I was wearing my kilt because it was the heaviest piece of clothing that I had, although the previous day when I had got on the plane from Cambodia was also the day when my country, Scotland, was voting to decide whether to stay in the UK or not. I stood there outside the airport looking at the people whooshing past me. The clothes that they wore, the way that they greeted each other, and their language were all signs that I was somewhere different, somewhere that I didn’t quite understand. I was now in Australia.
I put my bags in the car and we listened to the radio as Claire drew up outside our house overlooking the beach. The exit polls were being announced; Scotland had voted to remain in the Union, as it has been in since 1707. For many people living in Scotland, they felt that they belonged to Britain. For me, the question I pondered looking out the car window at our new home was whether I would belong in Australia.
That question must be one asked by many people who now live in Australia, but who started life elsewhere. Indeed, Australia as it is today is a country that started elsewhere – from the colonialists of Britain, Portugal, Spain and the Netherlands. How does such a country with imported people, values and culture that smother indigenous people, values and culture develop a sense of itself? What is this Australia?
The dance company that Claire works for, Chunky Move, performed a theatre-dance piece during the Melbourne Festival called Complexity of Belonging. It explored the Australian identity and how this might contrast with the reality of many Australians’ ethnicity, religion, culture and sexuality. Do some Australians struggle to feel like an Australian; do they struggle to feel like they belong in Australia?
An Australian of Asian heritage talked of the “Asian invasion” that some Australians fear, as wealthy Chinese people buy houses and businesses. A muscular, white male actor was in anguish at failure to embody the ideals of a strong, virile, Australian man. A female dancer described her difficulty to explain why she could not marry the woman she loved in her own country.
The performance explored concepts of belonging in terms of relationship to others, time, and place. An aboriginal dancer explained that in their culture, when something happened can be less important in the consideration of people than where it happened. The attachment to place, to the land, can be strong and our identity formed from it.
Whilst familiar, this land is different from the one of Scotland where I was born and bred. It is radically different from Cambodia, which was home for me until recently. Part of the trepidation of travel is not knowing the place that you are going to, but less consciously it may be an anxiousness of what that place may do to you. How it may change, mould or shape you differently from what you currently are.
I guess only time will tell how this new place that I am in will shape me.