What Australia means to me

 

Australian flag

One day, I hope this will be the flag that my kids think of as signifying home.

As we wrap up our lives in Europe, I’ve spent a fair amount of time reflecting on the past – the people, places and things that we’ll be leaving behind when we move to Canberra next month. It’s prompted a few people to say that I seem sad and regretful about going, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

So, in today’s post, I’m only going to look forward, and I’m going to try to give you a sense of the building exciting in our house, and why our move to Canberra feels like the fulfilment of a long held dream.

In my post ‘Why move to Australia?’, I explained our motivations for moving – the nostalgia for what we experienced on our first trip, the promise of a better future for the kids, and the spirit of optimism that seems to pervade the place. But what I didn’t talk about was how Australia and the people there make me feel inside.

Perhaps that’s because I haven’t really thought about it or questioned it since I formed my opinion of the place all those years ago. But yesterday, I chanced across some old writings from that first holiday and I was struck by how much those first impressions are still true today.

I wrote that Australia had helped me to rediscover a me that I thought I’d lost touch with, perhaps forever. That its infectious positivity had reminded me to believe in myself and that all things were possible. At the end, I conclude that Australia may well be a country, but that, to me, it had become a feeling too – a friend of sorts. It’s hard to believe that a place can do that to you, but I can tell you that nothing in my return visits has made me want to retract or retreat from that first impression.

If returning to Australia is about rediscovering that version of me again, it’s also about hoping that the same magic can work for my two boys. Who wouldn’t want their kids to grow up in a place where everyone is expected to ‘have a go’, even if they can’t win at everything; where believing in yourself and that all things are possible is an infectious mood?

The roof of the Sydney Opera House

Who wouldn’t want to live somewhere that offers a skyline like this?

Even before we arrive there, I can feel the anticipation of the place having an effect on me. The other day I told my wife that I could see we’d become too ready to say “no” – to social invitations, to trying new things – that we’d become used to greeting changes of plan or unexpected occurrences with a huff rather than a shrug and a smile. In short, we’d started to expect the worst of situations rather than the best.

So I told her that I’d decided to say “yes” whenever possible for the next 12 months. Yes to dinner invitations that I might find a reason for opting out of; yes to an evening out instead of an evening in; yes to that impromptu gathering that I might have screwed my face up at before.

Is that the anticipation of Australia working on me, or me readying myself for Australia? It’s hard to say.

A few years ago, I took my eldest son to see Australia’s football team, the Socceroos, play against Denmark in Copenhagen. We bought tickets for the Aussie section, because Aussies are generally fun people to hang out with anyway.

Just before the game started, a supporter sauntered in wearing flip-flop sandals, beach shorts, a vest and with an inflatable surfboard under his arm, like it was the most normal thing in the world. I’d say it was about 16 degrees in Copenhagen that day.

“G’day,” he smiled, and settled down to watch the match.

Swimming costume with "I love Oz" on the front

The boys have their swimming costumes all ready to go.

A little later on and a penalty was awarded to one of the teams. Everybody stood to see the penalty being taken, but before it was, a different Aussie guy turned to my small son and asked: “Would he like to sit on my shoulders so he can see?” My son’s pretty shy, so he declined, but it made an impression on him.

“Why did he offer to do that Daddy?” he asked. “Why not?” I answered. “It was a kind thing to do and it wouldn’t affect his ability to see, so why not help someone else out too?” And that’s when I got it. My son was asking me because this was not the default attitude he’d grown up seeing around him.

So that’s why we’re going. Because if Australia brings out the best in me and my wife, then it’ll also bring out the best in him. And maybe one day, he’ll go travelling and feel at ease enough in his own skin to walk into a football stadium wearing beachwear and clutching an inflatable surfboard like it was the most normal thing in the world. I’d love to think so.

2 thoughts on “What Australia means to me

  1. Interesting to see that impressions of Australia from abroad are often quite different to how Australians in Australia describe Australia. I will say that I find Australians to be positive people compared to the average Brit but there is a lot of whinging here, especially in Canberra. That said, I think you’ve chosen the best city to move to. I find Canberra fascinating because it has been the guinea pig in so many social and architectural experiments. As a young, disconnected city that commenced mostly as a clean slate, there as that optimism and freedom to experiment. Unfortunately, most of the experiments fails but I find something intriguing about that failure.

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    • Thanks Chad. Y’know, I don’t even recall what my preconceptions of Denmark were before we got here, but I’m sure they were very different to the reality. I have read a fair bit about Canberra’s history and politics find it intriguing — even the current ongoing debate about light rail and high speed rail. There’s still so much about the debate that is forward looking, which I find refreshing compared with the UK in particular — but perhaps that’s a symptom of so many Canberrans (and even Australians) being relatively new arrivals (to within a few generations). Starting afresh requires energy and optimism, and I think that infuses itself into a collective psyche. It’ll be interesting to see how we feel about the place in a few years’ time, but we’re certainly arriving with that same energy and optimism and are determined not to be pigeonholed as ‘whingeing poms’ — I hear you already have your fair share of them? Thanks for dropping by. Best wishes, Mark

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