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structure) Features of Australia's Cultural Identity

structure)Features of Australia's Cultural Identity

"What does it mean to be Australian?

‘There 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.

In 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?

Do 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?

(CONTEMPORARY AUSTRALIA 2. National Identity Sara Cousins From the Monash University National Centre for Australian Studies’ course, developed with Open Learning Australia.)

Australian 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, but capable;

• 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 able;

• importance of sport; sport as a definer of our identity containing many of the above qualities.



"I wrote this essay a couple of years ago whilst studying Australian History in a Vocational Course."

"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 of Australians.

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.


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