I was born in Ireland, becoming a small part of the history of the Irish diaspora by migrating to Australia as a young child. (And for what it's worth, the processing and approval for my parents' application took over a year; they did things "the right way" and I still don't hate people who try to seek asylum by boat in Australia. I digress).
I didn't think much of it until a brief spell of anti-Irish bullying in late primary school - nothing compared to what people of colour face, of course, but still enough to make me rather ashamed. Then as a teen in the Britpop years, all I wanted was to move to England. They had the good music and Madchester and The Face, which I read religiously in my high school in a dull part of coastal NSW, fuelling my dreams. What did Ireland have - dancing with arms by your sides, jokes about being dumb, postcards of cows captioned "An Irish Traffic Jam"? I couldn't see anything interesting about Ireland, anything to be proud of.
And anyway, apart from those initial two years in Ireland, I've lived my whole life in Sydney and Newcastle. I was Australian. I briefly served in the Army Reserve. All my experiences, references, personal history were Australian. I knew the squawk of a magpie, to shake my shoes in summer before putting them on, that everything costs too much and that the Aerogard is worse than the mozzies. I got tired of people, well-meaning, offering to buy a round and coming back with a Guinness for me (I don't even like Guinness), let alone putting on a silly accent and telling jokes I've heard dozens of times before. People judge the Irish as backwards, adorable accents sure, but incapable of having any serious opinions. After a while, I just gave up. I was Australian, not Irish. Full stop.
But in the past year, I've become Irish again. I've embraced my heritage and ethnicity, announce it loud and proud, read Irish blogs and websites and am planning to visit as soon as we get back on our feet. So what happened?
It was two things. First, in my search for spirituality, I seriously considered conversion to Reform Judaism. The circumstances that led to this and what I learned over a year of intense studying are beyond the scope of this post, but what came back to me over and over again was Jewish people describing how they felt connected to 5000 years of culture, history, connection to their fellow Jews. I thought that was beautiful, but a little voice began to ask me "aren't you, if you convert, cutting off your own culture, history, the hundreds of generations of Catholicism?"
This played a definite part, but the main factor that has led me to embrace my Hibernian roots is Tony Abbott and his government. I'm ashamed, truly ashamed to be Australian for the first time ever, and at a level I've never felt before, not during the endless reign of John Howard. Where to start? First there's the actions f the government, cruel, contradictory, damaging and pointless; from imprisoning asylum seekers whilst abandoning others in open water; the shutting down clean energy programs and subsidising the fossil fuel industry; cuts to education and raising university fees to levels where many workers, especially women, may never be able to pay off their debts; defunding science; heading off to war when we're not wanted or needed; cuts to welfare that will make it even harder for the most disadvantaged to get out of poverty; cuts to indigenous services; ramping up fear of Islamic terrorism whilst completely forgetting the 38 Australians who were blasted out of the sky by non-Muslim terrorists less than three months ago; and just last week a needless and inflammatory debate on the burqas no one was wearing to parliament house.
I got depressed just writing that list, and that's all off the top of my head. I'm sure there's a bunch of worse stuff my memory has suppressed.
Then there's Tony Abbott himself. The man is an international laughing stock (incidentally he insults the Irish in that clip). Every time I see him board the RAAF jet he head overseas, I'm simultaneously glad he's out of the country and cringing at the thought of how he'll embarrass us this time. What is with the man? I watched the NRL Grand final last night and seeing Abbott was...odd. He stood there like a plastic statue, not looking quite human (and before anyone thinks this opinion of Abbott is due to my political beliefs, NSW Premier Mike Baird, standing next to him, is cut from the same political cloth but at least looks like a person). I understand awkwardness. I do. If I ever took public office I would explain my condition and how it affects me. Abbott hasn't said a word. Something is amiss. He bumbles around insulting everyone, and I'm so ashamed he's the PM.
So I'm Irish again, well Irish Australian, and whenever someone says they're ashamed to be Australian these days I think me too, but at least I have an "out". And if the government gets much worse - conscription, say, which I wouldn't put past them - we're out of here. We'll just leave. I've loved Australia and paid my taxes here and served, and I never thought it would come to this, but I never thought Tony Abbott would be Prime Minister either. Whilst it seems he'll be a one term wonder, you never know, and I love knowing there's an escape clause. And I'm loving too getting in touch with my heritage, reading Irish history, about which I know shamefully little and about Irish life. I can't quite bring myself to go to Catholic Church - I attended mass a couple of times, till I learned the priest, who I'd liked, was involved in the cover up of sexual abuse, not surprising really as the Hunter is ground zero for the Australian sex abuse scandal, but it was still a stinging feeling of being let down; at least I know no one in Ireland goes to mass any more either including, for the first time in nearly 90 years, my devout grandmother, so disgusted by the scandals of the church there. I'm learning Ireland is far more complex than cows and fervent pro-lifers praying the rosary, that there's a complexity I'm ashamed I never opened myself up to before. So thanks Tony Abbott, you've given me a gift of my heritage, which may be the only thing you've given anyone apart from an increased drinking problem.