I was in the office on a regular Tuesday afternoon back in August 2017, when a colleague of mine put down the phone, dropped her head and started to cry. The slightly grey Melbourne skies outside the office windows made the moment feel ominous. Catching her breath, and wiping away the tears less than half a minute later, the words of relief splashed out, “My Visa has come through!” She stood up, “I must take a walk outside to take this in.”
Becoming Australian has a particular cachet attached; demand for residency far outstrips the allocation of 190,000 places available annually. And this continues in spite of our complaining about the painful political backdrop, a deteriorating civil society, the rise of drugs, explosion in mental illness and the decline in education. Still, relative to other countries, we’re a very lucky country.
What does it mean to be Australian, as we approach Australia Day? Every fourth Australian was actually born overseas, only one in every two of us have both parents born in Australia, and one in thirty five people, 3.5% identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
On the 26 January 1788, the First Fleet sailed into Port Jackson to establish a British Colony. With scant regard for the inviolable life of the original inhabitants, the small percentage now of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders resembles a slow motion scene of carnage filmed as a silent movie over the last 240 years.
Is it any wonder then that celebrating Australia Day on 26 January will never be a party that everyone wants to attend? For those who do want to celebrate our good fortune to live in Australia, rather than in any of the 100 countries lead by despot leaders, brutalised by war or brutalising factions of its citizens, we have a lot to be grateful for and to celebrate.
Next week at work we’ll be spending an hour together, celebrating our own united nations, the heritage that makes up the people in our Australian business: Albanian, Canadian, Chinese, Croatian, French, German, Greek, Indian, Italian, Moroccan and the UK. And we’ll toast the original owners of this land, who for 60,000 years cared for our country and built the rich culture which we’ve too late come to acknowledge and respect.
What does Australia Day mean for you, and your world @work?
Featured image from the series “Undiscovered” by Michael Cook: michaelcook.net.au