The Complex Story of Belonging
When I was a kid, Australia Day was just another day in the blur of summer. Queensland laid on bright days and hot nights.
There was plenty of opportunity for easy summer barbeque dinners, prancing under the oscillating sprinkler and fresh grass cuttings clinging to our wet feet.
Being Australian was something I never questioned, even as I held pride in my father’s life having begun far away in Holland. With a surname like Van Velthuizen and grandparents who spoke my name with a Dutch lilt, my family heritage was an important part of my identity. It still is.
As I have grown older, though, my world broadened as it does for all of us. Travelling overseas found me standing taller and beaming brighter when people exclaimed with delight, “Oh, you’re Australian!”
They speak of the high notes – golden beaches, iconic animals, red soil and easy-going mateship.
They are right in all of that.
They are right that for many migrant families, like my own, it has been a land of new beginnings and opportunity.
The complex story of belonging
But like any family, any community, the story of our belonging is often more complex than the high notes. And as Australia Day rolls around each year now, it is no longer one day in the blur of summer.
It is a mix of complexities, of injustices and inequities experienced by First Nations that are deeply uncomfortable to accept.
Now, Australia Day no longer feels easy. It comes with debate each year.
For some, it is a day of mourning and shame. For others, it is a day of uncertainty, worrying about how to navigate it respectfully, avoiding saying anything so as not to offend anyone. For others, it is a day of celebration.
I have thought long and hard about how to approach this day.
I know as a single person, a single family, a single company, we are not going to undo what has been or resolve what is uncertain quickly; not alone.
Respect, listening & learning
But I also know as a single person, a single family, a single company, we can choose to treat this day with respect: respect for the strength and resilience for First Nations amid all they have endured, respect for the land we all share, respect for the community to which we all belong, pausing to recognise the history behind us and consider the future we can create.
Whatever Australia Day means to you and however you choose to recognise it, may we find our way to a place where we can hear each other with mutual respect and a willingness to learn together.
And whatever piece of Australia grounds our feet, may our shared future as a nation continue to grow brightly.