Saturday, June 10, 2006

My Country.

I suppose it's true that most everyone 'loves their country' though many may not like it's government, or how it's governed (hence we have emigration, and oppositions - sometimes violent opposition - in the world today).

Americans are probably the most overtly patriotic people I've met. Europeans less so. This Aussie loves his country, and his family, and I'm very proud of the achievements of both over the last couple of hundred years. Both my wife and I come from what is called 'good pioneering stock', and our forefathers (and mothers) were amongst the early settlers to this land.

It was a hard land to settle in the 18th and 19th centuries. But in a little more than 200 years, our predecessors created a quite free, prosperous, first world society which became the only country which has a whole continent to itself (albeit the smallest, driest, most inhospitable of them save for Antarctica). IMHO, a monument to what the human spirit can achieve.

I'l share with you a poem, written during the times when that process was still maturing;

My Country

The love of field and coppice,
Of green and shaded lanes,
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins.
Strong love of grey-blue distance
Brown streams and soft, dim skies -
I know but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.
I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror -
The wide brown land for me!
The stark white ring-barked forests,
All tragic to the moon,
The sapphire-misted mountains,
The hot gold hush of noon.
Green tangle of the brushes,
Where lithe lianas coil,
And orchids deck the tree tops
And ferns the warm dark soil.
Core of my heart, my country!
Her pitiless blue sky,
When sick at heart, around us,
We see the cattle die -
But then the grey clouds gather,
And we can bless again
The drumming of an army,
The steady, soaking rain.
Core of my heart, my country!
Land of the Rainbow Gold,
For flood and fire and famine,
She pays us back three-fold.
Over the thirsty paddocks,
Watch, after many days,
The filmy veil of greenness
That thickens as we gaze ...
An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land -
All you who have not loved her,
You will not understand -
Though earth holds many splendours,
Wherever I may die,
I know to what brown country
My homing thoughts will fly
by Dorothea Mackellar

It can still be a harsh land. I can remember quite a few droughts. My childhood was spent largely in the central west of NSW, and I can not recall it raining until I was about 6, obviously it did, but a most vivid memory is of council water trucks dispensing water, many houses having their rainwater tanks quite dry due to the drought, of a huge dust storm rolling in, and of people quite literally dancing in the rain when the drought broke sometime later.
More recently (2001), when we had bushfires in our area (our house is bordered by bushland, the water catchment area for Sydney's main dam - Warragamba). I remember bulldozers working at 2AM near our house extending the fire trails, bushfires being nearby. A few days later, our little family was sitting on our veranda having a drink whilst watching the helicopters water bombing the approaching fire, bushfire brigade tankers thick in the street, and our cars packed for a quick evacuation if required. Yes, she is a 'wilful, lavish land'. A country, a history, and a struggle to be proud of.

Poets capture the spirit so much better than we mere mortals can. This one is by Henry Lawson;

How the Land Was Won

The future was dark and the past was dead
As they gazed on the sea once more –
But a nation was born when the immigrants said
"Good-bye!" as they stepped ashore!
In their loneliness they were parted thus
Because of the work to do,
A wild wide land to be won for us
By hearts and hands so few.

The darkest land 'neath a blue sky's dome,
And the widest waste on earth;
The strangest scenes and the least like home
In the lands of our fathers' birth;
The loneliest land in the wide world then,
And away on the furthest seas,
A land most barren of life for men –
And they won it by twos and threes!

With God, or a dog, to watch, they slept
By the camp-fires' ghastly glow,
Where the scrubs were dark as the blacks that crept
With "nulla" and spear held low;
Death was hidden amongst the trees,
And bare on the glaring sand
They fought and perished by twos and threes –
And that's how they won the land!

It was two that failed by the dry creek bed,
While one reeled on alone –
The dust of Australia's greatest dead
With the dust of the desert blown!
Gaunt cheek-bones cracking the parchment skin
That scorched in the blazing sun,
Black lips that broke in a ghastly grin –
And that's how the land was won!

Starvation and toil on the tracks they went,
And death by the lonely way;
The childbirth under the tilt or tent,
The childbirth under the dray!
The childbirth out in the desolate hut
With a half-wild gin for nurse –
That's how the first were born to bear
The brunt of the first man's curse!

They toiled and they fought through the shame of it –
Through wilderness, flood, and drought;
They worked, in the struggles of early days,
Their sons' salvation out.
The white girl-wife in the hut alone,
The men on the boundless run,
The miseries suffered, unvoiced, unknown –
And that's how the land was won.

No armchair rest for the old folk then –
But, ruined by blight and drought,
They blazed the tracks to the camps again
In the big scrubs further out.
The worn haft, wet with a father's sweat,
Gripped hard by the eldest son,
The boy's back formed to the hump of toil –
And that's how the land was won!

And beyond Up Country, beyond Out Back,
And the rainless belt, they ride,
The currency lad and the ne'er-do-well
And the black sheep, side by side;
In wheeling horizons of endless haze
That disk through the Great North-west,
They ride for ever by twos and by threes –
And that's how they win the rest.
Henry Lawson, 1899
That last also captures a little of the relationships in our society. Australian families tend to be very 'nuclear', meaning that the parents and children form a very independent unit. Not overly connected to the extended family (unlike the model many of our recent immigrants are used to, be they from Asia, Italy, Greece etc). No, we tend to be more self contained and independent. Your spouse and your friends (mates) tend to be your support network.
I think that probably dates back to our pioneering past. They got married (young) and since most were farmers or graziers, the way of it was to travel, select a new area, build a hut, clear the land, struggle, and raise a family. Usually, it was just the 2 of you against the world, with maybe some help from your neighbours in the worst bits. Quite different too, to the Islamic model. Our wives are truly our partners, in society, and in the challenges we need to overcome to thrive in this world
'Mate' is an Aussie term that has become a cliche. It usually is a term used towards a friend or aquaintance, however, I'm not the only Aussie bloke who would consider my wife to be 'my best mate' (of almost 20 years so far!).


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