With the passing of another Australia Day (or Invasion Day, or Hottest 100 Day, or January 26 – whatever you want to call it) the idea of what it means to be Australian started buzzing around my head again, like flies around a pile of freshly barbied lamb chops.
When trying to pinpoint this meaning, there’s the literal definition; someone who is a citizen of Australia. Then there’s the traditional definition, which consists of notions of mateship, and barbeques, and surfing, and something about Gallipoli and diggers, and a swagman, and footy and cricket maaaaaaate. And this is the definition that really sticks in my craw. Because it’s all so male. White male. The definition of what it means to be Australian is to be a white bloke, who plays cricket, and drinks beer while barbequeing with his mates. Maaaaate.
And sure, in this picture there might be a chick in a bikini lounging on a beach in the background, and someones gotta do the washing up and the ironing, right Tony? But where are the real women in this picture? Where is the ethnic diversity? We live in a beautiful multicultural society, filled with fascinating, divergent people. Isn’t it time we challenged, and dare I say it, changed our definition of what it means to be Australian?
I know this is a revolutionary concept for everyone to take in. But, don’t worry fellas, accepting change won’t mean the death of mateship and gettin’ shitfaced at your Grand Final barbie. You will still be able to do these things. Maybe you’ll just be drinking craft beer, and helping to clean up. After all, these other elements of Aussie culture are already here, they’re already important to us, we just don’t hoist them up the cultural flagpole and wave them as our own.
So where do we start? Let’s start with the idea that to be truly Australian, it’s gotta be simple food. No fancy shit. Just meat and three veg. Just a Four’n’Twenty pie with sauce, and no fuckin’ rabbit food. Now I’m sorry, but Australia has some of the best restaurants, and most prevalent foodies in the world. One of the highest rating shows in Australia ever is Masterchef! Even an average restaurant in any capital city around Australia is pretty good. And it’s not just in the cities. The countyside is strewn with wineries, and farmers markets, and gourmet kitchens. And don’t even think about serving bad coffee. For this, we probably have our migrant compatriots to thank, with wine, coffee, and all the culinary delights the world can offer arriving on a (gasp) boat with them. So grab your soy macchiato, and activated almonds and raise a toast to the delicious real Australia.
Next up. Being dumb, uncultured, buffoons. It’s time we end this one right now. Australia has some of the highest numbers of privately educated children (with public education giving them a run for their money), and 6 of the top 100 universities in the world. And, even though it’s currently under threat, we still have affordable higher education. So why are we so fucking proud of getting shitfaced, and talking about sport? These things are fun, and I’m not above low culture but for gods sake, put down the Herald Sun (or other Murdoch owned bullshit newspaper) and use the education you were lucky enough to get! We are blessed with so many amazingly intellectual, artistic, creative, and scientific minds who are here working and putting out lots of incredible work that you could be reading/going to see/watching right now. Isn’t it time we stopped worshipping someone just cos he can kick a footy, and started elevating the truly worthy amongst us? Don’t be afraid of intellect, Australia. Celebrate it. If you can all work out how to download the newest episode of Game of Thrones, I know you can digest some more challenging journalism, films and cultural pursuits.
I know that by watching Australian TV you might not know it, but Australians are not just white people. There are people of all ethnic backgrounds whose families have been here for generations, and in the case of indigenous Australians, hundreds – if not thousands – of generations. So just cos your Irish grandmother, and your English great grandfather left cold, wet, industrial Europe in search of a better life, doesn’t mean that you own being Australian any more than the Chinese family who have been here since the gold rush, or the Italians who set up shop here in the 1920s. So just stop asking everyone to “be one of us”. Who the hell is “one of us” anyway? And how boring would it be if we all were? Now I’m not stupid, it’s going to take some time. Multiculturalism is a fairly new concept, and racism an ancient one, but to an alien arriving on Earth from another planet, we’d all look the bloody same. We’d all have weird naked bodies, and pointless hair on our heads. We’d all eat through the same kind of mouth, with the same teeth, and expend stinky effluent through our butts. Sure, we eat different food, and have different cultural norms that we don’t fully understand. Just give it time, have an open mind, and start a conversation or two. We can all progress together if we can start to understand one another. We don’t all need to be friends, but we do need to respect each other. And part of that is celebrating that we’re not all the same. I mean some people can’t eat gluten. What a head fuck.
Ok, now, next one. Australia has women, and they do stuff. You heard me. And not just squeeze out children, and stand on a spinning wheel at the Brownlows, and marry James Packer. We have jobs, and brains, and we make up half the population of this country. We’ve been here all along, you just didn’t notice – unless we were an underwear model, or won an Olympic gold medal, or were on Neighbours, or were your mum. We might not play AFL footy, but a hell of a lot of us watch it (not me anymore, but I watched my team win the Grand Final in 1994 at the MCG, and I retired on top, and discovered music and movies and drinking). We also play guitar, write books, present radio shows, run companies and generally kick butt. And we’re only going to be doing more of it. So no love, I’m not going to get you a beer. Unless I’m getting one for myself. And then the next one’s on you.
I could probably keep going with this all day, but I think you get the picture. “Being Australian” needs a reboot. Before I went to live in the UK, I had never felt that I was ever particularly Australian. I didn’t surf, or tan. I didn’t watch the cricket. I was an alien in my own country. But after 5 years in the UK it occurred to me that there are things that make you Australian, that don’t rate in the traditional definition. We eat the last chip, and don’t leave it in the bowl, afraid it would be too rude to take it – because it’s a chip and it’s delicious. We might not offer a friend a cup of tea when they come over, but we wouldn’t find it rude if they asked if they could grab themselves a glass of water. My house is your house. We use fuckin’ swear words. Just maybe not in front of Grandma.
We talk a lot about “a fair go” but I find that restrictive, or maybe just too “Strayn”. I think we are egalitarian and we don’t stand on ceremony. We challenge authority, we look out for the little guy, and we know we’re lucky to live in a beautiful, but potentially dangerous, country. But within this definition there is room to grow, to become better people, and a stronger, fairer nation.
The best Australia is not in the past, in a backyard somewhere in 1985. It is yet to come. I’ll see you there with my fuckin’ activated almonds.
(The author would like to point out that she does not in fact know what activated almonds are, or how they differ from normal almonds. But she’s willing to give them a go. Straya!!)