Archive for the ‘Australia’ Category

Family, Religion and Elders

Monday, July 14th, 2014

I am told here that Indian culture is good because they value family. This is usually a commentary on the fact that I’m not married and don’t have children.

And yes, Indian culture values family though I don’t agree with many consequences of this ‘valuing’. But that is a whole other story. For the purposes of this post let’s just say that I agree that Indian culture values family. However, in my culture, I was brought up to value people with families and people without. A person who does not have children is not a wasted, tragic, pitiful figure to me.

Indian culture respects religion. Now, the more I learn about religions the less I think anyone should respect them. That again is another story. But for the moment, assume that I think religious tolerance is a good thing, and assume for a moment that India practices that (some people almost do). However, in my culture, I was brought up to respect people with religious beliefs (regardless of the religion) and to respect people without religious beliefs. In the communities I live in having a different religion is ok (unless it is Islam), having no religion is not ok (though it may be preferable to Islam, depending on how religiously intolerant the person I’m talking to is).

Indian culture respects its elders. This is a duty of citizens as spelled out in the Indian constitution. However, in my culture, I was brought up to respect people who are younger than me as well as people who are older than me. I was also brought up to want to try to earn the respect of people younger than me, rather than simply demanding it solely based on age.

I do not want to say that my culture is better. I don’t believe it is. I don’t believe Indian culture is better either. I believe that there are some aspects of every culture that are wonderful and there are some aspects of every culture that are terrible and there are many aspects of every culture that are somewhere in between.

The point I want to make is that I’m fed up with being told (directly or indirectly) that I come from a morally bankrupt culture that is full of broken families and has no respect for family, elders or religion. Because I do not believe this is true!

Caveat: I am in a very narrow and specific sub-culture here. And it may be that the views and practices that are common here are not common in other parts of Trivandrum, Kerala and India. And it may be that there are sub-cultures in the UK/Australia that do not respect family (and non-family), that do not respect elders (and youngers), that do not respect religion (and non-religion). But all of the above is valid when comparing my personal (Kath) culture with the culture of these Christian, coastal, fishing communities.

My Australian Identity

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

I’ve returned to Australia and it has been like coming home. It has also been like seeing it for the first time. My connection with Australia and my Australian identity are complex things – far more complex than I had previously appreciated.

I feel very Australian and very foreign at the same time (but not uncomfortably so on either count). But Australian identity is an interesting thing. Very many cultures are a mix of other cultures, Australia (certainly cosmopolitan, suburban, Melbourne) is very much a mix of many cultures. Most Australians I know are first or second generation Australian. Their identity is very strongly influenced by the culture of their parents/grandparents.

Since many ethnic groups tend to live close to each other, the culture of those around you can reinforce your own. And yet, suburban Melbourne doesn’t exactly break down into enclaves. While there may be a large number of Greek and Italian families in Doncaster, Doncaster is not exclusively Greek and Italian. Our next door neighbours were Dutch. We had good family friends from Singapore. Plus all the Scots (as to be expected). Several of my classmates were Italian or Greek. My best friend from secondary school has an Italian father and a Dutch mother.

So my Australian identity has been influenced by:

  • Watching the Australian Open tennis in Melbourne.
  • Hating Australian Rules Football and trying to be out of the city on Grand Final Day.
  • Singing Auld Lang Syne and eating shortbread on Hogmanay.
  • Not remembering when or how I learnt to use chopsticks to eat massive Chinese banquets.
  • Roast dinners with all the trimmings on Christmas.
  • Cricket on the beach at Christmas.
  • Backyard cricket at any time.
  • Playing tennis in the road (calling out to the rest when a car approached).
  • Watching Carols by Candlelight on Christmas Eve.
  • Painting my face on Australia Day.
  • Singing Flower of Scotland in primary school.
  • Paul Kelly. Midnight Oil. The Whitlams. Men at Work. John Farnham.
  • Eating Dutch double salted liquorice (a skill that has stood me in good stead since).
  • Eating authentic Italian pasta at friends’ homes.
  • Singaporean fish curries on Good Friday.
  • Watching the ash fall as I float in our backyard swimming pool during the Ash Wednesday bush fires.
  • Rejoicing when a representative of my government finally said sorry to the Aboriginal people.
  • Staring at the tapestries in Parliament House in Canberra and trying to spot the cockatoo (and the train).
  • Watching kangaroos avoid golf balls as they graze on a golf course.

And yet, back in Australia this time, the aspects of Australian identity that have resonated with me are aspects of an Australia that I’ve never really known.

As my plane came in to land I found myself reciting Dorothea Mackellar’s poem “I love a sunburnt country”. And yes, I do love my wide, brown land. I just wish I knew it better. I read Banjo Patterson when I was home. The Australian bush and the outback are very powerful images that have surrounded me as a child – even though I have spent very little time actually in the bush or the outback. This is an Australia that I don’t know anything about first hand, and yet is an Australia that is a very important part of me.

This is what I found most strange going back.

At a party one night the song “This is Australia” by Midnight Oil was playing. It’s a great song. And it stirred the Aussie in me. Strange though, because I’ve never seen a cane field and I’ve certainly never sat and watched lightning crack over one (though it does sound like fun so perhaps I’ll add that to my list).

I identified with and resonated with aspects of my culture which have only ever been mythologies to me. I’ve never camped by a billabong. I’ve only had billy tea once or twice, I’ve only had damper once. I’ve never seen a bushfire up close (for which I am incredibly thankful). I’ve never been to Queensland. I’ve never seen a cane toad. I’ve never had a dog named Bluey. I’ve never met a shearer. I’ve never worked on a farm. I can’t ride a horse.

And yet, a lot of this is part of the Australian in me. In the same way that cricket, Wimbledon, strawberries and cream, the Boat Race on the Thames, bowler hats and Mary Poppins, punting on the Cam (which I have done) are all part of my English identity. Edinburgh Castle, fried Mars Bars (which I’ve still not had), fish suppers, Irn Bru, tablet, macaroons and Hogmanay are all part of my Scottish identity. Sri Pada, mosquitoes, Sri Maha Bodhi, taking your shoes off at temples, being in direct physical contact with 7 other people simultaneously while on a bus, eating with my hands, milk rice, string hoppers, kotthu are all part of my Sri Lankan identity.

Identity is a complex thing. It is made up of our experiences, the experiences of those around us and the mythologies of culture that we absorb through television, books, songs, films and legend.

The Immigration Museum

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

The Immigration Museum in Melbourne is well worth a visit. Feona and I spent about 3 hours wandering around it. It tells some of the stories of who has come to Australia and why. It talks about different government policies throughout Victoria’s history (many of which did not make me proud to be Victorian). It talks about social attitudes to immigrants. It talks about different reasons why people come to Australia. It talks about reconciling the source culture with Australian culture (whatever that is). It talks about the contribution that immigrants have made to our society.

It has some interesting interactive sections; lots of great photos; videos and artefacts from various people. It tells general stories and tells some very specific stories too. There is a really fascinating section about self-identity – what it means, what it looks like, how it can be expressed. There was a great bit with some Muslim girls who wear hijab in AFL colours. It’s a way for them to say that they are Muslim and proud but they are also Victorians/Australians who love footy. They are Carlton supporters, Essendon supporters, Collingwood supporters etc. But being Australian and loving footy doesn’t mean they have to give up being Muslim and the traditions of their culture and religion.

There was a very, very interesting bit about racism and what it looks like. There was a scene on a Melbourne tram where a man was treating an African boy very badly. It was interesting to see the scene replayed from his point of view, from the boy’s point of view, from the points of view of some of the other people on the tram. Racism is a truly ugly thing. And seeing it played out like that made me angry and frustrated.

The museum also made me think about my experiences. I’ve spent 13 years living in the UK. I’ve spent most of the past 4 years living in Asia. I am Australian. I am Scottish. I am English. I am a traveller. I am a guest in Asia. I am at home in Asia. I am an immigrant. I am an ambassador for my cultures. I am a link between different cultures. I do not subscribe to everything that any culture has to offer. I think that all of these cultures have some wonderful aspects and some terrible aspects. I try to carry the good things from each culture with me. I try to challenge the negative things from each culture.

I hope that my experiences and stories can help show other people that regardless of what culture we are from we are all people. Some of us are good, some not so good, some funny, some selfish, some generous, some outgoing, some quiet, some friendly, some reserved, some sporty, some intelligent, some loving, some happy, some grumpy, some beautiful, some religious, some spiritual, some typical, some black sheep. But we almost all want to make a better tomorrow for ourselves, our children, our society, our planet.

The Immigration Museum talks about how people can maintain their identity in the face of change. It talks about how much people sacrifice in the search for a better tomorrow. It talks about how much we as a society can benefit from welcoming people from different backgrounds.

Australia – A Summary

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

I’ve had a really amazing six weeks in Australia. I’m so glad I extended my stay.

It is 13 years since I left Australia to move to the UK. I’ve been back about 5 times though it’s been 5 years since I was last here. And each time I’ve been back has been for less than three weeks. This time is very different.

I’ve spent lots of time with my Dad in Chelsea. I’ve been down to visit my sister. I’ve met up with friends I went to university with and some I went to secondary school with. I’ve met up with family friends from my childhood. I went to visit the first company I ever worked for. I’ve stayed with cousins and their children and met their children. In short, lots of wonderful conversations with some amazingly special people. Some of whom I haven’t seen for about 20 years!

I’ve met new and exciting people. Just when I think I’m the luckiest girl in the world because I have the most amazing people in my life, the list grows even longer!!

I’ve been to a speciality cheese show.
I’ve visited the Melbourne Aquarium (Gentoo penguins are just the best things ever!!), Federation Square and the Immigration Museum.
I’ve made it into and out of Crown Casino (without spending any money whatsoever) – this may not sound like a big deal, but the place is designed so that once you’re in it is incredibly difficult to get out – there are signs to direct you to the ATMs but none to direct you to the exit and there’s no natural light so it is quite a challenge!
I’ve been to the Botanic Gardens.
I’ve been to the Indian visa office.
I’ve visited Bendigo, Berwick, Rosanna, Mitcham, Doncaster, Chelsea, Bentleigh East, Sunbury, Kilmore, Echuca, Marlo and Canberra.
I’ve been to the theatre.
I’ve co-hosted a dinner party (well, sort of).
I’ve stayed on a farm for a night which involved wandering around it in the twilight meeting horses.
I’ve helped work on a jigsaw puzzle.
I’ve played Cranium (badly – but enjoyed it).
I’ve been to a BBQ.
(I may have danced at a party, but since I never dance, this sounds very unlikely.)
I’ve been a jet plane for a 4 year old.
I’ve been to the National Gallery, Questacon and Floriade in Canberra.
I’ve been to a petting zoo.
I’ve eaten in coffee shops, pubs, restaurants and the kitchens of some very talented family and friends.
I’ve seen where the iconic Snowy River meets the sea.
I’ve watched paddle steamers on the Murray.
I’ve stared at the Southern Cross from the window of a Greyhound bus.
I’ve been on trains, trams and buses.
I’ve sat on various types of transport and stared in open-eyed wonder at the amazing countryside.
I’ve giggled quietly (and not so quietly) at how incredible it is to be surrounded by such beauty.
I’ve turned corners and not been able to stop myself saying “Wow! I love this country!”.
Though, to be fair, I tend to do a lot of those last few when I’m in all the other countries I tend to hang around in.

I’ve eaten potato cakes, apricot delight, Twisties, Tim Tams, Burger Rings, Whizz Fizz, lamingtons, Barbecue Shapes, Top Deck chocolate, salad sandwiches (with beetroot of course) and the most incredibly tasty fruit and vegetables. I’ve been to the Pancake Parlour. I’ve eaten at South Bank. I’ve been to a great vegetarian restaurant in Melbourne. I’ve had a counter tea in a beer garden of an Aussie pub.

I’ve seen kangaroos, cockatoos, galahs, kookaburras, pelicans, lambs, cows, calves and camouflaged sheep.

I’ve seen palm trees, gum trees, pines, brown grass, wattle, banksia, jasmine and loads of other Australian native and non-native plants that I can’t identify but whose combined sight and smell is so very Australian.

I’ve heard real people say some of the following things in real conversations:
Crikey
Are they gonna pash?
Spewin
Grouse
Bogan
Okker
No dramas!
Such a dag.
Yeah, nah.
Jibbed
Come a cropper
I was sick as.
Hooning
Arvo
Pissfarting around
Chuck a uey
(Despite the fact that Australian swearing is very often not intended to be offensive I don’t think that including some of the more colourful phrases that I’ve heard is a good idea here.)

I’ve been in pubs and at parties and have sung along with John Farnham, Midnight Oil, Paul Kelly and several others (Australian and non-Australian).

I’ve read Banjo Patterson and Dorothea Mackellar. I’ve loved coming home to my sunburnt country!

Thank you to all the people who have looked after me, fed me, entertained me, talked to me and shared snippets of their lives with me. It has been a fantastic trip! And I hope that it won’t be five years before I do it again.