We recently ousted a die hard monarchist PM who reinstated knights and dames, who swooned over British royalty, head patted Indigenous children in photo opportunities, paid lip service to multiculturalism, posed continually in his budgie smugglers and life saver cap, mooned over the Anzac myth, and effused continually of ‘our way of life’ whilst working constantly on building Xenophobia and our ‘right to bigotry’. But what does it mean to ‘be Australian?’ According to whom? And which type of Australian are you?
THE ANZAC AUSTRALIAN
This is the Australian nostalgic for a hero image, a non-existant ‘good ol days’ of the 1920s-1940s, lost in an ocean of modernity and multiculturalism and looking for an anchor. The Anzac Australian can cast aside cultural and physical genocide of Indigenous Australians, distract itself from accepting responsibility for the poverty, inequality and social issues plaguing Indigenous descendants of the Stolen Generation whilst puffing themselves up with their ‘descended from heroes’ image generally simultaneously ignoring Indigenous and gay Anzacs. This nostalgia feeds our loyalty to the multibillion dollar war industry which is, to say the least, convenient.
THE EMPIRE AUSTRALIAN
These are the descendants of 1930s-40s mentality monarchists who swoon over stories of the British royal family as if this is ‘tales of the old country’ or our ‘link to a rich history’ or ‘the colonials who built this country’. These are almost exclusively anglo-Australians, commonly descending from colonial pastoralists who were handed large parcels of Aboriginal land. These are commonly the descendants of ‘free settlers’ back in Australia’s convict era, from those appointed positions of authority over convicts and Aboriginals in the mid 1800s, ten pound poms, more recent British immigrants who find this version of being Australian makes them feel less like a migrant, and those with a narcissistic streak for whom identifying with those of prestige and power boosts their status as an Australian.
THE MINI AMERICA AUSTRALIAN
These are the descendants of Australia’s TV era of the 1950s-90s. This was a time of American space race, Elvis movies, of American rock and roll, of American sit coms and soapies, of Disney movies and American board games. This is the Australian brought up on American movies and TV and its TV franchises and advertising overlaid with Australian accents. This is the Australian who identifies easily with Maccas, Burger King, KFC and the like, who swoons over Fords and v8 engines, convertibles, 4 wheel drives, bravado and brawn. This is the Australian who played with Barbie and Cindy, cares what US celebrities wear, think and do and see America as its fashion guru. This is the Australian who listens more to the US president that any Australian leader (and who thinks an Australian leader following an American lead is somehow ‘better’). This is the Australian who treats Hollywood celebrity as its royalty, believing itself emancipated by the 1950s Empire Australian.
These are the Australians who feel estranged from, even fearful of Asia, vulnerable as an ‘island nation’ surrounded by ‘big Asia’. The Mini America Australian would rather be a shadow of America than be Billy No Friends in the middle of Asia. As Mini America, this Australian struts its modernity like a peacock at its little brother, New Zealand, oblivious to the many advancements New Zealand has made whilst Australian indulged its love affair with all things American.
THE SOUVENIR SHOP AUSTRALIAN
This is the Australian who desperately needs ‘Australian’ to be a unique language, an identifiable culture. Swearing, vegimite, flies, bar-b-qued meat, tomato sauce, meat pies, footy, holden utes, Akubra hats, Aerogard, bikinis on beaches, zinc cream on noses, surf life savers in budgie smugglers, Hills Hoist, Dame Edna, ‘Aussie slang’ and (usually made in China) Australian flag are valued icons and the more you have them the more ‘geniune’ an ‘Aussie’ you then apparently are. Add some kangaroos, koalas, galahs and references to ‘the outback’ most have never seen and ‘the bush’ most never go to, and your homogenous stereotype based image is complete.
THE BOGAN AUSTRALIAN
This is really the Souvenir Shop Australian which has been co-opted by largely Anglo Australian bogans to try and legitimise being underclass as iconically Australian. Anglo Bogan Australians commonly believes themselves to be the descendants of convicts, nostalgically this is usually Irish convicts, and in fact the majority turn out to have no such ‘convict royalty’, nor Irishness, in their history. The Bogan Australian sees horse racing, pokies, drag races, burnouts, punch ons and bludging as iconically ‘Aussie’. The Bogan Australian sees it as normal to keep rifle (even in the suburbs), a fighting dog, beer ready in the fridge, and cigarettes easily on hand. Plenty of Bogan Australians, men and women, feel its somehow Australian to be ‘quick with their fists’. Quick to compensatory narcissism, the Bogan Australian is quick to project ‘snobbery’ onto anyone not like themselves and some take it upon themselves to ‘take them down a peg or two’.
The non-Anglo Aussie Bogan is a variation on the traditional Aussie Bogan. Instead of harking back to imagined or real (usually imagined) convict roots, the non-Anglo Aussie Bogan is often born to the children of hard working European economic migrants of the 1960s but in losing strong ties to their own cultural heritage, have found freedom from the cultural constraints of their parents and grandparents, street cred and legitimacy in co-opting elements of traditional (Anglo) Bogan Australian culture.
THE MULTICULTURAL AUSTRALIAN
The Multicultural Australian is one who enjoys the rich breadth of cultures in Australia. This is the Australian who has traveled or would like to, the Australian who loves languages, diversity of foods, diversity of beliefs and the stories of people from around the world. This is the Australian who loves to learn, to connect, to be challenged and to grow through new experiences. This is the Australian who has not been dominated by fear, Xenophobia, or brought up in a cultural niche which rarely included those from diverse cultural or broader social backgrounds. This is the Australian brought up to embrace individuality and freedom which enables them to connect without entrenched presumptions. This is the Australian who is proud of being cosmopolitan, who isn’t invested in being parochial or provincial. This is an Australian who thinks globally, may even be a globalist, who considers themselves part of ‘one world’ and a ‘citizen of the world’ and who bathes in the richness of having a melting pot of the wider world within their own country or community.
THE RECONCILIATION AUSTRALIAN
The Reconciliation Australian is usually socially aware of the challenging and harsh realities of indigenous history and the richness of Indigenous knowledge, culture and spirituality. Because Indigenous history in schools was exclusively whitewashed until after 2000 (and remains relatively whitewashed) the Reconciliation Australian is usually more self educated, socially aware, has egalitarian values. Activists, environmentalists, egalitarians more commonly identify with this new Australian identity. The Reconciliation Australian identity is an inclusive one which offers a uniting identity for all Australians or all cultures. However, identifying as a Reconciliation Australian comes with signing up to embracing the realities of Australia’s Indigenous history, a respect for the equality and value of Aboriginal heritage as the heritage adopted by all who call themselves Australian, and a value of Aboriginal knowledge and culture as something that can enrich any and all Australians.
I acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the Traditional Owners of this country throughout Australia, and their connection to land and community.