“I am compelled into this country.”
~ Patrick White, Voss
“If you would know this country, you must know its stories.”
~ Billy Marshall Stoneking
Australia Day for me has always been a celebration of what makes me feel Australian. It’s a combination of landscape, energy, history and connection with those souls who have walked this land before me. And a gratitude for having been born under these wide open skies, with space and freedom as my birthright.
As a child, on many an Australia Day long weekend, my dad would take us to his best friend’s house. Sometimes we’d even join their family and visit some of their relatives in the country. Evan, Dad’s mate, was a school teacher with an abiding love of the bush, and a strong social conscience. Looking back, these were formative times for me.
There was always a tribe of kids running round like lunatics, adults drinking beers and tossing steaks and snags (sausages) on a barbecue, lamingtons, fruit salad and pavlova, a game of cricket, and as the afternoon wore on, a recital of poetry and short stories from the likes of Henry Lawson, Banjo Patterson, Judith Wright, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Adam Lindsay Gordon and Henry Kendall.
At night, while the other kids would bunk down telling ghost stories or watching a video, I would quietly sneak in to where the adults were sitting. Thereafter would follow more poetry, philosophy and perhaps some Australian History. Evan would regale us with tales of convict life, early settlement, the waves of immigrants, wars in which we’d fought, and of that time before Australia was colonised. He’d talk about the great Bunya Nut feasts, and of the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders Evan had taught, and what they had taught him.
I would drink in these stories until my soul was full to bursting.
Inside me a tiny flame was sparked and fanned. My fascination with my country and its collective history was born from these gatherings.
This is my Australia. A land of poets and artists. A land of plenty and of hardship. A land of ancient wisdoms and new beginnings. A place of fantastic landscape, and a rich diversity of flora and fauna.
This is my Country:
“And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
And at night the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars.”
― A.B. Paterson, Clancy Of The Overflow