25 February 2008

True Test Of Citizenship


I wonder if we’d ever see those things
claimed as making us so different are, in
fact, ordinary and commonplace. We’re
free with theories why being Australian is
unique experience the rest of the World
envies – even if we say so ourselves! It’s
a belief we’re born with rather than gain
by meeting members of other the races.
But the only way we’d know was when
we came face to face with the evidence.

Recently a politically devious campaign to
express citizenship as a test of worthiness
to be Australian was put away. Most of us
wouldn’t pass – try it and see if you contain
what were touted the essential ingredients.
The stone cold truth is we’re different in the
way we care about our fellow man, give him
space to be himself, but offer aid when it’s
seen he needs a hand. When I read the words
of Inga Clendinnen I saw the light enhanced.

She told of getting stuck in the sand at an
Australian cultural icon – the beach, where
people watched and assessed whether she
needed a hand from a safe distance. The
message was, don’t interfere if they are okay,
but despair is easily accessed and when seen
help eventuates in a kindly but completely
abstract way. Inga has no fears of what tests
being Australian – it reveals simple sameness,
commonplace origins and shared beliefs.

We’re different because we’re the same.
© 9 January 2008, I. D. Carswell

Inga Clendinnen is a multi-award-winning historian whose books include Tiger's Eye, Reading the Holocaust (a New York Times "Best Book of the Year") and Dancing with Strangers (all from Text Publishing). In 2006, she was awarded an AO. She divides her year between Melbourne and far north Queensland, but never strays too far from the beach.