Have you ever thought about what it means to be Australian? As someone who was born and raised in this country, it has pretty much been something I have never really considered all too much. Until recently.
Having no desire to travel and never having left our shores, my yardstick for comparison is slim. But sitting in the audience at the recent 2014 Australian of the Year (Victoria) Awards, named as one of four finalists in the local hero category, I had plenty of opportunity to think about this simple yet fundamental question: what does it mean to be Australian?
From hearing the diverse stories of all the nominees I was incredibly moved by the depth and breadth of compassion and also the steely determination that saw many emerge from disadvantaged and even traumatic childhoods to show, without bitterness or anger, both wisdom and vision and a careful dose of ingenuity, an unyielding resolve to make the world a better place.
I guess I have always loved Australia for so many reasons. I loved the suburb in which I was raised, with its blossomed-lined streets and friendly neighbourhood dogs. I loved the time spent watching the news on TV each night with my dad.
I remember seeing images of the Vietnam War, and being upset that this was in fact the news and not a horror movie. I took childhood comfort in the fact it was happening ‘over there’ and something like that could never happen ‘over here’. However, as I grew, I came to realise that terrible things did happen in our country to both people and animals; some intentional and some not.
But what I also came to know and welcome was that fact that Australians abhor cruelty and injustice and that we love the ‘underdog’ – the little Aussie battler, and when confronted with such things we will work to stop them. I think one of the things I love most about Australia is the fact we can have a go, no matter who you are, no matter what your background, you can have a go.
Flipping through the booklet that was handed out on the night – ‘Shining a light on Australians we admire’ and reading the incredible stories of all the finalists, I was touched by the fact that these were everyday people from diverse backgrounds and cultures simply having a go. And I can say with great confidence that not a single one was doing so in the hope of recognition and that their inclusion in such a notable honour role was a delightful and surprising serendipitous stroke of good fortune.
And humbling it was to hear the acceptance speeches of the winners, each and every one with the universal theme of humility and with thanks to those who make their incredible work possible. For me, one of the highlights of the occasion was the fact that caring for animals was so roundly seen as noble, kind and good for not only was I a finalist but so too was the eminent philosopher and animal advocate Professor Peter Singer.
I often hear people grumble, myself included, that life is not fair and indeed it is not always so but ‘we can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses’.
The overarching game changer for us though is this: it doesn’t have to be this way. We create the world in which we live every day. In fact, every moment we have the opportunity to make the world a better place. Every day we can take a stand against social injustice, global poverty, human health crises, environmental destruction, climate change and animal cruelty for one single reason. Being Australian provides us with this opportunity.
Through social media and direct action, never before have we had so many opportunities to make a difference. We are not rookies to this idea, we know this in our hearts and while many may be scared to allow their conscience to accept this fundamental truth because of the potential ramifications it may have, we must find the courage to do so. And when we all ultimately do this, being Australian will have reached its pinnacle, for being Australian will mean being hallmarked as kind. Australians all let us unite…
Footnote to this story – to the kind soul who nominated me for this auspicious award, I do not know who you are but each day I seek to be worthy of your adulation and I thank you for the opportunity to have the work of Edgar’s Mission taken to such a wide audience. And to all those who have supported myself and the work of Edgar’s Mission throughout the years, please take heart that I could not do what I do without you, you were there with me in spirit on the night as was a rather handsome dashing and debonair pink pig!