Highland dancers at Brigadoon

There’s a line from the movie The Castle that always cracks me up.  When Tracey, the hairdresser comes back from her honeymoon in Thailand, she tells her family that Thailand is ‘Chockers with culcha.’  This pretty much reflects the Australian attitude to culture – that it’s something you find overseas.

It’s a bizarre attitude in a country where virtually everyone has a migrant history (except indigenous Australians, of course).  But maybe because we’re a young country, we also tend to be a forward-looking nation.  People come here looking for new opportunities and hence the emphasis is very much on the future.  My own father migrated to Australia from Scotland as a teenager and never went back until just a few years ago.  He made his home in Australia and considers himself to be Australian.

Even so, I’d say I grew up with a strong sense of my own Scottish heritage.  The Scots have always been good at that – they manage to embrace their new home, but still retain a strong sense of their Scottish culture and traditions.  In our home, there was always plenty of Granny’s homemade shortbread, we ate porridge for breakfast, we wore kilts to church on Sunday and on New Years Eve (Hogmany) we’d always have a wee dram and dance a jig to Scotland the Brave.

All this ‘culcha’ must have rubbed off somewhere, when you consider that two of my daughter’s four names are Scottish.  Even before she was born I used to play her Capercaillie in the womb- they’re a Scottish folk band who sing haunting traditional songs in the Gaelic language.  Just recently, I took her to Brigadoon, the big Scottish gathering in the Southern Highlands.  I had a great time dressing her up in Scottish clothing, and we all enjoyed watching swordfighting, Highland dancing and the outrageous sporting event known as cabre tossing.  (If you haven’t seen it, that’s where you have to lift a log the size of telegraph pole onto your shoulder, throw it up and make it rotate).  Crazy stuff.

I remember last Mother’s Day, Birdy gave me a special Irish leaf tea.  When I told her my tea came all the way from Ireland, she replied, ‘Yes and my milk came all the way from Scotland.’  Even at two, she knew something about this place called Scotland.  So even though we’re very much Australian, (seventh generation on my Mum’s side) I hope I can nurture some sense of pride in Birdy over her Scottish heritage.  After all, we all need to know where we come from.

Have you tried to encourage your child to take an interest in their cultural heritage?  Do you speak a language other than English at home?  Have you retained traditional dress, cuisine, music or customs from another culture?  How do you foster a positive sense of being Australian, while still valuing another cultural identity?

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