this (dismayed) life
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?