My Australia Days in the past several years usually consisted of sleeping in, and then going to the Strathfield Park to cheer for volleyball teams from my church in the annual Korean Volleyball competition, then spending the rest of the evening with close friends, usually stuffing myself with a large amount of Korean food. In short, I stayed well within my comfort zone as a Korean immigrant, not involving myself with much of what was going on in the wider Australian community.
This year, I spent the Australia Day a bit differently. I didn’t go watch my friends play volleyball among other Koreans. My wife and I went to attend the Australia Day Convention held at the St. Andrew’s Cathedral. It was a Christian event, so it could be argued that I still stayed within my comfort zone. I don’t deny it. But the biggest difference was the fact that I traveled to the city on a train, and during the train trips and while I was in the city, I got to witness the various ways people celebrated the Australia Day.
There were people who were obviously headed to beaches. It was a hot day. These young and lively looking people were in groups, carrying very little other than a small bag and a towel. There were others who were with family. Some were with their prams and little kids with them. I don’t know if I will ever try to get to city with my kids by train. It looked very hard.
There were some people who carried with themselves the blue Australian flag. To my surprise, some of those people who carried the flags weren’t typical Australians with blond hair and fair skin. Some might already feel offended by my phrasing of “typical Australian with blond hair and fair skin” because it sounds so anti-multicultural and even sound remotely racist. I know there are thousands of non-Anglo looking Australians. I know there are Aborigines. Many of my friends who are Asian descend identify themselves as Australians, and I’m fine with that. But whenever I travel outside Sydney, most people I meet are white. Central Coast, South Coast, Blue Mountains, Canberra, Brisbane, Tasmania, Cairns, Parkes, Orange. These are some places that I have visited to spend at least a day or two and I saw mostly Anglo-saxon people, so I think the “typical Australian” is not a bad term to use to describe the people group. But I digress.
There were Indian looking family who held Australian flags. I saw an Asian looking family with flags. I think there were some inter-racial families with flags too. All these were pretty cool. The struggle to reconstruct the culture after the “White Australian” policy perhaps is finally yielding some fruit.
However, there were some sights that made me to ponder on the national identity of Australia. That sounds a bit over the top, since I didn’t think that long and hard, nor do I consider myself to be knowledgeable enough to make a profound statement about a big topic like this. But I couldn’t resist this thought, this concern for the future of Australia.
Even though I was impressed by the number of the “non-typical Australians” who carried the Australian flags, what stood out the most for me was the rough-behaving young “Aussies.” These people looked so healthy physically, and they were obviously proud of it since they were wearing so little. Some guys were topless, displaying his large but lean muscles and various tattoos around his arms and back. They spoke loudly among themselves, and moved with a dominant presence. There was a hint of drunkenness. Many people were quietly watching them and some people changed their direction to stay out of their way. These people were either oblivious to the fact that many people were finding them intimidating or, even worse, enjoying it.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s okay for anybody to drink a little bit and have some fun with friends. You could get a bit loud perhaps because you are “tipsy” or maybe a little bit drunk. But why especially on this day?
What I found most troubling about these people were the fact that I hardly witness that kind of behaviour on any other days. Why is it that on the Australia Day, on the day designated to reflect on the national identity and celebrate it, I get to see so much of anti-social behaviour? This Australia Day where all Australians are reminded of their national identity, why are you guys out about in this manner? The Australia Day is the day when some people are awarded for their excellent contribution to the country as a community because the leaders of the nation believe that these people have made it better for the people of the land and want to recognise it, and want to encourage it. Australia Day is for Australians. But why are there so many people, especially young people (some of them were even carrying the blue flags or wrapped in them), who only seem to care for the immediate “fun” and “pleasure” only for themselves? Is it the best way you could celebrate the Australia Day? They seem so proud of the nation Australia, but I hope they could give a good reason for it.
All these were a very good opportunity for me to reflect on the identity and future of Australia. It was good because it made me think about where I stand and what kind of community I am living in. It was timely too, since within a couple of weeks time, I will officially pledge my loyalty to this nation and become an Australian citizen. I will probably remain Korean in many ways, but my national identity will be Australian. And before I am Korean and before I am Australian, I am Christian, which means my ultimate and true citizenship is in heaven. But while I journey along in this life, I will be shaped by and shaping the Australian community. I still don’t know how to describe definitely what Australian values are. I just know some phrases which are thrown about so often in different ways. Hopefully, in coming years as I grow older and grow my family, God willing, I will get to understand more about Australian values and culture, but also contribute to it in positive and productive ways.