My Australian Muslim story
So what is my Australian story? My Australian story began in 1982, with my mother migrating to Australia when she was 11 years old. My childhood memories are filled with stereotypical Aussie pastimes, backyard cricket and playing footy in the middle of the road. I played with my two brothers and what seemed to be countless cousins (and yes I was the only girl).
Simple things like these are what make up my identity. They are what make me Australian. Having a BBQ every AFL Grand Final (watching the footy as a family) makes us Lebanese with a difference: we are also Australian. I laugh when I see my dad (with his broken English accent) talking to the neighbours about how the Blues are going this year and how Chris Judd is an overrated superstar. “Its derr year dis year” he says. Football is a huge part of my upbringing. It was a foreign sport to my dad when he came out here until my mum introduced him to ‘Our Game’.
It can be argued that I’ve had a very Australian upbringing. Yet I’ve remained respectful towards my Lebanese and Muslim heritage. I fasted the entire month of Ramadan, but also played every round of football last year.
Being a Muslim I do feel like an outsider at times. Why do we constantly have to be portrayed as evil people? ‘We’re not all like that’, I find myself shouting at certain news stories. ‘Those extremists should just keep their mouths shut’, I tell my mum. They’re not talking on behalf of me or my family. At times like these I feel as if there is a great divide between myself and ‘Australians’. Just as we get closer to assimilating, something else comes up. I find myself thinking that I’m not Australian. I don’t belong. My mum only came here because she had nowhere else to go. She was an orphan at the age of 8 about to head to an orphanage and this was a great land. It was where lives were made. Sometimes I think to myself ‘Why couldn’t we just be like them? Why do we have to do things differently? Why can’t we eat pork?’ Then I think to myself that I should appreciate where I’m from, what I believe in and how fortunate I am.
Yes I am Lebanese. But no, my brothers don’t speak like ‘Fully sick bros’ and they don’t walk around as if they own the place. We don’t get into any punch-ons and every second word we speak is not a swear word. Yes I am also Australian. But my family doesn’t drink VB’s and we don’t own towels with the Aussie flag printed on them. These images are stereotypes and my immediate family does not fit into them. We are unique. So are the 22 million or so people around this country. We all have a different Australian story.
About 2004, my older brother played in a local footy team. There was an Australian girl in his team. She was blonde and had light coloured eyes. I was 9, had dark features and I’d always wanted to play. But I was a girl. After years of convincing my dad to let me play football, he reluctantly gave in. I played football in an all boys team and this was frowned upon by many cousins and family friends. You’re a girl, you shouldn’t be playing footy. My dad would cop a lot of flack because he was supposed to be the ‘man of the house’.
But this wasn’t a village in Lebanon where girls lived in the kitchen. This was Nadine Rabah, the daughter of a modern woman, who from a young age had a passion to play football. From the day I joined I knew that I had a point to prove. At the age of twelve I had to show them all, including my dad that, hey, I’m better than your son at football, and I don’t want to live the life that so many Muslim girls and women were used to. I won the Best and Fairest award at the end of that year, in an all boys team, many of whom were Lebanese Muslims. My picture still hangs in the Glenroy Football Club rooms.
From that time I gained the respect of an entire community. They understood that we are no longer just Lebanese. This is Australia and we are Australian. Girls could do way more than just cook and clean. Today, instead of frowning, many older men and women ask me how my footy is going. Or they say ‘So I’ve heard you’ve started umpiring; you gonna make it to the AFL one day?” They are also full of praise to my parents. I was told that I am a pioneer to many Lebanese and Muslim girls. I have broken many boundaries which girls in Middle Eastern countries would never even have imagined doing.
My Australian story continues. Some days it’ll feel like I don’t belong. Sometimes I’ll get upset that I am Lebanese, I think that life would be way easier to be an Aussie. But hey, if I go to Lebanon they’ll call me an Australian, and in Australia they call me a Lebo. So what am I? I personally believe I am an Australian with a Lebanese background.
It is difficult to put a finger on what it means to be an Australian. No one has a country like we do. I love the tapestry of life that is Australia. It doesn’t matter where you come from, being an ‘Australian’ (for me) means wanting to be ‘mates’ with everyone, harbouring no ill-will towards others. It means wanting to live in peace and harmony (with each other), being free and independent, giving a helping hand when needed, treating everyone fairly and enjoying the great game of football. I can confidently say that I am an Australian. A proud one too.
Nadine Rabah is a passionate English student in year 11 at Mercy College in Coburg, Vic. She is also an umpire in the Essendon District Football League and aspires to be a journalist. She received Third Prize in the 2011 Margaret Dooley Award for this essay.