weekly maybe monthly round-up of what’s got in my head, up my nose and in my heart.
Like many fifty-something Australians, I grew up in a multicultural community, enriched by the diversity of beliefs, traditions and opinions it created.
The wave of European migrants from the 1950s transformed our “public housing” suburb into a great big melting pot.
Remember the Blue Mink song?
Our town, with its strong manufacturing base and demand for unskilled labour, was a magnet for newcomers.
Unlike our parents’ generation, we didn’t see the “foreigners” through the prism of Word War II. And while our grandparents were still reeling from the impact of World War I, we accepted our new friends with the innocence of childhood. And friends they became: classmates, neighbours, best buddies, life partners.
In primary school, I shared lunchtimes with my Hungarian friend, Rosa. I’d stare into her lunch bag brimming with big chunks of salami, stinky cheese and rough torn lumps of bread. It made my triangled, white-bread sandwiches look less than average. Rosa wore her blond hair pulled into a bun, high on her head, encircled with beads (like a ballerina, I thought). I had mousy brown pigtails. She had pierced ears, lacy-collared shirts and beautiful round eyes.
We’d scoff down our respective lunches then run-off to curl our little lithe bodies around and around the monkey bars. Like all the other kids. Because we were just like all the other kids.
In high school, I shared my first serious kiss with an Italian boy. We’d duck off to his home at lunchtime where his mum (who didn’t speak English but had a smile that beamed through the language barrier) served us up steaming bowls of home-made noodle soup – laced with freshly cracked eggs – and chunky slabs of crusty bread.
We had no idea about each other’s religions, about who went to church or the synagogue, or not at all. It simply wasn’t on our radar.
In the decades that followed came waves of Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees, Africans and Middle Eastern migrants and refugees. They added even more colour and life to the mix.
Eventually multiculturalism, shaped by changing government policy, became less about assimilation and more about celebrating our diversity.
We stopped stirring the pot.
I’m grateful that my own kids grew up in that social climate where, instead of fearing differences or asking others to change, we embraced and appreciated one another for our culture and backgrounds.
Most of us, most of the time.
Nothing is greater testament to that than our multifarious food scene. Within twenty minutes walk of home, we can delve into a cornucopia of authentic cuisines: French, Japanese, Balinese, Chinese, Thai, Spanish, Aussie, Mexican, American, Italian, Vietnamese, Polish and more.
We didn’t keep stirring, so we didn’t turn out coffee coloured.
Overnight, fear was visited upon Sydney by a whackjob hostage-taker, who appeared to be acting in the name of his religious beliefs … those fundamentalist, extreme beliefs that turn your heart cold, no matter what you put your own faith into.
Lives have been lost; innocent Aussies living in a peaceful multicultural community where such horror is unknown. My heart and thoughts go out to their families and loved ones. And to the people of Sydney.
I looked into the faces of some of those hostages and saw a reflection of our diversity. They weren’t only “Anglos” – they’d been scooped up out of the great big melting pot into the terror as they went about their normal day.
It’s fresh news and the media is dissecting it from all sorts of angles, peering through a range of prisms, some that seem borrowed from their parents’ or their grandparents’ generations.
Pockets of social media are lashing back with jerked knees that are almost as terrifying as the act that sparked it.
It’s scary. But I’m holding to my own truth … it’s not the religion, it’s the whackjob.
Out of the horror of last night, even before the Sydney siege came to its devastating finale, a brilliant positive emerged and helped to drown out those pockets of negative social media. Aussies, and then the world, stepped up and took a stand with the hashtag #illridewithyou
Ordinary (and extraordinary Australians) put up their hands to tell other Australians on the wrong end of the backlash that they didn’t need to be scared to own their religious attire or their culture-defining appearance as they go about their day to day world. Identified and united by #illridewithyou, thousands of people offered to walk or ride alongside others, to give them the confidence to ride public transport or walk the streets.
Strangers offered strangers a hand to take the journey (physical and metaphorical) together, not to assimilate or change, but rather to be accepted and valued.
#illridewithyou has already grown into a global rallying point, trending worldwide on Twitter and becoming a mantra of unity and understanding.
That’s better than brilliant and it makes me proud to be Australian.