I started life as a very standard issue middle class girl from Australia. I am seventh generation Australian, my closest non-Australian relative is my Great Grandfather on my father’s side who was Swedish. This is quite unusual in a country of immigrants like Australia. At the end of World War two, Australia had a population of 7 million. Now it is around 22 million, which is still not huge but the steep increase means that many of Australia’s inhabitants were born outside Australia.
In fact in Western Australia according to government figures one in four people were either born outside the State or their parents were – 25% (!).
I found out this statistic when I was working for a soccer team, and we were trying to find the hook to move people’s allegiance from Australian football to soccer. Job done – look for all the South Americans, Europeans, Middle Eastern – basically anyone except Australians, South Africans, USA, and New Zealand should support soccer. But that is another story.
Now I’m in a multicultural relationship with a French man, and I spend a lot of my time trying to open his eyes to the benefits of living in a country with hardly any history. Being French, he just ignores me.
This is my argument.
Yeah sure, the French have baguettes, the cheese, charcuterie, white sauce, brown sauce, coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon, the blanquettes, and my latest favourite – ravioli with fois gras sauce. The Italians have veal saltimbocca, chicken cacciatore, minestrone, tiramisu, risotto, and endless amounts of mouth watering pasta – pasta e fagioli, tagliatelle, spaghetti.
There is no arguing that each of these countries has a strong culinary identity.
When I was at high school, we did a classroom survey and of about 30 kids only 4 of us were born in Australia. The bulk of the others were English, but also Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian and Serbian. This cultural diversity has caused tension over the years, but the upside is that we’ve been able to bring all these cuisines into our kitchens and onto our plates.
What is Australia’s national dish? I’d say ‘fusion with a heavy Asian influence’. We get to experience a mix of cuisines. I was in Broome, in the north west of Australia last week at a local café and the menu had dishes that ranged from pulled pork sliders, Szechuan roasted duck, braised beef cheeks, soba noodle salad, chilli salt tofu with cucumber and pickled ginger, Vietnamese coleslaw. At a restaurant back in Perth an couple of days later we had a choice between exquisite pasta dishes, a charcuterie that included serrano ham and saucisson, and gourmet hamburgers. This is accompanied from wine from whatever country you want – albeit usually too much.
French chateaux! Castles on the Rhine! Churches that were built in the 12th century or more. I will never get sick of these.
A couple of weeks ago I watched ‘The Name of the Rose’ again. A very good movie by a very good author – Umberto Eco. The movie was made in the ‘80s and stars Sean Connery and Christian Slater. It is set in a mediaeval monastery, and as well as being a murder mystery covers the Spanish Inquisition, the Church’s attitude to poverty, literacy (or lack of), and the theological schisms in the Catholic Church. The story is complex, because the history is complex and evolved over centuries.
What about all those blue signs around London (see above). So many of the streets and Burroughs housed remarkable people, again over centuries. I stayed for a while in Hampstead – on a quick wander around Hampstead and not much further afield I could see the houses of John Constable, Charles Darwin (Bloomsbury), Charles Dickens (Holburn), Freud, John Harrison, who invented the Marine Chronometer (one of my favourite non-fiction stories) & John Keats among many others.
While there is a lengthy Aboriginal history, in Australia we have a relatively short history of European settlement.
Sound a bit bland? What I’ve found is that people can invent and re-invent themselves. Quite often wearing shorts and a Tshirt.
My brother is a farmer, my father became a farmer after an early start in a bank. But we are not from a family that has seven or more generations farming the same land. My Grandfather was a hippy. Yes, … I’m still bitter about being laughed at by British people because of my accent. (Even my Japanese friends mimicked my broad accent, which is actually pretty funny).
The freedom is there and it is very light.
As you can see it is a fairly loose theory, and there always exceptions, and notable exceptions to the rule are modern architecture and punks / Vivienne Westwood. The French have Louvre Pyramid, the Arc de la Defense and now the Tour Triangle; and London has the Shard, the Gherkin and all those wonderful new buildings that are changing the skyline. The buildings and Vivienne Westwood are fabulous. Punks are punks.
Reference: A list of blue plaques in the Burrough of Camden – List of Blue Plaques in London
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