Between a Hard Rock and a Place.

September 11, 2008

Australia’s Default Culture

Filed under: Australia's Default Culture — camharris @ 12:33 am

One of the main categories I will have here is Australia’s Default Culture, and the writing below on Mateship is the first of a list of things that I think are worth pondering.  I don’t really think we are a pro-active culture, and it is a good thing we are young as there is always time to make changes.  It seems we tend to settle for very little culturally.  Our national dress is probably shorts and plastic Chinese-made Japanese-inspired thongs (flip flops).  Our national food is probably a pastry and offal pie, or whatever comes off a bbq plate.  Our national song is just about a guy who steals a sheep and then commits suicide, but you can sing it with your eyes closed if you like to make it more nationalistic.

It all just seems… like no one could come up with anything better.



  1. When I was young, “mate” equaled play-mate. Somebody I played with alot. When I was dating, “mate” equaled the person I was searching for in order to create a family and spend the rest of my life. When I married, “mate” equaled my best friend, lover, and father of my children. After reading your post, for me “mate-ship” makes a good combination of mate and friendship which equals what my husband and I have together.

    Comment by sojourner — September 12, 2008 @ 8:49 pm | Reply

  2. ‘Mates’ are the guys who don’t hate you, and will reciprocate with a Barbie invite.

    ‘Mateship’ is something far deeper. I share this with only one or two. It described the permission for honesty that no-one else has. There is also permission to bugger it up, cos it’s assumed that forgiveness will follow (after a right-royal kick in the pants, out of love).

    I hated to see the phrase used for political purposes. Very Un-Australian!! 🙂

    Comment by Toddy — September 17, 2008 @ 7:53 pm | Reply

  3. I’m not that into the whole nationalistic thing – I don’t mind being Australian but I’d rather think of myself as a global citizen – but I wonder if there are a few too many stereotypes at work in your post. Barbies, thongs, pies – we’re more than that. Perhaps there is a problem for any country in defining itself as there is such diversity within nations.


    PS I don’t reckon mate is a term exclusively for men. I’ve used it to describe my besties before!

    PPS What about our other national song – it has some worthy sentiments (we’ve boundless plains to share) but we just have to live up to them!

    Comment by Kylie — September 17, 2008 @ 10:06 pm | Reply

  4. I agree there are too many stereotypes in the post that are cheap and weak. I think the problem is that we don’t seem to be replacing them very well. It would be interesting asking millions of people all over the world what they thought of when they thought of Australia. Amongst the landmarks, animals and colloquialisms, I am not really sure what people could come up with.

    And I wonder if we have missed our chance for establishing a national identity before cultural diversity is our identity. Our richest cultural identity in our Indigenous people seems to be almost wiped out. I don’t know where it goes from here, but that is not to say it can’t be something brilliant, as a nation, we are still young adolescents really.

    Ooo Toddy, love the way you subtly slipped in that word “Un-Australian”. Like a red rag to a bull!! Nice! We’ll talk about that later I am sure!

    Comment by camharris — September 17, 2008 @ 10:29 pm | Reply

  5. Do we need a national identity? Do you think the responses that we might give if asked what we thought of China or Egypt or any other country would be adequate?

    Comment by Kylie — September 17, 2008 @ 10:43 pm | Reply

  6. You liked that ‘Howardism’ did you?

    The problem with stereotypes is that they’re usually acurate enough to not need a lot of work to redefine.

    Kylie – good qu (‘do we need a national identity’). I guess the short answer is ‘no’, but gee whiz – people have been trying very hard to nail one down!! Let alone the rest of the world, Australians struggle to define it beyond the obvious when asked. Ask any aussie what the top 10 things are that define Australia’s national identity, and you’ll see what I mean!!

    So, in a world that is now more nationalistic then ever (us & them since 9/11 when they knocked down ‘our’ trade towers), people keep searching, assuming they must have one, and that it must be better than theirs!

    Not a long way from church mission statements & vision statements (not a bad idea in and of themselves, but some churches are trying too hard).

    A real era of trying to define ourselves, in all situations.

    Comment by Toddy — September 18, 2008 @ 5:15 pm | Reply

  7. Short answer Kylie, yep. But a very good question.
    I think national identity is important, as are other forms of identity. Our identity can come from family, friends, interests, vocation, heritage, pursuits etc. rah rah rah. Our own personal identity is really important to us as it gives us a valid sense of belonging, and provides us with things to be proud of culturally. It hit me hardest when overseas trying to educate kids and adults about my culture along with people from other countries doing the same. They had national dances, costumes, food, rich folklore, cultural games etc. I had a clip on koala made in China. No dance, everyone else was wearing thongs and singlets, no real traditions to share other than saying ‘G’day Mate’ when asked. The only thing that really cut it was playing the didgeridoo, and I think that is connected to the deepest sense of cultural identity we can latch onto. But it is pretty much gone. It must be revived, and it can.

    I know I am taking the more pessimistic view, but it does come from a strong underlying sense that we could actually make it so much better. Culturally, that is the goal.

    Comment by cam — September 18, 2008 @ 5:19 pm | Reply

  8. Actually, I think the question “Do we need…” is probably a key thought in our culture.
    Did China need to create dragons dancing in the street? Did Indigenous Australians need to dance like animals (literally)? Did Japan have to think up crazy tv shows? Did any country need to do anything culturally identifiable? I would think probably not. But they chose to anyway, even if cultural traits were consequences of religious belief, war, food shortages, natural disasters etc. they were all taken to the next level, not because they had to, but maybe because they considered it important. I am sure there could be many other reasons also.

    I don’ think it takes much either. An example I like to use was when Sam Kekovich appeared in advertisements a few years ago telling everyone to eat lamb on Australia Day. It found it quite profound. In 100 years time, will eating lamb on Australia Day be recognised with as much traditional reverence as eating Turkey on Thanksgiving for Americans? I will talk more on this in another post. Don’t get me started on why the heck we still have frosted snow spraypainted on shop windows leading up to Christmas in Australia. You can fry and egg on the pavement just under the window in 28 seconds, yet we don’t have the initiative as a nation to develop our own connections to Christmas. Maybe instead of snow on the windows, we should just have a string of fried eggs.

    In response to the question “Do we need…” I think culturally our response is “Nah, she’ll be right mate!” and we are left with the default culture I think we have.

    But anyway…

    Comment by cam — September 18, 2008 @ 5:38 pm | Reply

  9. There is a difference between celebrating culture and dividing by stereotypes. Culture forms overtime and is in constant flux. I guess “default culture” means what is current at the moment or automaticually assumed. Can culture actually be manipulated by those in control or does it just evolve overtime by the beliefs and actions of individuals? From a cognitive psyc perspective, stereotypes occur automatically (default) in order to categorize sensory information. Unfortunately, our individual perspectives are shaped by society and culture which has a large effect on the stereotypes our brains store in default mode. In diverse socieities (many cultures) negative stereotyping makes it difficult for some groups to hold onto their individual cultures without being stigmatized. The majority or powerful groups expect the minority or weak groups to become assimilated by giving up their own culture and adopting the culture of the other. I don’t know much about Australia, yet I perceive you as y’all being very open to diversity which may be why you are having such a hard time “nailing down” your culture. Reminds me of a Rebel who was nailed to a tree because he refused to buy into what the majority and powerful were pushing. Transformation that will make a difference in how we treat our bothers and sisters takes time — doesn’t it?

    Comment by sojourner — September 18, 2008 @ 10:42 pm | Reply

  10. I’ve got the feeling that most cultural stereotypes have roots in early-times survival (‘food culture’ is often based on the food for the poor, large families is about providing support because the govt can’t/wont etc), and/or religion (ie, keeping boogy-men away, doing what you can for luck etc). These (plus others I’m sure – I’m trying to make my brain work on Sunday!) breed repetitive ‘isms’ that others from that group can identify with, and it forms a corporate memory that carries on beyond it’s practical usefulness, but in a way that provides links between modern living and the past.

    Comment by Toddy — September 21, 2008 @ 12:10 pm | Reply

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