Do kids still have pen pals? Thanks to technology, one can be in touch with anyone, anytime, anywhere. This wasn’t always true. The landline and the written word held their domain; Pacific Bell/AT&T and the United States Post Office had power. Thus, from fifth though eighth grade, my primary education of Australia wasn’t through world history class, Men at Work music videos or even Crocodile Dundee, it was through my pen pal Katie.
Katie sent stickers, postcards and trinkets from her homeland. Anything she sent was cool; it was from “Down Under.” I loved receiving the stamped letters with Par Avion next to their attractive flag. I learned about more this continent than just koalas, kangaroos and other marsupials. The greatest lesson she taught me was her understanding of her ethnic heritage.
Ask any American his or her ethnic background and if they’re like me, they have it down to percentage points. I am 50% Irish, 35% German (even though my surname hijacks the other components of my identity) 15% French—très bien! I’ve even been told I am a tiny bit Swiss (but that math—or maths in Australia—doesn’t add up, does it?). When I asked Katie about her family’s history, she said “well, I’m half Irish and half Scottish, but really, I’m 100% Aussie.”
Even at the age of 12, I understood she had a sense of pride that was distinct, that was nationalistic. I know that what makes our country so unique is that we are comprised of so many different cultures but so is Australia. When will we recognize that we are Americans in the way that Katie saw herself as Australian?And today is the perfect day to raise this question because—January 26 for all Aussies, is Australia Day. Simply put, it celebrates all things Aussie– first landings, first settlement, first meat pie eaten, or the first game of backyard cricket ever played. In actuality, the official national day of Australia commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788 and the proclamation at that time of British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of New Holland.
As I was watching the Australian Open last night, the announcer—former pro and pro-coach Darren Cahill reminded everyone of the holiday. A novel component of watching the tournament, which takes place at Flinders Park in Melbourne, is that all activity is 20 hours ahead of us. I saw Andy Murray defeat on Australia Day –only it was 10:00 p.m. last night, January 25 here in the States.
The Australian Open captures a tiny slice of what makes Australia the special place it is. This island continent is rich with natural beauty and resources. I have heard people raise the question What has Australia done? What have they achieved? and What impact have they made on the world? But I have always believed its greatest resource is its people.
Capture but 20 minutes of any match and you will find evidence to prove Australians love sports. They love life. The tourney is remarkably well attended and the crowd is incredibly vocal. They take to their own, this year that meant Lleyton Hewitt or back in the day, my personal favorite—the serve and volley sensation Pat Cash. But what is equally endearing is who they embrace as their own For example, Aussies love and still do gentleman and two-time champion Stefan Edberg so much that the tournament's logo is the distinctive serve of the Swede.
I like to hold an innocuous debate—Is God’s greatest creation in humanity or in nature? It wasn’t until I went to Yosemite that nature ever gave humanity a run for the money. I do believe however that the Aussies with their love of: life, cold beer, the outdoors, and their country lean the argument toward humanity. I need to visit Australia, preferably during the Open to end this debate.
Thank you Lord for diversity of culture and people throughout the world, especially the Aussies. Cheers!
Flag MapAustralia Day