I never more like a Peninsula kid than when I’m in Melbourne.
I never feel more like a Melburnian than when I’m in a different city.
I never feel more like an Australian than when I’m overseas.
I can still remember my first trip overseas, to Fiji with my family. One of the things that has stuck in my memory is the strange camaraderie I had with a couple of cans of Victoria Bitter in the minibar. I was maybe fourteen, and in a foreign country for the first time, I saw those can as symbols of home. I instructed my Dad not to drink them, I needed something to hold on to. It turned out to be two cans of a beer I refuse to drink today.
It is interesting to me how aware I am of my ‘otherness’ when travelling, how all of a sudden some subconscious identity wakes up when I’m in a different place. It’s all in my head, of course, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real to me. It also occurred to me how it occurs on different planes depending on where I am. Like I said, when I’m in Melbourne, I feel comfortable, but I am aware of how much bigger the situation is and how insignificant one person is in the grand scheme.
Walking around in Canberra the past times I have been here, I am acutely aware of my Melbourneness. I think about the graffiti on the walls, the overcast skies, the preoccupation with AFL. I hear the sound of Melbourne hip-hop in my head, of Prowla and Trem, Pegz and Maundz. I think about the alleyways, pubs, trams and concert venues. I think of my city.
It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been overseas, so exactly how I felt about this in the US is a little hazy. I do remember an occasion on my last night in New York I was drinking with a few dudes from the hostel. We had just met, so we addressed each other simply by where we were from. Crude, right? We had a Russian guy, a guy from New Jersey, and a few others, I forget. But I was happy, even delighted, to be called ‘Aussie’ rather than my actual name, which is something that would be pretty ridiculous in any other context. My location was my name. It couldn’t have gotten any more personal than that, I don’t think.
This town, this city, this country, have always been my homes. When visiting different places and operating in different contexts, my identity seems strangely flexible, fluid even. The wide-eyed kid from the seaside town, the guy who rides the Frankston line into Southern Cross each day, and the person who is extraordinarily thankful for Australia’s values and freedoms.
Here’s the thing - I’m not any one these people. I am all of them.