Our Strength Is In Our Roots

Our strength is in our roots and what we cling to.

It’s a quote from a book I received from Mum at Christmas – a photographic panorama of Melbourne by Ken Duncan. The quote sits next to a picture of the cottage of James Cook‘s parents in Fitzroy Gardens, dismantled and transported – much like many of Australia’s forefathers – from Yorkshire in 1933 to be reassembled as a testament to this English explorer who first made landfall in Botany Bay on 29th April 1766. In any case, the pictures are wonderful and remind me of the unique character of this city on the other side of the world that I used to call home.

I’ve just returned from the Phoenix Cinema where, on this wet grey afternoon I watched The Butler, the story of one man’s life throughout the enormous changes of the 20th and 21st centuries. Having seen 12 Years A Slave a couple of weeks ago, I was interested in this alternative take on the slave movement and the role of black people in society over the past 100 years. And while ’12 Years’ was a great (and brutal) movie, I loved how The Butler spanned generations in time, crossing the eras of the civil rights movement with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X’s Black Panthers, the Vietnam War, apartheid and the election of Obama as America’s first black president in 2008.


Well today is Australia Day and I have found myself quite reflective about my feelings towards my native country. Australia Day actually pays tribute to the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove, eleven ships filled with convicts and a small contingent of freemen and soldiers who would settle the harsh and distant land. There remains much controversy about this, particularly around the role of the indigenous people in this pioneering ‘tale’ but while there might be parallels with the American tale, it’s only meant as the starting point rather than the purpose of this post.

It was an interesting thing to do on my national day, go to the cinema and watch the history of another child of The Empire unfold. And it took me back to last Wednesday night when I saw Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap (The Book Nook #40 – 2011), interviewed by The Guardian’s John Mullan. This controversial novel, set in suburban Melbourne, for me lays bare the legend of the lucky country. 

When I read the book back in 2011, I felt both shocked and vindicated by its truthfulness – that beneath the laconic veneer of suburban life might lie a sense of seething resignation and resentment. I was also unprepared for Tsiolkas, a thoughtful and perceptive Greek Australian who talked openly about wanting to write about modern Australia as it truly was (and is). We are close(ish) in age so grew up in parallel Melbournes, chasing teenage dreams across the 80s, traversing (even if only figuratively) the realities of adulthood in the 90s and finding our respective ways into the new millennium so despite not being Greek, so I could relate to his reference points.

Tsiolkas talked about a grasping and selfish society and lamented a pervading sense of unkindness (although I would say that is not something that is limited to Australia’s sandy shores). He also mentioned that multiculturalism has become less overt Down Under, the veritable babel of past playgrounds full of ethnic variety a distant memory. I remember a conversation with a visiting Irishman in Young & Jackson’s (pub) in 2003 and how indignant I was that he would even suggest that Australia was a nation of racists.

Little did I know how the rest of world ‘out there’ looked and how it would all appear now I look from the outside in.

But there are many wonderful things about being Australian to cling to. Our willingness to chip in and lend a hand, our ironic sense of humour, our ‘everyman’ classless-ness. The sense of exploration and willingness to play beyond our current backyard – after all there are almost half a million Australians living in the UK alone. Our laid-back optimism and our sporting obsessions. Our outdoor lifestyle and our foodie culture. Our coffee – great, great coffee. And our vast open spaces. Sharp blue skies, stark landscapes, sparkling coasts and ‘architectural’ landscapes – wonder after wonder shaped by Mother Nature herself.

So as Australia Day in this part of the world draws to a close, it’s a big Aussie cheers from this Australian abroad who, despite finding food for her soul under the grey skies of London, still finds her heart – and her roots – Down Under.

Image Source: http://www.kenduncan.com

Happy Birthday To You!

Today is the 4th of July. It’s the day that America left the empirical embrace of Great Britain and declared their independence some 237 years ago.

And my recent sojourn to visit Seattle-A and her boys (that’s Husband, the little dudes and G the wonder dog!) means that America’s National Day has featured a little higher on my radar this year.

In doing a little research to prepare for this post, I have learned that today is also Republic Day in The Philippines – celebrating their cessation as a US territory in 1946 – and Liberation Day in Rwanda – commemorating the end of the Rwanda Genocide in 1994.

I’ve also learned that Eritrea Independence Day (24th May) is by far the hardest to say and that Morocco The Day of Enthronement of His Majesty King Mohammed VI is the longest (30th July) closely followed by China Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China (1st October) – try fitting either of those on a postage stamp.

And last but not least, I’ve been overjoyed to discover that 1st August is both Switzerland Confederation Day and the Tonga Official Birthday of His Majesty King George Tupou V. Thanks goodness! I started to think that my own official day was to be celebrated amongst only the equine.

(Do you like how I slipped in the birthday reference? Clever huh.)

Anyway, it should come as no surprise that today’s lunch-table conversation naturally turned to the National Days celebrated by my colleagues of many cultures.

My French colleague claims Bastille Day (14th July) as her national day with a raised fist and ‘vive la revolucion!’  Our Italian celebrates the liberation of Italy from the Germans on the 25th April. (Incidentally that’s ANZAC Day in Australia which commemorates the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915). The Turks at the table celebrate on 29th October with Turkey Republic Day and the English contingent hold St George’s Day (yes, he of the dragon fame) up as the beacon of their nation.

And Australia? Well we have a celebratory beer on January 26th. Australia Day commemorates the day in 1788 when Captain Arthur Phillip sailed his fleet of eleven convict ships into Sydney Cove and ‘settled’ Captain James Cook’s 1770 claim to Eastern Australia as a colony of the British Empire. We give out a few awards, go to the beach and chuck a few snags on the barbie. And we usually watch a bit of sport – tennis, cricket, horse-racing, yachting just to name a few.

Australia Day doesn’t celebrate a separation as such (and rest assured I have plenty of views on that score). What it does represent is the birth of our modern nation, built on the shoulders of the brave who, in true pioneering spirit, forged a life for themselves in a strange and hostile land.

So as one pioneer to another, I raise a stubby to our American friends and with a taciturn nod, wish you a laconic ‘happy birthday’.

Hope you’ve had a good one.

ps…and speaking of good ones, my loved ones have asked for ‘The List’ which means a certain blogger’s big day is just 27 sleeps away…yes peeps, the countdown is back!

Great Southern Land…

So today is Australia Day. The day we down under celebrate the landing of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788, some 18 years after its discovery by Captain James Cook laying the claim of British Sovereignty at the threshold of a vast and unknown territory.

So what to blog about today, I thought? Could it be a potted history of our last 224 years? Or perhaps a little wander through the idiosyncracies and peccadillos of my fellow countrymen?
But then I knew – it just had to be the music. And more particularly, the music of my youth. So by clicking on all of the links below, you can take a little tour through the teenage years of a little Aussie sheila. Think BBQs, festivals, concerts, camping and much anthem-like, arms-raised, crowd-singing as you listen.

There was Australian Rock charting its course through hearts and minds with Cold Chisel, Icehouse, Little River BandAustralian Crawl, The AngelsMen At Work and personal fave, Noiseworks.

And let’s not forget those upper echelons of Aussie Pop with Kylie, Savage Garden, Kate Ceberano, Bachelor Girl and Jo Camilleri (and his Black Sorrows).

But the song that always sums up that great big land down under for me is a song by little known Gangajang – listen to the words and you’ll hear what I mean…

Have a bonza ‘Straya’ Day, peeps!