A thank you note from an Aussie refugee

Max Jeganathan ponders the complexities of Australia Day from a unique vantage point, having arrived here as a refugee in 1984.

It was a dark July night when a government-sanctioned paramilitary gang burned our home to the ground and left us with nothing but my baby bottle and nappy bag. We had survived our brush with Sri Lanka’s civil war, but we had been thrown out of our home and – soon after – our country.  

Within a couple of months, our second chance emerged in the form of a foreign land 7000 kilometres away – Australia.  

From the moment we landed here in July 1984, we knew that there were two realities that would mark our identities. We would always be refugees; and we would always be Australian. 

This year marks my 39th Australia Day. 39 reminders that Australia opened the pathways of welcome, belonging and opportunity to me and my family. On any measure, I’ve had a fair go.  

I know that too many of my fellow Australians are still waiting for their ‘fair go’. Being Australian means, among so many other things, that I now share in our national project of addressing injustice, seeking truth and striving for a better Australia.  

It would be wrong for me not to acknowledge the painful associations of this day for aboriginal people, and the fraught subject of how and when to commemorate and also lament what began with the landing of the First Fleet.  

It would be wrong, as well, for me not to express the gratitude I feel at the gift of being Australian.  

In the Bible, King David declares: “The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.” 

As a refugee and as an Australian, his thankful words are also mine. My hope is that more of my fellow Australians would experience this joy, and the gratitude that comes with it.