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Book Review - How to Be Australian: An Outsider's View on Life and Love Down Under

The sub-zero temperatures of her native Canada prompted Ashley Kalagian Blunt and her husband to seek out the warmer climes of Sydney, Australia. After living in several countries that were culturally very different from her own, Ashley thought that fitting into the Australian way of life would be a breeze, but she was to find some very unexpected and perplexing differences.

The outwardly carefree attitude of Australians, who walked barefoot down the street and sped downhill on wheeled eskies, belied some darker truths. Our tall poppy syndrome, cultural cringe, and caustic humour often left Ashley feeling hurt and confused.

Like her homeland, Australia was founded on colonialism, and Ashley’s growing awareness of our history of genocide and our treatment of refuges contributes to her unease. Coming from a family of Armenian immigrants, Ashley was distressed to see people fleeing persecution locked up and treated like criminals, instead of being supported to develop a life here in Australia.

Ashley has a finely tuned appreciation of Australian flora and fauna and makes it her business to learn the names of the plants and animals she encounters in her daily life. She gets to know the calls of the many birds around her and will stop whatever she is doing to listen to the laugh of a kookaburra, if there is one nearby. She has probably seen more of the country than most people who were born here, travelling from one end of the east coast to the other, and even across to Western Australia.

While she finds much to love in her new home, the decision to make the move permanent is an anguished one. Ashley worries about her aging parents, and the nieces and nephews who she won’t see growing up, as she waxes and wanes between staying in Australia or returning to Canada.

I loved seeing my country through the eyes of a newcomer, especially the descriptions of my hometown of Melbourne. Although the book is delightfully funny and I often found myself laughing out loud, Ashley highlights the serious injustices at the heart of our nation that need to be addressed.

Ashley’s descriptions of the city she left behind piqued my curiosity, and I found myself looking it up online. With its stately city and natural beauty as well as stable employment and affordable housing, Winnipeg looks quite appealing. So, who knows, maybe one day I’ll check it out and find out how to be Canadian.

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