Follow Your Roots: dreaming of Sri Lanka
Many people are extremely surprised when I tell them that I’m half Sri Lankan. My mother was born there and immigrated to Australia when she was just six years old. Being fair skinned and blue eyed, she’s not what you expect for a Sri Lankan. That’s because she’s Sri Lankan Burgher, a group that date back to the 1500’s when the Dutch and Portuguese sailed to the tear drop that is Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean) to trade spices. I grew-up in Melbourne’s Sri Lankan community, eating my grandmother’s curries and sniffing their friends’ cheeks when they visited. Yes, sniffing cheeks! Sri Lankans don’t air kiss we sniff cheeks, just like Italians kiss both cheeks. It’s a beautiful custom and my kids greet my Sri Lankan grandmother this way.
Sri Lanka was the first country that I ever visited outside of my birth country Australia. I distinctly recall being a seven year old boarding the Air Lanka (now Sri Lankan Airlines) flight, including the flight attendants’ warm smiles and the pattern on the traditional sari uniform. I think this was the moment my desire to be a flight attendant started.
To me they were so full of grace and beauty, but also represented a bit of mystery of our final destination. The journey was so memorable, not just because it was my first overseas trip, but because it was so different to where I grew up on the Mornington Peninsula in Australia. At just seven years old, and having never left Australia, the only thing I could compare the humidity with was the butterfly cage at the Melbourne Zoo. The airport was packed, and chaotic but I loved the immediate culture shock.
Sri Lanka is a huge part of who I am and therefore I want to share that with my children, which is why it is at the top of my bucket list. The reason I haven’t yet taken my children is because of time, I want a month to see it all properly. Like Australia, Sri Lanka has so many contrasting and amazing places. I want to visit friends and family in Colombo, and spend some time down south visiting the stunning beaches, exploring the tea fields in the high country, trekking the jungle and now that the civil war between the Tamil and Sinhalese is over, I would love to take my family north where there is amazing whale watching.
Teaching my children about their heritage is of upmost importance to me because I really believe a sense of identity in this world that is every changing is so invaluable, especially living in modern Australia that is made up of people from all walks of life. So one day soon, I’ll be retracing my steps and following my roots back to Sri Lanka, this time with the kids in tow!
Tips for taking the family on a trip to discover your roots:
- Involve them before you go: talk about how family trees work, show them old photos, get their grandparents to tell some stories about where they grew up
- Mix in ancestry with other activities: beaches, resort time
- Visit the streets where family lived and retrace their steps. Speak to neighbours and friends.
- Visit the schools and work places where family once went. My great grandfather worked on the trains, so we’ll be using trains to travel around. It will be a nice way to remember his passions and his history. Although over the years a lot may of changed, we just might be able to see things from his point of view as that train takes us across the country.
Will Hamish Blake track down his great-grandmother’s birthplace? Find out, and see more of our Follow Your Roots stories here.
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