Australia: Who the bloody hell are we?
Throughout Australian history there has been market duopoly. Our two cultural brands, our national identities. In one corner the noble bushman found by the campfire, or riding bareback on horse and cracking his whip. In the other corner is the multiculturalist, embracing diverse cultures and languages, stirring the melting-pot that our suburbs hope to be. The reality is that the Man from Snowy River is in retirement, whilst the government propose to cull his brumbies. Our suburbs are ethnically fractured and culturally clustered.
The first brand-myth, the strong and steady Aussie bushman of our post-colonial past left us with traditions, the driza-bone and akubra hat, their poetry and of course colloquial language. The skills, musings and attire of our rugged heroes started falling through the cracks, as baby-boomers migrated toward the coast in the 70's and 80's. All that's left of the Bushman is his bastard nephew; the cultural institution responsible for B&S balls, Southern-Cross-tattooed 'bogans', casual racism and hashtag 'Strayaday'.
The Bushman's crack-of-dawn, analogue brand doesn't represent the modern, digital, processed version of the original product. It does a terrible job. All we honestly have left of the archetype is an underlying sense of white nationalism and a false confidence when it comes to wilderness and snake handling skills.
So what about the brand-myth of multiculturalism?
The Australian interpretation of multiculturalism is at best an ethnic collaboration. A collaboration where maintaining cultural customs is great, often bordering on fashionable when just-enough of them are included in a public event. Celebrating or practicing ones imported customs is acceptable, as long as it more-or-less doesn't go over the fence into the neighbours yard. In Fear, Race and National Identity Peter Gale describes Australian multiculturalism "as ‘us’ accepting ‘them’ (or at least enjoying their food)". Which would be great if the dominant 'us' wasn't a politically prevalent anglo-elite class. The decision makers. Leaving 'them' to be... Well anyone without an anglo-genetic line or enough cash to behave like they were born somewhere between an episode of Downton Abbey and MTV Cribs.
The affluent class and the plebs. Us accepting them.
It's been a case of 'us' accepting them since the moment Captain Cook first landed on Australian soil. Only 'us' in that case was the First People of Australia and 'them' was the British colonists who accepted their warm welcome with genocide, conquering and foreign diseases that they had managed to avoid for 40 Millenia... Like the flu.
We aren't bushmen, or bushwomen anymore. Family farms are selling off and the next generation of Aussies aren't learning to fend for themselves out there, let alone ride a Clydesdale and bring in the Angus.
But there is one major conflict in our Multiculturalism - that the term multi-cultural itself implies assimilation. That there is an existing mono-culture to which others are added. In Australia's case, we imply the assimilation of people from around the world to the (UK born) white Australian 'way of life'.
So who the bloody hell are we?
Our flag doesn't help, it's mostly the British flag anyway. The stars on it, the southern cross are now just an awkward tattoo on most, the real thing barely visible in our cities for the smog. They represent a cultural barbed wire fence. Strung up by white settlers as boundaries to stolen land, only to be reinforced after the Cronulla race riots of 2005 and the rise of Hansonism, when they became a symbol for a rise in white nationalism.
To me, it's a shame the Southern Cross has been so completely bastardised. Growing up, and to many other Australians it was a symbol of reverence for ANZAC troops and our armed forces, it still is, but I'm sure many are pretending it hadn't become Australia's version of the confederate flag.
At the end of the day "National identity is an invention" (White, R 1981 pp. viii). An invention forged from a curated history, documented and built into the syllabus of Australian schools, laws and society by the governing, conquering and colonising majority.
Our dead tradition of bush stewardship, our claim and attachment to a false sense of multiculturalism and the modern meaning of the poor old Southern Cross, all boil down to one question:
Is it time to rebrand Australia?
Side note: The cover image for this post is from the brilliant, honest and contemporary film - We don't need a map - Go and see it. It's amazing.
References for this articles research and further reading:
Ward, R 1958, ‘The Legend and the task’ in Australian legend, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, pp. 1.
Carter, D 1994, ‘Future Pasts’ in Headon, D, Hooton, J & Horne D, The Abundant Culture: Meaning and Significance in everyday Australia, Allen & Unwin, St. Leonards, pp. 13.
Gale, P 2006, ‘Fear, Race and National Identity’, Dialogue, Vol.25, No. 3, 2006, Academy of Social Sciences, Australia pp. 36.
White, R 1981, Inventing Australia: Images and Identity 1688-1980, Allen & Unwin, Australia, pp. viii.