Happy Australia Day: why I’m staying here

Yesterday was Australia Day, the national day of the country I now call my home.

It marks the day in 1788 when the British First Fleet landed in Port Jackson (the actual name for Sydney harbour). That group of eleven ships held a few dozen British citizens, a couple hundred officers and their families, and several hundred convicts. It was the first wave of European settlement.

For the Aboriginal population that was already on this continent 26 January has been referred to as Invasion Day. As a person descended from Europeans who invaded and settled North America I feel I don’t have much to say about that other than sorry.

I didn’t spend yesterday thinking about this. I spent it thinking about Australia and about where it’s going. This is important because I’m not here by chance: I chose to come here. Most people do not do this and that’s by both opportunity and inclination. Most people stay and live where they were born with some of them finding extra fulfilment by traveling to other places for a visit.

What’s not to love? Havaianas 2012 Australia Day Thong Challenge. Photo by Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer. Used under Creative Commons license.

It’s also important because Australia is – in its current form, without moralising about what it took to get it here – a very young country. It formed a Commonwealth only in 1901. It has very few people, and is one of the least-densely populated countries in the world. It’s also a country with a lot of recent immigration with 25% of people here born overseas and 50% of people here either born overseas or from parents who were.

Most of my thoughts around Australia are that it’s going to be just fine.

It has problems. People here wring their hands and complain just like all people do in every country around the world. The complaints here are the same as they were in Canada and the UK: they are the complaints of a people who are successful, safe, and prosperous. Lots of people would kill to have lives like Australians do which is why we have a lot of people who want to come here or choose to come here when their home country is no longer safe. That immigration of course becomes one of the things that some small-minded people complain about: that immigrants are changing the Australian way of life. I usually can’t hear those people over the roaring sound of their own hypocrisy.

Australians are worried about money and jobs and global warming and whether it’s safe to walk the streets at night and what kind of world they’re giving their kids and why their politicians have to be so short-sighted and adversarial. Like everyone else in the world.

But Australia is a very positive place. Deep down people here know they have it good. Most people see the great diversity of ethnic backgrounds as a good thing. Australians travel overseas a lot. Employment is high. There are vast natural resources here. The streets are very safe. There is breathtaking natural beauty on everyone’s doorstep. Fruit and meat and wine are all very high quality. Federal legislation means every employer has to set aside a pension superannuation fund for your future. Costs are high but so are salaries. Everyone here loves to have a laugh.

One of the most striking signs of this positive feeling is rather mundane: it’s the tendency for Australians to go for variable-rate mortgages rather than fixed-rate mortgages. In many countries homebuyers prefer knowing exactly what their mortgage payments will be for the next few years, especially if they buy their house when interest rates are low (in Canada about 60% have fixed-rate mortgages, while in the US it’s more like 90%). But about 80% of Australian mortgages are variable-rate which I think is an indicator of the optimism they feel that things will always get better. I know there are probably many other reasons for this but I think there’s something in it.

This positivity is a good sign of a country that will do well. It will come up with ways to get past obstacles, to work with or around the naysayers and troublemakers. It will see the bright side of things. It will move on and flourish.

Later this year I will be able to say “we” when I talk about Australians. I’m definitely continuing to hang my hat here for a while.


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