Amidst the lies of the "truly multicultural Australia" we are scolded to accept, there has been a lack of honest inquiry as to what it means to be Australian beyond tired universalist tropes of "a fair go", "a sense of humour", and more recently, migrant struggles of overcoming bigotry. While it is beyond the scope of this piece to detail a comprehensive chronology of how a uniquely Australian identity came to be formed, I thought I would share my own story of coming to realise and value my own Australian-ness.
In my childhood there was an unspoken assumption that to be of non-British stock was to preclude the possibility of being considered "Aussie". A completely Australianised and deracinated continental European of second or third generation may have been subsumed into the broader Australian culture. However, being a non-White "Aussie" was always out of the question. Aboriginals have been Australianised to varying degrees since European settlement but always formed a distinct people and culture. It is telling that both European and non-European migrants refer to Anglo-Celts and fully assimilated Europeans as "Aussies", whilst either hyphenating their own identity such as "Lebanese-Australian" or using simply by using the title of their passport as a generic "Australian" to refer to themselves.
It seemed to me as a child that being 'Aussie' was a function of class and urbanity. "Bogans" were true blue, as were farmers and people who lived outside of Sydney or Melbourne, even the refined or wealthy ones. Being Australian was a kind of sliding spectrum of identity that ranged from the extremes from the most Australian as the archetypal tough, good humoured drover, jackaroo or surf-rat to the least Australian Anglophile and effete city-dweller who never got his hands dirty and wished he lived in England.
Perhaps as a consequence of the above dynamic, hostility to Australian culture and its accompanying xenophilia is inherent to the worldview of the elite bureaucratic manager class that staffs the ABC, SBS, Fairfax and the panoply of "multicultural affairs" groups and organisations. These elites host festivals and events across the country that promote foreign peoples and their ways as a kind of exciting dionysian safari.
When I was in my early 20's, a mate of mine was hosting two female international students from Germany, who were studying for a semester and then flying up to Airlie beach in the German tradition of wunderlust.
Both of these Germans spoke fluent English - one had even lived in the U.S for a few years a a child. School, university, travel - the common threads were immediately obvious and their German accents appeared little more than an oddity at first.
When my mate put on John Mellencamp and started drunkenly singing the opening lines to Jack and Diane, the two sprightly young frauleins registered no recognition of the bogan role-play of working-class stuggle. It was then that I began to realise our differences. The irony of familiarity with American music as the barometer of Australian-ness was not lost on me at the time. American Imperialism™ found a different expression in Germany, however this somewhat poor example is not the extent of the comparison. They had never heard of AC/DC or Cold Chisel, and had no concept of our broader myths of explorers and bushmen, or knew of the Vietnam war. And no, this is not just because they were wymn. They had seen the Tourism Australia advertisements of the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru, a few Aboriginies playing didgeridoo and a farmer driving a ute past a herd of sheep. They were attracted to the exoticness of the flora and fauna and the wildness of the landscape. But they came from a very different place. They didn't know who we are.
There is a distinct historical continuity from British settlement to today's Australia in spite of the establishment's attempts to re-write it as an illegitimate and immoral affair, only worth knowing well enough to repudiate it and apologise for it. There is a real difference between the British expats that I come into contact with and their Australian equivalents in age, occupation and social background. There is a historical memory that has been passed down from our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents of farming, building, fighting wars, governing and living through the turning points of our nation's history that animates our speech, attitudes and social relations that most don't even realise are there.
In a time of imposed cultural sameness that is like no other, it is worth reflecting on and recalling the aspects of our upbringing and cultural memory that are specific to us and locate us within a particular frame of Australianness. It does not have to mean a ret-conned Antipodean bush-nostalgia that brings marginal aspects of past historical periods into the centre. It can be as simple as learning more from the older members of your own family about what life was like and beginning to sketch your own understanding of what we have accomplished and value of what is being lost. We are part of something distinct, unique and greater than ourselves. We will not let it be taken from us.
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