Walking down to the train station, I am listening to Triple Js Hack Daily on my ipod. I downloaded it that morning whilst reading The Age online and eating my breakfast, as is my habit. I was thinking about the terrible fires that were continuing to wreak havoc throughout the area where I grew up.
On my ipod, and in an attempt to stir up controversy and trouble, a reporter asked a random person she found on Cronulla Beach " about what he thought of the Australian flag, and of Australian culture in general.
"This is an Australian beach, and um, I'm proud to be Australian. I think that it's an Anglo-Australian culture... basically our culture is inherited from Great Britain."
The reporter asked, "and that doesn't incorporate Chinese, Lebanese, people from other backgrounds?" The reply was thus, "um, if they embrace our culture then they can be part of that."
The reporter continued, "What I'm trying to ask you is, what is our culture? What is Anglo-Australian culture?"
The person then replied that it was a good question and he would have to think about that one.
I felt almost blind with anger, my stomach twisted and I found it hard to breathe. I felt the same way when I had heard of the Cronulla Beach incident - racism is not a new concept, but it astounds me that such bigotry and narrow-mindedness exist in my country!? Even if the populations with opinions like this are a minority, despite the efforts of people like Pauline Hanson, how can there be so many freaking wankers in the world who think that all that counts is the colour of your skin, the way you talk, and how you have been brought up? I'm no expert, but for me, the moment that you live in Australia, respect Australian laws and pay freaking taxes to the Australian government, you earn the right to be called an Australian, no matter where you come from or what you look like.
Once upon a time, maybe 60 years ago, before the post war immigration policies took effect, Australian culture might have been "inherited from Great Britain". But I don't think that's the "general rule" anymore, and despite some people clinging to such attitudes (because of age, habit or narrowmindedness, who knows?), our country has evolved beyond that.
When asked about the culture of my country here, I often find myself at a loss for words - how do you describe a country whose "western settler" history is only just over 200 years old? Whose people include migrants of all nationalities? I generally say that Australia is "multicultural". Our food, our attitude, our lifestyle.
My own heritage includes a mix of English, Scottish and German blood - my English ancestors came over in the 1850s, and the German ancestors arrived in Australia the late 1800s. Many of my friends back home include first and second generation Australians - people who have grown up there, consider Australia home, and consider themselves to be Australian. They keep hold of their culture, or their parents culture, or their grandparents culture, because that's part of them, but they're still Australian.
So to hear such idiotic phrases as, "I think that it's an Anglo-Australian culture", makes me feel sick.
I am living the experience of being a foreigner in a foreign country. Every day I feel like I stand out, because of the way I talk, my sense of humour, the way I dress, even my weight.
In a country where racism is a hot news topic - as it is in many countries around the world - I count myself lucky to have a job and the chance to be able to try to fit in. Sadly, the fact that I am white helps.
But despite trying to fit in as best as I can, I do whatever I can to keep a strong hold on my own background, my own culture, my own language, and my own identity. After all, that's part of who I am, and living in another country isn't going to change that.
All these reasons and more are why it makes me feel sad to read about what has happened over there.
I felt angry and ashamed about the situation surrounding the Cronulla Beach incident and it's aftershock. I felt desperately sad about the tragedy that was unfolding in the bushfires roaring through my homeland.
When I get homesick, and I think about Australia as a country, I think of the beaches, and I think of the enormous, savage, beautiful wilderness that is the Grampians. To know that 50% of this has been burned (over 1,000 square kilometres of devastation in all) almost breaks my heart. I can barely believe it, can barely get my mind around such a figure.
And so on Australia Day, Thursday 26 January 2006, I didn't feel like celebrating. But I am an Australian. And I'm proud of it.