On July 29th, my Dad turned 80. Yesterday we had an 80th Birthday Party, full of food, drink and lots of chatting. I’ve been thinking quite a lot about Dad over the last week, remembering all kinds of things. The cackling laugh that used to scare the living daylights out of us during tense moments in movies, the hours of untangling fishing lines turned into macrame by three kids, the twinkling eyes and his great enjoyment of life, and most of all, the ongoing love that he and Mum so clearly share in the forty ninth year of their marriage.
I’ve been blessed to have two parents who still love each other and live happily together in their eighties. They’re a great example to us all of how a successful marriage enriches everyone around it.
Families are important. Our eldest is now nearly twenty, and is living eight hours drive away at University. As I write, I’ve just finished chatting to her face to face over facebook, sharing the fun of her performances in Hairspray the Musical, and laughing at her tiredness. Our youngest turns eighteen this year, and is currently in the middle of his HSC trials. (The HSC is the year twelve university entrance exams in NSW). In just a few months he’ll have finished school, and will be waiting to find out his uni options for next year. As he wishes to study music, the round of auditions will start shortly after the exams finish.
And then, for a few months, we’ll all be home together here in the Hunter Valley. I’m looking forward to it, because it happens so infrequently now, and then we’ll share Christmas together, with my parents and the kids. We’re so fortunate to be able to be together.
As I pondered on my family, I began to think about the millions of people separated from their loved ones all over the world. More and more lately, I’ve been struck by how appropriate the phrase “first world problem” is. Here in Australia we’re in the midst of an election campaign. As the two major parties have begun to campaign, both are pledging to “stop the boats.” “The boats” are coming from Indonesia and Malaysia with refugees from many countries on board. These people trust themselves to leaky, unsafe boats and people smugglers in an attempt to reach a country which is safe, and has an enviable standard of living. I often wonder how bad things would have to be for our family to do a similar thing.
We have friends who worked for a time in the detention centre on Christmas Island, which is an offshore processing site for refugees. We have friends who live there. They tell us stories of people who have escaped from horrendous situations, and whose friends and families continue to be at risk in their home countries. Australia is one of the very few countries in the world that has never experienced a civil war, and despite a number of bombings in the second world war, we have been very lightly touched by the chaos that so many other areas of the world experience routinely.
I struggle hugely with our current government’s attitude to asylum seekers, and the unthinking, thoughtless comments that I hear so often in the public and private arena. I used to think some of those things myself, but as time has gone on, and I’ve learnt more about the issues that push people onto leaky boats, all I see is harshness and unkindness in many of those responses. The most common one that I hear is “We have poor and homeless people too, we should look after them first.”
Well, yes, we do. But in Australia, we have free health care for all. At the very least we have unemployment benefits and subsidised housing. None of us need to worry that we’ll be persecuted by the government for our religious or personal beliefs, or worry that the local warlord wants to take our kids to turn them into soldiers. If I wish to go to church (as I did this morning), then I can, and the worst that can happen as a result is that someone might laugh at my personal belief. If I don’t want to have a religious belief, then I am free to choose that too. I’m a woman, and in Australia I can have a career, and a job, and I can wear what I wish. I am fortunate.
Well, that was a bit of a ramble. More of a collection of stuff that’s on my mind than anything else, and hopefully not too much of a rant.