I’ve been living in Beijing for three years and London for two before that. The great thing about living elsewhere is that you find yourself being asked big questions about your home country. How does preferential voting work? Who wrote the Australian National Anthem? Why do you still have a foreign head of state?
I’ve been to many a dinner party at which, when these questions are asked, Aussies at the table excuse themselves for a loo break or to clear the plates so that the sole remaining compatriot is left to provide explanations about as learned as, ‘to keep the rabbits out.’ It can be embarrassing.
Last year, at a book event, I was asked a question that stumped me. I’m almost too ashamed to tell you about it. The question was: which Aboriginal language is the most widely spoken in Australia?
Why don’t I know the answer to that question? I mean, I can prattle on about dialectic diversity in China. I can almost tell the difference between Québécois and mainstream French. Swahili and English are the official languages of Kenya.
But in my own country, I can’t tell you anything about Indigenous languages—what they’re called, how many there are, where they are spoken. Worse, I don’t know a single phrase.
National Reconciliation Week 2012 gives us an opportunity to do that. It’s about sharing cultures, histories, listening and trading stories about things such as marrying traditions.
I can’t wait to learn more about Australia’s First Peoples and to finally be able to answer those tricky questions my international friends have asked me. And a supporter of this year’s National Reconciliation Week I encourage everyone to also take those steps to learn more about our amazing First Australians.