As a first generation Australian raising a bicultural family, it is my strong belief that much of this nation’s growth and progress is due to its vast ethnic and cultural diversity.
Yet, the influence of multiculturalism in Australia is still yet to be fully defined; its education to our children acknowledged as crucial yet its relevance still undetermined.
The essence of multiculturalism is not based on what Australian government policy can tell us but rather the personal experiences and beliefs its people live by.
“Multicultural Monday” is a space where I introduce other Australian families of mixed and diverse backgrounds and their version of what it means to be Australian.
Opening the conversation leads to the understanding that multiculturalism is not a concept easily defined but a way forward for modern Australian society to accept and understand differences in race, religion and culture.
I hope you gain something new from this segment.
Emma Fahy Davis is a journo who turned to blogging as a way of exorcising the words in her head while taking a break from the media to raise her five daughters.
Seeking better employment opportunities, Emma and her husband, Willie moved to Australia from New Zealand four years ago. Their story was part of an SBS documentary.
In this interview, Emma shares her family’s journey so far in making Australia their new home while keeping their New Zealand and Maori’s heritage alive with their children.
1. Tell us a little bit about you and your husband, Willie’s cultural backgrounds.
We’re both Kiwis, but that’s about where the similarities end! My dad’s family are of Irish heritage and my mum arrived from England by boat in the mid-1950s, while he’s Maori with a dash of Scottish blood running through his mum’s side. We were raised very differently – I grew up as a city girl in Auckland, he grew up on a farm north of Auckland and left school at 14 to work as a machine operator in the local forestry industry.
2. Having made the big move to Australia 4 years ago, as far as differences between Australia and New Zealand, particularly Maori culture, were there any challenges you guys faced? How did you overcome them?
When I first asked Willie to consider moving here, I don’t think I truly appreciated quite how much of a sacrifice I was asking him to make. It wasn’t so hard for me – my family were already here – but I was asking him to leave his family, his friends, the job he’d had for 8 years, not to mention the cultural divide. It took me a while to really acknowledge that – when we first arrived, he had trouble finding permanent work as he didn’t know the local area (which is kind of important when you’re a truckie!) and he got quite down about it, and that’s when I realised just what a huge adjustment the move was for him.
From a cultural perspective it’s hard because where we live, there are no other local Maori families. Our girls go to a school with 600 students and other than them, only one other child identifies as Maori. So the girls don’t get the same exposure to Maori culture as they did in New Zealand where we were not just surrounded by it, it was also actively taught at school. When we lived in Auckland we used to make regular trips up to the farm to visit Willie’s family and my sister-in-law would teach them simple Maori songs and phrases. We’ve lost that now. Willie does enjoy watching snippets of Maori Television that are played on NITV though so the girls do get to see some of their cultural heritage – not always the good parts though!
3. There’s a heartfelt post your wrote on your blog about being homesick. How do you keep the homesickness at bay? Does it get easier?
I don’t know if it gets easier, but it does get different. I still have days where I’d like to pack up and ‘go home’. I miss my friends, and I miss the life we had there. But we’re as far in as we are out – we have friends and connections here now that we’d miss if we went back – so in some ways, it’s harder now than it was when we first arrived. We’re settled here, we’re really happy with the girls’ school, we’ve set up a comprehensive health network for Mercedes, Willie is happy at work – and ironically, most of the guys he works with here are Maori!
4. You wrote once, “Our girls are going to grow up as Aussies…and no matter how Australian they become, I’ll make sure our girls will never forget their Kiwi roots”
How do you keep your Kiwi culture and heritage alive at home and within your family?
Well, first and foremost, we back the All Blacks! There are no Wallabies supporters in our house, even if the girls CAN sing a mean version of Advance Australia Fair! We talk often about New Zealand, and there’s a montage of our wedding photos with all our Kiwi friends and family taking up an entire wall in our lounge room. The girls wear their greenstones with pride and before family meals, we always say a karakia (prayer) in Maori to bless the food. Willie has also sniffed out the NZ Snack Foods warehouse out at Punchbowl and makes regular trips across there to buy Kiwi sausages, biscuits and chocolate.
5. Your talented girl, Maya wrote a gutsy speech, “What Makes Australia A Great Nation” where she even asked your local MP what his thoughts were! Maya talked proudly about Australia being “a multi-cultural country with lots of opportunities”
As parents of a bi-cultural family, raising children in a fairly young nation like Australia, how do you think we can help strengthen and improve multi-culturalism?
I think as far as we’re concerned, middle-class immigrants arriving with qualifications and skills to offer, Australia is doing okay. There are some discrepancies in the immigration laws which disadvantage us as Kiwis compared to immigrants from other countries, but then we’re advantaged in other ways (like having access to Medicare) so it’s checks and balances. But the plight of the boat people really upsets me – in the second verse of the national anthem, Australia professes to have ‘boundless plains to share’, but in reality, it seems to me like those boundless plains aren’t so readily shared. Australia is now our forever home, it’s the country our kids are growing up in and will call their own. One day I hope those who come here to escape from war and persecution will be afforded the same welcome as we were shown.