Since the very first one I experienced, this day has always meant something special to me.
My first, 5 years ago, was the first time I’d ever actually sat and hung out with family and friends without it being an occasion centred around somebody or something stressful (birthdays, New Year’s, etc). Low-key and as laid-back as you can get, there was beer, barbecue and Australian Flag Tattoos a-plenty.
It may sound silly, but getting to adorn myself with “Australia” stuff meant more to me than the family probably realised. It wasn’t ceremonial, nor really terribly symbolic, but I had a T-shirt and a ballcap (I love my hats) and then a flag tattoo pasted on my cheek, and I couldn’t have felt more patriotic than if someone had draped a flag across my shoulders and started singing “We are Australian”.
I sat there at a table full of the native-born (and a pom, if I do remember) in a neighbourhood heavily peopled with castoffs and refugees mostly from Africa and East Asia, and have never felt more welcome in a culture that isn’t natively mine. On a day like this it doesn’t actually matter where you’re from originally, today we are all just happy to be here and we’re celebrating that fact together.
Today, we are all Australian.
Four years ago, on this day, I had one of the most important experiences of my entire life. I got to bring my little girl home for the first time. She was 2 days old and wife, having had a C-section, was advised to stay a bit longer, but being a trouper and a bit crazy she checked herself out and off we went. It was a blisteringly hot day, 43 degrees if I remember correctly (that’s about 109 for you ‘Mericans), and we were cruising in our battered old Falcon, the X-mobile, in the heat of the day.
Wife sat in the back to keep an eye on our sleepy little baby girl, who looked like she’d wilted in the heat. The aircon had broken, naturally, and we had all the windows down while I drive home as fast (and safe) as I could. I’ve never been a fan of air-conditioning in my life, but that day our house was cranking it and it was the most wonderful thing that we could’ve felt. Later that night we whispered into the newborn’s ear that all the fireworks were all for her. Welcome to Life, my little Jadeybug.
The year after that was a hallmark as well. My first Australia Day as an actual Australian… permanent resident.
I’m always of the mind that we’ll take what we can get, so I was still pleased as punch to be able to say, without question, “I am here for good, so there’s actually no getting rid of me now!” My family, once again, made me feel incredibly welcome and, once again, I knew I was home.
The following year and my body had rebelled against me yet again, giving me that pain-among-pains for a man, kidney stones. I got ’em lasered (complete with the “peeow! peeow!” noises) and was recovering on the Australia Day holiday. By now my modest business was now making a modest income and keeping the bills paid and I had dental floss hanging out of the end of my doodle, connecting my J-stent to the outside world. It was hard to walk, pee or laugh, but I managed to do all of those with the help of my awesome wife and family.
That year, my new home really showed me how welcome I was with about $30,000 worth of medical expenses that didn’t cost me a single cent. I’d said “my pee squeezers hurt” and Australia said, “here’s some drugs, sandwiches and a bed, use them all liberally, we’ll look after you and it won’t cost a thing.” At that point, I was undeniably an Australian.
Last year came and I was officially allowed to apply for citizenship. The US now allows for dual-citizenship and I was all for it. I knew the names of Prime Ministers, Famous Explorers, Sports Stars and Rock Legends. I knew all the words to the National Anthem (though what the hell does “girt by sea” even mean?!?) and I even knew what an “over” was in the cricket. I had a vague understanding of how Parliament works and I LOVE meat pies, lamingtons, vegemite and beer.
On this day 2 years ago, I cranked up Triple J’s Hottest 100, hoisted a stubby of VB, shooed a fly away from my face, swore something unintelligably and announced to the family, “I filled out my Citizenship Application online this morning!” to which they all replied, “YAY!”, to which I followed with, “and it costs $260 that I don’t have!” and they all said “Who cares! You’re still an Aussie!” to which I drank my beer and struggled with some dust that got in my eyes. Damn dust.
This year my modest business is still making a modest income, and that extra cash still eludes me for the “official” application, but I’ve never felt more Australian.
This day, to me, means that I get one special day a year to very laid-back and casually show my appreciation for some of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received: A new family, a new home, and a new country to call my own.
I raise my family, I run my business, I pay my taxes, I volunteer, and I participate. When other Australians hurt, I hurt and try to heal, and when they celebrate, I celebrate too. No matter where I’ve gone nor what I’ve done, I’ve never, ever, felt anything but welcome here.
Happy Australia Day everyone. I don’t know about you, but I am proud to call myself Australian.