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Rob Greaves

What Does It Mean To Be An Australian

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I think I have played with this question from time to time, and have engaged friends in this question over a red or two, but it’s nearly Australia day and once again this question popped into my head.

I am not about to resolve this issue and nor am I about to make many people happy with my thoughts, but I’m given the chance to express them, and that sure IS part of being an Australian.

What worries me is the hidden anger, the racism, the nationalistic jingoism, the almost fear that some people have, when discussing this matter.

I would lay very short odds that any posting on Facebook that posses this or a similar question, will end up in an almighty verbal brawl. There are those that literally wrap themselves in the nations flag, as if this then gives them the right to thrust their points of view down everyone else’s throats. There are the rabid defenders of Indigenous folk, arguing that only they can be considered as true Australians. Then there are those who are as extreme in their points that may be described as the ‘red-neck’ nationalists, whose point of view can be boiled down to – ‘white is might, white is right’!

OK, point of order. The fact of the matter is that no one was on this landmass when it was formed, every Australian, Indigenous or otherwise, migrated here at some stage. Here is a genetic map showing the journey of the Indigenous folk.

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Now, this is not to deny that indigenous Australians were not here before Europeans, they were. They have been treated appallingly; they have been treated as second-rate citizens by those who have arrived more recently. There have been great injustices done against Indigenous people. This is not sufficient reason to declare that only they can be classified as ‘real’ Australians.

In fact the nature of Natural Selection is, that every person in every country has common DNA ancestors, so the argument can be made that we are all visitors in every country. However, this really gets us nowhere but to end up with the question, so what?

On one hand the argument that to be an Australian is somehow a time dependent issue, is a bit of nonsense. It surely cannot be that being born here is the definition of being Australian. I am 66 years of age and have lived here for 63 years. Does this make me any less Australian than a 12 month old who was born here? Of course it doesn’t.

We are a pluralistic society, there should be no debate about this. Therefore we should embrace pluralistic values. What it means to be an Australian should thus take those pluralistic values into account, without denying the long held values that seem to have underpinned the development of Australia as a "Nation". For example, do not under-estimate how many Australians rightly believe that a 'fair go' is, and should remain one of the key values of being an Australian.

Mind there are some who might rightly argue that over the past 40 years, we have become a less-caring society, and therefore a 'fair-go' no longer seems to count.

Then there is the question of whether being an Australian is it a matter of becoming naturalized? Is taking an affirmation to this country enough? If you go to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, they have the following under the heading of: Why Should I Become An Australian?

Australian citizenship is an important step in your migration story. Becoming an Australian citizen means that you are making an ongoing commitment to Australia and all that this country stands for. It is also the beginning of your formal membership of the Australian community. It is the step that will enable you to say ‘I am Australian’.

Australian citizenship is a privilege that offers enormous rewards. By becoming an Australian citizen, you are joining a unique national community. Our country has been built on the combined contributions of our Indigenous people and those who came later from all over the world. We celebrate this diversity and at the same time, strive for a unified and harmonious nation.

The strength of the Australian community means that we work together to solve problems and to make Australia the great country that it is. We have a stable system of government and Australians respect the authority and laws of the government. Our stability, our culture and our laws have been shaped by our history. By joining the Australian community, you will inherit this history and you will be in a position to contribute to it.

Is that it? So, along with being born here, if you make an affirmation to these points, does that make you an Australian?

Look at one phrase in the above. “. . . you are making an ongoing commitment to Australia and all that this country stands for.” What does this country stand for?

So maybe In order to work out what it means to be an Australian, is it first necessary to work out what the country stands for? If we manage to decide on these things, should these things be written down and enshrined in some form of documentation? Is this part of a Bill of Rights?

Do you know, I’m more confused than ever! I spend many hours with older people having them talk about their lives, and there is not a modicum of doubt in their minds that they are not Australian. I have been here for 63 years, I was naturalised around 14 years ago, I was in the draft for the Vietnam War service, I know I’m Australian, but I still am uncertain as to what that really means. Maybe it is enough that each person decides for themselves – maybe?

Is this part of the National Debate we should be having? Sooner or later the issue of an Australian Republic will be revisited. Wayne Swan has called for a National Debate, maybe this question needs to be part of it.

We seem to be hell bent in defending a position and seem to forget about celebrating that we are fortunate to reside, for all it’s unresolved issues, difficulties, differences and 'fringe-belief' citizens , it is still the best place in the world to live. So, why not celebrate this?

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Updated 5th February 2013 at 04:28 PM by Mick Pacholli

Rob Greaves