Travelling overseas has always reinforced my pride in being born in Australia until this year when I found out we are a bit on the nose.
I am a proud Australian and, although I can’t trace my roots back to the First Fleet, this country has been home to my mixed-Anglo origins for many generations.
Australia Day is our official annual celebration but in truth each day living in the lucky country offers cause to be grateful for having been born and raised here.
The first crack in my rose-coloured view of being an Aussie came when I met my English husband in the late 1980s. My Pom cannot understand why Australia would consider becoming a republic by formally breaking its ties with Mother England or has he describes it “the greatest empire there ever was”. He has no comprehension as to why as a nation we were irked when the Governor General, as the Queen’s representative, dismissed an elected Prime Minister. He has no appreciation for our love of a pub band and its raw rock and roll sound. I lament that he has never been able to abide my favourite song – AC/DC’s Long Way To The Top.
However, our odd cultural clash has never once dented my pride in being an Australian.
It is when I am overseas that I really revel in being an Aussie. I puff my chest out whenever I am asked if I am Australian. I love how people wax lyrical about how beautiful Australia is and how friendly our people are. It has been one of the greatest things about being in another land – that others covert what we have. Yet in April and May this year I travelled across the developed world to study cities and I have returned not as proud as I once was.
When I arrived in London, the news was filled with stories about the people fleeing Africa for refuge in Europe. On BBC World, a group of commentators were discussing the “boat people” crisis. The host asked if Australia could be the place to turn to for solutions to which the reply was: “We are not barbarians like they are.”
Throughout my travels I met people who resoundingly criticised our current Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, for his lack of world view. What usually followed was a comment or two about how we badly we treated our first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.
Mostly however people in other countries were confounded as to how we had enjoyed a booming economy and came through the GFC almost unscathed and yet had no money left. I was often asked: “What have you squandered it all on?”
Ouch, ouch, ouch.
Over the years Australia and Australians have relished being acknowledged for punching above our weight on the world stage. As a nation we have enjoyed being the envy of others for our easy going nature and high quality of life. Yet I fear that this period of being feted may be coming to an end. It was palpable that as a country with so many riches Australia is a bit on the nose. What a shame as I have always loved being a proud Aussie abroad.
Marion Fulker is the CEO of the Committee for Perth, a private sector funded think tank and an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at The University of Western Australia. Her research has taken her to cities across Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States of America.
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