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Australia Day Or Invasion Day: Am I A Patriotic Strayan?

So it’s Australia Day.

A day when apparently you either fly the Australian flag and get drunk, or call it Invasion Day and fill your social media accounts with Indigenous art and horror stories.

I want to fly the Aboriginal Flag, call it Invasion Day and all that… but part of me feels like I’m simply leaping on the left-wing wagon.

So how do I really feel about this day?

To give you a truthful answer, I’ve got to take you back a few years…

I grew up in country Victoria in a conservative, Liberal-voting, farming family.

As a kid, all I knew about Aboriginal people was that they were called Boongs (according to my Dad, who also calls African-Americans Coons, and Indians Curry-Munchers), and that the stars beside the Aboriginal elder on the two-dollar coin were, in fact, flies.

There were no Aboriginal people in our town; lots of Italians though, whose families had immigrated in the 50s and set up a thriving tobacco industry. Us Skips called our Mediterranean sisters and brothers Wogs. And truly it was a term of endearment. I always wished I were a Wog.

To me, it meant thick lustrous hair, olive skin, a beautiful language, and big flamboyant families that got together en masse to make Napoli sauce and crostoli.

So I always thought Boong was a bit the same as Wog — a slang, playful nickname.

What did we know of Aboriginal people? Only a little from high school history, where the emphasis had been on Captain Cook discovering Australia, and not on mass genocide, and that was about it.

For my early life, I didn’t give Aboriginal Australians much thought at all. I was your average ignorant country bumpkin.

I can clearly remember the day a new context started to present itself. I had used the term Boong, and my uncle had pulled me up and told me that it was racist. I was puzzled, and told him that was what Dad called them. He said it wasn’t nice.

Leaving the country and starting university in Melbourne introduced me to multiculturalism… the amazing food choices that are at the core of the city’s soul… the astoundingly smart and studious Asian and Jewish students who made me feel like a right dumb-dumb in the commerce degree I struggled to muster any interest for… the Hare Krishnas who occasionally wandered on campus, giving away copies of the Bhagavad Gita.

I still didn’t know much (and nothing firsthand) about Australian Aboriginals, but I had a broader view of the world, and an appreciation for different cultures, including Aboriginal culture.

In my early twenties, I went traveling, and lived overseas for a few years.

One evening, early in my travels through South America, I was chatting to an Argentinian guy who showed great disdain when I told him I was from Australia. I was still wet behind the ears when it came to the world.

Up until this conversation, I found that Australian travelers were regarded a bit the same as their Swiss counterparts — no one seemed to have a bone with us like they did with other nationalities, so I was taken aback by his reaction.

He told me how disgusting we are for what we did to our Aboriginal people.

I agreed… and then asked him if his heritage was Indigenous or Spanish. He admitted that it was the latter.

And that’s the thing about the whole Australia Day debate… yes, it is horrible what happened to Aboriginal Australians, but sadly it’s just another chapter in the bloody tome of human history — one civilization decimating another.

So does that mean I’m a proud, flag-flying Strayan?

Well, no. I’ve never been an overly patriotic person. When I first moved to London, I spent one Australia Day at a club called The Church.

It was packed with Aussies drinking copious amounts of beer from plastic cups, women getting up on stage to flash their breasts, and sawdust underfoot to absorb all the spilled beer, vomit and urine.

Did I feel proud to be an Australian? No.

In fact, for my time in London, I made a point of walking the other way if I heard an Aussie accent. I didn’t live in Earls Court or Shepherds Bush. I didn’t frequent the Walkabout, and I never went to The Church again.

Instead, I lived in a share-house with a group of wonderful Brits, had an Italian boyfriend, and enjoyed the anonymity of being in a big foreign city.

Slowly though, I realized that I was missing things about Australia… the space, the quiet, the high-quality fresh produce; the hot summer days and balmy nights sitting on a back step in a singlet-top and cut-offs with friends, laughing at Australia-isms.

Maybe that is patriotism?

This Australia Day, I won’t be sitting around an esky full of beer, drinking myself stupid. I won’t fly an Aussie flag out of my car window while playing Triple J’s Hottest 100. I won’t get a Southern Cross tattoo. I won’t paint my face blue, white and red. The words Oi, Oi, Oi will not pass my lips.

I will spare a thought for our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. I will say a little prayer, wishing for better times ahead. I will hope that as a species we can get better at celebrating diversity whilst being humans first, and cultures second.

But also, as I go about my day, I will give silent thanks for the freedom we enjoy, the relative wealth, quality of life, and beautiful landscapes… yes, I will be immensely thankful to be a human living in Australia.

“We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… And then we return home.” ~ Aboriginal proverb

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LeonieOrtonLeonie Orton is a blogger who writes intimately personal stories about life. She is also a freelance copywriter for businesses looking for unique, emotive copy. When not writing, she’s teaching Yoga, creating floral artworks, exploring Earth, and adoring two spirited sons. You can get in touch with her via her website.

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