this (dis­mayed) life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Ruth Franklin Re­view wel­comes sub­mis­sions to This Life. To be con­sid­ered for pub­li­ca­tion, the work must be orig­i­nal and be­tween 450 and 500 words. Sub­mis­sions may be edited for clar­ity. Send emails to this­life@theaus­

Two weeks ago, my hus­band and I at­tended a house auc­tion. We weren’t buy­ing; our friends were selling, so we went along to pro­vide moral sup­port.

They had lived in that house for 38 years, bring­ing up their four chil­dren. Our fam­ily shared in their life, and they in ours. The joys. The suc­cesses. The dis­as­ters. The cel­e­bra­tions. The losses. My son learned to swim in their pool. My daugh­ters con­sid­ered the place their home away from home. So much laugh­ter, so many tears — and ev­ery­thing in be­tween — were shared in that one build­ing.

At the auc­tion, the house was sold to a fam­ily. But the warm feel­ing of a good out­come for our friends turned to dis­may and hor­ror when, as we left, we were con­fronted with a small band of men wav­ing Aus­tralian flags and ban­ners urg­ing peo­ple not to sell to Chi­nese buy­ers.

I have lived in Syd­ney my en­tire life but had never come across any­thing like that. Per­haps I have been liv­ing with my head in the sand, but I don’t think so. I con­sider my­self rel­a­tively well in­formed and I know these sen­ti­ments do ex­ist, but had never be­fore seen them face-to-face.

I couldn’t con­tain my­self. I whipped out my phone and took a pic­ture of them and called out “Shame!” as I walked to my car. They called af­ter me that it was I who should be ashamed, and that I must be some kind of leftie.

On the way home, as I looked at the pic­ture I had taken, another photo came to mind: that of Ger­man mili­tia urg­ing their fel­low cit­i­zens to boy­cott Jewish shops.

The sen­ti­ment, it seemed to me, was not all that dif­fer­ent. But there was an added di­men­sion to the sit­u­a­tion. My friend is the daugh­ter of Holo­caust sur­vivors who lost their en­tire fam­ily in that not-so-long-ago hor­ror.

She came to Aus­tralia with her trau­ma­tised mother and fa­ther, pen­ni­less and alone. It was the other end of the earth — a dif­fer­ent planet com­pared with Europe. But Aus­tralian so­ci­ety of the 1950s of­fered them refuge from the to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism that had blighted their lives. It gave them another chance.

They worked hard, paid their taxes and ed­u­cated their girls. When they passed away, they were sur­vived by three daugh­ters, 12 grand­chil­dren and six great-grand­chil­dren. Isn’t that what most of us as­pire to, in one way or another? A ful­fill­ing life with rel­a­tive com­fort and se­cu­rity for our loved ones?

What a con­trast, it seemed, with the xeno­pho­bic sen­ti­ments we wit­nessed that morn­ing, such as the ban­ner that screamed: “Keep the Aussie Dream alive”.

What has the “Aussie Dream” be­come? To re­ject oth­ers for not be­ing like us and, when they try to be like us, to turn them away?

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