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?