Today is Australia Day.
I have a lot of memories centred around Australia Day. The cool sea breeze catching my rose pink cheeks, the shadows cast by the great and mighty norfolk pines that protected my home town of Whyalla. The clearest memory I have is the year in which my parents took us to an Australia Day fair in the Ada Ryan Gardens (or as I called them when I was a child, the “Alderaan Gardens”).
It was a beautiful fair.
The songs, the dance, the laughter and festivity has blended together in my memories but above all I recall the happiness of the smiles. Everyone was happy through my childhood eyes, I was happy.
If you don’t know, my home town of Whyalla is an Aboriginal term, meaning “place with deep water.” My Dad told me when we walked past some beautiful aboriginal art along the main street of the town. I recall him pausing, thinking for a moment, and after much pondering he said “I think it means, “place of water.”
My happiness on Australia Day lasted for a long time. My Dad would get the day off, family activities would commence – but I was not blissfully unaware of what the day signified. How could I not be, I am — as much as I try to deny it, part of the Millennial Generation, and at school, I was drilled with how my ancestors had stolen what did not belong to them.
So, I would ask myself in my childhood mind, did this mean I did not belong anywhere?
Did this mean I did not have a home?
If I had stolen the land beneath me, I had no home. I did not belong anywhere. I could not return to the land I had come from, but I neither belonged in the land I was now in.
So therefore, where did little Kylie belong?
Where am I getting these questions from, you ask? My journals. I kept journals from when I was six. These questions live in my journals. They are quite the fascinating look into a mind of a child.
I am not sure what others of the Millennial Generation were taught in school about European Settlement in Australia, and South Australia, but I did not learn much and what I did learn was from a rather negative perspective.
What European Settlement history I learnt, I learnt from my father, and his parents, and from my mother’s mother — stories passed down through them. It was my father, while we were out hiking, who told me the tales of the great Australian Explorers who trekked across the deserts. Oh, he spun the most magnificent tales of their adventures, and their eventual fates but I revelled in such (recent) history.
It was my grandmother who taught me about Douglas Mawson, she even took us kids to a Museum Exhibition all about the Australasian Antarctic Expedition. It was my grandmother who taught me about Ned Kelly, and why he became such a legend. She taught me about the Irish and why they were so badly treated, the British (and the difference between Scott’s, Irishmen, Welshmen etc.) the French, the Italians and Germans.
It was my incredible mother who introduced me to the wonders of Asia.
It was my father who let us explore the old ruins of Whyalla’s WWII base on Hammock Hill and explained why they existed, and I felt the weight of his words as though I was reading a history book.
One of my favourite stories that my Popa tells me is a tale of being a little boy, lying outside the farmhouse during the night when a thunderstorm rolled through. Despite being an author, despite my ability to imagine things beyond this realm, I cannot place myself into the shoes of that little boy, lying out on the verandah of a farmhouse after a hard day of milking cows, watching as lightning broke the sky like a shattered window and thunder rocked the very foundations of the earth beneath him.
Life for him is so far removed from life as I know it, just in two generations, that I cannot fathom what he experienced.
I cannot comprehend that my Nana’s family used a horse and cart. It fractures the reality I know, because I have known nothing but the comfort of cars.
I feel as though my generation has forgotten the harshness of Australia. How untamed it was in the era of our grandparents and their parents, how they had to carve the civilisation we take for granted out of this beautiful land.
Are we are losing our history?
I fear it is not being taught. Not handed down in tales any longer.
Sometimes history is not in the great, magnificent things done by incredible people, or the terrible, horrendous things done by those who knew no better, but it is in the simple lives of those who lived before us.
Like my great grandmother who served the far richer farmers of this region, whose toil will never really be known, but she built this nation, upon red soil, with so many others like her.
And I wish we could be taught to remember them too.