IN the next week, in the lead up to Australia Day, debate will again rage like a summer bush fire over what it means to be Australian. This year I will be up in Bali (which some could argue is another state of Australia these days) and won’t be here to watch how the oi, oi, awful arguments unfold. But before I leave, I wanted to share a secret part of my Australia. The one that is multicultural, tolerant, colourful and compassionate.
About every six weeks, I head 20 minutes west of Brisbane to Inala, a low socio-economic suburb, which has become home to so many migrants. People just like my Great, Great Grandfather, who boarded boats on treacherous journeys simply seeking a better life. The population here is largely Vietnamese and I go there to buy the delicious Vietnamese coffee I first discovered in Saigon many years ago.
This coffee is not bitter, as the beans are roasted in butter. And every time I walk into the grocery store there, the young woman who shouts rapid-fire greetings in Vietnamese to her customers, turns to me and in the most Aussie of accents and says: “Have you found a bloke yet?”. We both laugh and shrug our shoulders and it’s as simple as that.
On my wanderings there, I also pick up a Vietnamese pork roll, simple and salacious on a white bun, topped with fresh coriander and where the shop owner smiles at me and asks every time: “You want chilli?”, seemingly trying to make sense of what I’m doing there. The men outside sip their Vietnamese coffee the traditional way, with sickly sweet condensed milk, while they play a mean game of mahjong, barely giving me a second glance.
Across the forecourt, Muslim women cradle their babies, gossip in their native tongue and smile shyly at me. I bump into a monk buying green Asian vegetables. There’s Sudanese people as dark as the blackest night. All big white smiles and colourful short-sleeved shirts. There’s not too many of us white fellas here. And certainly no tourists. Just people going about their every day business.
So when I’m there I like to pause. Look up at our big sky country, and thank the stars for my good fortune that I can call myself Australian. One day I hope all Australians can be a little like the Vietnamese coffee I so adore. Not bitter, just roasted in the buttery goodness of this land we call Down Under. That’s my secret Australia. What’s yours?