An Australian World War One veteran was asked in his dying years why he thought the Battle of Gallipoli and Anzac Day had come to mean so much to the nation. His answer was simple: As young Australia lost its sons on that Turkish shore in 1914, it finally began to find itself as a nation.
It was there on those foreign shores that over 60,000 men, armed with determination, loyalty and courage, forged the famous Anzac legend and immortalised the Aussie spirit. It’s a spirit that the country has continued to build itself upon ever since.
I’ve come to think about this veteran’s explanation often. Never more have his words hit home with me than when I find myself half a world away from it. It isn’t until I came out of that wonderful scrub from Down Under that I’ve truly been able to see the forest from the trees. And it is one hell of an interesting view. It is ironic that it often takes our citizens only a few months abroad to learn what truly defines an Aussie, more clearly than we ever could whilst in the midst of our Great Southern Land.
For me, never have I more truly felt that we really are ‘The Lucky Country’. I come across this almost every day when telling Europeans of my plans to backpack for as long as possible. There reaction is usually one of pure astonishment.
“You are so brave. You’re doing it alone?! It’s something we would never be able to mentally and financially do. You were able to just quit your job?! Your family supports this?!”
It truly makes me feel as if I’m achieving the equivalent of flying a solo mission to Mars.
But then they find out I’m Australian. In a second, their reaction changes and everything makes sense. Of course you’re Australian. Only Australians are lucky enough to earn enough money to travel the world for years on end before they reach the age of 25. Only Australians are stupid enough to blow those hard earned thousands on leaving a country that most people here would kill to visit instead of investing it back home. Only Australians have that security in knowing they can go home and start making ridiculous amounts of money again immediately, even if it’s just as a casual bartender.
Being able take off across the world is a venture that has almost become a right of passage for my generation at home. It takes that surprised reaction of foreigners who are battling a severe economic crisis and have a different mentality to realise I should never be taking this for granted.
Along with discovering a new-found appreciation for my homeland, I’ve learnt to recognise a fellow Australian immediately. Never before have I been able to pick one out of crowd so easily as now. We are the fresh-faced wanderers who dominate almost every hostel and festival. We are the hordes of the people who try to outrun the Spanish at San Fermin, out-drink the Germans at Oktoberfest, and out-ski the tourists and workers on the Whistler slopes.
We are about “living in the moment” to justify our hardcore and risky ventures abroad. We are the packs of tanned and broad-shouldered guys walking around with that cocky swagger wrapped in board shorts, singlets and thongs, and the packs of girls who are carrying backpacks that would give our chiropractors a heart attack. We bitch about how boring our country is when faced with New York, the Swiss Alps, and Glastonbury, but will knock the first foreigner who actually bags Australia out. A nation of carnivores, of early risers who expect the coffee shops to be open before 10am, and hard workers so we can have an easy life.
Unlike that World War One veteran, we may have never had to see our mates die away on foreign soil at the hands of an enemy. We may have never had to face guns and violence to appreciate our tranquil lifestyle. But in most Australians faces abroad, you can see the light of silently having comfort in the knowledge of just how bloody lucky we really are.