Same same but, well, same actually.

I love pretty much everything about where we live.

I am a long way from friends and family and lots of the time that is really hard, but that sacrifice becomes worth it when we get all the benefits of living on the coast. It still feels like a village to me even though it is growing so fast. Sure, there are lots of people we don’t know, but as I dropped my son off for the first kinder session a few weeks ago, I couldn’t believe how many parents there I knew. And not just faces I recognised, but most of them I knew by name.

But there is one really big problem with where we live with, it is the sameness of us all.

We are a tourist destination so we have lots of travellers arrive. Some pass through, some stay for a while, some stay forever. But even many of these people look like us. They may have an accent, or even another language, but very few look different. And this concerns me.

I grew up in the sweeping plains of Dandenong, as my brother once put it, and while this had challenges, it also had lots of difference. My highschool had over 100 nationalities represented. The local restaurants used to include Lebanese, Vietnamese, Turkish and Indian, back when these weren’t the standard suburban cuisine, and now there are many Afghani and African varieties that are hugely popular with the locals. The most exotic we have here in our coastal town, other than the baked potato joint, are three different Thai restaurants.

Very good friends of ours are of Singaporean heritage, and she is a fabulous cook, so we are lucky enough to be able to share some of these rituals and food with them. The women who take such loving care of my children at daycare are Malaysian and Philipino and Sri Lankan as well as Australian, so thankfully my children see some people in their lives who don’t, look, sound or even smell like them. This difference is shared with the children through language and food and different cultural celebrations. But surely this isn’t the responsibility of the child care they spend two days a week at.

For us as children we didn’t have to go out and seek culture or difference. It surrounded us. My friends at school were all colours and nationalities, so staying at their houses meant different food and ritual and even language some times. Our local market was rich with the colour and sound of migrants. Refugees were among us, learning, living, laughing. And we grew up with the inherent knowledge that being different was what made the world fascinating.

Now we also had huge racial tension. Our athletics carnival one year was invaded by a gang of vietnamese youth who tore through the oval, ripping out the wooden stakes holding up the trees and running at people with them. Walking to my after school job at the ice cream shop was sometimes really scary, and walking home even scarier. But nothing serious ever happened and eventually, the Vietnamese kids grew up and were replaced by the next migrant group, the Afghanis and Sudanese. We got along. We respected each other. We had to.

But what will my children think of those who look different? How will my children have any appreciation for the stories of these children who have experienced a nightmare life in another country and come here to make a fresh start? What needs to happen so that my son doesn’t scream when he sees the African doctor come and call his name to be seen next? How do you build respect for others when everyone seems the same as you?

I have some ideas, but I don’t have any answers. I am petrified that my children will spout the same ignorant rhetoric that many children I have taught repeat from their parents. I know that we will travel and eat different food and appreciate different cultures, but if that is fleeting and rare, how will the feeling of respect be learned? I love where we live and of course as a community we are welcoming and supportive of many international causes and organisations, but the reality is that many new arrivals could never afford to live here. We are exclusive, and many who live here like it that way for the safety this creates for our children. But for me, I have to make sure that this sense of safety doesn’t turn into one of superiority. In my family we are going to have to work out ¬†how difference is something to celebrate and embrace, rather than fear.




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