Australia Day is the perfect opportunity for us to take stock and reflect on what being Australian actually means.
Anna Boffa: Australia. A country where people will call you by your nickname for years without knowing your real name, a place where insurance fraud is considered a birthright, and a land where the folks abbreviate everythin’.
Maybe if I was American I would put on my false bravado and talk about how Australia is the greatest country in the world, or if I was British I might be more formal and awkward and show some restraint, but I’m not; I’m Australian. I’m open and down to earth.
For all the faults, life in Australia is pretty good. We are a peaceful and democratic nation that believes in equality and giving everyone ‘a fair go’. We have a good quality of life and there’s a sense of security that if you’re earning minimum wage, you are still going to be able to put a roof over your head and food on your plate.
Australia is a melting pot of all cultures and creeds, religions and beliefs. To me, being Australian is to be accepting of everyone — we welcome people, embrace their differences, then chill out and share a meal and some drinks together.
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Sure, there are plenty of things to be frustrated about: the overbearing rules that are turning the country into a nanny state, the government’s stance on boat people and treatment of indigenous people, and the pending internet censorship laws are but just a few issues that get my goat. I detest the acts of the minority that bring shame to our country when reports of racism make it into the headlines, but overall, I think we are a tolerant and progressive nation.
I believe that the crux of the Aussie spirit is alive and well. The ‘mateship’ cliché is demonstrated time and time again, particularly when the forces of nature devastate our land. Aussies really support each other in times of crisis, and the generosity and camaraderie that is displayed is simply amazing.
I believe a great future lies ahead for Australia.
Stacia Saunders: I’ve been away for a year and it’s definitely given me some perspective on what it means to be Australian.
In that time I have had over $1000 stolen; contracted malaria, typhoid and British flu; have learned Swahili and tried to speak French; have fallen in love, run out of money several times and have been forced to make money wherever I’ve stayed; I’ve started an NGO, have experienced snow and met people from all over the world looking for freedom and fortune in London.
The Poms are a mix of errant capitalists and tube striking anarchists. The minimum wage is a pittance but they give the dole to anyone with an EU passport or ten kids. My first winter in England made Melbourne’s cold spells seem like an October walk in Hyde Park.
Kenya has Brisbane’s weather, but their people are much more intellectual and philosophical. Aussies may be smart (some of us) but we don’t wear our brains on our sleeves and are too cynical to put our trust in religion.
The Swiss retain not only fashion sense as they age but passion in their relationships, testified by the droves of sixty year old couples holding hands in the streets. Continental men like to kiss each other on the cheeks when they say bonjour. They are also more socialist – a waiter makes 25 CHF (£16) an hour in Geneva!
My most surprising realisation is that Australia has a very cushy living standard. The lack of basic amenities for the poor in rural Kenya made me ashamed of how ignorant I have been about my opportunities. I feel pride for those who fought for the 8 hour day and Bob Hawke’s Wage Accord deal so no Australian is working for less than their daily bread.
My other realisation is that despite being far away, we are not backward or behind. Our food is fresh and locally available; our art exhibitions are every bit as pretentious as a European show and finally, our banks deduct money from accounts in real time, unlike this so called financial capital of England which may take days to process a transaction then charge you a day’s wage for overdrawing your account.