In this series of regular articles, our Melbourne-based correspondent meets the Positively Scottish Humans of Oz
Australia is one of the most multicultural nations on the planet. According to latest data, one in four Australians were born overseas, with around half the population having a parent who was born in another country. This cultural diversity means it’s no longer unusual for people to fall in love with someone outside their own ethnic group. In fact, more than half of all marriages in Australia these days are between people with different cultural backgrounds. British expats rank as both the largest immigrant group in Australia and the most likely to shack up with someone from another country. Among them is Paul Graham from Cumbernauld (pictured above, front, with partner Dan, right), who not only found love in his new home, but also a new culture.
By the time I was 25, I had already been working in advertising and marketing for nine years and I kind of felt I’d given up the young part of my life. All of my friends were travelling, so I decided to take a year out and go and see a bit of the world. I put my career on hold and came to Australia on a one-year working holiday visa.
I flew into Perth, which was like nothing I had ever seen before. I arrived in Australia’s winter, and people in jackets and scarves were looking at me in shorts and a singlet like I was crazy, but for me it was roasting hot. Boiling. It was the best summer I’d ever had!
I spent six months in Perth working at Monkey Mia, a holiday resort where wild dolphins come to the beach every day to be fed. After a while, it started to feel a bit insular so eight years ago, I decided to move to Sydney. A few years later, I was finding it really difficult to make new friends, because it’s a big city and people often stick to their own groups.
Around this time, my mum suddenly passed away in Scotland, which was a big shock for me. I had been talking to her one day and then the next day, she was gone. I didn’t have time to speak to her before she died. It was just a phone call to say, ‘mum’s died’. I flew home for her funeral, but then found it quite difficult to make the decision to come back to Australia again. All of my family are in Scotland, all of my friends from school, all the people I grew up with were all there. I had that instant support network when I went back.
However, as much as my mum was always saying she missed me terribly when I lived in Australia, she was really encouraging of me to stay because she knew I was having such a wonderful experience and that there was lots of opportunities for me here. So I decided I was going to come back and give it a go and, if I found it too difficult, then I would just go back to Scotland again.
About three months after I returned to Australia, I met my partner, Dan, completely unexpectedly. We’ve now been together four years and, where once I was feeling like I didn’t have family in Australia and was finding it hard to make new friends, since meeting Dan, that’s all changed. We now have our own friends who have accepted me into their circle and are now my family here.
Both of us come from totally different backgrounds—I’m Scottish and Dan is half Chinese, so we’ve got this real multicultural group of friends. Every year, Dan and all his friends and all my friends get together and we do Burns Supper. This year we had 16 friends over at our place and we cooked them haggis, neeps and tatties, and we made tablet. One of my friends had come over from the UK and brought us a tartan table runner and tartan napkins so it was really authentic—even sitting outside in 30-something degrees! This year Burns Night fell around the time as Australia Day and Chinese New Year as well, so it was a really diverse of mix of people and cultures.
Last year, we went back to spend Christmas with my family in Scotland, so it was the first time they all met and it was Dan’s first white Christmas. It was also the first Christmas I went back after my mum passed away and it was really difficult because she actually passed away a few days before Christmas. But it really helped having Dan come back with me, and my brother had just had a little baby as well, so we were able to replace that sadness with some really nice moments and events.
Dan and I also went to Shanghai about two years ago, which was amazing. We’ve even spoken about trying to make haggis dumplings. We thought it could be a little side business. I think people would be into it!
Meeting Dan just opened up my world, and my experiences and culture. And something else that’s come out of this is that I feel I have fallen much more in love with Scotland, even though I don’t live there any more. I’m very proud of my Scottish heritage, and am really enjoying having things like Burns Suppers and teaching people here about Scottish culture. And the best thing is, Dan totally embraces it and flies that flag for me as well.
My mum used to always say that things happen for a reason and obviously everything that happened with her, and my choice to come back to Australia, happened for a reason. Although it can be really difficult when you move to the other side of the world—and bad things can happen—really good things come of them as well.