There is a phrase that’s bandied around from time to time that really gets on my goat.
It was coined decades ago but slipped into usage again in the 1990s over the way asylum seekers were detained in Australia. It was a term of chastisement used mostly in the political arena.
I was uncomfortable with the term then because it suggests that Australians won’t tolerate inhumane, unfair, unjust, unreasonable treatment of others. The truth is that like people the world over, Aussies are subject to moments of deplorable behaviour. We have as much trouble occupying the moral high ground as anyone else.
What bothers me is that un-Australian very quickly became part of the general vernacular. I have heard it used at sporting matches when the referee makes a decision the crowd doesn’t agree with. I have heard it used to dress down men who regard themselves as metrosexuals or when people are caught criticising anything made in Australia, in particular, cars. I have even heard it used at barbecues where vegetarian sausages and low-alcohol beer are served. Apparently, Aussies only eat full meat sausages and drink full strength beer.
Even though I am uncomfortable with the term I think the widespread usage has cheapened its original meaning that Australians support a fair go for all. That is an Aussie characteristic I really like.
I have never used the phrase un-Australian. Hand on heart.
Yesterday I saw something that was un-Australian. Actually, it was more than that but calling it un-Australian is a good place to start.
I went to the fish markets after work. There is a big park there which is always full of people. I park the car there because the fish markets car park is an absolute nightmare. The drivers have lost their minds after consuming too much sashimi and fresh oysters.
After getting out of the car I noticed a lady lying on the footpath. There was a little boy in a stroller next to her, crying. She had bags of shopping on the back of the stroller. Some of them had burst and their contents had spilled onto the road. It looked like one of the wheels had come off her stroller. The whole thing was in a state of collapse.
In trying to save the little boy and the stroller from falling she had fallen herself. One side of her face was scraped and bleeding. She was leaning against a low wall that runs around the perimeter of the park.
I always carry a first aid kit and a small tool kit in the car. So I attended to her wounds. As I was handing her bandages to hold on her face to stem the bleeding a group of young men who’d been playing football nearby came over.
I asked them if they had seen her fall. They hedged around the question but finally admitted they had seen her fall nearly twenty minutes before. I asked them why they hadn’t done anything to help her and they said it was because she was one of them and they weren’t sure if they should.
By one of them they meant Muslim. The lady who had fallen was Muslim. She was wearing a hajib.
Since when did offering someone your help become conditional?
Couldn’t you even have asked her if she was OK? I asked. She’s a lady with a little boy and she fell over in the street. What’s wrong with you?
After drinking some water and sitting for a bit, the lady whose name turned out to be Afrah, said she felt better. I asked her if I could drive her anywhere or call someone for her. She asked me to call her husband. Her husband came within ten minutes and thanked me profusely before driving off. Afrah and her son waved at me through the window.
The young men had left. I hope they were sorry for what they had done. Or hadn’t done.
When are we going to stop doing this? When are going to stop letting our prejudices dictate how we behave towards one another?
What if Afrah had been seriously injured and every minute that passed was crucial to her recovery? What then?
Afrah’s name means happiness. I looked it up.
I would like to use the phrase that gets on my goat in the original spirit with which it was intended.
Not helping a woman named happiness who has fallen in the street.
Now that’s un-Australian.