How many migrants to and from Europe, Canada, the USA, Australia, and New Zealand have had this experience:
They’ve migrated and worked and saved and succeeded in the new country but always hold a dear memory of the old land. This homesickness has been acute in the first couple of years but worn off somewhat after that – what with new careers, families, and homes. But it starts again at about 15 years and they decide to go back and see the old place.
They plan to make a big trip and see everywhere they used to live – and possibly everyone they used to know. The get on the plane or ship and float on water or air to the old home country. And are horrified to find that it is not there.
Oh, the dirt is still there, and in the case of a lot of places it has crawled halfway up the buildings…but the society and people and nation has so changed from what it was that they are strangers in a wasteland. Worse – if there has been a war go through the place – or a spate of developers – even the buildings they knew do not exist.
Their old friends are dead, or older, and do not have the last 15 years of shared memories to talk over. Only the past – and that can be as dead as the dust. They run out of conversation in 5 minutes. Even if the old language is the same, the speakers are not talking to them.
This is the thought that I took back to the UK when I visited in 1995 – from having once lived in the place in 1973. It was just that way, though there were plenty of tourist activities in which to immerse myself. Would I get any benefit from another visit? Yes, if my current interests could be pursued – the UK is a nice place.
Canada or the USA for me? After 52 years? There’s a big question. An expensive one to answer, too – especially with the fear that seeing my youth gone would age me more. I can do that right now at local prices and wearing comfortable clothes.
Remember I mentioned that most national days commemorate someone declaring themselves to be independent from someone else? And determined to govern their lives on their own terms?
Unfortunately for Australia, the events of 26 January, 1778 were rather in reverse. The local people were free before the fleet rocked up but not after. Think of it in terms of a D-Day landing but instead of the British, Americans, and Canadians storming ashore it would be the Wehrmacht. Possibly with better air cover…
Well, 230+ years have rolled away since then and there have been other amphibious assaults to thrill and entertain the citizens. Not all of them successful, but that doesn’t stop the national desire to march and cheer. But that idea of thinking that nationhood came in boats full of convicts under musket guard is starting to be a bit suss. And it begs the question that is answered everywhere else by a definite set of criteria; when exactly did Australia become independent from the guards with muskets?
You’ll be pleased and horrified to learn that it was on the 1st of January 1900. Pleased because it happened without bloodshed, and horrified that no-one now wants to have it as the national day. Why?
Because it is on one of the New Year’s days. The one that is recognised by most of he population, but is already surrounded with boozy celebration and hangovers. Hardly anyone has the energy to be patriotic after a night on the tiles. So the day is shifted to 26 January, by which time livers have uncurled. No-one wants to have to be sober and proud next morning when there is avocado dip in their hair. ( Presuming that it is avocado dip…)
And now the indigenes are unhappy and the immigrants are unhappy and the cheap journalists and cheaper council politicians make a fortune of money and publicity out of stoking that emotion.
What to do? Well, first of all recognise exactly what the truth is about the current day. And decide what a national day really should be. And then unravel the story so that everyone can read it. In the phrase beloved of all bureaucrats: ” Bring us into line with other nations “.
Tomorrow? The new days planned for Australia.
I have been googling like mad this morning – looking at national days that are celebrated in many nations. So far I’ve hit up Mexico, Russia, Denmark, Croatia, and a few others. The results are all out there for you to see so wiki it up yourselves.
Most of the national days are related to the establishment of…wait for it…a nation. An actual nation – with a declaration of independence from everyone else. They often fozzle about with it in a poetical manner – some have a cry of independence or a mob assault upon a royal prison or some such. Others just get the wisest people they can in one place and state their piece. In any event, you can date your regard for whichever current nation to this starting point when they declare independence from someone or something.
Here in Australia we characterise January 26th as a national day, but it devolves from the first landing of a colonising fleet with a governor – Arthur Phillip – in what is now New South Wales. Probably with the dear old Union jack and file of marines, with jolly tars pulling the boats up upon the beach. Refer to your historical paintings and see if I’m right.
The local indigenous people at the time could do little to hinder it, and have not had much luck hindering his successors – though now they have writs instead of wooden spears and can throw them further. But they do keep asking for the national day to be shifted from that landing day – seeing it as an insult to themselves.
Their protests draw counter protests from people who are not indigenous and who do not want to be forced to change their ways on the basis of this protest. There are more than two sides to the thing and all the sides have lawyers and publicists.
Now I am going to take sides…read my next post to see which one…
As long as it is on a sticker – not a brass plate.
We all make foolish errors from time to time. And not just errors – we make foolish choices, utter foolish statements, and espouse foolish ideas. If we are lucky , we find out about them before real harm is done. Then we have the gravest test of our character – I call it the Will Rogers moment.
It’s the point at which we realise we are in a hole and holding a shovel. What we do with the implement after that realisation defines us. If we dig ourselves out of it, we are wise – if we dig ourselves deeper, we are foolish.
I’m brought to this thought by watching politicians discover their mistakes – We’ve seen it most poignantly here in Australia with the discovery of archaic dual-citizenship laws that were used as political tools to oust members of parliament. It continues, and the lawmakers show no sign of ceasing to dig – and no signs of mending the law to recover some of their dignity. We laughed with them at the start but by God, we’re laughing at them now.
The US President, Mr. Trump, has also found it politic to change his mind about enforcing a law regarding immigrants. The awful truth that the law was one devised by his political opponents has now come to light, and they will need to call the spin doctors and the lobbying journalists in to adjust the telling of the truth accordingly. I expect some whoppers from the other party in the next little while.
We have often been accused of being cynics in Australia. This underestimates the citizens of this wonderful nation. We are greater than this – we are perfectly capable of being cynical in every country on Earth…with the possible exception of New Zealand. No-one is cynical in New Zealand, though they have been trying to establish a program to breed it for years.
Some have looked to climate, ancestry, ethnicity, history, and any number of other reasons for the national characteristic. It is all very well to score a PhD or a publisher’s advance upon this sort of speculation but the truth is that it is none of these things. The reason Australians are cynical is geography – we are far enough away from the rest of the world that we figure we can get away with it. We cock a snook at the various Kims, Vlads, Donalds, and Angelas…as well as the unpronounceable leaders of Africa, South America, and Canada and it is rarely sheeted home to us.
Oh, mind you, if we are of certain ethnicities that maintain spy networks here and dungeons back home into which our relatives can be thrust, we tend to be a bit quieter…but there are still pictures of Winnie the Pooh and copies of Charley Hebdo magneted onto the refrigerator in spite of official disapproval. They probably get whisked away when a national festival dinner party is held, but they come back afterwards.
Be fair to us – we are cynical about ourselves as much as we are about people overseas. Indeed, there is no topic more dear to the hearts or the sphincters of the Australians than our own national and state governments. Oh, and the local government, too. We’ll cheerfully discuss how much we despise our fearless leaders at the drop of a beer bottle cap. Our leaders hold us in similar affection.
It is known technically as a Mudgee Standoff – we don’t get to keep machine guns in our houses but Bunnings sells rope and there are trees aplenty with stout limbs, so the checks and balances of the Westminster government are still in force. We were once told by one politician that ” We’ll keep the bastards honest. ” Actually I think that was just a case of someone making a mistake with the punctuation when they reported it. What he really said was:
” We’ll keep the bastards. Honest… ”
But that’s just me being cynical.
And you have to give it now. Right now.
There are many situations to which these two lines apply. When you are challenged in the night on a battlefield. When you are performing a surgical operation. When you are in front of a magistrate. And when you are buttonholed at a party by a drunk with a grudge.
With a bit of luck you can avoid the first three but no-one will ever escape the fourth. It might not be a party and it might not be a drunk, but there will be a grudge involved somewhere.
I got this 54 years ago when I came to Australia and was caught with the classic ” So tell us what you think of Australia …”. I’d been in the country a week when I was asked this but that was luxury – most overseas visitors got it at the foot of the steps as they got off the QANTAS or Pan Am jet. Nobody who hadn’t prepared a statement for the journalists was ever treated well – indeed the wise ones went around to the Australian Consulate in whatever country they came from beforehand and got a prepared script to memorize. It was the only way to ensure a good press for the duration of your stay.
It was particularly awkward around the patriotic days; Australia Day, Anzac Day, Melbourne Cup, and Grand Final day. One false move answering the national catechism questions and you were damned forever. Fortunately my Uncle Louie had been here before and schooled me in the proper sentimental expressions so I was able to pass most inspections.
The Australia Day questions have changed, and people can give different answers depending upon who asks the question. Anzac Day conversations have remained unchanged. Melbourne Cup and the football Grand Final generate savage controversy, but mostly amongst the savages of Victoria.
No nation likes to hear bad of itself – though it may be prepared to excoriate others. The best way of getting along in society is to praise wisely – you must be honest and quick about it, and you’ll be best to pick aspects of the place that are undeniable and uncontroversial. Praising the weather and/or the native wildlife is pretty safe. You can even get by with phrases like ” Such atmosphere! ” and ” I’m fascinated! ” and the hearers will think well of you. Then press on by and don’t look back.
If you wish to be thought well of, you will continue this litany during your stay…and long afterwards. Australia has cultural monitoring squads that watch your writings and speeches for several years after you have visited to try to detect anything but fulsome praise for your antipodean experiences. If you avoid giving a bad traveller’s review you’ll be welcome again.
But if you return, you’ll be asked the same damn questions – there is always going to be a sense of uncertainty here that needs reassurance.
Overseas readers may have picked up on the tail of the Australian census story yesterday when the computer mechanism that was to account for the doings of 20,000,000+ Australians in one single day popped a fuse and went cold and dark. We all tried to do the right thing by the country and fill out our census form on-line and only 48 of us managed to do it before the pooter spat the dummy.
There were dark mutterings about overseas hackers and denial of service and compromised data and the disappearance of that crispy bacon we got before the war…but the word has gone round that it was not secret Chinese hackers punishing us for winning a swimming race…it was the cheap-john budget setup that the Bureau of Statistics set up to do the job. Apparently you can overload an Atari 64 something chronic with 20,000,000 log-ons.
Heads will roll, and we are seeing the Prime Minister and cabinet deciding which ones they will be. Not THEM, you understand…someone further down the food chain. Cheaper heads.
I completed my on-line form tonight. I coped with the nefarious secret conspiracy questions designed to control my mind by the fiendishly clever ruse of opting out of the questions that were optional and telling the truth on the others. Having nothing to hide means I do not need to construct falsehoods and I can never be called to book if my memory of one lie contradicts another. And to be frank, I do not lead an interesting life anyway.
But at least now that I have done my job I can rest assured that poverty will be eradicated from the suburb, new schools will be opened, and volcanos will be prevented by an order from the city council. Not so sure about the last one. I have found volcanos useful in the past for attracting girls and lizards, and the small ones can be turned to good use as barbecue pits and floor warmers. The volcanos, I mean…not the girls.