I wrote back-to-back pieces about winter, or the initial lack thereof, and what did we get? Over 40 inches of snow over two weeks.
This week I put my serious-writer face on (momentarily), and wrote about…terrorism. What did we get? Well, no blizzard, and no terrorism, thank God.
I also interviewed a handful of other Aussies living in Maine for their perspectives on “the lucky country” since they’ve left.
Australia not the ‘Lucky Country’ it once was
Adrian Crawford and other Australians living in Maine say terrorism is now a worry back home, just as it is in the U.S.
It’s no secret, neither here nor elsewhere in the world, that news coverage in the United States can be somewhat insular.
In defense of that – and commercial interests aside – this is a pretty huge country and there’s a lot to cover. I get it: sometimes there’s just no room in the bulletins (or newspapers, or homepages) for international news.
So while it’s initially a somewhat pleasant surprise when one of my coworkers says there’s a story on the wire with an Australian dateline, that surprise often turns to the dread of “uh oh, what’s happening back home?”
In the 14 or so months that I’ve worked in central Maine, not a great deal of that news from Down Under has been pleasant: bushfires, heat waves, even a high-speed police chase and shootout in the northern suburbs of my home city.
Seemingly the worst news of all came in December, when two people and a gunman were killed during a hostage situation in a cafe in downtown Sydney, less than 600 feet from the U.S. Consulate where I received my green card just over a year beforehand.
In the early hours of the siege, there were reports that it was an act of terrorism carried out by people loyal to the Islamic State. I probably don’t need to give any further background on that particular group. After the siege was over, further investigation revealed that it was not terrorism but the work of “a damaged-goods individual who did something outrageous,” according to the gunman’s one-time attorney.
News of the siege, and the alleged ISIS connection, spread fast on social media (as these things are wont to do) and several coworkers and friends asked me whether I could believe that sort of thing could happen in my homeland. To put it simply? No.
A potentially even more dangerous situation arose in Sydney this week as police arrested two men on charges of planning a terrorist attack linked to the Islamic State. Again, my initial reaction was, “this isn’t the sort of thing that happens in Australia.”
But that doesn’t appear to be the case anymore. Even the Prime Minister believes so, saying in Parliament: “This is a serious problem, and I fear Madam Speaker it will get worse before it gets better.” I’ve learned this week that I’m not the only Australian in Maine with that concern.
Nic Parker of Old Orchard Beach, who immigrated from Chelsea, Victoria, to Maine in 2010, believes that to an extent, Australia’s potential to be a target for conflict may come with the territory.
“We are a small country but one that will always support the U.S. and [Great Britain] in their efforts and provide troops where needed,” he told me via email this week.
“I do think Australia is a target because of [military] association with the US … But I also think that generally terrorists go for the higher chance of casualties and so Australia would not be high on the target list because of the lack of a dense population. The whole world is a little less safe than 10 years ago … but Australia as a small country is not as unsafe.”
Back in 2012, when I first announced to family and friends my intentions to move to the U.S., amidst all the support and encouragement there was some concern for my safety, particularly with regards to the threat of shootings or potential acts of terrorism. There’s no denying that gun laws are very different here than they are back home (which is certainly not something I care to get into in this space), and the United States and indeed the world have been very different places since the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
I’m certain that the concerns of my loved ones came, on some level, from a mindset that “that sort of thing couldn’t happen in Australia,” which I can’t really fault.
Parker views the U.S. as a safe place to live, a sentiment echoed by Judie Moore, a Sydneysider who moved to Machias in 1998 and who now lives in Garland.
“I feel relatively safe in Maine since it is a very rural state, but I find myself being more cautious than when I first moved here,” she said. The Martin Place hostage situation, Moore told me, made her feel that “Australia is more of a target” than when she lived there. “I felt that my homeland had been violated.”
Mary Burr, a fellow Brisbane transplant who’s called Mercer home since 1976, also attributed a feeling of safety to Maine’s more spread-out nature.
“I’m optimistic by nature and perhaps it is living in rural Maine where life hasn’t changed a whole lot, that I feel safe in this community. We still know and can rely on our neighbors and we know the people we do business with in our surrounding communities,” she told me this week.
Burr went on to muse that maybe any increase in frequency of conflict in the world is more perception than reality.
“Are there more disturbances than past eras or are we just made more aware of them with immediate technology? I don’t know!” she said.
“I don’t feel Australia is less safe as a result of the hostage event, however, with a face on a movement that is out to cause terror world-wide, it is disconcerting and I feel that is the feeling world-wide, not just in Australia.”
While the moniker was originally used ironically, Australia’s nickname has long been “the Lucky Country,” and for many reasons that rings true. Alongside the beautiful scenery and curious wildlife that everyone’s heard about, there’s also government-subsidized healthcare, low unemployment, an incredible climate and, putting Fosters aside, our beer is pretty great too.
But the stereotypical laid-back Aussie attitude and sheer geographical distance from anything resembling direct conflict doesn’t seem to be enough anymore. Our world continues to change, and despite what I and others might feel, “these sorts of things” can happen anywhere.