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Guest blogger: Rania Battany

24 October 2021

I have such vivid memories of my 1980s childhood growing up in Brunswick, a multicultural hub of inner-city Melbourne. I spent endless days barefoot, playing outside with the neighbourhood kids, climbing fruit trees and riding my bike. This was before the internet and mobile phones, when all the neighbourhood kids met outside after school, on the weekends and school holidays, because we had nothing else to do. We climbed the fence into the abandoned factory located in the middle of our dead-end street, ate icy-poles on the footpath, and got bindi-eyes in our feet. We sprayed each other with the garden hose or spent whole afternoons at the local swimming pool, where we snacked on chips and lollies. The older kids hung out in the street listening to hip hop music that pumped from a boombox while the younger kids played around them. At the end of the day we ran home exhausted and hungry to eat dinner and collapse on the couch to watch whatever was on television.

Most of these neighbourhood kids were children of immigrant parents who had arrived in the early 70s. These kids were first-generation Australian. Like me. Growing up, it was normal for me to hear a multitude of different languages spoken in the streets, and to smell the scents of different cuisines flowing from homes. It was normal to see a diverse range of people at the fruit markets and grocers—people with various skin colours who practised a range of faiths. As an older child, my family moved to an area much less diverse. Suddenly, I was surrounded by people who didn’t understand my family or my culture. My entire sense of normal became different. For the first time, I realised I was different.

During my younger adolescent years, I struggled to understand my place in Australia. On one hand I was Lebanese; I ate Lebanese food, spoke Arabic at home and followed Lebanese customs. But in equal measure, I was Australian. I struggled with this lack of identity for most of my life. When I married my Australian husband, I felt an even greater disconnect from my Lebanese heritage, and it really prompted me to question what culture meant to me. It was in my mid-thirties that I realised I didn’t have to be one or the other—Lebanese or Australian—but that I could be both. This, I realised, is what it means to be a first-generation Australian: embracing both cultures with the same sense of pride and acceptance. I finally understood it; I could embrace the richness and beauty of my Lebanese heritage and be Australian.

Writing Our Own Private Fig Tree came from my need to process these complex feelings surrounding culture and heritage and how that impacted my sense of identity, while also addressing the subject of interracial relationships. Through Caleb and Samira’s story, I combined the fond memories I had of growing up in a multicultural hub of inner-city Melbourne with the identity struggles I felt growing up as a first-generation Australian. I hope my readers enjoy Caleb and Samira’s story as much as I enjoyed writing it.

You can find Rania here: Website | Facebook | Instagram

Our Own Private Fig Tree

1988: In a multicultural pocket of inner-city Melbourne, sixteen-year-old Caleb falls in love with Samira, his Lebanese neighbour. Both understand the rules that determine they’re not allowed to date, but neither stays away. As they hide in the branches of a giant fig tree, their forbidden love blossoms … until tragedy pulls them apart.

1998: A chance encounter has reunited Caleb and Samira. Now that she’s no longer the sixteen-year-old girl he fell in love with but a beautiful grown woman, Caleb is certain they’ll have a second chance. But cultural rules don’t go away simply because they’re adults. Instead, they’re left facing the same battle they did as teens. Except this time, Caleb realises the threads of culture and heritage are weaved much deeper into his own life than he could’ve imagined.

He has a choice. To fight for the woman he loves, or to do what everyone before him has done. Follow the rules

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