of Australia's Cultural Identity
does it mean to be Australian?
is no “real” Australia waiting to be uncovered. A
national identity is an invention.’ Richard White (1981)
Inventing Australia Each one of us could describe ourselves with
a multitude of different identities. These identities can be seen
as defining us as people and may be cultural, ethnic, religious,
gendered, class-oriented or ideological. They are as varied as
our imagination. In Australia, the religious, cultural and ethnic
complexity of our society is particularly diverse.
the midst of this diversity, is there an elusive quality, a ‘national
identity’, which binds us all as Australians? There are
certainly national cultural stereotypes and national symbols that
we all recognise as Australian, but do these really reflect the
everyday reality of living as an Australian today?
national identities ever have anything to do with cultural experience
or are they more to do with a constructed image of a ‘nation’?
What is it about our cultural stereotypes, if anything, that continues
to resonate with Australians? Who is excluded? Does our national
identity still depend upon a white Anglo-Celtic male viewpoint?
AUSTRALIA 2. National Identity Sara Cousins From the Monash University
National Centre for Australian Studies’ course, developed
with Open Learning Australia.)
qualities and characteristics
• A sense of equality (egalitarianism) - that
we are all equals with no real class structure;
• an non-discriminatory attitude towards one another so far
as racial, ethnic, national or religious differences are concerned
- multicultural "we are many but we are one.."; general
racial tolerance; sexual equality / tolerance of varying gender
orientation;accepting others' differences;
• a strong belief in fair play and a fair go;
• a basic friendliness and outward-goingness;
• a dislike of pretence and arrogance - (people "up themselves");
also the "tall poppy syndrome" where we enjoy cutting
down to size those who have grown too tall, as it were;
• a healthy scepticism (critical, don't always do what we
are told) of authority;
• larrikin idea - rebellious, bit of a lout (convict origins);
• a self-deprecating sense of humour (prepared to laugh at
ourselves, "take the piss");
• despite our appearance of political apathy, a strong belief
in democratic political traditions (ours is, after all, one of the
longest unbroken democratically elected parliaments in the world.);
• a concern for a total quality of life rather than measuring
standard of living solely in material terms;
• strong sense of mateship; responsibility to care for and
look after our mates;
• simple pastimes and Australian food outdoors - BBQ's, meat
pies, beer, picnics at the beach or in the bush;
• Australians are people of the suburbs - their dream home,
quarter acre block; (NB how this 1950's image is changing to an
increasing number of inner- city dwellers; meterosexuals etc);idea
of the typical Australian home as a man's castle; importance of
family, of sticking together;
• treats women with respect; Australian male as shy, quiet,
• belief in the importance of the "little man" or
the average bloke in the street;
• notion of the Aussie battler; working hard for everything
you get; importance of hard work;
• ideas of physical competence - strong, wiry, surfer / jackaroo
type; see ourselves (and are seen by others overseas) as physically
• importance of sport; sport as a definer of our identity
containing many of the above qualities.
THE AUSTRALIAN IDENTITY
"I wrote this essay a couple of years ago
whilst studying Australian History in a Vocational Course." http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Rhodes/3567/identity.htm
"Brotherhood was never like it; friendship is not
the word; but deep in that body of marching men the soul of a nation
stirred" so wrote Banjo Paterson in his poem "Australia
Today 1916". Australia had only been settled by white Australian's
for one hundred and twenty eight years, yet already a strong nationalism
had emerged. An Identity. The words larrikin, mateship, courage,
egalitatarism, resourcefulness and independence come to mind. Why
did Australia develop such a strong image so quickly?
For the first one third of Australia's history the majority
of white Australians were either convicts or the off-spring of one.
These people held a strong dislike for authority, which is still
present in elements of today's society. There were a couple of reasons
for this. Firstly they possibly felt hard done by and also the authoritative
figures such as the "Rum Corps" had not really gained
their respect as they sometimes corrupt.
With the offspring of the transported convicts, known
as currency lads and lasses, the national identity first emerged.
They were not as amoral as most thought they would be, given that
their parents were in the eyes of the British Government, hardened
criminals. Visitors to Australia as early as 1830-50 noticed some
pecularities to these Australians. "Tall, slender, strong and
with a distinctive accent". It was also reported that swearing
coloured our conversations. But a feature that struck most visitors
was the egalitaranism, the belief that each man was equal. "Jack
was as good as his master". This was very unlike Britian.
With the gold rushes of the 1850's the emerging national
identity was stiffled. A flood of new immigrants arrived, from places
as diverse as USA and China, but they were mostly British and still
considered Britain as home. But on the gold fields the belief that
all men were equal was strengthened. On the gold fields your chances
of finding gold was not determined on who you were, on the gold
fields many poor people became rich.
In the 1860's and 1870's the national feeling was associated
mainly with the Bushrangers. Most bushrangers were native born or
of Irish descent. Again the strong dislike of authority emerges.
The bushrangers were admired because they defied authorities and
at times made them look stupid. They were held up as symbols against
Britain and the government. They were also thought to be courageous
and patriotic. Bushrangers were as romantised then as they are today.
By the 1880's three quarters of Australia's population
had been born in Australia. This is an important cause of nationalism,
you feel Australian because you were born here, unlike previous
generations, where the majority were born in other countries. In
the 1890's the increase in nationalism continued. Australian artists
such as Tom Roberts, Charles Condor, Hans Heysen and Arthur Streeton
began to paint Australian images. They helped create the Australian
Bush Legend, as a resourceful, independent man who trusted only
his mates. This image appealed. Poets and writers too, such as Banjo
Patterson's The Man from Snowy River, helped further fuel this image
During the 1880's people begain to push for an United
Australia, believing that they were Australian, not Victorian's,
Queenslanders etc. The Irish too were keen to establish a United
Australia out of hate of the British. The media soon joined in.
"The Bulletin" believed in "A republican form of
Government with no ties whatsoever with Great Britain "(we
are still waiting for that). On January 1st, 1901 the Commonwealth
of Australia was formed.
In 1914 Britian declared war on Germany, Australia for
the first time fought as a nation, not states. This evoked a sense
of pride in all Australians. On the battlefelds in Turkey and in
France too the Australian identity further emerged. Courage on the
fields at Gallipoli, resourcefulness, mateship, independence and
egalitarianism, the Australian soldiers were noted for not showing
the British Officers the respect that the officers felt they should
be treated with, this was in part due to the belief that "jack
was as good as his master". The Australian soldier served Australia
proudly and with their return to Australian shores came the recognition
that Australian was at last a nation.
The Soul of a Nation, The Australian Identity had evolved.
This dislike of authority, the belief in egalitarianism, independence,
resourcefulness, courage and mateship all are traits of the
Australian Identity, all necessary for Australia to emerge
from the shadows of a gaol to become a nation.