Monday, September 25, 2006

Keeping a Sense of Perspective - Larrikins and Volunteers

It's important to keep a sense of perspective in reading and writing about change in Australia.

I started my series on postwar migration in Australia following a tour of the blogosphere focused on blog streams linked to the war on terror, to Islam and to Islam vs Christianity. With one exception, I ended the whole process wishing that I had never started, depressed and blogged out. I concluded:

"The exception? Australia really is culturally different from most other countries, quite remarkably different. We don't see it unless forced to by the type of journey I have just taken. I will try to capture this in a post once I have recovered."

Since then I have been exploring the history of postwar migration, in doing so looking at changes in Australian life, perceptions and experience in part through a prism set by my own experience. Another thread has become entwined in this as defined in my post on Age, Alienation and the Sense of Not Belonging - 1, the sense of disconnect that many feel in Australia and elsewhere and the way this feeds into our own perception of ourselves.

Writing this sort of stuff it's very easy to become lost in the change process, to lose sight of positives, of the continuity of the Australian experience - "We'll all be ruined, said Hanrahan, before the year is out."

I was reminded of the need to keep perspective by yesterday's stories on the fires. A stinking hot day with strong gusting winds saw 50 fires start in different parts of NSW. Seven homes were destroyed and apparently some people died. Over a thousand volunteer bush fire fighters were mobilised to fight the fire.

A common place story in a sense, one that will be repeated during the fire season. But I'm wondering now just how unusual the continuing Australian volunteer experience is in international terms.

A storm strikes, we - sometimes thousands of we's - lose a roof, and we expect that the people of the State Emergency Services, again largely volunteers, will be around pronto to check it and if necessary put a tarp up as an emergency roof repair.

The long-standing Australian volunteer experience may or may not be unusual in international terms, but it does remind us that even at times of change positive elements within the Australian experience maintain their strength.

The larrikin perspective also survives.

As a people we still tend not to take ourselves too seriously, sometimes to the distress of those who believe that we should. One of Australia's most famous cartoons features two men who have fallen off a building. One is just hanging on, while the second is hanging onto the first's pants, dragging them half way down. The second is looking up and laughing. The caption reads something like this: " For Gawd's sake stop laughing. This is serious!" Waltzing Matilda, our most famous national song, features a sheep stealer by from a bygone era.

Within twenty four hours of the announcement of the PM's proposed citizenship test, emails were circulating proposed tests, some very good coming on Immigration Department letterhead with instructions. At least some Australians could not take the whole thing too seriously, using the traditional weapons of humour and ridicule to remove the proposal from its serious pedestal.

At some point I will post some of the suggested questions.

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