I Am, You Are, We Are Australian

Have you ever considered how much of an impression it can make on someone when you welcome them in to your world and focus on what you have in common rather than keeping your distance and highlighting the differences?

Okay, I’m about to get just a little bit philosophical, but first I will offer a little background information to make it easier for you to see how I got to the statement above.

To help my daughter with an assignment on Aboriginal culture recently, I organised for her to visit the Arwrabukarl Cultural Resource Association in Newcastle. While her project didn’t call for specific information, I was keen for her to think about the culture of the Aboriginal people of our area, the Awabakals, rather than simply searching for generic information.

Daryn McKenny at the Arwarbukarl CRA was incredibly helpful and generous with his time, trading emails and taking an hour when we visited to explain local Awabakal customs and ceremonies and Aboriginal culture in general.

As part of discussing the ceremonies held in the local area, Daryn commented that the history of the Awabakal people is part of our heritage to, as people who live in Newcastle. His comment has had me thinking over the past few days about the “us and them” view I guess I have unconsciously taken in the past towards Indiginous Australians.

On reflection, it makes so much more sense to me to identify with the culture and history of my hometown rather than simply counting back the 4 – 5 generations since my family first moved to this area and then transferring my focus to people I never met in a country that I have no emotional connection with at all (my family tree originates in England, Ireland, Scotland and Germany).

I was born and raised in Newcastle and aside from 6 years spent in Orange in rural New South Wales, I have spent my entire life in this area – attended school here, worked here and now I am raising my own children here. When people mention “hometown” it is Newcastle that comes to mind.

As such, I am surprised that it has only just occurred to me, thanks to the warmly inclusive comments of Daryn McKenny, that the heritage of this area is part of my own story at least as much as the story of my European ancestors.

I guess that embracing the Awabakal culture as part of my own heritage will involve walking a rather tenuous line with the risk of appearing patronising and/or dismissive to the Awabakal people themselves. It is impossible to deny that the first European settlers did little to appreciate the rich culture of the people they so readily dismissed and displaced and there is always the risk that I would appear just as dismissive by claiming any right to share their story.

For now, I am simply going to spend some time simply allowing this new thought to sink in – that I can consider myself as somehow connected to the story of the Awabakal people rather than existing as an interested but detached observer.

For anyone interested in learning more about the Awabakal people and their language, I can highly recommend contacting the Arwarbukarl Cultural Resource Association, which is located in the Newcastle inner city (contact details available at the ACRA website).

I’d love to know what you consider to be your cultural heritage, especially if you live in an area different to where you, your parents or grandparents were born. Do you relate more closely to the culture of past generations of your family or to the culture of the place where you now live?

The title of this post comes from I Am Australian, a song written by Bruce Woodley and Dobe Newton in 1987. The lyrics for the chorus are:

We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We share a dream and sing with one voice
I am, you are, we are Australian.

Full lyrics, including additional verses written by Woodley after the devastating 2009 Victorian bushfires can be found here.

Related links
Reviews at Suite101 and Reading Upside Down of Lenny and the Big Red Kinan by Faith Baisden (an Awabakal language children’s picture book).

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2 Responses
  1. [...] wrote a guest post at Oh, the Thinks you can Think some time ago about embracing our Indigenous heritage. I think that Australia Day should be a day when we can appreciate and [...]

  2. [...] have no indigenous influence (that I am aware of) in my family tree, but I wrote some time ago in a guest post for Oh, The Thinks you Can Think that I feel a much closer sense of belonging to the history of my hometown Newcastle than I do with [...]

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