When I think about it, it’s been a crappy few years in Australia, and in fact for much of the world. There’s been little to celebrate, and much otherwise to fear, decry or sadden.
Yesterday was one of the better days in recent Australian history. Yesterday the heart soared, and it felt good to be an Aussie again.
There were two big moments yesterday, both of which might have soured, but this time came out just the right way.
Last night the Socceroos played Honduras in Sydney for the right to compete in the World Cup in Russia next year. It was a big event, a big crowd, and a lot riding on it.
Even before last night’s game, the Socceroos had created history. No team had ever played so many matches to qualify for the World Cup. No team had ever travelled so far – the equivalent of six times around the world, they say. It had been long and arduous, and more recently, controversial and testy. Last night was it, one way or another.
Coming into the match playing on our home ground gave us the advantage, but at half-time, the score was nil-all, and we were getting nervous. In the second half the game broke open, and Mile Jedinak, the skip, scored three times – twice from the penalty spot, and another from a deflected free-kick.
That was it. There was a great outpouring of relief and happiness on the ground, in the stands, and lounge rooms all over Australia. Sitting in my lounge room, I exchanged SMS with friends who had been watching in their home and engaged in social media. On Twitter I wrote I want to be Mile Jedinak when I grow up – such a great leader and commanding presence, we had lost our way without him, and came good with him back.
I feel sorry for the Hondurans. They fought passionately, but they were always a class below.
Earlier in the day, something else had happened, which should have a more enduring impact on the nation.
The much-criticised plebiscite on Same-Sex Marriage turned out to be a resounding success, with more than 80% of Australians having their say. It was always thought that the Yes vote would win, but as always in moments like this, as indeed in World Cup qualifiers, you’re never sure of the result until the whistle blows. Yesterday the whistle blew on the plebiscite, and the results announced: a little over 61% of Australians said “Yes’ to same-sex marriage.
This was a great and emotional moment. At work, a crowd had congregated in the staff dining area to watch the results announced on TV. I think every one of them hoped for the Yes result – I’ve yet to meet anyone who professes anything else. With it announced the news spread, there were high fives in the office and cheering. Around the country, there were much greater celebrations.
This was a result I was very committed to, but it doesn’t affect me. For hundreds of thousands of other Australians, the result of this plebiscite had a direct on their life and destiny. All going well, this should pass into law sometime before Christmas, and those Australians can go off and married their loved one, just like the rest of us. It is a great moment of inclusiveness and an acknowledgement that we are all equal, and with the rights now to enshrine it.
I felt so proud and happy. I believed that Australia would vote that way. It’s a victory for compassion, decency, and that great Australian dictum, a fair go for all. I am at times critical of our society, but I’ve always thought that Australians are natural democrats – it’s why we are renowned for being egalitarian. We’ll judge you on your merits, not on your title, wealth, or if you happen to be heterosexual or gay.
A final observation on this – anyone who witnessed Penny Wong break down at the announcement and wasn’t moved is a mug. She is a woman I admire greatly, very smart, a little fierce, a decent human being. She also happens to be gay. She rode this politically, but it was also very personal. Her tears gave expression to the relief and pure justice of this moment.