Tag Archives: Australia

A Lone Gunman, Racism, and Australian Pride

Monday morning started just like any other. I woke up, had some coffee, and cooked breakfast for my children. I had a headache — the remnant of the World’s Worst Hangover that I’d suffered through the day before — but I was awake and alert and happy. I sent a few emails to friends, and lurked around social media for a while.

And then, suddenly, my timeline was full of pain.

A gunman had taken up to 20 people hostage in a Sydney cafe. The news broke with the picture that was everywhere. The picture of two hostages holding a black flag with arabic script against the window of the cafe — a cafe that was, conveniently, directly across the street from the Channel 7 news room.

Sydney Seige

As I read the news, and stayed abreast of what was going on, my heart was in my mouth. I sat in front of my computer, tears streaming down my face, fear coursing through my veins. And so I did what many others were doing. I took to social media to share my thoughts and my hurt.

I’m terrified. I’m terrified for the hostages in the Martin Place siege, and for their friends and family. I’m terrified for the police responding to the siege. And, most of all, I’m terrified about the impact this attack will have on every Australian, particularly Muslim Australians, regardless of how it turns out. May this situation be resolved without loss of life, and may all Australians remember that hatred is not a cure for pain and anger, but a fan to its fire.

The day stretched on, and nothing changed. No, that’s not true. Nothing changed at the Lindt Cafe, Martin Place. But the media had a field day. The flag was identified as an ISIS flag. Then it wasn’t. Then it was an extremist terrorist flag. Then it wasn’t. The speculation about Evil Islamic Terrorists hit fever-pitch in media channels. Radio hosts claimed to be talking to people inside the siege. Police maintained that they hadn’t yet made contact with the hostage-taker. And Murdoch’s ridiculous newspaper (and I use the word “news’ in the loosest possible sense), The Daily Telegraph, released a special 2pm edition with the headline: “DEATH CULT CBD ATTACK”. All of it was conjecture. None of it was helpful. And, in my anger and frustration, I took to social media again.

Just to clarify, the fact that a crackpot plastered a flag (not, as has been reported, the Islamic State flag) on a window after taking people hostage does not actually mean that ‪#‎sydneysiege‬ is part of a religious or political war. There’s no current proof that the crackpot responsible is even Muslim. The police are still saying they don’t know who he is. But I can assure you, the moment you put an Islamic flag on a window, you guarantee yourself widespread media coverage. Regardless of the religious beliefs of the crackpot in question, he is holding people hostage. And that’s the important part.

May the siege end without bloodshed, and people remember to hold true to their values and not allow false information, assumptions, and ignorance to push them towards hatred.

Randa Abdel-Fattah wrote a great article about exactly this media frenzy here. Go and read it. (But stay away from the comments if you value your sanity.)

By mid-afternoon Monday, I was a mess. I’d been crying for hours, imagining the trauma the hostages were facing inside that cafe. Imagining the life that led the hostage-taker to the precipice he was standing on, when the idea of taking people hostage at gunpoint, knowing that he would likely end up dead and reviled at the end of it, seemed like a good idea. Thinking about the society we live in, and the world at large, and the pain that would follow this attack.

I was watching when the first three hostages escaped. I felt the same relief as the rest of the nation. But I also felt afraid. Afraid of how their escape would affect the microcosm of the cafe. Afraid of what the gunman would do now.

But, three hours later, nothing had changed. Nothing except the conversation.

The police knew the identity of the man responsible (who I refuse to name here), and posited that he was acting alone, and not a member of any extremist group. The flag had been categorically affirmed as a general statement of Islamic faith, and not an evil portent of doom. And the chat on social media was largely full of grief, pain, and support for Muslim Australians. I added my voice to the throng.

Let me take another opportunity to remind everyone that regardless of this “lone wolf” crackpot’s race, religion, or beliefs, he is not a representative of everyone of that race, religion, and belief system. He is not a representative of every man, or of every Australian, or of every member of his nationality or religion (as yet unconfirmed). Don’t let anger at his actions influence your feelings about any person other than him. Don’t let fear overcome your reason. We are stronger than that. We are Australian.

And then, the most remarkable thing happened.

Social media exploded with the hashtag #illridewithyou.

On seeing a Muslin woman on a train sadly remove her hijab for fear of hate-fuelled “retribution”, an ordinary Australian woman  started this hashtag. The message, clear and simple. Do not be afraid to be who you are. Do not be afraid of backlash. And if you are afraid, I will ride with you.

The message was tweeted and posted and shared something like 120,000 times in the first two hours. And it’s been gathering momentum ever since.

The siege wore on. I tried to sleep, but my brain and my imagination were having none of it. I tossed and turned and tried to read and couldn’t concentrate and finally got back on the computer. Five minutes later, it was all over.

More hostages escaped from the cafe. There was a burst of gunfire. Police stormed the building. Another burst of gunfire. And then it was done.

The ‪#‎sydneyseige‬ is over with three dead, including the crazed crackpot who started all this. My heart is heavy with the knowledge that the families of these people — yes, even the gunman — will be grieving today and for many tomorrows. I feel, also, for the hostages who escaped; their lives will never be the same. May they find peace and healing. Thanks to the ‪#‎nswpolice‬and all emergency crews who brought this event to a close. Let’s remember to band together in this difficult time, to refuse to let the seeds of hatred grow in our hearts, and to continue to build such beautiful community initiatives as‪#‎illridewithyou‬.

Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson

Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson

 

Katrina Dawson was a lawyer and a mother of three. She died heroically, protecting the life of her pregnant friend.

Tori Johnson was the manager of the Lindt Cafe. He died heroically, struggling with the gunman in an attempt to disarm him while the other hostages fled.

They were real people, real people killed senselessly, real people who died bravely in the face of the kind of terror we just don’t see in Australia. They are True Blue Aussie heroes, and will forever be remembered as such. In the days that have passed since their tragic deaths, tributes have flowed in to Martin Place in their honour. They live on in the hearts of all of us. Vale, Katrina and Tori.

New Idea Magazine

The floral tributes keep growing in Martin Place as people stop to reflect and pay their respects,

In the days since the siege ended, I’ve struggled to rediscover my equilibrium. Struggled to come back to terms with the world, and to stop feeling the slow bleed of my heart. It’s not easy. It’s been a tough week. And a tougher one on the people involved. But there’s one thing that’s helped me through this time.

The solidarity shown by Australians across the country. We, as Australians of all races, religions, colours, and creeds, have come together in person and on social media to support each other, and to show solidarity with our fallen heroes. I’ve read great posts like this one, and watched #illridewithyou get global recognition. I’ve seen Australians at their best.

I’ve cried.

I’ve smiled.

I’ve found my feet again.

And I’ve been proud. We may not have it all under control — just today, an MP derided the #illridewithyou campaign as left-wing nonsense all about “hating whitey” — but we’re on the right track. We’re on the right track.

Today, I am in mourning for the lost lives of Katrina and Tori. But I’m proud, so very proud, to be Australian.

We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on Earth we come
We share a dream, and sing with one voice
I am, you are, we are Australian.

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An Extra $15.80 per Week

Money

This week the Australian Fair Work Commission decided on the increase to Australia’s minimum wage. After much debate and to-ing and fro-ing, the figure arrived at was $15.80 per week.

This means that those Australians earning minimum wage (all 1.5 million of them) are due a payrise. Yay!

But it’s only fifteen bucks a week. Boo!

Or… yay?

Depends who you ask.

According to various business-types, it’s an excessive rise and guaranteed to affect job stability and blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda.

According to students, youth councils, and other representative groups, it’s a kick in the teeth for hard-working young Aussies just trying to get ahead and blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda.

So, which is it?

When I heard the news, I felt the familiar stirring of Youth Pride and Teen Angst stirring in my gut. Yeah! F the man! We deserve more! Let’s have us a protest!

But when I tried to stand up in solidarity, my knees locked and I realised that I’m more Creepy Middle Aged Woman Holding On To Lost Youth than Youth Crusader For Justice.

And that got me thinking.

The fact is $15.80 a week isn’t much. You can’t buy a movie ticket for that price. You can’t buy a six-pack of beer. You can’t even pay the cover charge to get into some nightclubs. It’s a paltry amount.

But…

But $15.80 a week is $821.60 per year.

For a small business with three employees, that’s an extra $2500 dollars a year in wages. The unions were asking for twice that amount, which is excessive when you think about it from the small business owner perspective.

So is the raise too low?

The youth radio station I was listening to certainly seemed to think so. They made quite a joke of the whole thing. “I want to hear from you,” the DJ said. “Tell me what you’ll spend your extra $15.80 a week on. Bonus points if you come up with something that costs exactly $15.80.”

And as people called and texted and tweeted in with their answers (Fake dreadlocks! A McDonald’s meal! A bath towel!), I got to thinking.

I’m not on minimum wage. In fact, I’m not on any wage. I’m a Mum who does some freelancing work on occasion, and dreams of selling enough books to buy a chain of deserted islands. So what could I buy with $15.80?

And this is what I came up with:

  • Two loaves of home-brand white bread: $2.00
  • One stick of home-brand butter: $1.90
  • Two dozen home-brand free-range eggs: $7.90
  • Four litres of unsweetened orange juice: $4.00

For $15.80, I can provide breakfast for a family of four for a week.

It’s funny, isn’t it? When you remove the instinctive Disaffected Youth Mentality reaction, the $15.80 pay-rise seems pretty damn reasonable.

Or maybe I’m just getting old.

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Family Holiday Fun

Well, we’re back. We had a great time at the beautiful Gold Coast last week, taking a break from our usual life as well as all our electronic gadgets. We went swimming in the hotel pool, walked along the beach, jumped waves and made sandcastles, walked around town, ate lots of good food, and generally had a blast. We also celebrated my husband’s birthday while we were there by taking a ride on an amphibious bus and eating highly over-priced cake.

Does it get any better?

So before I lose myself in the great joy of 125 new emails, 42 Facebook notifications, blog comments, Twitter feeds, and all the news I’ve missed while I’ve been away, I wanted to share some of our happy snaps.

(Click on the pics to enlarge.)

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I Come From a Land Down Under

It’s tough being Australian on the internet. Between the misspelling (it’s HUMOUR not HUMOR, people!) and the assumption that Christmas happens in winter, it can be downright discouraging. Especially when so many people seem inclined to believe that Australia is a country full of Crocodile Dundee clones keeping kangaroos and koalas as pets and yelling “Crikey!” at the top of their lungs.

So I decided it was time to set the record straight. Because being Australian is about more than just drinking beer and fooling tourists with our off-beat sense of humour.

Oh, wait. Maybe it’s not.

Anyway, today I’m over at Twinisms, one of my favourite (and favorite) blogs, guest posting about some of the common misconceptions about Australia. With some good ol’ Aussie humour (and humor) thrown in. Go over and read it.

Click here.

Or here.

Or even here.

Come on, click already.

And once you’ve read my post, be sure to check out the rest of the blog. Seriously, Bridget from Twinisms is one of the funniest, irreverent and down-to-earth people in the known universe. Plus, she’s got twins. Two sets. Because that’s just how she rolls.

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Why I Still Hate Halloween (in Australia)

On October 31st last year, I published a post explaining why I hate Halloween in Australia. That post has turned out to be my third most popular post in the history of The Happy Logophile. (The two more popular posts are the ones I’ve had Freshly Pressed.) It even resulted in me having the opportunity to be a special guest speaker on a local radio station, presenting my opinion on Halloween as a “Social blogger and commentator”.

I’ve seen a resurgence of people winding up at my blog over the last few weeks with search terms like Why doesn’t Australia celebrate Halloween? and I hate Halloween and Australia Halloween stupid. So I figured I’d break this post out and reshare the reason I hate Halloween (in Australia).

Halloween, also known as All Hallow’s Eve, is a holiday that is both new and old. While its roots can be traced back to ancient times, it has really only been celebrated in the modern way for 50 or 60 years, primarily in the USA and Canada.

More than 2000 years ago, the Celts lived in modern Ireland. The time between harvest and winter was an important one for them, and on the 31st of October each year they celebrated Samhain. This celebration mainly consisted of bonfires, food, and sacrifices to the Gods (mostly crops and animals). It was believed that the spirits of the dead could return on this night, and that the veils between life and death, summer and winter, were thinner and more easily pierced. So the celebrants would often dress in costume to hide from malicious spirits.

When the Roman empire spread through Europe and Britain, they brought with them their own customs and beliefs. The Romans celebrated the passing of the dead in late October, as well as a day of worship for Pomona, the Roman Goddess of fruit and trees. Both of these holidays were incorporated into the Celtic Samhain, adding an extra element of ghostliness and Pomona’s symbol, the apple, to the day.

As Christianity spread through the world, heathens were encouraged and then instructed to stop practicing their own celebrations. When that didn’t work, Catholic leaders began moving Christian feasts and holidays to coincide with Heathen feasts. Thus the day to celebrate Christian martyrs and saints was moved from May to November 1, and called All Saints Day — or Alholowmesse in Middle English. The night before, the traditional night of Samhain, soon came to be known as All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween.

The modern idea of Halloween in the US and Canada has only existed since around the 1950s. Although Halloween was celebrated in North America for a couple of hundred years before that, the traditions of today weren’t around prior to mid 20th century. But most of them date back to the older, heathen customs.

Costume wearing is from the Celtic tradition of hiding from mischievous dead. Trick-or-Treating was the Church-sanctified replacement for sacrificing food to the Gods. Pumpkin carving relates to the Celtic practice of extinguishing all hearth fires and then re-lighting them from the communal bonfires. Apple bobbing is a nod to the Roman Goddess Pomona. And the name, Halloween, is a version of the Christian All Saint’s Eve.

All of which is very interesting, but doesn’t explain why I hate Halloween.

I grew up in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, without ever hearing about Halloween. Back in those days, no one in Australia celebrated it. Or, if they did, they did so quietly. There was certainly no costumes or trick-and-treating. And doing so would have made no sense. It’s the start of summer. Why celebrate something spooky when the sun is just starting to stay out late?

But when I was 8 years old, we moved to the States for two years. And, my oh my, didn’t I get an education in Halloween?

The food! The candy! The costumes! The candy! The bigger-than-your-head plastic orange pumpkin buckets to carry said candy! The songs and riddles and games! The parties! The candy! The decorations! Did I mention the candy?

I don’t honestly remember what I dress up as for the two years I was there. But I remember wandering the neighbourhood, going door to door to ask for candy, and having total strangers gush about how great we looked and drop handfuls of cheap chocolate and sugary goodness into our outstretched buckets.

I remember getting home and tipping our loot out on to the floor, and staring in wonder. And then eating as much as I could before falling into bed with a stomch ache.

I remember going to the most amazing party I’d ever been to, with witches and wizards and ghosts and goblins and a few devils. (I was too young to understand that all devils weren’t scantily-clad young blonde women.) We played games, and listened to ghost stories, and did some apple bobbing, and ate candy, and I had the best time of my young life.

I remember my parents going all out with decorating our house, and my Dad getting right into character as a mad scientist/psychopath, ready to hand out candy to all comers. I will never forget walking home after our trick-and-treating was finished, and meeting another group of kids who were just leaving our house. “Don’t go up there,” one of them said, his voice shaking a little. “I think there’s dead bodies. And that man’s crazy.”

I loved Halloween. Even more than Christmas.

And then we moved back to Australia.

We don’t celebrate Halloween in Australia. Just like we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, or the 4th of July. Halloween is not an Australian holiday. And after I got over my initial disappointment that there would be no more tubs of free candy or school days spent watching scary movies, I was okay with that.

I am okay with that.

What I’m not okay with is the way that faux-Halloween-fever invades Australia at this time of year.

Walk into a shopping mall, and everywhere you look there are cheap Halloween costumes for kids, tacky decorations, and spider-webs strung everywhere. The thing is: none of it is really for Halloween. It’s just a way to display dodgy old stock in an attempt to cash in on the idea that Halloween is cool.

And it is.

If you’re in the US or Canada.

Turn on the TV at the end of October and all you’ll see if Halloween specials. Even on Australian shows. Perhaps they didn’t get the memo.

Memo: We don’t celebrate Halloween in Australia.

Every year, one or two groups of children knock on the door looking for candy. And every year I say no. If for no other reason than because everyone (who celebrates Halloween) knows that you only trick-or-treat at houses with the light on.

Do I wish we celebrated Halloween in Australia? Sometimes. Actually, yes. Yes, I do.

But hanging fake cobwebs over the confectionery aisle in the supermarket and using Halloween Specials to boost TV ratings doesn’t mean we’ve got a holiday. It means we’ve got an excuse for more commercialism.

And that’s why I hate Halloween in Australia.

What do you think, am I just a cranky old curmudgeon (get off my lawn!), or do I have a point?

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Election 2012: I’m Australian and I Care

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last week talking to people about the upcoming US election, both online and in person. I’ve watched the debates, laughed at the memes, and tried really, really hard not to get too political on Facebook. I’ve accidentally turned innocent conversations about current events into diatribes on why the US election is so important, and who people should vote for. I have, in short, been thoroughly infected with Election Fever.

But I’m not American, I’m Australian.

So the election has nothing to do with me, right?

Wrong.

The result of the election on November 6 won’t just affect the USA for the next four years, it will affect the whole world. That’s why the whole world is watching.

Just because I can’t vote, and I have no way to significantly affect the outcome, doesn’t mean I don’t care.

Why I Care

Let’s just take a step back for a minute, and look at the relationship between America and Australia.

We’re military allies and trade partners, of course, but the relationship goes deeper than that. (Yes, I think we’ve taken it to “the next level”.)

In Australia, we grow up on American imports. Not just in terms of material goods, but also moral, ethical, and cultural ones. Our kids grow up watching Sesame Street and Bear in the Big Blue House and The Simpsons. They learn about Abraham Lincoln, the civil war, and the story behind Thanksgiving long before they learn about Australian history.

And it’s not just the kids. For a relaxing evening, we sit down and watch Glee or NCIS or How I Met Your Mother. When we turn on the radio, we hear Pink and Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars. If we go to the movies, it’s to see Taken 2 or Looper or Madagascar 3. Then we stop on the way home to grab a bite at McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken.

American culture has so invaded our mental space that Australians need to be reminded not to call 911 in an emergency (we call 000), and that we can’t take the 5th in court (…because we have our own constitution).

But none of that has anything to do with politics, right? Uhh…. Yes, and at the same time, no.

We’ve grown up emulating America. And that emulation doesn’t stop when we reach a certain age, or when we get to a certain position — partly because most Australians secretly think America is like our cool older brother, and partly because emulation of American culture is so deeply embedded in our sub-conscious that we barely realise it’s there.

When the President of the United States makes a decision, you can almost guarantee that Australian politicians will emulate that decision within the next six to twelve months.

The Australian Perspective

A recent Sydney newspaper poll asked Australians who they would support in the US election if they were given a vote. Of those polled, 72% would vote for Obama, compared to only 5% who would vote for Romney. (23% were undecided)

Clearly there are a lot of people in America who will be pleased that Australians don’t get to vote! But… why the huge preference for Obama?

Firstly, Obama has something of a Rock Star cum International Superstar image over here. We’ve loved him since he was campaigning in 2008, and not much has changed over the last four years. He’s liberal without being too liberal, he has the “cool American” thing going for him (in that he’s cool and he’s American), and he seems like a sane, honest (for a politician) family man.

Secondly, Australia is a lot more naturally liberal than America. We also have a lower gender wage gap, are closer to achieving marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples, and can’t even comprehend the idea that abortion would be illegal in the case of rape or a potentially life-threatening pregnancy. (In fact, in 25% of Australia’s States and Territories, abortion is legal upon request, no questions asked.)

The interesting (and possibly troubling)  part of this is that, as I said above, Australians feel like they are just like Americans. So we watch the debates between Obama and Romney, and figure the outcome is a given. Romney wouldn’t last two minutes as an Australian politician, so it can be hard for us to come to terms with the idea that this is going to be a close election.

If Romney Wins, I Worry That…

…his economic plan to cut the deficit without increasing taxes will result in cuts in spending, leading to a recession that will affect not only the US, but also the Australian economy. And we’re really still recovering from the last economic meltdown!

…his view on GLBT rights will significantly impact American legislation (or lack thereof) and that will, in turn, affect Australia’s forward momentum in legalizing gay and lesbian marriages in all states and territories.

…his view on contraception, abortion, and women’s rights will negatively impact on women in Australia and the rest of the world.

If I was an American, there would be other issues that concerned me. And if I was actually a political scientist (instead of an opinionated blogger), I may have others still. But these are the ones that I’m worried about affecting me and my family.

Please vote

I’m Australian. I can’t vote. I can’t have any kind of significant impact on this election. I just have to sit here on the other side of the world, and hope that the election is won by the candidate who will be the most beneficial for me and my country’s future.

But if you’re in America, you can make a difference.

You can vote.

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Why You Should Come to Australia

Have you ever wondered why you should drop everything and come visit Australia? Well, never fear. My five-year-old son is here to enlighten you with his very own tourism video.

Disclaimer: I had no influence over the content of this video. All words, ideas and actions are entirely the creation of Big Brother.

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