In November 2005, when I was twenty, I got my first tattoo (I now have nine). I decided to show how much I loved my country by getting a Southern Cross tattoo on my left wrist. I had won a little bit of extra cash on the Melbourne Cup, while in Melbourne actually attending the Cup – I was feeling patriotic and proud of my country. I loved Australia for its freedoms, its multi-cultural people and its laid back way of life. At the time, not many people had Southern Cross tattoos, and I thought it was a subtle and quite attractive tip of the hat to the nation I loved so much.
But then, when a flock of white boys beat up a group of migrants on Cronulla Beach in December 2005, pictures of Southern Cross tattooed chests (belonging to the perpetrators) branded news stories the world over. In one day this despicable act of racism and violence changed the perception of the Southern Cross tattoo forever.
From that time on, people who supported the “Australian cause” visited their tattoo parlour to be branded with the symbol of this event. The Southern Cross tattoo became a staple on thingsboganslike.com, and I started to see more and more photos of white boys with rat tails getting them. It became a gimmick and a popular culture symbol for “dickhead”. I once heard someone refer to it as an “Aussie Swastika”. The symbol of our nation was hijacked by politics.
Despite my tattoo being small and “tasteful” (I once overheard a lady comment to her friend about it, from behind me in a queue, and say that she hated most Southern Crosses but thought mine was quite nice) I felt that I was being judged and lumped in with a group of people I did not want to be associated with. In work meetings, I could see people looking at it out of the corner of their eye and I could see the split second judgement on their faces. When I would run in to people I knew in high school, I could see their eyes widen when they saw it. The assumption of who I was, based purely on five little stars, was heartbreaking and often made me feel self-conscious and defensive (I am not a racist! I am not a bogan!).
I remember speaking to a nurse when I was in hospital after surgery, and when she asked me about it, I said that I had “gotten it before it became a bogan symbol”. Like I had to defend my tattoo lest she judge me on the stereotype. She then told me that she has one too, but hers was to commemorate her son who had loved the stars and once spent an entire evening at a summer camp in America trying to show the kids the Southern Cross (hint: you can’t see it from the Northern Hemisphere). He seemed like a sweet, adventurous and smart young man, but sadly he had died young, and from what I gather, rather tragically – she had teared up while telling me her story. To her, the tattoo was a touching tribute to someone she had loved above all others, someone who had felt pride in the Southern Cross and who had a few jokes made at his expense after his little mistake. When she looked at her tattoo she saw the love she had for her son, and while she told me her story I was overcome with the horrible realisation that I had fallen victim to one of the things I hate most in the world – stereotyping. I of all people should not stereotype this tattoo because I also didn’t fall in to the most perceived reason for getting it.
Many people I know got Southern Cross tattoos to symbolise their home country, a lot of them were travellers who liked the idea of a piece of home with them forever. I like this idea, I took it on as my own – when people would ask me why I got the tattoo, it was no longer “I love my country”, it became “I like to travel, and this reminds me of home”. But there are so many people out there who have their own stories, like this nurse, and I had judged them – as others had judged me. I had judged this symbol, which has a thousand meanings to a thousand different people, not just the one people have become programmed to see.
If I loved my tattoo enough, I would have been able to ignore the looks and the judgement and not give a damn about what anyone thought – but I didn’t and I couldn’t. I guess the reason I ultimately decided to cover up my tattoo is because I don’t have the wide-eyed naivety of a 20 year old anymore.
I’ve travelled extensively over the last 10 years, I’ve been to every continent and I’ve come to realise that Australia is not the greatest country in the world. I’m not saying I no longer love Australia, far from it – I still see some of the qualities I drew upon when I first got my tattoo. I still love our freedoms, I still believe we are a wonderfully multi-cultural nation (and the better for it) and I still love the Aussie laid back lifestyle. Sadly, though, the years have made me a somewhat cynical and bitter person, and I have been privy to eye-opening experiences which have shaped my current view on our country.
My patriotic pride, the reason I got this tattoo in the first place, has diminished with every act of racism I have witnessed; every occurrence of sexism or sexual abuse I have read about (thankfully not been subjected to); and the stories of homophobia I hear from my LGBTA friends and family. I absolutely loath our national mentality of honouring ignorance – I am called a snob because I honour open mindedness and the thirst for knowledge (which I believe has nothing to do with your intelligence or education levels). Then there’s politics, but don’t get me started cos we could be here for another few thousand ranty words – many of them in capital letters, and there would be lots of exclamation marks and swearing.
I don’t believe there is such a thing as “the greatest country in the world” – every country has its own charm and its own flaws, Australia being no exception. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, but I am no longer blind to our faults.
With this in mind, I decided that – nine years after I sat in the tattoo chair – it was finally time to cover up my Southern Cross tattoo. I’ve had a tattoo removed before, but this time I wanted to keep a piece of the old tattoo on my skin, to remind me why I got the Southern Cross in the first place – because I do love Australia – and why I covered it up: because this country is not infallible. Being an avid Tumblrer (is that a word??) I’ve been saving pictures of tattoos I like and decided I wanted to get something pretty, with no possible political connections. I had a few pictures of roses that I liked and took them in to Charli at Tatts On Tatts Off in Gungahlin, Canberra.
I’ve used Tatts On Tatts Off before for my removal (pictured below), and Bones (the owner) did my Owl & Pussycat tattoos on my big toes.
Charli and I talked about what I wanted, took a stencil of my existing tattoo and then I left the rest in her hands – she drew a design based on the pictures I had provided her and then one Tuesday afternoon I sat in her chair for four hours while she worked her magic.
As you can see, the dark colours of the Southern Cross were covered in by some generous shading.
Unfortunately four hours wasn’t enough time, despite my body definitely thinking it was – I booked in for another session a month later to finish it up, which took 1 and a half hours. I asked Charli to cover up a few bits of the stars I could still see with some thicker lines and this was the end result –
So, within five and half hours my Southern Cross was gone – and then some! I got a second rose on the front of my wrist to create a bracelet/band. I just love it!
I really liked Charli’s work, and would highly recommend both her and all the team at Tatts On Tatts Off, if you’re in the market for a tattoo. I’ve used a few different parlours around Canberra and can vouch that TOTO is without a doubt the most comfortable environment and has a high standard of skill. And best of all, you can pay on credit. My cover-up tattoo cost me $824.50 for five and a half hours of work ($150 an hour) – which I think is perfectly reasonable for the level of detail and all the colours included.
It’s somewhat bitter sweet to see my Southern Cross tattoo go. I love my new roses, they’re bright and colourful – just like me (sometimes) – but I am also a little sad to see my first ever tattoo covered up. It’s also a little sad to see the symbol of my once fierce patriotism disappear. But you know what? I’m proud to be an Australian – for better or for worse. I’ve realised that my patriotism is not totally dead, and I have hopes and dreams for the future of this country and our progression as a nation – I just don’t need a tattoo to show that anymore.