In the 60s, Donald Horne, of the liberal left mixed in with a bit of Aussie radicalism, wrote The Lucky Country and that was all about myths.
While Chris Snowdon has it right about the current situation, not being Australian or not having spent extended periods imbibing the local “culture” makes it understandable that he might think this new-fascism is a relatively recent thing.
BBC News magazine has a feature that, unintentionally perhaps, supports Snowdon’s thesis. According to Nick Bryant:
Sports grounds … offer a vantage point from which to view the country’s surprisingly officious and authoritarian streak. At cricket matches, beach balls that transgress onto the playing area are confiscated and punctured. Fans who start Mexican waves face eviction. Those queuing up for beer have to remove their sunglasses to prove they are not half-cut …
Its claim to be a laid back country, meanwhile, is belied by the bewildering array of rules and regulations, from strict border protections to the bylaws which stipulate that cars should be parked in the same direction as the flow of traffic.
This isn’t the whole story, of course, as Australia: What the rest of the world gets wrong clearly demonstrates. Bryant does however make this damning observation:
In the face of this authoritarianism, the supposedly anti-authoritarian Australians are unexpectedly meek and acquiescent.
Australians, in general, are orthodox and compliant.
The greatest myth, of course, is in sport. Seen as almost a religion, mainly to watch with a few tinnies and a few mates and to an extent, to play, it’s not a particularly healthy country. Ditto with the bronzed ANZAC tradition and one of the most famous plays in Australian history is The One Day of the Year, by Alan Seymour, himself another leftist:
The One Day of the Year dramatised the growing social divide in Australia and the questioning of old values. In the play, Anzac Day is criticized by the central character, Hughie, as a day of drunken debauchery by returned soldiers and as a day when questions of what it means to be loyal to a Nation or Empire must be raised.
So it’s been going on for a long, long time, this white-anting of the culture and Seymour’s choice of the most revered day in Australian history to pillory did not go down well with patriots. And naturally, it soon found it’s way into schools as required reading and indoctrination of students.
It was a very fascistic state in many ways in the 50s and early 60s, there were things you never said, never saw [censorship] and the Australian was quite conformist in his faux-radicalism, especially when compared with French youth in ’68. Much of this is Australia’s own fault, just as our state over here is largely the people’s fault. Australians have always had a certain naive, easy-going way, interspersed with jingoistic violence. The myth is not just believed but is an essential part of the national makeup.
One of the myths is that Australians always go for the underdog and it is true that they’ll barrack for another team if the other team are battlers but then that is undercut by “Going for gold” in the most jingoistic fashion imaginable. Broadcaster Norman May even made his own countrymen and women cringe in his Olympic calls at the top of his voice: “Gold! Gold! Gold!”
The AIS was set up as a direct result of “humiliation” by the Eastern bloc and that is as close to Soviet Russia as it got before the current day. Incidentally, May himself pointed out one of the national divides:
NORMAN MAY: Well, the thing with that one was a different sort of situation in Moscow. I’ve always been involved since 1963 in Olympic fundraising. And that was the time that Malcolm Fraser, the prime minister, didn’t want the team to go. And I’m trying to raise funds for the team. And it got very emotional. The country was divided…
GEORGE NEGUS: I thought politics and sport should be kept apart.
NORMAN MAY: The ABC ran a survey with ‘This Day Tonight’ and 52% wanted the team to go and 48% didn’t. That’s almost 50/50. So there it was. And once the team got there all this problem was there but the public opinion changed. And once I got a race which I didn’t think they’d win, all of a sudden they’re winning and I’m going up in the air like a broadcaster if they’d lost I would’ve gone down like a lead balloon.
Australians do get het up about things and are not always as easygoing as they’d like the world to think. England has never thought it on the cricket field anyway.
Apartheid was one of the worst issues, especially through the Springbok rugby tour and though I was a rugby player of no note at the time, my politics was then of the left and thus I was anti-apartheid. Within the same family, people could fall out over it.
Bigger than that was Vietnam and that led to the coup d’etat of 1975. By the way, I’ve spoken to Malcolm Fraser by telephone and he’s changed over the decades. Division, spite, split down the middle – that was Australia.
When you think of Australian film, what do you think of? Crocodile Dundee, Picnic at Hanging Rock? Half of Australians don’t go there – 56% or so are in the two major cities and up to 90% are urban, suburban or in towns. If you fly into Sydney from across the great space, you’re struck by how Sydney seems to cling to the side of the land for grim life and if you then fly down to Melbourne, it’s a similar tale.
And the cultural cringe is a well-argued phenomenon.
Enough of the negatives – what is absolutely fabulous in Australia are the big, multicoloured skies inland, the burnt browns and greens, the eucalypts by the creeks and the wildlife – the wildlife is quite unique and on the whole, soft, as distinct from the image the Aussie likes to project. The only things which might kill you are a couple of species of snake and the redback but I’m not even sure if the latter kills or not. Oh and mustn’t forget the jellyfish and cane toad.