Smoke and mirages
Last December, Jane and the kids had been driving through the countryside in the Australian state of Victoria when the little bloke yelled, “Look, a mirage.”
His mum had to point out that what he had seen was a real puddle of water stretching across a hollow in the road.
It’s not really so remarkable that in his experience, the illusion of water is more common than the stuff itself. Dinny was one year and 19 days old when we moved to the United Arab Emirates.
But it’s funny. For some reason a part of me still expects him and his sister to be intrinsically “Australian”, with memories of Australian childhood – Hill’s hoist and Pope sprinkler – as if even though they have been deprived of that culture it will come to surface through our own recollections.
So why does he announce that he’s decided to support Paris-Saint Germain, then change to Manchester City? Surely his genetic make-up would have him jumping from the Western Bulldogs one week to anyone but Adelaide (if he wants to keep his pocket money) the next.
And fair go, he’s only 8, but why does he pronounce “G’day, mate” like an over-enthusiastic American tourist? There’s got to be at least one strand of DNA to stop that.
He and Bella do have some idea of their heritage. Bella ate damper at an Australian campout at her school in Abu Dhabi, and they’ve both passed wallabies at Al Bahia zoo, just off the Island, on their way to laugh at the Syrian goats (as soon as I learn how to add photos, it will be obvious. Until then, Google them for yourself).
They know Australian tunes. Waltzing Matilda, Home Among the Gum Trees, Redback on the Toilet Seat, songs from The Adventures of Barry McKenzie. One of their favourites is the politically charged Tony Abbott is a Duffer (I wrote that).
But there’s one facet of the picture Australians like to paint of themselves – as selective as it all too obviously is – that our kids have in spades. It’s the automatic acceptance that everyone is their equal. Even if some of them are “meanies”.
The population of the UAE is 80 to 85 per cent expatriate. Sleepovers in Arab, Filipino and Indian households have brought our kids to the understanding that different ways of living are part of what makes life interesting. And friends are friends.
They don’t eat or drink in front of kids who are fasting for Ramadan; they don’t talk of pork in front of Muslim friends, or beef in front of Hindu mates. And they don’t carry on as if this brings them any suffering.
We hope that when we do take them back to Australia – or “home” – they will bring that with them; that they will see through the mean-minded push to kick up every time a group of Muslim women ask for a couple of hours of privacy at a public swimming pool, and feel at least distaste whenever some elected knob-throttler bangs on about being forced to live under “Sharia law”.
Then, after indoctrinating them – by force, if necessary – into the Bulldogs fold, we’ll know we’ve done at least two things right as parents.