For six years of my childhood I celebrated Australia day overseas. In the middle of the United Arab Emirates to be exact. And every year, my parents, along with our Australian neighbours, would arrange an all-out Australia day party. There would be imported Vegemite, Violet Crumbles and home-made lamingtons. While the gigantic marquee set-up outside our house would be filled with hay bails, akubra’s, whip-cracking and the sound of John Williamson.
Beyond Australia day our parents read my sisters and I Australian themed bedtime stories and sung us Waltzing Matilda in thick outback accents. They recounted tales of their days as a flying doctor (mum) and vet (dad) flying across central Queensland and the Northern Territory, from remote cattle stations to one-horse towns. Every two years we would make the journey half-way across the world, back to the land of green and gold. It was summer and so my experience of Australia was always of long hot days at the beach, mosquito bites and sweet mango juice dripping through fingers. And so I grew up with this idea of what it meant to be Australian without actually having many concrete memories of the country I was born in.
Eventually we did move back. I learned that most Aussie kids would never admit to liking John Williamson, never mind sing along with all the words. I found that most coast-living kids didn’t own an akubra, know how to crack a whip, or throw a boomerang. And that Vegemite and Violet Crumbles were not an annual event but just part of everyday life.
Since those days I have been fortunate to experience many places around the world. And so I have seen how others live, and the places that they make their lives. And there is much to be desired and admired and yet each time I hand my passport to the Australian customs officer, mixed in with the twinge of holiday-end regret, there is gratitude that it is Australia I get to return to. Australia is not perfect. We have our challenges, our problems. Yet when I think about this country of ours, I can’t help but be incredibly thankful. For our freedoms, for our people and for this most beautiful of lands we call home.
Wishing you all very happy Australia Day! And for you fellow Aussies reading along, what does it mean to you to be Australian? I’d love to know.