According to the official Australian citizenship document, mateship is “helping and receiving help from others, especially in difficult times”, while Wikipedia calls mateship an “Australian cultural idiom that embodies equality, loyalty and friendship”. Much like South Africa’s ubuntu, it is this ideology that kicks in naturally when an individual or community is in need, and is the glue – in this case – that binds Australians together.
It was particularly evident this week with the senseless Sydney hostage situation, which resulted in the unnecessary deaths of two innocent lives. From the morning when the hostage situation began, you could feel a sense of gloom floating above the city of Melbourne. Even if people knew their own loved ones were safe, there was this shared heartbreak and fear of any harm coming upon those on Australian soil. Twitter was full of positive messages and prayers for those affected by these attacks, but none were as powerful as the #illridewithyou tweets – a simple notion birthed out of a horrible tragedy that brought light to the beauty of mateship here in Aus. A message of love and solidarity for those who were vulnerable to bigotry or verbal/physical attacks – that no harm would come upon them while the rest of Australia bonded together to protect them. It was so simple, yet so deep and powerful. For sure, I had experienced my own share of pride and protection while living in South Africa, as well as in the U.S. (particularly after 9/11), but this one really touched me deeply.
The following day, I walked by the Lindt store here in Melbourne, which is only a few doors down from where we live, and something inside me just stopped in my tracks when I saw the flowers beginning to pile up around the windows. People were also stopping to take photos and observe, while others hugged and shed a few tears. There were small written messages of hope, love, peace and a sense of unity – that this attack would never break Australia. That the mateship which binds each person here to one another can’t be broken by anything or anyone. As I’ve passed by it several times this week, the tributes continue to grow, and more flowers and messages are posted on the windows and on the ledges.
Although we’ve only been here for five months, I truly do feel a sense of belonging here in our adopted country. That we somehow fit into this beautiful concept of mateship. And that’s not to say it was only within the attack on Sydney, but I see it daily – people helping a mother struggling to get her stroller onto the tram, someone offering their lunch to a homeless person. It’s hard not to love this country, and the welcoming people in it, and I’m so proud to be a part of it.