“You probably didn’t like the movie because you’re not Australian.”
It was simple comment thrown across the table as I enjoyed a champagne-filled lunch with my closest girlfriends. We were debating opinions on The Dressmaker, a movie I disliked but one that my friend absolutely loved. A simple comment that was never intended to insult. So why did it hit me right in the chest?
Perhaps it was because I’ve heard those words many, many times over the last 14 years. And every time I hear “You’re not Australian” I can’t help thinking, how much more will it take?
No I wasn’t born in Australia. I moved here from South Africa at the age of 21, keen to start a new life away from the political unrest and rising crime rates of my beloved birth country. I was also in a long distance relationship with an Australian man and wanted to see if we could make a go of it. While I fell out of love with him, my love for Australia turned out to be the real deal so I decided to stay after we parted ways.
Living alone in a tiny apartment with a smelly stairwell and a porn-addicted neighbour was surprisingly fun albeit occasionally disturbing. Sure, there were lonely times when I considered running back to the safety and familiarity of my family but I could never go through with it. Then one morning as I drove to work watching the temperamental Melbourne sun peer through the city skyscrapers I realised why. I couldn’t go home because I was home.
At 31 I denounced my South African citizenship and became an official Aussie. It was a proud day as I donned my “I’m a new Australian” nametag and was gifted with a native shrub and an Aussie flag. My boyfriend and future in-laws cheered me on and when I returned to work my desk was adorned with green and gold streamers, a Victorian Bitter, Vegemite and bottle of tomato sauce. That same year, I bought my first home in Melbourne’s Inner West with “Macca”, a man whose love I would have to share with a 1964 EH Holden.
Not long after, I married him, the son of a sheep farmer whose family ties to the land out in the Golden Plains Shire stretch back six generations. When we decided to get married it never occurred to me to have our ceremony anywhere other than Victoria. Our two sons were born in Melbourne and their first words included “mate” and “cheers”.
I’ve forged a career here working in the not-for-profit health sector, a job that has enabled me to meet Australians experiencing disadvantage and play a small part in giving back to the community that has given me so much. Through my work I’ve had the privilege of learning about Aboriginal culture and traditions from elders and health advocates, enriching my days with conversations and experiences that have left me both inspired and humbled.
South Africa will always hold a special place in my heart. I love taking my boys there on holiday to bond with my family and show them where I spent my formative years. But every time I hit the Australian tarmac I know that I’m exactly where I’m meant to be. Beyond the travel that I love, there is no yearning to live anywhere but here.
Australia is where I got my first job. It’s where I completed my postgraduate studies. Australia is where I married my husband and welcomed my beautiful children into the world. Australia is where I grab a sausage in bread and cast my political vote based on my conscience and vision for an even better country. Australia is where I feel a sense of belonging among our gloriously multicultural and diverse population. Australia is where I have created a beautiful, chaotic and fulfilling life.
No I wasn’t born in Australia but I am Australian. And I still thought that movie was crap, mate.