Skip to main content

Culture Shock

Fri, 09/11/2012

Fear is a dangerous tool, being used in too many quarters to dominate, silence and control. Desperate people flee war, oppression and natural devestation to seek refuge in other parts of the world. Those of us in safe havens are encouraged to fear them. This fear is flamed by people in power, its a useful mechanism to inspire compliance.

I know how lucky I am to hold not one but two passports and be able to travel to many parts of the world freely. And so in September I started a long journey back to the country where I grew up - after many years away. In that time I'd fallen in love, had children and settled, so this adventure was a great upheaval for all of us. I was returning and they were emigrating, as I had with my parents as a tiny baby. Strange how history repeats.

I had grown weary and restless in England. Especially weary with all the ways in which I was constantly reminded I did not belong. Didn't attend the right schools, hadn't the university associates to call in old favours. Working in the arts relies heavily on social favour and cultural capital. England is still riddled with class divisions and people there barely notice. Watching it being fed into the kids was the final straw, determined for them to experience sometthing different - not better - different. If you understand difference you have the tools to understand the world. And I was restless for a place where I felt that perhaps I might be more effective, initiate change more directly, because I felt better connected. How keen is belonging - at a distance? I am acutely aware of these contradictions.

Conditions in that 'other' place called home enabled change in my mind. The idea of social mobility is strong in Australia and my roots, the family that tie me into life in binding ways, are subtle but emotive forces. I believe that I can do more. Time will tell. The saying goes that grass seems greener wherever you are - though what could be greener than the grass of England with all that rain? The greens are very different in the place I am going and if I am honest the conditions that drove me out of Australia and out into the wider world are still in play. I understand that 'green' difference is at the heart of something much more powerful. Perhaps I was just stuck and when habitual life prevents magical synergies and new pathways from emerging, its time to move. Our physical shift representing the need for a psychological one. 12,000 miles; a grand gesture.

Australia is an extraordinary country, built by exiled migrants - initally from Europe and then from other places. For too long the traditional owners were persecuted and their wisdom ignored although the recent changes within those communities excite me. I, like many others, seek a different connection to land, natural environment and country. I am curious to see how new connections might be led by our ancient drivers, the blackfella. Its about time though this is a racist nation taught by each wave to migrants to the next. I am working with a Torres Strait Islander woman who needs a whitey to call her a cab - or they don't stop.

In the great southern land natural environment can be harsh and extreme - within weeks of arriving in Sydney bushfires surrounded the city, filling the air with smoke and changing the quality of the light. An oppresive air hung hot and orange, the sun reduced to a tiny ball as in an eclipse. Fire is part of the natural order of regeneration but can devestate people's lives. We fear it and rightly so. Coming from England where nothing, apart from the sea, offers such regular and essential untamed wildness, it was a salient reminder. People have conquered the landscape in England and so seemingly the natural forces. I revelled in this new fear.  

Its great to be back but in so many ways I don't know myself here. I am displaced. My childhood was a classic migrant story of strange rituals and attitudes that kept us apart from other people. I realise now these cultural differeces can apply within ' homogenised' communicaties as well as multi-cultural ones. I brought my new family to the old family home, my mother pleased to have us for awhile and the kids able to relax in familar surrounds and ways. The park of my childhood calling them now, the swing I learnt to swing on, the one on the left and the Parramatta River wending its lazy way in our front window - all these quiet memories. In the meantime they have become symbols of wealth and affluence. My Mum's decades spent in a house none of us now could afford is odd. The neighbourhood has changed. Thankfully the native birds are still in full voice, a noisy constant. 

There is a joy in finding familiarity. Tastes and sounds that cannot be transported abroad fill my senses and remind me of my youth. Sweet dreams. The harsher realities of now and high costs of living draw my breath. Stepping into a new culture where I work as well as play, I trip over ideological differences every day. Such blindsiding is often hard to explian or put my finger on. While I am critical of so much of England of course its only here that I realise how English I have become. People ask about it but rarely want to know. I have the enviable perspective of the new chum, green but also rooted. My accent, swollen again to full blown strine, belies my newness. It soften again and lilts English when I am home with my family though I hear the harsher broader sounds creeping in already to their plummy voices. Funny how the sounds mirror the landscape differences. I am surprised by the insane levels of bureacracy, acutely aware of the monotony of mono-culture because media is owned by so few. The fear of criticism and favour. The constant criticism and favour. I have been welcomed and yet folk are wary, of the blow in, a foreigner.

Attitudes are hard to measure. They shift and change. The England I recall has already moved on in a few weeks; Tory cuts biting harder, the winter settling in as summer starts in Oz. I still can't believe I wake each day to sunny skies, almost every day. The kids cry 

I recall the words of my acting teacher who, beyond his love of boys and the bottle, had some gems to impart: Feel the fear and do it anyway. 

And here we are...