I never cease to be amazed at those who believe that newcomers to this country are not “true blue”. We are all immigrants – even the first Australians, the Aboriginal people, came here from elsewhere, way back in the mists of time. It is this immigration that has made us “Australian” – but like all things, the world changes, and so our notions of what defines an “Australian” must change too.
Cars with Australian flags fluttering in the wind worry me. As does “Australia All Over”, the ABC program on a Sunday morning. I often hear Macca grieving for the lost language of the true blue Aussie – cripes, fair dinkum, flat-out like a lizard drinkin’, true blue, strewth, – the language that I remember from my childhood. When I was studying as a mature age student, my tutor in an English writing course commented on my use of similes and metaphors in my speech, after I had apologised for being late with a tale of woe about children who had been “cranky as hornets” that morning. She wondered why I spoke that way – the only reason I could come up with, was that I had married a “country boy” – I had been aware of, and fascinated by his family’s speech differences from the first day I met them – but I hadn’t noticed how well I’d assimilated!
But back to the point. The language of the 21st century reflects the changing world we live in – my grandchildren have no comprehension of a world without television, internet, mobile phones, handheld electronic games – let alone a world where often only one person in the street had a telephone (yes, I’m that old), outhouses, domestic pit toilets, “dunny men”, “general activities” classes for the less academically inclined children in primary school, plane travel that was the exclusive province of the very wealthy, towns and suburbs where many families didn’t own a car, grocery stores with big barrels of flour and tea, and large bags of rice that the grocer carefully scooped out onto the scales then packaged in a brown paper bag, biscuits likewise, from a large square Arnotts biscuit tin, bread that wasn’t pre-sliced and sealed in a plastic bag – or a world without plastic wrap for that matter, or a world without a coffee shops – … the list goes on. So why should our language stay rooted in the past? And why should our definition of being “Australian” remain the same?
In the Australia of today, where we have recently had twelve years of government by a prime minister who could only be described as modelling covert, if not overt, racist attitudes and behaviour, expressions of racism have become more overt and acceptable in the wider community. Hence my disquiet at the nationalistic display of flags on cars and the nostalgia for the old ways. They focus on difference and the “old” Australia, the rejection of change. To me, “Australia All Over” likewise focusses on the past. This is not to deny that for many people the program brings great and innocent pleasure.
But when I tuned into 702 this morning, it was with great joy that I heard Adam Spencer’s voice and not Macca’s. Instead of a program focussing on the “true blue” Australia of old, Spencer had an hour of short vignette’s spoken by a wide range of famous and ordinary Australians who had come from elsewhere to make Australia their home. Some had come by choice, others came because they were driven out of their home countries by persecution, war or a desire for a better life. Many had come as children, with no say in the matter. All have made a contribution to this country – all are Australian.