Three Decades Down Under

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Thirty years an Aussie.

I’m celebrating today, not sure if Australia is.

Does that now, in my advanced age, make me two thirds Australian and one third Polish? So twice as Aussie as Pollack? How do you slice and dice an identity? If I ever ran for Parliament I would have to renounce my Polish citizenship under section 44 of the Constitution. Not that wild horses could drag me to nominate. As I wrote at the height of the whole “dual citizenship” mess, while I understand the Founders’ design, I am much more concerned about parliamentarians being loyal to ideas that are harmful to our country and our national interest than being considered loyal to another country by virtue of their legal status. For that’s what it is; you can renounce your citizenship but no one can make you renounce your loyalties and sentiments, which are in your head and in your heart and not on a piece of paper. But it’s the law, and unless ever changed through a referendum, it stays and is what it is.

There are a lot of us out there, first and second generation Australians with some degree of a sentimental attachment to another part of the world, be it Bristol, Baghdad or Bangalore. While Australia is still predominantly Anglo-Celtic, like the United States it’s more of an idea than an ethnicity. Which is why, as I have said many times here and elsewhere, it’s important that all of us who live here are able to sign up to a set of Australian values, however difficult they might be to comprehensively define (which for some is an excuse not to try to define them at all). If you don’t want or cannot because the Australian values conflict with some other, more deeply held values, you shouldn’t be here. It’s pretty simple really. Think of a country – any country – as a big club: if you don’t like the rules, don’t join; no one is forcing you, and there are plenty of other clubs out there that might be more to your liking.

So am I Australian, or Polish, or Polish-Australian? I’m an Australian who was born in Poland and of Polish ethnicity. Which is why, once in a while, I write about obscure things from far away and long ago. Am I good Australian? Well, I’m really not into rugby or cricket, but I’m pretty good with a barbeque and I like the beach. All in all I consider myself pretty well assimilated or acculturated. You grew here, I flew here, but that’s a false distinction in the greater scheme of things. I know many multiple-generation Australians who are unhappy or deeply ambivalent about Australia (as are indeed some first-generation ones, including those of self-detonating inclinations) and I also know a lot of more recent arrivals, like myself, who are happy and proud to be here. Again, it’s in your mind not on your birth certificate.

Everyone’s life is full of the proverbial sliding doors moments, big and small. Perhaps the most important one of mine is in mid-1987 when my family decides to leave Poland and is granted a temporary refugee status in Italy pending migration elsewhere. Somewhere in a parallel universe, we stay instead and witness first hand all the dramatic changes in Europe soon after. I don’t know what that alternative Arthur still in Poland looks like in 2018, what he does for a living, what he believes in, what he thinks about at night when he can’t fall asleep. I know this path much better, and it’s been a pretty good one because Australia has been pretty good to me. There are all of you, for example. You’re all real joy, but you already know that, and if you don’t, I don’t want your heads getting too big. In any case, thank you all, from my Australian family, whom I’ve met for the first time that 30th of November 1988 when Brisbane was still just waking up from slumber after Expo, to those of you who only stumbled upon The Daily Chrenk in the past few weeks; you’ve made it all worthwhile and given me a lot more than I can ever give you.

One other thing: in addition to my previously mentioned un-Australian habits, I also don’t drink beer. So I won’t be cracking a coldie to celebrate today, but have one for me. I promise through I’ll have a barbie soon.

(Photo: my first Christmas in Brisbane. The Christmas tree is still there in front of the City Hall, “Brisbane Sun” not so much)

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