I’m at war with the journalist inside me. Facts only, it shouts. No opinions, no personal anecdotes. But that’s the interesting stuff, I whisper back. Besides, no one is objective.
How lucky am I to entertain the luxury of an internal philosophical war?
Not like Aziza Rawaini, one of the oldest people to become Australian on January 26th, Australia Day. The 100-year-old Iraqi woman told ABC news and other media that war drove her out of her country. She didn’t feel she belonged there.
It’s an idea I’ve been playing with, Becoming Australian. Would it make me feel like I belong? Or do I need to feel like I belong before I become a citizen? I’m already a permanent resident, do I want to be Australian? Shouldn’t I find some common ground first? Shouldn’t I learn more about the country I’m thinking of joining?
I take a test run. I become the ‘Straya Day Sargent for our family. I buy flashing flag headbands that look like Minnie Mouse ears for me and the girls and a shiny blue polyester tie shouting ”Aussie Hot Stuff” for my husband. Now most people are hanging out with friends or family, ‘snags’ sizzling on the barbie. Not us. We weren’t invited anywhere. And to be fair, we didn’t invite anyone over either. So we head down to Southbank, across the river from the city centre.
Southbank just happens to be one of my favourite spots in Brisbane. I love the quirkiness of a man-made beach with real sand right on the river and close to cafes, galleries and the state library. It reminds me at once of moments in Paris, London and Toronto, of growing up on Georgian Bay.
I have always been drawn to calm water as a place of reflection. But maybe this time I’m looking for something different. Maybe I’m looking for a way to twist and wind all my cities and histories together like fine copper wiring. Or maybe I’m just looking for a distant Paris in my twenties: young men and women lounging on the cobbled banks of the Seine, as if by the beach, on a hot August day. How I would walk the city alone, always drawn to the river in the end.
I could talk more about Paris or that morning at Southbank, the 21-gun salut and the jet fly-by, but the change happened later on.
As I watched the news that evening, I learned that while a record 18,000 people across the country were becoming Australian, the Brisbane Murri community were marching against Invasion Day. (January 26th marks the arrival of the first European ships with convict-settlers in 1788.)
I learned that I missed the annual cockroach races at the Story Bridge Hotel and that a couple of thousand people turned up in Brisbane’s city centre to protest new laws that affect ‘bikies’ or motorcyclists.
Maybe ‘Strayans aren’t so laid back after all?
I sat at the kitchen bar with a glass of rose as Joe prepared a snag-less dinner. Did I feel more like I belonged? Well no, but my attitude had shifted. Instead of looking for the international in Australia, I was just looking.
Looking for things I like. Looking for ways to belong. It’s a positive cloud to chase. I can’t compartmentalize the lives I’ve lived in Canada, France and England, what I learned there or how that formed my person, but I can decide where to focus my attention.
And despite the nagging journalist in me, I can’t pretend I’ve been writing this in a vacuum. For four days, I’ve been trying to dig out and organize my thoughts as my youngest goes to her first day of school and my eldest wanders between bed and sofa, hugging my waist, with a large silver mixing bowl under chin: Maman I’m gonna throw up.