The typical Australian migrant was born in England and is 44.
My name is Holly Wainwright. I was born in England and I am 44.
Yesterday, the first data drop from the Australian Census proved what I already knew – I am deeply, deeply average.
I came to Australia when I was 23, with a backpack full of ’90s fashion that I now see all around me and a vague plan to travel around the place for, you know, a year.
I never left.
That makes it sound easy. It wasn’t easy. What those who talk about Australia being “flooded” don’t know or say is that immigrating to Australia is incredibly difficult, complicated and expensive.
I fell in love with Australia on about day 23. It's a terrible cliche but there is no other phrase to describe it. It started as lust, became an infatuation and grew into the relationship that defined my adult life. Being here. Not being there. The distance. The leaving.
Once I knew this thing Australia and I had wasn't a fling, it took me seven years to be granted permission to live here. Bridging Visa after Bridging Visa. Tying myself to things that might let me stay - a destructive relationship, a job I had long outgrown. Lawyers, lawyers, lawyers. All just to get that stamp in my passport.
For those years, my love for Australia and my desire to make it home guided every decision I made. It kept me awake at night. It made me cry. It made me live my life in a state of impermanent limbo, never knowing where I might land.
Are you playing the world's smallest violin right now? Don't worry, my privilege is checked. I am not suggesting that I suffered. I did not.
I was not fleeing persecution and terror. I was fleeing bad weather and a life I could see mapped out before me.
Listen to the latest episode of Mamamia Out Loud where Holly talks about the latest census results with Jessie and Jackie. (Post continues after audio.)
I was not desperately scrambling for a safe haven. I was looking for adventure and a fresh script. I was seduced by the optimism of a "young" country (ironic, I know, populated by the most ancient continuing culture on earth), by wide open spaces, extreme beauty, clean slates and by the people. The people. The people from everywhere.
I am the typical Australian migrant. But I am not who anyone is talking about when they are ranting about "immigrants" taking Australian jobs (I certainly took one, and have continued to take them ever since), buying up houses (sorry, bought one, but it's very small, hardly noticeable) and not assimilating (I grew out of it, but I spent a long time bitching about Australian chocolate and watching Premiership football in pubs at 4am, what? That's not what you mean? Sorry).
During those years when I was desperate to be Australian, I would find myself in a range of conversations that went like this, with everyone from cab-drivers to co-workers.
Them: "So, are you trying to stay, then?"
Me: "Yes, I'm in the middle of trying to get [insert name of tedious, red-tape tangling visa process here]."
Them: "Ridiculous. It's people like you they should be letting in, not all those [insert racist's most despised nationality of choice, which changes with the seasons: Bloody Chinese, All Those Indians, Those Muslim Nutters].
And I would hate that. People like me? What do you know about me? All you need to, obviously: White. English-speaking. That'll do.
I was a young, anglo (literally) woman. I posed no threat to these people's vision of Australia.
Australia welcomed me. That's not what happens to every immigrant.
And as the Census confirms, there are millions of me. Who moved here. Bred here. Swarmed the cities and the beaches. Swamped, indeed.
People of Anglo-Celtic descent are still Australia's largest migrant group. Those bloody immigrants.
For me, the day I became a citizen, almost 10 years after I arrived, the day I got my certificate and a little native tree to plant in my non-existent garden was one of the best days of my life. I was home in the home I chose. I belonged.
Immigrants love Australia. They chose it.
Those choices are made for many reasons. Perhaps it was the most realistic option on a short-list of countries that might welcome them. Perhaps it was the only port in a storm. Perhaps it was the place that they knew could give their family the best shot at a life worth living well. Perhaps they came, they fell in love, they couldn't leave.
Listen: There's one major thing the 2017 Lamb Ad ignored. (Post continues after audio.)
My immigrant story is typical. Now I have little Australian children. I have an Australian spouse. I have paid Australian taxes for more than 20 years. I vote in Australian elections. I still adore this place, even with all its contradictions. Sometimes I wonder whatever happened to that optimistic nation I travelled to 22 years ago. But I am older now, too. Maybe I know too much.
Australia will always be one of the great loves of my life.
I call Australia home. And it calls me one of its own.
If only every immigrant story ended like that.
What's your immigrant story?
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