by Kim Kelly

roof aus

WHAT HAVE THE POLES EVER DONE FOR US?

This morning I woke up to the news that cards are being dropped into letterboxes in Britain saying, ‘Leave the EU. No more Polish vermin.’

Vermin.

How long will it be before these faceless bigots bring out the arsenic and brickbats to get rid of them? It makes me shiver for all the Polish people have endured over the past century by way of psychotic hatred from their neighbours – Germany and Russia have both had a go at mass extermination.

But really, what the actual freak is this about?

There’s the theory that Poles are simply an easy target because they’re white. It’s not politically correct to attack a person with brown skin these days, but kicking a Pole is somehow fine. That makes a horrible load of sense, sadly.

But it feels personal this time. It seems most of my forebears – all of them white – have at some point in time been referred to as vermin. Of course I grew up with the stories my Irish grandmother told me about her own experiences of the phenomenon – and I wrote all about it in Wild Chicory. The narrator of that tale, Brigid Boszko, just happens to be half Polish, too, her paternal grandparents having immigrated to Sydney after the Second World War.

The Polish in Australia are everywhere, for me. Polish miners worked the diamond drills that excavated dams for one of our many Eighth Wonders of the World – the Snowy Mountains Hydro. Before that, the geologist Pawel Strzelecki named our highest peak after Poland’s greatest national hero – Tadeusz Kosciuszko – and went on to have the Strzelecki Desert named after himself. And then there was my great great grandfather, Benjamin Mier, who played his part in making me.

As for the world, what would it be without Chopin’s Nocturne In E Flat Major, Op.9 No.2? Even if you don’t know the name of this piece of music, you know it like it’s in your bones – listen to it here.

What would the Battle of Britain have been without Polish Squadron 303, those wildly brave men who brought down some 140 enemy Luftwaffe planes, and flew 9900 combat sorties?

Where would the NHS or Medicare be without Marie Sklodowska Curie’s self-sacrificing studies into radioactivity that, with terrible irony, brought us one of our greatest weapons against cancer?

Today’s irony, I suppose, is that the news also tells us there’s been a flood of Brits applying for Irish citizenship. Ouch.

I am sad for Britain but at the same time whatever slim ties I might have had to that land seem to have stretched to even slighter threads. I am happy to be vermin, if that is what I am.

Na zdrowie. Sláinte. Cheers.

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The photograph above was taken on a recent ramble in Kosciuszko National Park.

Want to read Wild Chicory? Go here.