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Family diversity brings new reasons to feast



Spying from the upstairs bedroom window, we watched as the axe came down, sharp and swift, taking off the chicken's head.

Amy Thunig with her sisterBeing children in Cabramatta in the early 1990s, my older sister Jay and I were familiar with the neighbourhood backyards in our little cul-de-sac, filled with chickens and thriving vegetable patches.

We would play in and out of many of the homes, enjoying life in our diverse neighbourhood, and most of my memories of that time centre around food, either eating it or watching it be processed. I can still recall the sweetness of fresh corn, cooked in the rice cooker on a neighbour's kitchen bench, and the warmth of cheese and bacon rolls from the local French bakery, eaten on our way to school.

Years later, the opportunity to move out of public housing brought our family away from Cabramatta, to the region of Lake Macquarie. It was quieter there, I missed the rich and diverse sounds, smells and sights of Cabramatta, the range of food that surrounded us, and being close to the extended family we had grown up with. My new school was tiny, and the lead levels in the area from the local smelter were so high we were required to undertake annual blood tests at school.

We eventually adapted, as children do, and as I made friends and began to spend time in their homes, I realised that while ethnic diversity was less visible in our new town, each of the homes was still incredibly different to the others. Family structures, privilege, conflict resolution (or lack thereof), parenting styles and values all varied greatly within each home.

While we now lived in a less ethnically diverse region, our working-class, Indigenous Australian family grew increasingly diverse as time went on. I was 12 when my older sister Jay began to express an interest in Islam.

The closest our parents came to religion was worshiping at the altar of the National Rugby League, where the South Sydney Rabbitohs of course reign supreme. My parents supported our right to individual expression though, and my sister embracing faith was no different, so that Christmas it was decided that to be more inclusive of Jay and her faith, the leg of ham would be taken off of the lunch menu.


"I had feared loss, but our family becoming increasingly diverse has been a journey of gain."


I remember initially raging against this decision, despite the fact that I hated ham, and never ate it anyway. I was immature, and feared change and a perceived loss. Christmas came, was wonderful, and I of course didn't miss the meat I never would have eaten. It was a learning experience for me.

As my sister's faith deepened, she built relationships with friends who shared her faith, and was soon speaking Arabic, and cooking a wide range of Lebanese food. We no longer had ham at Christmas, but we now enjoyed lamb, garlic dips and baklava. I stopped fearing change, and after commencing my first university degree discovered that the language of academia was just as foreign to our family as when Jay would speak Arabic. We have each become expert code switchers.

Culture varies in so many ways, it impacts and shapes families and conversation, and as our family continued to evolve, with our younger sister becoming a vegetarian, we have had many a heated dinner table conversation. As Indigenous women, married to first generation Australians, our children have diverse heritages, and our family celebrations, languages and beliefs have grown, continuing to reflect our roots. I had feared loss, but our family becoming increasingly diverse has been a journey of gain.

Within media, social commentary, and remarks by politicians, I often see references to Islam (or to any ethnicities, practices or celebrations which fall outside of the white-centred national identity imposed by colonisation) framed as oppressive, destructive, and less-than. Such fear-mongering comments rely on people being triggered by a misled fear of loss, as I had been as an immature 12-year-old. But defining difference relies on an agreed upon definition of normal, and the normal which belongs to this land was disrupted with the arrival of the first fleet.

Watching my sister preparing stuffed zucchinis, readying for Eid al-Fitr, while our children play together in the backyard, I do not fear oppression from difference, or from my sister's faith. Diversity in our lives, in our family, has brought growth, beauty, and new reasons to feast together. Coming together, whether for birthdays, Christmas, graduations, or Eid (which commences next Thursday 14 June), our children learn of and acknowledge many cultures, histories, and beliefs.

I recognise that while as children my siblings and I did not grow up with financial privilege, we grew up with the blessing of being taught to respect and make space for one another, and for that I am deeply grateful.

Eid Mubarak (Blessed Eid) friends.



Amy ThunigAmy Thunig is a Kamilaroi woman, and researcher at the University of Newcastle. Undertaking a PhD in education, while juggling parenting and partnering, Amy's interests and writing centre around family life, Indigenous rights, social justice, academia, and education. She is the recipient of the 2018 Margaret Dooley Fellowship for Emerging Indigenous Writers.

Main image: Amy with her sister Jay.

Topic tags: Amy Thunig, Eid, Islam, Margaret Dooley, Indigenous Writers Fellowship



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Existing comments

Congratulations on achieving your Margaret Dooley Fellowship, Amy. I look forward to future thoughts and writings by you in our changing cultural landscape.

John | 08 June 2018  

Amy, what a wonderful, heart warming story! It resonated with warmth, love and humour. And reminded me of my own upbringing in the 1960's as a child in Greenacre. I still reminisce of those glorious cooking smells. Thank you for sharing.

Gail | 08 June 2018  

Mubarak on your Margaret Dooley Fellowship, Amy. And for this heart-warming family story. I am always intrigued about those inner and outer moments that lead to a different journey by your sister. A journey that is still obviously within your family. Eid Mubarak.

Jan Forrester | 12 June 2018  

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