Independence envy

Galveston, Texas

Despite joining the Union relatively late in the piece, Texas is today perhaps the spiritual home of American patriotism. While Galveston Island is physically removed from the mainland, there is little separation anxiety present on the Fourth of July 2015 on the strip of dark sand locals call ‘Surfside’. Star spangled golf carts parade along the beach, vigorously beeping and tooting their national pride, while mammoth utes and SUVs jostle for prime position. The rest of the world often caricatures Texas as a backwards place of single-minded evangelicalism and outmoded conventions. But a glance across the beach at Galveston tells a different story, one of a sophisticated and pluralistic modern America. Oil tycoons, armed services personnel, doctors and young swimmers all share the waves and volleyball courts in seeming harmony, all revelling in Americana on this important day regardless of race, creed or status. While environmentalists back home may have been perturbed about the proximity of the giant beastlike vehicles to the potential marine life, monster trucks aside the scene was one of liberty, equality and fraternity (not that many Texans would appreciate being likened to the French national motto!)

Patriotism is probably the most prescient emotion on display (if it can be described that way) but also striking is the unashamed, unabashed joy displayed by almost all of the beach-goers. Where Europeans may go to the coast to be seen and Australians observe the beach as a place of almost sacred serenity, these Texan holidaymakers are there to have a good time, noisy, unpretentious and refreshing. It is perhaps no coincidence that the founders placed such emphasis of ‘pursuit of happiness’ when drafting the document celebrated on this day.

There is also clearly a strong sense of community. Island local Denise, a country club legend and pina colada enthusiast, tells me that following the devastation of Hurricane Ike a few years back, Galveston residents paid for the restoration themselves, turning down offers of federal aid. “We look after our own,” she says, reflecting a commitment to independence that goes well beyond the banners adorning her balcony.

Watching an impressive fireworks display above a Galveston Bay inlet a few hours (and cocktails) later, I could not help but be overcome by a feeling of melancholy when I contemplate my own dear country’s independence, or more accurately, lack thereof!

Over the years I have flirted with constitutional monarchism, believing the Westminster system to be truer to the Australian promise to keep the bastards honest. But watching those around me proudly endorse their own severed ties to Europe and confident embrace of the New World quite frankly made me jealous. An Aussie independence day would no doubt give the Texans a run in the fun department, even though our outward displays of national affection are likely to be more subdued.

Not giving a shit is an inextricable part of the Australian character – it is the reason we don’t sing songs at sporting events despite our sports obsession. But sometimes, it also means there is a disincentive to be proud, to put in effort with streamers and t-shirts and facepaint like the Galvestonians.

Perhaps becoming a Republic would help us be a little more Texan in our celebration. But as long as Kate Middleton keeps producing these damn cute offspring, this is probably an increasingly distant prospect.

galveston fireworks

Source: Houston Chronicle 

Published on 6 July 2015

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