Sitting in the kitchen with my mum a few weeks ago, I had the immense privilege of telling her that on January 26 I would be appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for significant service to the community, particularly in the area of refugee support.
I felt a real sense of joy in this because I know it is not something I’ve achieved alone. It is an achievement that began with my parents, whose story I’ve shared before. When I told my mum about this recognition, she said she never would have believed that her family could achieve such things when she arrived on our shores as an immigrant in the 1950s.
My parents lived simple but inherently good lives. Their resilience and capacity for generosity are values they instilled in me and my sisters, and that I now see with pride in my own children.
I think my father, as a former military man, would have particularly loved the idea of me joining an order of chivalry. As I sat in the kitchen with mum and my family, we reflected on my father’s medal, which was framed on the wall behind us. He was a captain in the Greek National Army during the civil war, and was injured and recognised for his bravery.
My dad passed away in his sleep in 1990 when he was 64 years old, leaving a big gap in our lives. He was a man of great value and integrity, who always thought about the common good. My mum, who is now in the twilight of her life, is enjoying seeing her children and grandchildren build a positive cultural, spiritual and political identity in Australia. We are connected to our country of birth but also to our Greek heritage.
That capacity to live with and appreciate an array of beliefs, cultures and perspectives is a thing of great value.
It is not lost on me that the day the Australian Honours are announced – January 26 – is a date that means different things to different people. Many celebrate our national day, Australia Day, with barbecues or festivities. Others receive their citizenship and are able to participate in all aspects our society.
For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, January 26 is a day of mourning, marking the beginning of the loss of Indigenous land, people and culture. This year, tens of thousands of Australians marched in ‘Invasion Day’ rallies to mark the anniversary of the First Fleet’s arrival in Sydney.
For me, January 26 is a day of ambivalence because of our country’s inability to come to terms with this history and to unify with our First Nation’s People. How can we celebrate a day of national unity on a date that excludes so many?
I hope that the year ahead is one of continuing reflection for our nation, and deeper curiosity and understanding about the experiences of our neighbours. I hope that, when we next come together in a celebration of national unity, it is one that includes all the voices, beliefs, aspirations and experiences that add to the rich multicultural mosaic of our nation.