“We are One, but we are many”
Australia is a multi-cultural country, a land of opportunity and promise. The blend of people from “all the lands on earth” offers fodder for writers, in the shape of cultural misunderstandings and social conflict which writers love to explore. In fact, there are more than 23 million stories floating out there today. Go back far enough in each family’s past and we were all migrants to this Great Southern Land.
Many years ago post-WW2, my parents sailed from England with two young children, hoping to become part of that promised land of peace and plenty. They reached Perth where Mr. Beazley, then Minister of Immigration, came out to the Oriana and welcomed them to Australia. They were told they were now citizens of Australia and swore their allegiance to the King (despite having been British citizens before reaching Australian waters!). Eventually they landed in Brisbane and made a home in a large inland city where they had more children, raised their family and made a new life.
Over the years, their friends came to include people from many countries. My mother was the one who made sure new neighbours felt welcome and who joined various groups in which the range of ethnicity steadily grew.
I have taught students from many parts of the world, and as a teacher of English and French, I have listened keenly to accents and sentence constructions as students grappled with the complexities of Australian English. Sometimes there are strange misunderstandings as colloquial language is shared, but perhaps I never truly appreciated our idiom until my first editor told me: “You can’t call the broken-down car ‘a lemon’”; American readers won’t have a clue what you mean.”
Then I watched an excerpt of “Ellen” where she and Hugh Lawrie traded English and American slang terms. She had no idea what a ‘chin wag’ was--aww, come on, I thought, it’s really obvious! When she tossed out ‘badonkadonk’, apparently common in the southern states of the USA, I began to realise that perhaps our slang appears simple only because it is familiar.
There are many differences between us Aussies; language, especially the vernacular brought with us as migrants to this beautiful country, is but one. However, there is much that unites us too, and on this Australia Day 2014, we should celebrate our diversity as a nation, the differences that enrich our experience of what it means to live in this wonderful Land Down Under.
I wish you a Happy Australia Day on 26 January and hope you find much to celebrate with family and friends. BRING ON THE BARBEQUE!!!