Love it, or leave. This menacing little slogan was doing the rounds this week, accompanied by the Aussie flag. Post anything on Facebook critical of “the Australian lifestyle (whatever that may be), and you were told, “Look mate, nobody invited you here. If you don’t like it, you can nick off.”
It’s a great way to shut up anyone you disagree with, without having to think of any counter-arguments. But it entirely misses the point.
It doesn’t matter if you were born here or picked up your citizenship certificate last week: you’re an Aussie. And we all came from somewhere else, whether we walked across the land before Australia became a continent, or landed last month aboard a 747. That is one of the major reasons we love the place. All these amazing people!
It doesn’t matter if your ancestors arrived in chains on a convict ship, or bought estates on which to play at being aristocrats. You’re an Aussie.
Whether your forefathers fought for Germany, or Italy, or USA, or Japan, Britain or Australia in WW2: you’re an Aussie.
If your people came as ten pound poms, Vietnamese or Afghani boat people, or have been here for 40,000 years, you’re an Aussie.
And all Aussies are equal.
We all chose to be here, and we wouldn’t have chosen to come here if we didn’t love the place.
Fifteen years ago, I bought my first Australian house. I fell in love with it on sight. The deceptive way it lurks behind the hilltop, so that from the street it looks like a single storey cottage, but from the back it’s a big tall house.
The forest-like view from the deck across the valley: in reality, a suburb with houses under the trees.
The way the exposed beams glow above you in the light streaming through the clerestorey. The split-level lounge with its minstrels gallery and cathedral ceiling. The huge picture windows. The cellar with the exposed rock of the ridge running through. I love it.
But it’s not perfect. Those cathedral ceilings make the upper floor hard to heat. The north-facing clerestorey blasts heat into the house in summer. The ensuite bathroom is ridiculously small. The master bathroom downstairs could have been magnificent, if the builders hadn’t cut off a slice to create a long narrow closet for the toilet, and another for storage under the stairs.
Nonetheless, I love it. It’s too big, too far out of town, too expensive to run, and a bugger to clean, with polished wooden floors everywhere. But I can’t face the thought of leaving, even though the day when we’ll have to leave is coming closer.
It’s the same with the country I adopted as my home twenty years ago. I love that I can afford a house like this. I love the weather.
I love the lack of snobbishness, and approachability. I’ve been lucky enough talk to both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott personally, in the course of my work, and tackle them about policies I disagreed with, exactly as I would discuss those same issues with anyone else. That doesn’t happen in England or America.
I love the way everyone can freely speak their minds. Only according to some people, I can’t any more. I have to “Love It or Leave.”
I can’t disagree with the government. I can’t advocate for a change in the law that discriminates against me. I can’t complain that we’re being cruel to migrants in detention.
I must like kangaroo sausages, the Metro, the tax system, the supermarkets, the incessantly barking dog next door, Citilink, the Catholic Church (and Hillsong), Queensland drivers who don’t understand hook turns, the AFL, lamingtons, and whatever else people deem to be ‘true blue Aussie’. Which I am not.
So I don’t get a say. I get a vote, and indeed, I’m compelled to use it by law. But I don’t get a say in the debate. Which is nonsense, of course.
Yes, what used to be the Australian way of life is changing. So what? It always has, and it always will. My mother used to complain, “Why do they keep changing things? I can’t keep up. Why can’t everything stay the same? I liked it the way it was! Why do I have to change?”
Because that’s life, Mum. Constant, unending change, over which none of us has the slightest control. All we can do is try to surf the wave, and hope we don’t come off the board too often. We can’t stop the waves rolling in.
I love my house, but I know it’s not perfect. I fix what I can, and learn to live with the rest – and grizzle about it. It’s the same with my country.
Sure, I complain. I try to help out when things need fixing. But I love it. And I’m bloody well staying.