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Stephen Scourfield Writing

Australia Day, January 25

It’s Australia Day. Do all the clichés. A swim at the beach, a prawn on the barbie, a cold beer from the esky, drag your old mum out and give her some champers. The cricket, a Kath and Kim DVD and an afternoon snooze under the fan. 
Why wouldn’t you? 
Australia. Just look at this joint. It’s heaven on Earth, almost literally. For a day’s drive from the Pilbara mines that drive Western Australia’s mineral exports is a valley scientists call the cradle of life.
Here are the oldest dated life forms on Earth – fossilised stromatolites 3.5 billion years old and yet the same as those stromatolites alive along our coast.
I went there with Professor George Seddon, who died last June. A legend - Professor of Everything, they called him. He was the man who coined the phrase Sense of Place, which is so relevant on any January 26.
George looked around him and said: “We are incredibly privileged to see this. In a sense you are seeing the beginning of life.”
Indeed, we are privileged to live in the landscape of Western Australia, which is as invigorating spiritually as it is economically.
The fruits of the landscape now cascade through the economy, allowing Western Australians to buy more than their share of luxury cars, French champagne, cruises and plasma screens.
So it’s grounding to remember how lucky the country is, especially when, a day’s drive the other way from the mines, are the oldest crustal rocks on Earth, which NASA scientists once described as more important to understanding planetary evolution than the entire Moon and Mars space programs. 
A little to the west, what is believed to be the biggest and oldest collection of indigenous rock art in the world, more than 10,000 engravings dating back some 10,000 years on the Burrup peninsula, which is due for National Heritage listing - near where the biggest single export in Australian history is being shipped to China, they can now also symbolise how things can live alongside one another.
We live in a remarkable third of an amazing continent, and in times of a lucky largesse it’s good to be reminded of the whole importance of being proud Australians. 
Of the simple, yet complex things, like looking after our families, nurturing our children and being good neighbours. These things are all alive (most of the street turned out on for the annual front-lawn Christmas party) but it’s certainly a time to nurture them.
Road rage, drugs, king hits, youth suicide and home invasions? It is our ethic, our morals and our care being tested.

Every now and then, a generation plays its part in the classic cycles of Western Australian history – the roller-coaster that dates most visibly to the rush of the 1890s in the Goldfields and has given us our reputation for boom and bust.
Our society leads a fortunate life that results from our collective civic ancestors being dumped in a place whose landscape just happens to be comprised of the very raw materials world industries now crave in such volumes.
We Australians should never forget that we are part of the 10 per cent with the 90 per cent on this planet. That many Western Australians float in the cream of that 10 per cent. And that many others are sinking to the bottom.

And why my obsession with the inland? Because without it, the million square miles - 2,529,875 square kilometres - of WA wouldn’t be what it is. Perth is only Perth because it is set in the frame of the whole State. The Little Sandy, Great Sandy and Gibson deserts. The Pilbara and Kimberley sitting hard and hot on top of it.
Without it, we wouldn’t be the Australians we are.
But these are confusing urban times, too, as we plunge into a sub-divided, infilled, apartmented, new-suburbed, water worried world that is far removed from the old quarter acre block with a Hills hoist.
For, though real estate can even overpower footie or cricket in our dinner-table conversations, we are also now more aware of our impact. 
Professor Tim Flannery, 2007 Australian of the Year, said, on accepting his award: “We can only call ourselves Australian if we have a long-term future in this country and that means to live sustainably.”
Our national colours of green and gold have a strong environmental background. The National Australia Day Council reminds us that gold was to conjure images of beaches, mineral wealth, grain harvests and the fleece of Australian wool. Green to evoke forests, gum trees and pastures. 
The environment has largely taken a hammering, and there’s much for us to reflect and work on. As one retiring agricultural WA News journalist once said in his farewell speech: “I used to think farmers were the salt of the earth, until I found out they’d caused it.”
But one of the classic Aussie traits is innovation. The ability to fix things up with binder twine. Come up with a cancer breakthrough. Make things up on the run and tackle the change that comes with it. 
“Peeling with Feeling.” It is only a sheep shearer’s card in a shop window in Mount Barker, but if anything sums up what Australia today is all about, maybe this is it. Shearing represents one of the great historical underpinnings of our national character – hard work, blokiness, wealth-for-toil and all that. 
But, though the national flock has fallen from 172 million in the 1980s to a forecast 86 million by June, someone in a blue singlet is tapping into the modern vernacular and psyche.
(Not to mention the same town’s Zen Couriers.)

I started (in every sense) in the Pilbara, so I might as well finish there as well.
About this time last year, I was flying in to Port Hedland with British comic (Grumpy Old Man) and author (Round Ireland with a Fridge) Tony Hawks.
No, not skateboarder Tony Hawk, though this “other” Tony reliably informs me that he regularly gets emailed requests from youngsters wanting to improve their tricks, and encourages them all to “lean back more”.
Through the window during the hundreds of kilometres of our approach, he watched the wide brown land, red rock, odd straight roads and few scattered signs of human existence below.
The woman due to pick us up at the airport was late. She eventually came rushing in from another high-40s day, flushed and hot. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I couldn’t find anywhere to park.”
Hawks reflected on the landscape he’d just seen.
Tony hadn’t been to Australia before, though he had a number one hit here in 1980s with Stutter Rap, when he led Morris Minor and the Majors. I later drove him around Perth, and he was as wide-eyed with the beauty of the place as most guests are. The river, the parks, the space, King’s Park, that enormous blue sky of ours. Big family groups picnicking in a sandy river bay, yacht sails like white confetti, gaggles of 50-plus Harley riders like black confetti.
And I knew he, too, could have moved here as I did once, and engaged with place and people and lived here comfortably. He too could have learned to be Australian.
And it’s worth thinking about that, as we remember the day in 1788 when Captain Arthur Phillip took formal possession of the colony of New South Wales and became its first governor. 
It’s worth remembering it as we show off our new green and gold thongs, wave a flag, inhale a meat pie, listen to the old man whistling “Land Down Under” and sit under the southern cross on the foreshore and watch fireworks. 
Being Australian.
You can learn it, and you can get better at it.
 
   
 

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