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An uncomfortable legacy: to be or not to be a British Australian?

Who’s your sports minister? Australian Kate Ellis and Britain’s Sport Minister Gerry Sutcliffe at the Paralympics. AAP/Australian Paralympic Committee/Roger Bool

It happens at every Olympics (or Paralympics) and Ashes series - the Hamlet-like behaviour that comes with having two passports.

It’s not enough to sit on the fence at times of hysterical national fervour and it’s not good enough to just say they are useful for avoiding queues at airports. But severing one in favour of the other would be as painful as having one’s daemon cut from the body and soul. Is it time that the British-born citizens of Australia nailed their true colours to the mast?

We get along OK most of the time, keeping our heads low like secret agents operating behind enemy lines. But, just like Bartlett “Big X” in The Great Escape who, while on the run, said “thank you” in English to a German officer, sometimes we slip up to betray ourselves with devastating consequences.

How could you possibly choose? Kimb0lene

Let’s face it, being born in a country that at one time painted a good part of the world red, be it with blood or map-printer’s ink, does create a fair spattering of guilt, pride, arrogance and whatever else the psychiatrists can dream up to describe bemused bellicosity.

And there it is to remind us every day at the top left corner of one of the two Australian flags - a Union Jack flying in the face of one of the most multicultural nations on earth, reminding us of our “mother” country as if we are grown up kids, still living at home, opening our lunch boxes to find a tasteless and fossil-hard rock bun specially made by mum.

Of course, it’s food that really brings out the true nature of the beast. We can happily devour trays of meat and prawns at barbies but at the same time we crave curry and chips (hot that is) in cold and relentless rain.

We watch British celebrity chef cooking programmes, comedy shows and documentaries and fill our shelves with popular histories that dissect and digest the standard stories of our childhood.

But it’s what stirs the heart that matters and rock buns no longer do it. So what does? Maybe the final phrase of Advance Australia Fair as it soars into the roar of the crowd at a Grand Final. Maybe descending steps onto a beach deserted for as far as the eye can sea against an azure sea. Maybe traversing a fallen tree that lies across a path weaving between trunks that seem to have withstood time for thousands of years. Watching children run, and run, and run.

These are things that do not need nationality, culture or history. They are simply human experiences in a natural world.

That is the point. It does not matter that we are British and have no right to play upon that top left hand corner of one of the two flags of Australia. To be a truly British Australian we must accept that Chinese and Indian now rank as the top two immigrant nationalities in Australia, that there are many, many other people who can lay claim to be the bedrock of the Australian culture, not least those who fly the other flag of black, red and yellow.

Britain painted the world red, and must live with the consequences. Cambridge University Library

I started this article thinking what fun it would be to have a jibe at those of us who “live Australia and love England” as we make excuses for our eccentricities, our table habits and peculiar behaviour at sporting events. But in the course of it I’ve seen reports of people dying, literally, to get here, drowning in our seas. It all seems to be so pointless to poke fun when so many refugees from lands that were once and still are red with the blood of empire and tyranny seek and do not find asylum in a country that flies a flag for democracy.

I would so love to play upon irony, dry wit, acerbic wisdom and all those British idiosyncracies to illustrate a dissonant life in a distant land. But I recoil from the injustice of British-supervised, arbitrarily drawn borders and the inhumanity of British-educated (if that is the right word) corrupt regimes that have driven desperate people to what is effectively a British-governed landscape.

Yes, I would love to see Australia remove the Union Jack from the ensign that purports to be a national flag. I would love to see Australia stand up to be the adult that has left home and makes its own packed lunch. I would love to see Australia call people home to a safe and liberated country.

We British in Australia have had it so good for so long. But we are no longer kings of the jungle in the Great Southern Land.

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