I got to chatting with Jim, a curious feller at the local noodle house on my lunch break the other day. A garrulous character with the disposition of a mole, he got to sharing his life story, tales of growing up in Sydney in the 1950s and 60s.
As he regaled me with stories, I quickly realized how ignorant I was to the past. According to Jim Australia was once a devoutly conservative society. A place where the church reigned supreme, ethnic food was hard to come by and Sundays were a time for prayer and reflection.
He spoke of being conscripted to fight in Vietnam while in his second year of University, his bacon saved by a change of government in 1972. With the Australian Labor party emerging victorious after 23 years, Gough Whitlam terminated the unpopular Birthday Ballot (a.k.a the Lottery of Death) introduced in 1964 under the Robert Menzies government.
Being first-generation Australian, I didn’t grow up with stories from these times. With my pops hailing from Dublin and my mama from Port Louis, my childhood memories were always tinged with an outsiders perspective.
Mum was from a family of nine and arrived in Australia by ship. Her story was so inspiring, the only child to attend University and a hard-working social worker before bringing me and my sisters into the world. I loved her childhood memories, of enjoying avocados with raw sugar for dessert and developing an aversion to mangoes because they were as common as apples.
Papa arrived Down Under on a world ticket with his twin brother after their painting business went belly up in London during the ‘73 recession. Twenty-five years young with a predilection for adventure, they fell in love with the city of Sydney. It was more than the beautiful weather and the good-natured locals. Australia was the land of opportunity.
Call me biased but I believe this little country of ours is as beautiful as ever thanks to mum, dad and the millions of others who came here looking to make a good go of it. It’s so exciting to visit public spaces and hear every language under the sun nowadays, to know there are so many new stories being born with every passing year.
With the growing intolerance for ‘unwelcome immigrants’ around the world it helps to take stock of who we are and how we got here. Like it or not we all come from somewhere. If we’re not willing to accept others as our equals how will we ever teach our children the true meaning of love?