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Australia - it's where I belong

Saturday, 26 January 2013
Author: Raffaele Piccolo, Australian Policy Online

Australia Day has come and gone for another year. No doubt there have been many a barbeque had, game of backyard cricket played and the day off, undoubtedly enjoyed. Or perhaps I am being stereotypical? Are Australians simply people who enjoy barbeques and beaches? This is by no means a new question. Every year, every Australia Day we are asked what does it mean to be Australian. A myriad of answers have been given.

It seems to me that we have approached this discussion as if an answer is possible, or as if a definitive answer is necessary. As if a list of definitive characteristics should and can be identified for what makes an Australian. Instead I would like to propose that we have been approaching this question the wrong way. Australia and Australians cannot, and should not be reduced to a list of characteristics, although this may seem attractive, it is rather simplistic and it is not reflective of reality. Now this may seem counterintuitive to some. That is, if we are unable to define Australia, or Australian, then how are we able to define who where are, or where we are from. I do not propose that these questions cannot be answered; it's just that we have been going around it the wrong way. Do we really want to be reduced to a list of characteristics, can we? Australia, and Australians, are complex concepts, this much should always be kept in mind.

So what makes us so complex? By way of example I want to share with you a quirk from my childhood, something I imagine that many Australians with parents born overseas can readily identify with, and others also understand. I grew up in a household in which Italy, or least the 1960s version of Italy was still very much alive. Pasta was the staple of our diets, we have tomato sauce day, pizza day, grow our own veggies and live within a stones throw from each other, all like it was back in the old country. We identified and were identified, at least in some part, in the community as being Italian. I have no problem with this, nor did any in my family, in fact they were rather proud of it. Now I do not know if this came about as a result of our Italian identity, either self adopted or imposed but whenever we talked about other families or friends, if they could not be identified according to some continental European, or Asian ethnic origin then they were (affectionately) referred to as the Australian, Australians, Australian family, or skips. Now when such a reference was made, there was an unspoken understanding that this referred to those with English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh, or basically any non continental European or Asian familial ancestry, or any with which they identified or were identified with. I am sure many are familiar with this scenario, which ever side of the experience you are situated.

Now the ironic thing from all this is that my family, and I imagine many others, also consider ourselves, and identify as Australians. I know when I travelled to Italy as a child, despite what many here in Australia might consider, myself included, my Italian appearance, I was identified by my relatives as an Australian. That sits very comfortably with me. As much as I enjoyed travelling overseas to the 'mother country', I am Australian, and Australia is where I belong. But what makes me Australian then?

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