“Wealth is now defined, at least in part, by the ability to be offline whenever you want” Fernando Gros.
0 items in your cart
$0
Blog // Travel
January 26, 2009

Australian Days

Golf courses are fascinating places for honest conversation. There’s something about the space, the length of time required or a round and occasional waits that encourages folks to be less reserved. I recall one fascinating conversation with a friend from New Zealand, while walking down the 13th hole of our course in Delhi. He opened […]

Golf courses are fascinating places for honest conversation. There’s something about the space, the length of time required or a round and occasional waits that encourages folks to be less reserved. I recall one fascinating conversation with a friend from New Zealand, while walking down the 13th hole of our course in Delhi. He opened up by saying , “you’re not like a typical Australian.” I thought I knew where he was going, having frequently been confronted, in one way or another, with my lack of being fully “Australian.”

Wearily I asked, “what do you mean.” He replied, “well, you don’t have a chip on your shoulder.” He went on to explain that most Australian’s can’t help but bang on about how good Australia is, and by extension, put down other countries. It was a fascinating insight into the way that other nationalities see Australians.

In fact, I’ve had a number of such experiences (some downright comical) as people let rip about Australians, having assumed that either because of my internationalised accent, or hard to place looks, I wasn’t an Australian. Without doubt, there is a gulf between how Australians think they are perceived and how they are are actually perceived.

That said, my own sense of Australian identity, diluted as it was when I lived there is even more dissipated. It’s now ten years (give or take a week) since I left Australia and in that time, I’ve changed, Australia has changed and the world has changed.

The paradox of national identity is best expressed in my daughter – born in the UK, lived most of her life in India and now settled in Hong Kong (and fast becoming fluent in Mandarin). She is, technically an Australian by virtue of her parent’s nationality, but she feels no connection to the country, beyond seeing it as a place for family holidays. More than anything else, that’s a reality that expresses our life right now.

Everytime we go back to Australia it feels more foreign. It’s not just the disconnection from popular culture (which does feel ever more insulated and parochial), but something else. At the risk of offending many, something about Australian culture has become more “American” and it isn’t just the massive over-development of roadways and giant shopping malls. There’s the rampant flag-waving, the “we know better” mentality and, yes, the ugly tourist yelling at the locals for not understanding the Australian way of doing things.

I like to think the recent change of government marks a realisation, in the Australian population, of the cultural problems. Certainly the change in advertising campaigns for Australian tourism, from the folksy, populist and downright offensive campaign of a few years ago, to the current restful, diverse and inviting campaign must point to something.

No-one knows for sure where the current economic crisis will lead us, but there’s a good chance we will come out of it with the Pacific region being more powerful than it was. This is good news for Australia, but only up to a point. Twenty years ago companies could afford to set up their regional offices in Australia and treat it as a lead market for Asia – that window is closed now.

Perhaps Australia’s future is to be in Asia the way Denmark or Norway are in Europe? Certainly, as a player in education, design and high quality manufacturing (three areas the recent Howard government criminally denied support).

As for me, I struggle to imagine settling back into life in Australia. There are things I loved about living there, but much of the Sydney of my youth just doesn’t exist any more – it’s been paved over, knocked down, or partitioned by road-works and “redevelopment.” People brag about the “great lifestyle” and “laid back culture,” but then, almost in the same breath, fret about busyness, stress, crazy commutes, crowds, foreigners and a litany of other complaints.

Is the lucky county running a little low on contentment?

Responses
Matt Stone 11 years ago

Actually I’d suggest that the flag waving is, at least in part, a reaction against the dominance of American culture. I sense the cultural boundaries are very much being renegotiated in Australian cities. How much can we integrate without loosing our identity altogether? How much can we push back against foreign influences (including migrant influence) without compromising our cherished value of the ‘fair go’? These are questions I see being wrestled with. There’s a tension. Between parochialism globalism, cultural openness and cultural preservation. How can we be open, as opposed to folksy, without changing?

I think many Australians see both good and not so good with the changes and openness, and that’s what leads to the mixed and somewhat confused response.

You raise an interesting issue with the multiculturalism of your daughter though. Very much dovetails with my reflections on multicultural churches at
Some of us just don’t fit neat categories.

Fernando Gros 11 years ago

Matt, how far back do we dig, in terms of defining “migrant influence?” (not a fan of that word, btw).

My thinking here is John Howard’s claim that Australian identity was “settled” as far back as the early 50s. For someone like me, that kind of rhetoric says you have no real contribution to make to the essential identity of the country, since it is settled and not evolving.

It’s a vexing issue, because whilst I agree that some of the “older” values, like mate-ship and fair go are good and distinctive, an awful lot of what makes Australia attractive today to expats, global business and the people who write those “best place in the world to live” type exposé, owes as much, or more to the waves of later 20th century immigration, which are given second class status under the Howard hermeneutic.

Matt Stone 11 years ago

Well, Howard is now gone thank goodness.

If I might make an observation though, I think your declining identification with Australia is very much an indicator of how much Australian identity is evolving.

Fernando Gros 11 years ago

Matt, could you clarify that a little? I’m not sure I get the point.

Leave a comment

Enter your and your to join the mailing list.