I’ve homes in many lands, but no homeland…
On Saturday afternoon, I relaxed in the stern of my friend’s boat as we cruised back to the harbour after a day fishing. I admired the sheer rugged cliffs overlooking the ocean and the hill topped by the impressive Gothic cathedral. I was thinking about the generations of local fishermen who had made this return trip, after a day on the water. Since the cathedral was completed 800 years ago, the views probably hadn’t changed much. The cliffs were the same, the seabed the same, and the fish much the same.
I felt a sudden jealousy to the locals for whom this was their homeland. Those individuals whose father and grandfather fished there before them, and could perhaps trace their ancestry back through hundreds of years, even thousands of years. They would intimately know the stories of the place, back through the generations. Their forefathers fought armies from a dozen different nations, defended the battlements, were victorious, were defeated and enslaved. They rebuilt the walls and passed their heritage onto the next generation, the next and the next. They fought for their freedom, worked the land and raised their children to respect it as a homeland.
What would it be like to be raised in a place where your people had lived for many generations? When the children in the schools learn their history, do they reflect on the influence of those events to their own history? Do they consider that their ancestors fought, died and made that history?
I was born in Australia, of Anglo-Saxon roots. One of my great-grandparents was from Manchester, England, and another ancestor was apparently transported to Australia for “Stealing the Laird’s trout”, so I assume he was Scottish. This is the extent of my knowledge. The history of colonization in Australia has been one of nearly constant expansion over the last 200 years. My family appears to have moved each generation, starting with that convict poacher in Sydney and moving gradually to the north. The houses they built have been demolished, and their farms have been replaced by suburbia, they didn’t leave much behind. Several of them took part in important battles, but all in far off places. It’s interesting to know that my relatives fought and died in Mesopotamia, Gallipoli, Flanders, and Papua New Guinea, but I don’t feel any connection with those places, they aren’t a part of my homeland.
The Australian education system is very innovative in that they were teaching post-modern Anglo guilt 25 years ago. Rather than a heroic endeavour of developing the outback and building a nation state, we are taught about harsh persecution and genocide against the noble savages who lived there before us. We are taught about the environmental vandalism of cutting down the forests and releasing feral animals to destroy the wildlife. The early political history of Australia as a nation is taught through the lens of discriminatory immigration policies and that patriotism is synonymous with racism. Anglo-Saxon or European heritage is boring and uninteresting compared to “diverse” Arabic, African or Asian ancestry. Aboriginals are the real Australians, we are constantly reminded, it has been their homeland for at least 60,000 years. Christianity is stupid and backwards, while all other religions are exotic, interesting and worthy of respect.
I wish that I knew the history of my people over the last few centuries and even millennia. Where did they live and what did they do? What did they care about and what did they build? The Jews have a homeland and a capital in Jerusalem, the Arabs have a homeland and a capital in Mecca. Italians and Japanese and Eskimos all know who they are and where they are from, but where is my homeland?
The primary complaint which Aboriginals have about colonization is that they lost many of their stories of the dreamtime, which were passed verbally from one generation to the next. I now think I know what they mean. I’ve lost my stories as well. At least the Aboriginals know where they are from though, they know their sacred sites. They can fish in the same waterholes and climb the same hills as their ancestors. They can reflect on thousands of years of their people living in that location… I wish I could do the same.
Perhaps I should visit Manchester, and see if I can establish a connection. I don’t expect to. I’ve visited London and found it a grim place. Full of grey faced commuters drudging along dirty streets between rows of identically ugly narrow houses. Maybe I should visit Manchester and learn some of the local history. Maybe I can find some stories of my ancestry, maybe I can feel like it is my homeland.
We cleaned the boat, packed away our gear and filleted the fish. My friend divided the catch and made to pass me my share, but I couldn’t take them. I was thinking “This is your boat and your town. Your people defended this land and fought for the city. Your ancestors died so that you could have this freedom. I am a stranger in this land, and no matter how well I know my way around, speak the language and even gain citizenship, it will never truly be mine.” I realized then that I was staring at him as he held out the fish to me. “No thanks,” I said out loud. “Those are your fish. I don’t need them; my wife is cooking something her grandmother taught her how to make… It’s traditional from her village.”