmas and his absence was like a gaping hole. You took your shoes off at the door. Often Leonard would find large huntsmen spiders in his shoes and say maybe this custom was not a good idea in Australia.
The majority of the population here are not “native” Australians. I was born and raised here and no matter how much I might want to be, I will never be considered a “native” Australian, just like many Americans will never be considered “native” Americans – though I don’t think Americans feel it in the same way I do (do ya’all?). I do not have any Aboriginal blood running through my veins. Many Australians would consider that to be a good thing – I personally wish there was, for many reasons. First and foremost is I want to be considered a “native” Australian. I was born here. This is my country. To be told I am not native to my own country is honestly one of the most irritating feelings.. it seems petty and pedantic but it really stings and this annoys me more the older I get.
I don’t actually know very much about my ancestors or how they got here but I do know there’s Scottish blood on my Mother’s side and English blood on my Father’s side. Maybe that’s why I’m so attracted to men in kilts. :) I have never seen Braveheart and I don’t understand much about Scottish traditions. I am hugely attracted to Aboriginal Art. Something about it speaks loudly to me. When I first started doing art I kept seeing dot paintings in my head.
I’m no master in Australian History or anything, but over 200 years ago the English used to send their convicts here. People who stole a loaf of bread would be shipped out to Australia as a punishment. Whoever thought up that idea had obviously never been here. The place has amazing natural beauty. Aborigines have been treated very badly in this country since about the time the convict settlers arrived. There is a lot of anger on both sides – everyone is angry, actually. It’s not my intention to go back over the history and explain why people are angry and to be honest what is in the past should be able to stay in the past. Let’s live in the now, not the past. Right?
Of course things never work that way. The major issue is, somebody introduced the Aborigines to alcohol, drugs, and petrol sniffing. Some people tried to do good things and built houses for the Aborigines to live in, perhaps they thought it would help to make them “civilised”. They were quite offended when many of the Aborigines pulled out the floor and took off the roof – they need to feel the dirt under their feet and see the stars above their heads. Oh, and some people stole a bunch of their children, claiming those kids weren’t being looked after. In fact an entire generation of Aboriginal children were stolen out of their homes. The Other Half’s own Mother was one of this stolen generation. She wasn’t wearing shoes in her backyard. That is why she and her brother were taken away.
Aha – did you pick up on that? The Other Half has Aboriginal blood in his ancestry. Oh, he’s pretty white. You can’t tell by his skin color. We believe he has two generations of white blood, though nobody can be sure, that whole stolen generation thing gets in the way of the family tree, and his Mother did not truly embrace being Aboriginal because of being stolen. It was something mentioned in a whisper. He does have a lot of the typical Aboriginal genetic traits – a thick skull, a wider, flatter, sort of squished onto his face nose, curly dark hair. To me The Other Half looks a little bit like Guy Sebastian, except without the groomed eyebrows.
Guy is a fairly unusual Australian Idol – he was not born here. Guy Sebastian was born in Klang, Malaysia to a Sri Lankan and Malaysian father, and a mother of Portuguese and English descent who had been raised in India.
If you were to look at The Other Half chances are you would guess he is from the middle east – since September 11, he cannot get through security at the airport without being vacuumed to see if he is carrying explosives. People are always surprised when *I* tell them he is Aboriginal and their initial reaction is “I thought he was from (middle east country). He does not tell people. He doesn’t mind me telling them, but to him it’s not important. It is also not a part of him because he was not raised in that culture.
To me, who values the fact that he can call himself a “native” Australian, this is pure blasphemy. On one hand I can see why – some people have a stereotypical view of Aborigines – that they are drunk homeless people. It’s not true for the majority of Aborigines, but it *is* true for a small group of them. Of course that small group are the more noticeable ones when you’re walking through the park they are drinking in. If I had the smallest amount of Aboriginal blood in me, I would rejoice and embrace the culture with open arms, because at least then I would feel like I belong here.
Because they were treated so badly in the past, like America there is now the politically correct non discrimination thing going on. Some jobs are advertised with “Must be of Aboriginal descent”. The Other Half would never apply for one of those kinds of jobs, because he does not think it is fair to anyone. He does not want to be someone’s “token” Aboriginal. There’s also a large range of free services he would have access to if he chose to identify himself as being of Aboriginal descent. He won’t do it. He says it is because he has no proof that he is Aboriginal other than what his mother has told him, and what are they going to want, DNA samples? I say the same thing about those jobs where people have to be of Aboriginal descent – do you have to take along some proof?
I sit here in a land of many cultures, and I feel completely lost. I don’t have my own culture. I mentioned before when I was growing up in primary school my best friend Ellen was Chinese. That had such enormous meaning to me. She had a language of her own, her parents ran a Chinese restaurant, when you went to her house it was filled with traditional items from her parents homeland. My house seemed empty in comparison – full of love, but no cultural history. If you asked Ellen – what is your culture – I am sure she would have a list of things as long as her arm. If you ask me – what is my culture? I don’t feel like I have one. I don’t belong here. I am here, but I don’t BELONG.
To counteract this feeling of not belonging I have begun to carve out my own culture. I take pieces from other cultures that I like, and I adopt them as my own. I have a real pine Christmas tree. I cook Italian comfort food when I feel unhappy. I eat Chinese once a week and when I feel sick I cook chicken and sweet corn soup. I love Feng Shui, aromatherapy, incense sticks, Geisha dolls, midnight mass, the Norwegian language because it speaks to me on a level I don’t even understand, beaches and Aboriginal art.
None of these small, stolen traditions will ever fill that hole I feel. It will never make me belong the way I see people from minorities belong. I don’t have my own language – and when I do type the language I know, Australian English, I am accused of not knowing how to spell. Not just by people reading my own blog but by my OWN WEB BROWSER!!! Here we use ou – favourite, colour, etc. Words that I was taught to spell in school show up with a red line under them in Firefox.
Australians, I believe our biggest challenge is still to come. We now face a new religion arriving on our shores. It’s been here for a while but now it is beginning to make its presence known. I have never been more uncomfortable. I do not like some aspects of this religion at all, in particular the Hijab and Halal. Cugat once said something very intelligent to me about Halal and I hope he repeats it in the comments – about the origins of it.
I find myself offended by what seems to me to be a religion where women are considered lesser creatures. Of course I could be wrong but that is how it looks on the face of it. I believe I may be beginning to develop a prejudice against this religion and this means I am going to have to learn more about it.
Despite the same Qur’anic obligations being issued for men and women, rules regarding dress developed so that men were to cover from their navels to their knees, whereas a women were to cover all their bodies except what was essential, that is, the hands and face.
What offends me the most is Halal. The one thing I do consider truly Australian is the Aussie Hamburger – we put everything on there we can think of. Beetroot, egg, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, pineapple, avocado. Now some places you can no longer get bacon because they are Halal. I wrote this post – Hang on a minute – on that topic back in November and also – Another non-religious post – as yet my views on that have not changed. I need to remember to look deeply to find the similarities between myself and people who follow this religion or else there’s a chance I might not accept them. That’s difficult when you feel offended as a woman by such a religion – how can I reconcile the woman I am to the women who follow something which seems to be oppressive to women?
15 thoughts on “Australians all let us rejoice..”
I couldn’t thank you much for this entry you wrote. I’m a Malaysian who came to study here, and was blessed to be given the love of a wonderful Australian man. I have wonderful Australian friends from many cultures and although I had my misgivings about coming here in the first place, I’m glad I did now. I’d prefer it anytime than the UK or the US, to live. I love how people group and react against racism, and even though I am worried about racism, I feel more secure because how majority of Australians would rise against it.
About Australian culture…maybe there’s nothing material to show it. But I do feel it is present. Vegemite for one. But I don’t expect you to be displaying Vegemite on the shelves. The Outback. The Drovers. The slangs. The friendly laid back attitude most Australian have. And that every party that occurs when the sun is still up need to be outdoors. 4WDing…
Australia is a great place to be, after my own country, of course. :)
Great post. My students are doing an assignment on what it means to be Australian right now. I’m getting some interesting results.
My family has been in Australia for over 5 generations both sides. A couple of branches from convicts. I believe the strength of this country is the cultural freedom and the fact that we have diverse people and friends that share their origins. It’s true freedom to be able to choose to have all the foods and celebrations that have been imported from around the world by others seeking freedom and sunshine, in my opinion.
I love our landscapes, art, festivities, especially our films and literature and believe as time goes on we will have an awesome culture when you think about what has been produced in little over 200 years.
I share your fears about the future. I don’t want to feel like that though. I’m not sure yet what the answers will be.
Most of this post shows an open-mindedness that is unusual for many. I don’t understand the negativity toward the end though. So there are some practices and beliefs of a religion you disagree with? *shrug* So what. There’s usually good and bad in most religions if one cares to look. Don’t agree with it? Then don’t follow it. Seems pretty simple really.
As for the aboriginal issues, I think if we see beyond the racial differences and see that most the problems they face are a result of intergenerational poverty, then the problems begin to make more sense.
Gloria – when Pauline Hanson was going around pointing fingers at Aboriginal people and Asian people saying the equivalent of – See those people? They are the reason you are miserable – I was one of the people who went to protest against her. I agree with what you say about the majority of Australians rising up against racism. The passion in that crowd of protestors.. if Pauline had walked into the crowd, we would have ripped her to shreds. With our fingernails. With glee.
Joh – Maybe it’s because I am so early generation that I feel this gap of culture. Almost everything I can point to which = culture comes from other countries.
About not wanting to feel like that, I have a lot to say on that. :) and the post did touch on my negative feelings about it but without really getting in depth. It was a long post, so I left it there..
Aurelius – I think that is why the post got a bit negative towards the end there. I have a huge fear of how I’m feeling about Islam. It has nothing to do with terror or terrorists. It has to do with a religion suddenly making changes to our usual way of life.
If I were to go to the Middle East, I would not mind respecting their culture, making sure I covered what they expect me to cover as a show of respect to their traditions etc. But where is their show of respect to ours? We eat bacon in this country.
And that is what scares me because the next logical thing for me to say is – if you don’t like the fact that we eat bacon in this country, don’t come here. We don’t want you. That’s sounding a lot like the things Pauline said.
That terrifies me more than anything. That I am feeling so angry about bacon – but it’s not just that, it’s so much more. We don’t have much in the way of Aussie culture and this is just chipping away at the little we do have. That people consider it racist to say “I think you should continue to serve bacon just as you always have done”. It’s not racist. If anything it is “religionist” because there’s no one set race of people who follow Islam.
I’m really disturbed by my lack of tolerance to it. Me, who has been so tolerant of so many things. It makes me wonder if there is like a tolerance piggy bank and once you fill it up, you just can’t put anything else in there. My greatest fear is that I’ve reached a breaking point as far as what I will tolerate – and what happens then?
To make FF recognize Aus English:
Tools > Options > Advanced > General > Languages. From there you can choose your language.
Excellent post, no time to comment further.
All of this sounds very familiar… both to me personally and to this place.. culturally.
More in common than differences.
This is a post that certainly challenges me and makes me think. Very well written!
Personally, I grew up in a tiny country town that was made up of extended family. There was never anyone ‘different’ around, unless you counted the itinerant railway workers.
My family have lived in this town since way before Ned Kelly and I am held here by something deep inside and unidentified. I see the landmarks around me and I know I am home. This, to me, is as much a part of my culture as the aussie pie.
Snoksred – Thank you for a thoughtful post and for being honest about your feelings. I think you pointed out the disparity in your feelings yourself. You talk about how many and varied the cultures are in Australia and about adopting what you like from each. Then you say this in the comments: “If I were to go to the Middle East, I would not mind respecting their culture, making sure I covered what they expect me to cover as a show of respect to their traditions etc. But where is their show of respect to ours? We eat bacon in this country.”
If your country is open to many cultures, then this is part of it. Many Jews and Arabs in the U.S. don’t eat certain foods. Hindus don’t eat beef. Some religions don’t drink alcohol. But the culture is still rich.
I think part of the problem with Islam is that it has been twisted by some people. Islam itself isn’t a religion that teaches that women are less than men (at least no more than Judeo-Christianity does), but a certain interpretation of the religion does. Compare it to fundamental Christianity if you will. It’s a version of a religion taken to an extreme. (Ooh, I may get flamed for that comment.) While the idea of being veiled is abhorrent to me, many Islamic women are quite proud of it. I respect that, wherever I may be.
Thank you for the thoughtful post.
Kirsten – thanks, I made it so :) yay!
Chani – I knew you would understand that sense of “displacement” probably better than anyone. ;)
Anne – Thanks for commenting! It also demonstrates how different the Aussie experience can be. I grew up about 20kms from Adelaide, which was a reasonably large city. It was also close to a university where people from all over the world came to study, so that may explain a lot of the diversity I experienced.
Lawyer Mama – I think the issue is that this is a *new* thing. As in places you could get bacon before, suddenly you cannot. The other thing is – take for example the alcohol example. The other religions aren’t saying “You can’t have any alcohol on the premises in order for me to eat there”. That is essentially what happens with Halal – you cannot have bacon/pork products in food preparation areas. So to cater for the Halal market, some places are no longer using bacon. That’s a major change to our culture.
I agree with what you say about Islam from the little I know about it – as I said in my post, the veil is not something Islam dictates, it is interpreted. It’s all about the interpretation. I find it difficult to understand because I do not think women are “uncovered meat” which is there to tempt “cats” (men). Men have to be able to control themselves. If the only way they can do that is by women being veiled, they’ve got some serious issues that need working on, in my opinion. ;)
Thanks for the comments all. :)
I, too, have often felt as though I don’t fit in with what is called “Australian culture”. I mean, football, Holdens, meat pies … wtf?? But on my only trip overseas and seeing the huge cultural difference between myself and the locals made me realise that I am an Australian in many ways that I had never considered before.
Excellent post, btw.
In the US racism has shifted into ideology. I think this shift is rather internationally famous—at least in Europe, where friends who read of it are happy to mock me via email.
People who don’t prescribe to the “new norm” aka the edicts of Bushites are offered the chance to “Go Elsewhere” if white and “Go Back Home” if not white. This is a sentiment expressed sadly often.
It has, I think, ripped off the PC bandaid that allowed us—especially liberal whites—to traipse about in ignorant bliss that racism is alive and well.
This is why I am eager to open discussion about this. And in the world at large as I hear xenophobia story and closed culture stories from almost every Western and 1st World Nation.
It reminds me of the Jamaican terror, before the slave uprisings.
We are a fearful people, and to salve that fear, we distinguish and separate different.
One thing I hear in your post is the pleasure you took in your friend’s cultures, with their strong cultural identities and customs. These things promote a feeling of place and belonging, which I think we all crave.
This is actually crucial to my point, when I said we need to consider race, not as a factor on our own end, but as an aspect to an individual we like and know, or even just someone we happen to cross paths with.
Andrea at Garden of Nna Mmoy plucked the sentiments right from my brain. I think you read her; I am recalling a comment from you and hope I haven’t confused myself.
And for the fact that the blogosphere is US centric? This also illustrated my point. The majority is often unaware of their inadvertent bias.
It’s why I ask for respectful acknowledgment based on the other person’s cues, which, actually, goes for pretty much anything to do with another person.
Thanks for playing with your thought-provoking posts. :)
What a brilliant post. Engaging, honest and reflective.
This is almost like an ethnographical snapshot of your life – your Australia.
Thank you so much for submitting this one to the Carnival of Australia.
I’ll be bumping this one – I LOVED it.
And thanks everyone for your lovely comments. :)
I define Australia’s culture as being a rich tapestry made up of many diverse elements and one of general tolerance and acceptance.
We are a new country and do not need to develop the distinct ways of living developed over time as in other nations. These traditions are often based on necessity due to circumstances and climate. Examples: we have had no internal wars leading to a need to identify with one’s own race or religion. We have not had to avoid certain foods because of health issues. Our knowledge levels will not lead to traditions originally based on superstition.
New groups of people arriving in Australia have always taken time to assimilate and be accepted. There has always been some distrust with the introduction of new cultures – fear of the unknown maybe. It is the turn of Islamic immigrants. With time this too will pass. Australia’s own culture will be all the richer for it.
A sense of belonging is not based on what you eat for dinner or how you celebrate holidays but being part of a group that satisfy your personal needs for socialization, friendship and support. In Australia we have a huge range of options to choose from.
Our culture is one of freedom, freedom of choice and a massive and diverse range of things to choose.
We still are a ‘Lucky Country’