“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.