Australia Day ruminations

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Yes, its that time of year again. The day when we layer the Barbie with red meat and talk about how lucky we all are to live in a country where we can eat grilled steak in our backyard.

Of course, I know Australia is not perfect. It isn’t as tolerant or as welcoming as I’d like it to be. We still lock up asylum seekers. We still have a police force that thinks if you are black you’d better have a good reason for being in town. We still hear governments threatening to dismantle the welfare system, whilst supporting middle-class and corporate welfare. But we have good people here. Good artists and writers, talented researchers and scientists, people who fight for others, people who dedicate their lives to helping those less fortunate. It something to welcome and feel proud of – for the moment. But there is still a long way to go before this country is all it can be.

I haven’t lived anywhere else. The most time I have spent away from Australia amounts to about 3 years traveling around Europe and America on various trips away.

The first time I went overseas, I fell in love with the exoticism of Scandinavian design in Copenhagen airport. I almost burnt myself on the DIY coffee machine. That was my first encounter with the grinding of beans in order to make cafe creme. (No doubt I could now go to Ikea and get the same effect. Be a lot cheaper too). I was entranced by the aesthetic, and the ability of Europeans to enjoy the finer things in life, and their good fortune in being surrounded by history.

I remember that it was snowing when we came out of the railway station in Munich. That too was impossibly exotic – and incredibly beautiful. The streetscapes, the shop windows, the people, the fashions, the food – and of course the museums. I loved all of it.

Since then I have been to Europe many times and last year I spent 5 weeks in Paris. Coming home, I used to think that Australia was ugly, backward and boring. An internalised cultural cringe perhaps. Now I feel very differently. I feel the sheer space and comfort of living in Melbourne, the safety and the enjoyment of living a life I am grateful for. The built environment is still ugly. I can’t go into town and see paintings by van der Weyden and Klimt (although I can see Memling’s Man of Sorrows). But I am glad to be home.

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