Relics and Relatives

When it comes to historical plaques you expect to find long-lost tribes, great statesmen and heroes or local luminaries being honoured. It comes as a surprise to see a photo of yourself in a Davy Crockett outfit on a plaque on an “historical walk” in a town park. Seldom do we consider ourselves as part of “history”.

In the early 1950s, my parents and I were part of a huge wave of migration to Australia. Like others from Northern Europe and the UK, my parents were seeking a new life away from a Europe struggling to house and feed its people after a disastrous war. Now, nearly 60 years later, with the wonderful gift of hindsight, it is clear that we were part of a movement that would change Australia for ever.

The photo on the plaque is instructive in its detail. There is an uncle who had paved the way a few years earlier and was establishing himself as an excellent builder. There is a close Australian friend who had adopted us when arrived in Australia and was my brother’s Godmother. My mother is holding my new baby brother who had been born in this new land and I am standing in a “coonskin” cap made out of rabbit fur – illustrating the popular culture of the day. In the background the car has a table and tea-chest strapped to the roof which is certainly a metaphor for the transitory life we lived when we first moved to Australia. My father, I can safely assume, is taking the photo.

Not only was it a momentous time for the thousands of families that picked up their sparse belongings and moved to Australia, but it was also time of indelible change for Australia. After the Northern Europeans came the Southern Europeans and then when the “White Australia Policy” was abolished the movement became even more spectacular and diverse. Food, music, festivals, dress, values and attitudes would all be changed. “Wog” food became the norm. People would inter marry. Children would make “new” friends.

The Australia that sits behind the photo in the town’s “history walk” no longer exits. And I, together with hundreds of thousand other people, was part of that metamorphosis. .

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