“Its not going to work if we keep hating each other”

These are the words of a boy called Ali, who burned an Australian flag during the Cronulla race riots four years ago. I’m quoting from a documentary about Ali’s life changing walk on the Kokoda Track last year. I haven’t watched the whole thing yet, I only just discovered it today, but I have plans to sit down with a box of tissues and watch it all soon – it’s emotional stuff. Even the first few minutes show the changes in Ali’s life, from a youth angry enough to burn our flag, to a young man holding out his hand in reconciliation. If anything makes me proud to be Australian (I’m very suspicious of nationalism), it’s people like Ali. Well, perhaps that’s what make me proud to be human.

I’ve just embedded Part 1. You’ll need to go to You Tube for the rest.

I found this doco online because I had heard that some boys from Punchbowl Boys High School were walking Kokoda this year,starting on Anzac Day(April 25). I was impressed and wanted to know more. I always think of Anzac day as being just about the (mostly) Anglo Aussies who have fought in wars, and it has meaning for me because my father is a veteran of Kokoda. But I think these boys at Punchbowl are on the money:  to understand  the skippies* you need to understand our history. And war has had a huge impact on how we live and how we think. More than 65 years on since Kokoda,  Australians are more diverse, but we all have wars to heal from. The quote from Ali recognises that.

(* Skippies, or skips, is a slang term for anglo-celtic Australians. It’s not what we call ourselves … you probably won’t find it, ironically, in a dictionary of Aussie slang. It’s derived from the 60’s TV kid’s show about a “Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo”).

Not only did I find Ali’s story, I also discovered that the Punchbowl group is actually a mixed group of Lebanese Australians from Bankstown and life savers from Cronulla. I am pleased and proud that those community leaders are so committed to building respect and understanding between their communities. I imagine it wasn’t an easy trek emotionally, (it certainly wouldn’t be, physically) but I hope that both groups have learned a lot from each other.

Punchbowl boys is developing quite a relationship with Kokoda. I also discovered that in 2004 a group of ten boys, most of them Australian-born Lebanese Moslem, walked the track “as a rite of passage to Australian adulthood”. Here’s trek leader Major Charlie Lynn’s report to Parliament. The walk was apparently in response to media headlines that Punchbowl Boys was the worst school in Australia. Well I don’t think it could be the worst any more.  I think other schools could learn a few things from Punchbowl Boys.

I’ve just embedded Part 1. You’ll need to go to You Tube for the rest.

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