31 years ago today, I was born to a wonderful Portuguese immigrant family, in a hospital in Wollongong on the South Coast of New South Wales, with a full birth name of Ricardo Jorge Goncalves (Jorge, pronounced George, not Hor-hay).
But, despite the very, very Portuguese name, I’m as Aussie as they come.
As we approach Australia Day, it got me wondering what being Australian really means. What is the Australian culture? What does a typical Australian look like these days? Is Australia truly multicultural?
Last night, in his Australia Day address, neurosurgeon Dr Charlie Teo spoke of the racism he endured, and more recently, his daughter, despite their obvious Australian accents. They have asian backgrounds.
Growing up in Wollongong, I spent the first five years of my life speaking Portuguese as my first language. It wasn’t really until I hit primary school when English was really introduced, and it was in my first year, when the nuns anointed me “Richard”.
I, nor my family didn’t really question it, or make a big deal about it. It kind of just happened. Instead of being called Ricardo at school, I was Richard. The bizarre thing was that I probably went to one of the most ethnic catholic primary schools in Wollongong, so surely it wasn’t because of my cultural background or an attempt to anglicise me.
So, throughout my schooling life, I was Richard Goncalves (Gone-karlves). I excelled at school, even topping my English classes culminating in 3 unit English at high school (I never want to hear about the subject matter of Utopias and Anti-Utopias again) and was the College Captain at my high school, Edmund Rice College. At the same time, I worked hard to earn a bit of cash, respected my family and contributed to the local Portuguese community dancing at my local folk group, and Wollongong community at large through various endeavours.
I was your typical Aussie kid growing up, I just happened to have a Portuguese family, who worked tremendously hard, and ate lots of espetada and on the odd occasion, milho. Look them up.
Did I ever feel a sense of racism directly aimed at me? Not really, but in my early adulthood, I was told by a nightclub bouncer in Wollongong that I was refused entry into a club because my hair was too dark. It was a common excuse.
Richard stuck with me for 24 years, even as I started work on air as a journalist. Again, I didn’t question it, and I didn’t think much about it to be honest. My birth certificate and official documents said Ricardo, everything else, Richard. Even my parents were calling me Richard.
But when given the chance to work at SBS, an Australian television network with a bit of a multicultural skew, it was suggested that maybe I’d like to return to my birth name. What a great opportunity to return to really help define what it is to be Australian.
So I have a woggy name. But hey, that’s who I am, and that’s what it is to be Australian. (And a chance to get some publicity and attention for myself for the name change, I do have a marketing degree after all).
Australia is a melting pot of different nationalities, respecting each other to help live the Australian way. What is the Australian way? Ignore the stereotypes, it’s not about throwing a shrimp on the BBQ, or slapping Vegemite on some burnt toast.
Nor, to the other extent is it about cultural exclusion.
It’s about people that live in Australia who come from different backgrounds simply respect each other, to help each other strive to be the best they can be, and the best this young country can be.
It’s as simple as that.
I’m Ricardo Goncalves, I’m Australian, I just happen to have a Portuguese background. It doesn’t define me. What does is the way I treat and respect my fellow Aussies.
Oh, and it’s my birthday today, two days before Australia Day. That’s pretty Aussie hey?