Something Else That Happened on the Plane


The sun at take-off is piercingly bright, richly gold and, seemingly, liquid. Goodbye Australia, I think as I try not to stare into it. Then I actually feel my heart flutter.

I should say that, occasionally, for no particular reason, my heart misses a beat. A doctor recently advised that this was within the bounds of normalcy, we have no heart trouble in the family  and I have a good relationship with my heart, so I am content to simply enjoy the weird sensation that arises when it opts out momentarily. There’s a slight plummeting feeling in my body, much as one gets a fraction beyond the peak of a swing or the apex of a rollercoaster. This is not the same beat pattern I feel on the plane.

So what underlies this anomaly? Have I been physically moved by good old love of country?

I am not given to wild patriotism. I do sing the national anthem and know all but one of the lines. (‘For those who’ve come across the sea, we’ve boundless plains to share, something something something else, Advance Australia Fair’). I am grateful for the boundless gifts Australia offers: natural resources; democracy; hordes of people (original and from across the seas sometime in the last few hundred years) working tirelessly for others and the good of the nation and the world; clean air; schools striving to teach our children the skills and values of cooperation needed for our planetary society to function effectively. There is much to sing about ‘in joyful strains’.

But I don’t like vegemite or football or beer and I am filled with fury when I see that appalling car sticker telling passers-by to ‘F*** off, we’re full’. That’s not patriotism. That’s racism and inflated self-importance and fear…And amnesia about non-Aboriginal Australia’s origins. Whilst overseas, I won’t miss the daily reminders of Australia’s deplorable inaction on climate change or its treatment of indigenous Australians and refugees. I’ll be glad to escape the underlying premise that mega business is more important than little business or people or environment.

Obviously, much harm has been done by taking a belief in the merits and rights of a country and its compatriots, too far. Swearing allegiance to flag or country or god may lead us to overlook the rights of others. Obsession posing as love is chilling in its potential for destruction.

Is patriotism an outmoded concept in these days of the global community where other countries are seen in their richness through readily accessible global travel (both physical and vicarious) and access to goods, services, ideas and cultural artefacts from other nations?

If I have an affinity, or even love, for another or more than one other country, if I care for it and its citizens, feel linked to its past and future, am I by definition, lacking in patriotism?

Didn’t the first images of earth from space serve to remind us that we are people of one place? And don’t advances in technology provide images and objects that continually reinforce this notion?

But back to my fluttering heart.

Do I possess a latent patriotism that will rear its (potentially) ugly head whenever I leave my birth country?

As I gaze out the aeroplane window I hear my childhood self singing Dorothy McKellar’s Sunburnt Country at ANZAC ceremonies. ‘Core of my heart, my country’. Yes, those are rousing words that call across the years at a visceral level.

 But it’s the celebration of the rich diversity of the geography and the majesty of the land, that really captures me. And you know what? I like its shape too. It’s not a shape I would kill for or consider superior to other shapes. It’s not a majesty unmatched across the world. But, yes, upon leaving, I realise that at least part of me is anchored in this ‘wide, brown land’.

 Click here for some excellent quotes on patriotism.

8 responses to “Something Else That Happened on the Plane

  1. What an interesting read this one is; as well as the comments which followed. So much thought provocation.

  2. I don’t agree at all on this one I am afraid. I am Australian and the majority of people over here are extremely proud of our multicultural country.
    “Australia’s deplorable inaction on climate change or its treatment of indigenous Australians and refugees. ”
    Firstly, have you heard of the Carbon Tax in this country? Please research this first. We are extremely environmentally conscious in Australia.
    Secondly, the Indigenous Australians are treated exceptionally well in our modern society, with free housing, free healthcare, free education, free vehicles, free clothing, free furnishings, assistance with business loans, land rights and native title, plus many many more schemes and benefits, the list is long.. But at what point must people start helping themselves? The conditions some aboriginals are living in are brought on by themselves. The houses they are given by the governement are often destroyed. They are given another one and then that one is destroyed too and so on. There is so much sexual abuse amongst the aboriginal communities by the elders on their children, BABIES. Children are committing suicide in these communities because of the abuse they are suffering. Not just sexual abuse either, but also neglect and drug abuse – petrol sniffing. Even though they get given free education, the parents do not care if their chidren go to school or not as a lot of them are either abusing solvents and/or drinking alcohol in any form they can get it. Even methylated spirits are banned in these communities. I know all this as a fact. My very close friend worked out in some of these remote communities. He was very passionate about breaking the cycle of abuse and making changes in the aboriginal community. He walked away from the program after only a few short years and vowed never to go back again. He said the situation had deteriorated to a point that was practically beyond repair, as the people involved did not want to help themselves. I do not condone the awful, horrible things done in the past to the aboriginal people. My own stepfather is the son of one of the “stolen generation”, so I know first hand the terrible tragedy of what was done to those poor families. But do not consider that the sin of modern day Australia. That was a very long time ago and ALL countries have evolved from the mistakes of their forefathers.
    This response is already way too long, and I understand if you do not want to approve it for publish on your page. But, seriously, it is the truth. I am not a racist. My stepfather is aborignal and he is ashamed of the way his people behave. I consider my stepfather one of the most honourable, hardworking, kind men I have ever met in my life. He and his family members have all made the most of the opportunities made available to them by the government and have come out all the better for it. Why can’t the other indigenous people do the same thing?

    • I’m glad to hear that your experience is that the majority of people are proud of our multiculturalism. I feel disheartened and angry when I see the stickers I mentioned in the post and hear politicians and media organs fear-mongering about refugees.
      Fortunately the carbon tax has come in since I wrote the post in early June. Millions of people and organisations work extremely hard to make a difference every day but the government has been very slow to act and there is still much to be done but at least we now have some commitment from them. Government action is essential.
      I am no expert on Indigenous matters. When I wrote, I was thinking of the stolen generation plus the ongoing loss of country and culture. There is much healing to do in what has become a hell for some Indigenous Australians. As you point out, resilient, resourceful and determined individuals can make a difference in their own lives but we haven’t yet determined how to help the others help themselves.

  3. that was a bit boring Annie – p.s. Andrew Forrest sends his love xx

  4. This was really insightful and thought- provoking.

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