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What does it mean to be a local?

3 September 20150 comments

You love a meat pie, always greet someone with ‘g’day’ and crave the smell of salt air. But do characteristics typically considered ‘Aussie’ really have anything to do with feeling a part of the place you call home?

Australians talk a lot about being a ‘local’, which could partially be because a quarter of us came from somewhere else.

According to the 2011 Australian Bureau of Statistics Census, 26 per cent of Australia’s population was born overseas.

That means that 5.3 million Australians acquired the title of ‘local’ through not mere birthright, but through creating a home.

Considering yourself a ‘local’ in the place in which you live, or being considered a ‘local’ by others, is a tricky business.

There’s often a checklist that revolves around how long you’ve lived somewhere; the level of your community involvement; and/or the depth of your geographical understanding.

But is being a local really just knowing that this is where you’ll stay from here on in; where you’ll raise your family and where you’ll be when you draw your last breath?

Or is it far more complex than that, a different proposition for residents and their personal definition of the term.

Definitions can vary from town to city, and state to country.

“Being local does not mean that you were born and raised here,” says University of Hawaii Ethnic Studies Professor Jonathan Okamura of his home state Hawaii.

“If you have this appreciation of Hawaii, the land here, the people here and the cultures here, that’s what makes people local.”

You can spend years in once place and feel constant detachment from it, or a few days and feel immediately at home. To define oneself as a local is to admit to a certain sense of self belonging.

Cat Dawe moved to Melbourne from London two years ago and now strongly considers herself a ‘local’.

“How you define what it takes to be a local depends on who you are as a person and your interests. For me it doesn’t necessarily have to do with being involved in the community, but knowing the streets like the back of my hand and feeling at home,” said Cat.

Considering the variety of languages, religions, ancestries and birthplaces that have made up Australia’s richly diverse society throughout its history, it makes sense that an understanding of that is an important part of being local.

“I don’t define ’local’ based on whether or not we do stereotypical local things, but rather celebrating the relationships between those ethnic groups that have created what Australia is now and will transform into,” said Cat.

“I believe you can call yourself a local when you openly welcome a newcomer.”



Ruby Brown
AMES Australia Staff Writer