I am Australian. I love my country.
I love the land. Australia is deserts and rainforests and reefs, strange and beautiful and wild. It’s isolation and distance and a scattered cascade of stars spiralling around the Southern Cross. It’s lyrebirds and magpies and mopoke! mopoke! It’s the smell of eucalyptus, the startling double-take when a tree stump unfolds and hops across the trail in front of you, fat tail stretched out straight for balance behind. It’s a wallaby meeting your gaze and waiting to see who’s going to move first.
It’s a wild sense of space, of grey leaves and red sand.
It’s bizarre and surreal, sometimes. It’s wedge-tailed eagles taking down drones, giant kangaroos taking down trucks on desert highways, and wombats literally crushing predators using the bony plates on their rear, because you can’t get much weirder than a fat blob of muscle that kills things with its arse. It’s giant huntsman spiders that you try to get rid of, and then give up and name “Fred” so you’ve got something to call it when it scuttles out from behind the TV. It’s a place where it’s a genuine national obligation to mess with tourists and internationals by spinning the most bizarre stories you can come up with as absolute truth I swear and having people believe it because Australia really is that weird, as far as the rest of the world is concerned.
Australia is being horrified to discover that so many other countries don’t have preferential voting or bulk billed medical clinics (and yes, I cry when I see Americans starting GoFundMe petitions for basic fucking healthcare. I literally cry). Australia is knowing that I have time to finish my degree without having to work my backside off just to afford rent, because I have a Student Allowance (more on that later). Australia is wondering why you’d need a gun to go for a walk. Australia is being incredibly laid-back about religion such that I have no hesitation describing myself as an atheist, because that won’t affect my job prospects or my social life in any meaningful way.
There’s a punchline. It’s coming.
I have a lot of privilege in Australia. I was born here. I speak English. I’m white (to be honest, if I were any whiter, my albedo would ban me from crossing the road. The reflection would blind people and cause traffic accidents). I’m very comfortably middle-class. And even though I am on the queer side, I’m a cis woman who likes blokes, and I’m married to a bloke, and monogamous, so my queerness is unlikely to appreciably affect my life in any way. Even though I have chronic illnesses, I’m heavily shielded from the consequences because, firstly, they’re largely invisible and don’t affect my mobility much, and secondly, my economic privilege cushions me from a good deal of the fallout.
So yeah: for me, Australia is a pretty good deal (I don’t feel guilty about my privilege. It’s not an accusation. I’m angry that other people don’t get to feel as safe as I do).
But Australia is deeply flawed. Australia is a colonised land, built on a history of deliberate massacre, of genocide, of horrific racism and suffering, and while overt genocide is considered gauche these days, apparently mysteriously dying in police custody is just fine. Australia is an insular, self-involved country that literally locks up and tortures people who did nothing worse than desperately ask for help. Australia is a puritanical moralistic warrior who took an embarrassingly long time to allow marriage equality, in some part because the Australian Christian Lobby held far too much sway for a country that considers itself to be super chill about religion. Australia is taking pride in the glory of our natural wonders and then selling it to mining companies because moral conflict is only something that happens to other people. Australia is loving Aussie rules football so much that we seem to think it’s okay to rape people as long as you’re good at kicking a footy around. For a country whose mantra is A fair go! and whose values supposedly include mateship, it’s nauseating how much worse our social welfare systems are getting, day by fucking day. Australia is an appalling lack of self-awareness, it’s Fuck Off We’re Full and Love It Or Leave It stickers on utes belonging to people who take an inexplicable pride in their bigotry and ignorance.
Love it or leave it.
What fucking nonsense.
There is no perfect country, and no place in the world where universal fairness and perfect justice hold sway. There is nowhere to go to get away from the flaws in your own nation.
Love it or leave it.
What jingoistic bullshit.
I’ve been challenged on this, defiantly told that Aussies love their country and it’s THE BEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD and HOW DARE YOU CHALLENGE THAT. I’ve been told by otherwise intelligent, self-aware people that the United Nations shouldn’t criticise Australia because other countries have problems too.
This is what we call a false dichotomy, where you can hold only one of two positions: either Australia is terrible and you hate it, in which case you should leave; or it’s perfect and you love it, in which case you should never criticise it.
I love Australia. It’s my country. I never want to live anywhere else. There are things about it that are wonderful and amazing and glorious. There are things we get right. There are things we get almost right.
And there are things that we are so wrong about that it’s heartbreaking. I love Australia and I argue and debate and vote the way I do because I believe it can be better. I believe we can have a fair go for all. I believe that we can protect our environment and our economic interests at the same time if we use our brains. I believe that improvement is possible. I believe we can prosecute rapists and that hell, maybe they’ll be replaced by good athletes that don’t rape people. I believe that we can stop being racist pricks if we stop and think about it and actually take the time to give a shit.
But none of that will happen if we’re blind to the problem. None of that will happen if we’re busy chanting AUSSIE AUSSIE AUSSIE OI OI OI and refusing to hear a word of criticism. None of us will get better if we’re not aware of what we’re doing wrong in the first place.
There is no conflict between loving your country and wanting it to be better. Believing that it can be better is real love, and real faith. There’s no dichotomy here.
There is, however, a lack of jingoistic bullshit.