Today is an important anniversary for me.
42 years ago today, my mother, my two younger brothers and I stepped off a BOAC flight onto Australian soil for the first time ever. 15 November, 1966 - the weather was gorgeous as we stepped onto the tarmac in Sydney. It was some ungodly hour like 6am, but it was light, and bright, and WARM ( we had just left a dark Novembery England, remember...)
Brand new Pommies. It was balmy, the light was eye-stabbingly bright, we were blindingly white and English. We were fried to crisps very shortly thereafter!
42 years ago I was 7 years old, and while it was all a bit exciting coming to a new country and all, and going on an aeroplane for the first time (yeah, great, all I did was leave a 12000 mile trail of vomit across the planet) I didn't want to be here. My life (such as it was!) was back in England.
This hot country where kids ran barefoot in the everlasting summer was not where I wanted to be. Oh God, I cringe sometimes when I think I must've been the most pompous 7 year-old Pom in the entire country. All I wanted was to go back to England.
When did I become Australian? I'm not sure...
I stopped missing England when I started high school in 1972;
I became an Australian citizen in about 1998, I think;
I started thinking that England was a foreign country when I visited in 2005, and the green hurt my eyes...
It happened sometime in amongst all of that - and I still can't say exactly what it means to be Australian, because all that "football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars" stuff makes me cringe.
I suppose what it means to me is that I can't seriously imagine living anywhere else - this is Home. I don't love everything about this country - in fact, there's plenty of stuff I don't like - the racism that pretends it doesn't exist; the worship of larrikinism (yeah, it can be cute in small doses but after a career as a schoolteacher I'm over it); the underdog mentality that seems to coexist so uncomfortably with the "wannabe" mentality; the "cringe" mentality (I confess, I cringe about Strine, but still feel as if it's somehow mine)...
When I think about being Australian, though, I guess what I'm identifying with is a love for the enormous expansive varied mish-mash of people and landscape that makes this place so wonderful.
I notice it most when I'm riding, and particularly when I'm riding a long way from home, especially when I'm by myself. Nothing makes me feel more Australian, and more comfortable, than pulling up at a country pub on my bike after a 500km ride, staggering into the bar, asking "can I have a room?" - and hearing the publican say "course you can, love, where you from?" It's the voice of belonging, of Home. I tried it a few years ago (sans motorcycle) in Portugal, and somehow something was lost in the translation... Give me a country Aussie pub any day!
I came to Australia in 1966 as a child of my parents - it was their choice to come here, not mine... I floated here on the waves they created - and quite frankly I resented it for a long time. It took me a while to appreciate what a great choice it was, but after 42 years here I can say this: I'm an Australian and I love it!