In December 2017 I shared this piece, Discovering What it Means to Be Australian, which focuses on the year that was. As a lover of the written word, I mention a book that’s had a profound impact on me. It’s Stan Grant’s second book, Talking To My Country, described by Harper Collins as “that rare and special book that talks to every Australian about their country – what it is, and what it could be. It is not just about race, or about indigenous people but all of us, our shared identity. Direct, honest and forthright, Stan is talking to us all.”  This led to a number of decisions, including Think Bespoke’s official alignment with The Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF). We raise funds each year for the ILF from ticket sales for my Blog Writing & Brainstorming Mornings.

Questions About Identity

These questions about identity had remained a work in progress until a recent experience. My family and I hosted an exchange student from Japan. As we planned his stay I once again considered ‘What does it mean to be Australian’? Answering this question felt a little easier by considering our favourite family rituals throughout the week. As we discussed ‘what shall we eat while he’s here?’, our plan for his Aussie experience unfolded.

We agreed on a BBQ for his first Australian meal. T-bone steak, sausages, potato salad and sweet corn formed the menu. This was a hit with our guest, once we showed him how to use a steak knife and fork and the importance of cutting small pieces so he did not choke! The rest of the week was an eclectic mix of souvlaki from Meat Me and cake from Vanilla in Oakleigh, Taco Tuesday at home and an extended family dinner at my mother in laws, catering for meat eaters and vegetarians (he tried it all).

Breakfast options included corn fritters, cornflakes, toast and jam and pancakes. A firm believer in comfort food, I also dished up miso soup each morning. Lunches included toasties, salad wraps and the obligatory tuck shop lunch order!

There were a number of events during his stay that held some significance in relation to what it means to be Australian. As we drove into Oakleigh on the Sunday afternoon, there were Greek flags everywhere. The streets were blocked off for a parade and smoke from lamb spits filled the streets. ‘Why Greek flags?’ our visitor asked. Our local community was celebrating Greek Independence Day. As we drove through Oakleigh I explained that Melbourne is a place where people from lots of countries live and today is a special day for Greeks.

This theme of many cultures continued as our guest attended the wonderfully diverse community that is Master 10’s primary school. A bilingual student whose mother is Japanese was seated next to him in class, and on his first day he was greeted by a substitute teacher who spoke Japanese.

He heard the many languages spoken as we travelled on the train and spent time in the city for my son’s Grade 5 class excursion to the Melbourne Immigration Museum. The educator asked the children to guess the length of time immigrants had been in Australia and the length of time our first people had been in Australia. 230+ years vs 60,000+ years were shown as a simple and compelling timeline in the form of two ribbons. More than 30% of the students identified as immigrants and 100% identified as having ancestors as immigrants. Only 1 child identified as having ancestors tracing back to our first people.

This was a powerful reminder that so many of us come from far and wide, and have only been here for such a short time when compared to the Wurundjeri tribe, who are the Traditional Custodians of Melbourne and surrounding lands.

At the farewell morning tea for our guest, the Head Chaperone, who was responsible for the 15 students who were hosted by families across Melbourne for their 6 day visit, gave a heartfelt speech. She made an intriguing observation about the two animals on the Australian emblem, noting that the emu and kangaroo share a distinct feature. Neither can walk backwards. She saw this as symbolic for the children and encouraged them to always look and move forward. On reflection after her speech I asked my husband if her observations had been as profound for him. He found it interesting that someone who’d only been here for 5 days had highlighted a fact about our country’s emblem and native animals that we had never considered!

Is Australia Heading in the Right Direction?

Whether we are high profile cricketers, 12 year old school children, recent immigrants to Australia or traditional custodians of Melbourne, we can perhaps give some thought to our native animals and official emblem and consider where we are heading. Mistakes will be made, lessons will be learnt, and all of these experiences will form our future.

As I think about my future, I realise that writing has become a way to process life’s events.  What originally started as a plan to post value adding content on Think Bespoke’s blog, also become a place where I shared my experiences and observations about the world around me. I did this for a season.

My decision to experiment with my blog topics with Hello, My Name is Karen and I Am An Ambivert is when I first stepped into a more uncomfortable space. In this blog I shared my own personal journey with busting the long held belief that I was an extrovert.

I enjoyed the process of writing this piece and received unexpected feedback from a variety of sources that confirmed the idea that it’s okay to shed some light on my inner thoughts sometimes.

While validation is not a goal, I do enjoy your feedback and the conversations that follow. It is my hope that these more personal observations encourage you to think about your own experiences and consider how they may influence you.

What do you think? Where are you headed? What role does your identity as an Australian, or perhaps your cultural heritage beyond Australia’s shores, have on the way you plan to navigate your future?

Image source: Javier Allegue Barros

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