Australian PrehistoryHistory - AustralianAustralian CultureAustralian IdentityCultural Comparisons Between Australia and other Countries


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Australian Identity

Does Australia Need a National Identity?

The Australia Day controversy

Australian values
Australian Values

Australian LanguageLanguage and Identity

Iconic Australians
Iconic Australians

Australian symbolsAustralian Symbols

Australian StereotypesAustralian Stereotypes

Aboriginal RightsAboriginal Rights

Racism in AustraliaRacism and Egalitarianism

Australian mythsAustralian Myths
Fact or fables?




Australian Identity Across Time

Does Australia need a national identity?

There are many Australians who say that Australia has no national identity and it would be racist if it got one. Ironically, to dismiss the value of a national identity is a uniquely Australian thing to say. Certainly the French don't dismiss the values, behavioural models and culture associated with their national identity, nor the history that anchors it. Likewise, the Chinese, Japanese and Singaporeans are proud of certain myths of behaviour, such as a Confucian value on education, that encourage certain ways of living. Even genuine multicultural nations like South Africa have tried to use a national identity as a way of reconciling differences of history, values and race. Admittedly, much of northern Europe devalues a national identity out of a belief national identities are a threat to the European Union; however, such devaluings are a function of an attempt to assert one geo-political based identity over another rather than dismissing the value of region-based identities outright.

In some ways, Australia benefits from the lack of a strong identity. Specifically, it frees individuals to map out their own futures and be chiefly concerned with themselves. In many respects, this kind of individualism is consistent with the promoted vision of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who said,

“And, you know, there's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first.”

Despite the absence of a national identity being somewhat liberating for individuals, it can’t be disputed that the desire for social identities is an intrinsic part of human psychology. In short, they provide a sense of belonging, inspire people to put others before themselves, and form the basis of what may be affectionately referred to as a community. It is this feeling of shared belonging that makes people willing to pay taxes to support compatriots with health care, sports programs, education or scientific endeavours.  Furthermore, the shared belonging encourages individuals to see the success of their compatriots as their own success. Such psychology was seen in the words of Albert Einstein when he said:

'if relativity is proved right the Germans will call me a German, the Swiss call me a Swiss citizen, and the French will call me a great scientist. If relativity is proved wrong the French will call me a Swiss, the Swiss will call me a German, and the Germans will call me a Jew.'

In short, while economic rationalists may argue that community is a myth and individualism should reign supreme, people are wired quite differently. For this reason, Australia has in fact created social identities that are a function of Australian history and circumstances. These identities tend to be strongest amongst white atheists who don't have accessible religious or ethnic identities to identify with as an alternative to national identities. Furthermore, the identities tend to be defined in opposition to alternative white atheist groups. This has resulted in various groups being labelled left-wing or right-wing depending upon the group's attitude to Australian history, symbolism and myths of a national character.

From the right comes groups such as The True-Blue Crew. The group heavily aligns itself with the Australian Flag and has a positive view on history. It also aligns itself as being in opposition to the left-wing. Specifically, its Facebook page states,

“The True Blue Crew is an active, patriotic, pro Australian group that believes in the preservation of the traditional morals, values, and Aussie pride that paved the way for the great nation we love and call home.

In our opinion the "true blue" spirit is disappearing from our society. Whether it be saying g'day to a passing stranger, offering your seat to the elderly, pregnant, or disabled, or helping those in need, our common decency is being eroded.

We are against the Islamisation of Australia, the far left wing, or any ideology that seeks to destroy our Australian culture and way of life. 

We stand for putting Australians in need such as the homeless, veterans and our farmers before any increases in immigration or foreign aid.”

True Blue Crew
True Blue protest march - source Daily Mail

If the right can be defined as aligning itself with a positive view of Australia, the left can be defined as aligning itself with a negative view of Australia. Instead, it aligns itself with a modern myth of Marxism that is inclusive of ethnic and religious identities. (This is in conflict with the reality of Marxism that in theory and practice was hostile to ethnic and religious identities due to a belief that they would undermine the Marxist identity.) Via Marxism, the identity sees itself as trans-national so that people in different countries are seen as members of an “in-group” provided they have the correct political identity. Of course, if they have the “incorrect” identity, they are dehumanised and seen as components of a fascist machine that must be eradicated without mercy.  

ANTIFA is one such example. According to the Facebook page of the Australian Chapter, ANTIFA aims to

" to educate, organise and fight.

To inform the public about nationalism, fascism, capitalism, racism, sexism, religious persecution, homophobia, xenophobia, attacks on minorities.

Promote the workers struggle against capitalism and it's puppet, fascism.

To defend the working class and their organisations from fascists and other right-wing threats.

To fight against capitalism and fascism."

Anti True Blue protest organised by ANTIFA- source Daily Mail

The general population of Australia can probably be defined as skewed to the right in that polls show the majority have a pride in Australia and feel a sense of attachment to it. For example, the 2011-12 the World Values Survey indicated that 70% of Australians were ‘very proud’ of their nationality, compared with 56% of Americans, 40% of Swedes, 29% of Russians, 24% of Germans, and 21% of Dutch. (1) Likewise, the 2015 Scanlon Foundation survey found that 93% of respondents have a ‘sense of belonging in Australia’ either to a ‘great extent’ or ‘some extent. (1) Most of the dissenting views come from the institutions of power which are arguably more left as there are more negative voices than positive voices. This has led to the very ironic situation of institutions being very hostile to the nation that they lead.

This schism is particularly salient on Australia Day, which really should be a left-wing’s dream. Specifically, because the left controls most of Australia's institutions and the National Australia Day Council in particular, it has the opportunity to use Australia Day to set an agenda that the right will wave flags in support. The only condition for the right’s support is that the agenda is framed in a way that can enhance national pride. The awarding of the Australian of the Year is the most obvious method of doing this.  For example, in 1998, Indigenous athlete Cathy Freeman was awarded Australian of the Year after winning the 400 meters at the World Championships the previous year.  Freeman waved both the Aboriginal and Australian Flag and therefore, her success was a shared success that enhanced the cause of reconciliation.

Cathy Freeman won gold in the 400 meters at the 1998 World Championships. By waving flags of two of the communities she was part of, she enhanced the shared status of those communities. This in turn enhanced the cause of reconciliation.

Despite Australia Day’s potential to set an agenda that is subsequently given approval through flag waving, Australia Day has evolved so that it could legitimately be defined as grievance day in which there is a great deal of division. In the name of setting an agenda, many of Australian of the Year recipients have expressed hostile views to their country. This naturally appeals to the left that is hostile to the notion of an Australian identity, but alienates the cause from the right. In that regard, the cause is less important than the affirmation of a positive identity for those fighting over it. Ironically, the grievances have got to such an extreme that left-wing campaigns have been created to eliminate Australia Day all together. Although the elimination of Australia Day would deny the right a flag waving opportunity, it would also deny the left the opportunity to set their agendas and recognise their heroes.  

There are numerous explanations for why the left in Australia is hostile to a national identity despite a national identity being useful to promote the causes they champion. One is Australia’s renowned “Tall-poppy syndrome” in which people in power are belittled by the wider population. The belittlement might elicit hostility in return from individuals with power in Australian institutions. Another explanation is that national identities are problematic for individuals seeking to use identity politics as a way of eliminating rivals to power. In short, strong national identities act like social glues that make it hard for individuals who are part of the national identity to seamlessly be eliminated. For this reason, national identities tend to be devalued in times of civil unrest when individuals are jostling for power. This was seen in Nazi Germany where Adolph Hitler positioned a blonde-haired blue-eyed ideal of a master race German as an ideal above what most Germans looked like. Furthermore, he encouraged adherents to march under a Nazi flag rather than a German flag. In this way, German communists, German Jews and rivals to power who lacked blonde hair and blue eyes could be eliminated without ordinary Germans feeling dissonance at Germans killing Germans.

The Nazi Party defined itself as nationalistic; however, it devalued an inclusive national identity and instead encouraged adherence to a Nazi identity. In this way, Germans could kill Germans without any dissonance.

A national identity was also devalued during China’s civil war from 1927 to 1950 and in the subsequent cultural revolution. Instead of a Chinese identity, the followers of revolutionary leader Mao Zedong positioned a transnational Communist identity as the aspirational model for his Chinese followers. During the civil war, this identity allowed Chinese communists to kill other Chinese without any dissonance. In the post-war wars, it also allowed subjective smearing with the label of “bourgeoisie” so that any Chinese could be labelled as an enemy of the revolution. As told in the book Mao and China,

A Red Guard in Canton explained, "All the factionalism, fighting, the shifting alliances, and the different positions arose because the instructions from Chairman Mao just didn't work. He might say that all members of the 'left' should unite, but we were never told how to determine who was 'left' and who was 'right.' His statements were so general that everybody, even those who opposed him, could find something to justify his own position"

“We forced the teachers to wear caps and collars which stated things like “I am a monster.” Each class confronted and reviled them in turn with slogans, accusations, and injunctions to reform their ways. We made them clean out the toilets, smeared them with black paint, and organized “Control Monster teams” to see that it was properly done. We would charge them with specific mistakes and not relent until they admitted that they were true. It took a week of nearly constant struggle to make the man admit he had said, “Mao was wrong” in conversation with one of his fellow teachers. They had little rest and were forced to sleep apart from their fellow teachers. We would join informal groups, raid their quarters and begin to work on them again. They could not escape us.”(2)"

In 1964, public intellectual Donald Horne wrote The Lucky Country in which he said Australians were devoid of an identity that bred curiosity, ideas and leadership. Horne went on to say,

"Australia needs sudden shocks of reorientation within its society that will divorce it from the largely irrelevant problems of the British, make it possible to speed necessary changes and to develop some new sense of identity, some public feeling of being a people who can be described - even if incorrectly - as such-and-such a kind of nation, and act at times as if it were so. Australians are anonymous, featureless, nothing-men. This modest anonymity reveals itself in the argument that Australia does not run to the kind of person we could turn into a president."

Since that time, Australia has largely divorced itself from Britain and its irrelevant problems as the British identity as crumbled. In its place, the visible Australian identities that have been created amount to little more than flag waving as well as a dislike of foreigners on the right and adopting American campaigns from the left. While adherents to identities on both spectrums no doubt believe in them, arguably neither are the type of identities that produce leaders in the vein of Nelson Mandela, Robert Kennedy or Deng Xiaoping.

It is somewhere between those two spectrums that an Australian identity has emerged that may not be completely defined and understood, but lends itself to belonging while not lending itself to exploitation. While it is an identity that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the fellowship of those in the institutions or the creation of presidential material, it does seem to lend itself to a felling of belonging and the creation of a society.

Questions to think about

Does Australia need a national identity?

Consider how perceptions of an Australian identity may be influential in the following circumstances

  • An Englishman goes into a bottle store and needs to choose between a wine from Australia and a wine from France
  • An Englishman goes to a pub and needs to choose between a beer from Australia and a beer from Germany
  • An Australian and an American are travelling through the middle-east and want to to meet the locals
  • An Australian and an Italian each apply for a job as a fashion designer in Tokyo
  • A German and an Australian are travelling through China and want to to meet the locals
  • Children of Japanese, Chinese, Korean migrants study together in an Australian classroom
  • Children of Israeli, German and Palestinian migrants study together in an Australian classroom
  • A charity asks for donations after a bushfire
  • A bushfire is coming and fire-fighters ask for volunteers
  • Government wants to increase welfare payments
  • An environmental group talks about the need to save forests for future generations
  • The local movie theatre is showing Australian made films for the next week
  • An Australian soldier is sent to Afghanistan
  • An Australian swimmer wins an Olympic gold medal
  • An Australian scientist wins a Noble Prize
  • Advertisers want to develop a new buy Australia campaign
  • An economist proposes that we should only think about ourselves

What is the dominant culture?

Anglo social commentator Catherine Deveny stated:

"An Australian Flag in your front yard tells everyone you're only a couple of Bundy and Cokes away from lynching a wog, slope or Arab."

Aussie Pride

  1. Deveny is of the same race as the individual shown above (taken after Cronulla riots). Do you think she shares an identity with him? Why or why not?
  2. Would you define Deveny as ethnic? If so, what ethnic group is she part of?
  3. Deveny is of Anglo-Celtic ancestry, used to write for the Age newspaper and frequently appears on the ABC to give her opinion on various issues. Would you define her as a member of the dominant culture of Australia? If yes, did you define her on the basis of her race, her power, her values or the institutions that she is connected with?
  4. The Charter of the ABC is to reflect the Australian identity. Why do you think the ABC would be keen to keep inviting Deveny on to its programs?
  5. How would you describe most of the people you see on the ABC?
  6. In your opinion, who has the most power to define the face and culture of Australia? Deveny or the individual above?
  7. In your opinion, whose face would most likely to be used to define Australia? Deveny's or the one above?
  8. Deveny has a great deal of power relative to most Australians. In your opinion, does being highly critical of other Australians enhance her power?
  9. How is Deveny's identity created in opposition?
  10. How does Deveny promote her own identity in relation to Australians of Asian, Southern European and Middle-eastern descent?
  11. Deveny deliberatey uses derogatory terms when referring to Australians of Asian, Southern European and Middle-eastern descent. Why?
  12. Would you define Deveny as racist?
  13. Would you describe the person above as racist? If yes, did you use something in the picture or your knowledge of the Cronulla riots to make your decision?


Timeline of the Australian identity


Aboriginal tribes

Aboriginal tribal identities were based around an animal or plant totem. Each Aboriginal person believed they had three forms which gave them a continuous life form. The totem was the form after human and then to spirit. As the cycle continued, so did the Aboriginal cultures.

There was no concept of an Aboriginal identity or Australia as one land. Each tribe was very much its own unit and reserved hostility to other tribes. This hostility to an outgroup helped maintain a strong ingroup identity.

Because Aboriginal identities were not defined along racial lines, there was more hostility between different Aboriginal tribes that there was towards the colonists that arrived in 1788. Furthermore, the prestige of the tribe was not defined according to land ownership, but according to the number of people in a tribe. For this reason, the tribe was both open to new inductees, but also intent on destroying all rivals.

"Whenever he recounted his battles, "poised his lance, and showed how fields were won", the most violent exclamations of rage and vengeance against his competitors in arms, those of the tribe called Cameeragal in particular, would burst from him. And he never failed at such times to solicit the governor to accompany him, with a body of soldiers, in order that he might exterminate this hated name. " From Watkin Tench – 1791

Expression -Paintings, customs, songs, myths, stories , war

Colonial era

Convicts, Legitimates and Emancipists

After gaining their ticket of leave, Convicts started referring to themselves as Legitimates. Their thinking was that since they had been "chosen" by the finest judges in England, they were of the few Europeans with a legitimate reason to be in Australia. Later they referred to themselves as Emancipists because it implied they had attained liberty and strove for the liberty of others. The Legitimate/Emancipist identity was maintained with hostility to the Exclusives.

Expression - Songs, flash language, tattoos, convict women mooning wowsers or 'exposing her person.'

"From distant climes, o'er wide-spread seas we come, 
Though not with much eclat, or beat of drum,
True patriots all, for it be understood, 
We left our country for our country's good:
No private views disgraced our generous zeal,
What urged our travels was our country's weal:
And none will doubt that our emigration
Had prov'd most useful to the British Nation."

George Barrington

The Landlord
W.B Gould
The Landlord

The Landlord, by Convict artist W.B Gould, shows an early expression of Australian egalitarianism. It depicts a suited man with a toothless grin. Strict convention amongst noble man of the time was a deadpan expression; especially if one's teeth were missing. Without doubt, Gould had painted an ex-convict whose desire to conform to social prestige had been surpassed by a self-effacing personality.

Note - Identity not defined along racial lines. As a consequence, hostility to Exclusives was far greater than any hostility to Aboriginal tribes.

The Exclusives

The Exclusives were free British settlers, or military officers who had left the service. The Exclusives advocated confining all offices and civic honours to Emigrants with the total exclusion of Emancipists and their offspring.

The Exclusives were extremely pro-British and maintained their identity with a strong hostility to the Legitimates/Emancipists.

Unique class system keeps the colony divided against itself.

Jan 31 Deep divisions exist within New South Wales, greatly adding to the burden of being a people isolated at the bottom of the world, and therefore needing more than ever to live together in harmony.

Historically, the greatest rift has been between the "exclusives" and the "emancipists". The first group believe that anyone who has come to the colony in penal servitude is never capable of complete redemption. These people, who tend to be among the wealthy landowners, thus see themselves as a superior class. For their part, the emancipists, who are all ex-convicts, are concerned with equality of human rights. 
Governor Macquarie, much to his peril, supported the emancipist cause, despite opposition from the forces which believed it would end respect for the law by allowing ex-convicts the normal rights of British citizens.

Since the Bigge inquiry, though, the colony has been re-established much more firmly as a prison rather than for reform, which has only worsened the tension. As well, the emancipists are divided, between those who committed crimes at home, and in Australia. This reflects a third division, being "Sterling", a name for the British-born, and the "Currency", the home-grown population. – Colonial newspaper report

Expression - English flag, English clothes, formal English speech

Note - The Exclusives saw the Aborigines as 'noble savages.' Their thinking was that Aborigines were without sin as they have never learnt it. For this reason, they wanted to prevent Aborigines mixing with Convicts.

1800 – 1850 – Convicts have children

The Native Born - Currency lads and lasses

The first native born in Australia were taunted as the 'wretched' and the lowest class because their parents had been Convicts. This discrimination was institutionalised when it came to the distribution of land grants. Whereas free immigrants were frequently given grants running in thousands of acres, the native born of Convict stock were only allowed sixty acres. 

The bush pioneer became the icon for the native born. Out in the bush, no laws ran and people were free to sing folk songs or live in equality. There was no room for elitism because people on the land needed to rely upon one another in the tough conditions. The identity was maintained with hostility to English immigrants and authority figures.

Expression - Bushranger songs, bush poetry

"Come all you young Australians and everyone besides
I'll sing to you a ditty that will fill you with surprise
Concerning of a ranger bold whose name it was Ben Hall
But cruelly murdered was this day which proved his downfall"

Ballad of Ben Hall

Aboriginal identities

As the colony expanded out from Sydney, the Europeans came into conflict with Aborigines over land. Although tribal identities remained, the Europeans started to take the place of rival tribes as the principle enemy.

Although there was hostility, there was also friendship. Some Aborigines left their tribes and formed good relations with the native born. They worked as droving hands and sang songs with the other drovers. Aside from being admired for their lyrical ability, they were admired for their bush skills. In a sense, their knowledge of the land had them admired as the protypical bushman. Reflecting the admiration for the Aborigines is the use of Aboriginal place names for rural Australia.

1850 - 1900 The gold rush years

Eureka Massacre

The Digger (Miner)

In 1853, the discovery of gold sparked massive waves of immigration. Miners from all over the world descended upon Australia and brought with them ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity. Although they valued self-reliance, independence and resourcefulness, they were also fiercely loyal to their mates.

Egalitarian sentiments were solidified with a dislike of the ruling colonial authorities that were deemed to be corrupt and elitist. This gave rise to a union movement. As the authorities tried to break unions via the importation of Chinese labour, the Chinese became another enemy to solidify the Digger's identity.

"The maiden appearance of our standard, in the midst of armed men, sturdy, self-overworking diggers of all languages and colours, was a fascinating object to behold." Raffaelo Carboni writing about the raising of the Eureka Stocake flag in 1854

' Australia began her political history as a crouching serf kept in subjection by the whip of a ruffian gaoler, and her progress, so far, consists merely in a change of masters. Instead of a foreign slave-driver, she has a foreign admiral; the loud-mouthed tyrant has given place to the suave hireling in uniform; but when the day comes to claim their independence the new ruler will probably prove more dangerous and more formidable that the old.' Rather than 'the day we were lagged', said the Bulletin, Australia's national day should be December 3, the anniversary of the Eureka rebellion, 'the day that Australia set her teeth in the face of the British Lion'. Bulletin, 21 Jan 1888

Expression - Eureka Stockade Flag. No songs were written to glorify the Eureka Stockade. 

The Chinese

At the height of the gold rush, there were up to 100,000 Chinese people in Australia. Chinese newspapers of the time depicted the Chinese as hardworking and the other miners as lazy. Although such stories may have indeed been a reflection upon how the Chinese saw themselves, they may have also been a form of propaganda designed to persuade the Chinese not to complain about being exploited by mining companies.

When the Chinese weren't working for a company, they worked together in teams. It was said that they were very efficient at extracting gold and often went to the mine sites deserted by other Diggers, and found gold that had been missed. This was said to have infuriated the other miners.

Although most of the Chinese returned to China, some stayed and established businesses. Unlike most expat Chinese populations around the world, these Chinese seem to have integrated into the other emerging Australian identities.

Expression - Newspaper articles calling other miners lazy.

The Wowser (activist)

By the turn of the century, the anti-transportation activists of the 1850s had evolved into anti-Chinese activists. The wowsers were very loyal to the English empire and saw themselves as British rather than Australians.

Melbourne Punch, 3 May1888

The picture shows Chinese immigrants trying to get in though a door that ‘YOUNG AUSTRALIA’ is stopping with his arm. Beside the Chinese people is a poster saying ‘PLAGUE SHIP’. The bar for the gate labelled ‘COLONIAL OFFICE’ lies on the ground. ‘OLD AUSTRALIA’ points to a ship labelled ‘CONVICTS’.
The captions on the cartoon say:




Expression - Protest marches and posters likening the 'yellow peril' with Convicts. 

Capitalist and outcasts

Words of racial superiority probably did not wash with any Australian of mixed blood or those descedended from Convicts. To the contrary, the stigmisation of the Chinese probably fostered a sense of empathy. The Kelly Gang seemed to be one such group that had time for the Chinese. They were rumoured to have been helped by Chinese (although this might have been propaganda to win the public relations war against the gang.) One member of the gang, Joe Byrne, definately was on good terms because he could speak fluent Cantonese.

Some sections of the business community could also see the positive side of the Chinese. Perhaps due to the language barrier, they were less likely to join the union movement, and so allowed businesses to pay low wages.

"No one who has paid any attention to the question of the coloured races will attempt for one moment to despise either the Japanese or the Chinese. " William Higgs, Labour Party

"I look upon the whole of the inhabitants of Asia as my friends. I am perfectly willing that they should be called my friends, and I hope so long as God gives me breath that I shall have the courage to stand up for what I consider to be right for them." Edward Pulsford, Free Trade Party


Federated nation – 1900- 1950

Arthur Streeton Fire On

Arthur Streeton
Fires On

The Pioneer

The pioneer continued on the bush tradition laid by the previous generations. 

Expression - Paintings by the likes of Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts. Poetry by Banjo Pattern and Henry Lawson.

"But still so slight and weedy, one would doubt his power to stay,
And the old man said, `That horse will never do
For a long and tiring gallop lad, you'd better stop away,
Those hills are far too rough for such as you.'
So he waited sad and wistful only Clancy stood his friend
`I think we ought to let him come,' he said;
`I warrant he'll be with us when he's wanted at the end," Man from Snowy River

Simpson and His Donkey

Digger (soldier)

The Digger had his baptism of fire in the Gallipoli campaign. Rather than hate the enemy, the Diggers seemed to hate the English. The Poms were seen as filthy cowards whose incompetence had resulted in the loss of life of countless Australians.

Perhaps the dislike of Poms made the Diggers better soldiers. It seems as if they felt that they had to prove their superiority over the English on the battlefield.

'Italians with whom I talked found it hard to believe that the Australians were volunteers. They understood their own position. They had been sent to Libya to win glory for Mussolini. They presumed that the Tommies were there merely to defend British Imperial interests. But why were the Australian volunteers there?

The ordinary Digger would have found it difficult to tell you. If you ever persuaded him to talk he would not have spoken of defending freedom, or removing injustice, or of saving the Empire. He might have said, "Oh, I wanted a bit of fun;" or else, "I dunno, I was fed up with my job;" or perhaps, "well, all my cobbers were joining up and so I went along too." Not much more than that. These would not be the real answers. Men may join up for fun or for a change, but if these are the only reasons, they would not go into action and fight through with bayonet and grenade when machine gun bullets kick the dust around their feet and they see the man next to them go down. If you could get the ordinary Australian to say what he really feels, it might be something like this:

"Well, I came away because I believe in a fair go and I wanted to be with my mates; because I like being able to say to a copper, 'That's all right, copper, you got nothin' on me;' because I want to say what I like when we're having a beer at the pub; because I want to do what I like with the few quid I've got in the bank; and because women and kids are being bombed in London and shot in Prague, and someday this might happen at home if we don't do something about it."

It was because they felt the battle was being fought for things like these, which mattered directly to them, that the Mallee farmer and the Kalgoorlie miner, the Bendigo bank clerk and the Sydney solicitor made the soldiers of Tobruk just as they made those at Gallipoli.' Chester Wilmont

Expression - War poetry, Anzac Day, courage on the battlefield

The Wowser (Englishman)

Once the threat of Convicts and Chinese had ended, the Wowsers found themselves somewhat aimless. Some directed their attention to campaigning against frivolous pastimes like gambling and drinking. Others found it immoral for people to jump into the ocean wearing small bathing suits.

With a dislike of these great Australian pastimes, the Wowsers remained obsessive in their support for English values, and moral empowerment.

'Wowsers and gloom-merchants are always saying that we spend too much of our time in sport.' Aussie: the cheerful monthly (Sydney, 1922)

"Yet even today, the act of jumping into the Pacific with as little as possible on the body is regarded with gloomy suspicion by the wowsers." Surf: All about It (1930)

'But members of this odd body of wowsers want the right to force their opinions on to others'. Bulletin (Sydney, 1975)

1950 - 2000- The larrikins, post-modernists

Russel Drysdale The Ruins

Russell Drysdale
The Ruins

The Aboriginal Victim

By the end of World War II, Aboriginal tribal identities had eroded to the extent that white people stopped seeing differences between Aboriginal tribes and instead began viewing them as a homogenous out-group. Names for individual tribes faded away and instead Aborigines, the generic word for an indigenous population, came into use by default.

Aborigines also stopped thinking in cultural terms and instead began to think of themselves in racial terms. Blacks were part of their in-group while all whites were the out-group invaders. Asians were in an undefined category.

Many Aborigines developed a strong identification with black power movements from America. They assimilated rap music, and the baggy style of clothes. Oddly, many Aborigines became Rastarian; except they dropped the green from the colour coding. (Rastafarism is a pseudo-Christian based religion developed by the descendents of slaves wanting to show pride in their African heritage. Its name comes from Prince Rastafari of Ethiopia. It is not possible to be Rastarian without African heritage.)

Perhaps assessments of Aborigines also went downhill in mainstream society. When the bush was held up as the "true Australia", the Aborigines were celebrated as the prototypical bushmen. As the bush lost its iconic status, so too did the Aborigines that lived in it.

Expression - Aboriginal flag, protest marches, music, Aboriginal tent embassy, defiance of white authority

"Our world was shattered by the violence of the Invasion which began when the First Fleet of British Boat people arrived in 1788. Our people were decimated, as the invaders stole our country, imposed their own laws and systems of government on our peoples, forcing our people into concentration camps called "missions". " Aboriginal activist

The Larrikin

Although Larrikins have always been popular in Australia, it wasn't until after World War II that larrikins also became national heroes. The likes of Dawn Fraser and John Newcombe commanded respect across the classes, which made their rule indiscretions difficult to criticise. The result was a change in the meaning of the world larrikin. Instead of conjuring images of street criminals, it conjured images of good-hearted risk takers.

The larrikin identity was maintained by mocking the wowser and subsequently taking delight in their displeasure. 

"Well, I'm [ever | rather] upper class high society
God's gift to ballroom notoriety
I always fill my ballroom
The event is never small
The social pages say I've got
The biggest balls of all" - AC/DC Big Balls

Expression: Praise for icons such as Dawn Fraser, Ned Kelly, John Newcombe. The music of AC/DC and Skyhooks.


Expatriate/ global swagman

While the multiculturalists tended to avoid new experiences, the expatriate went searching for them. Some went as backpackers to pull beers in a London pub. Others went as actors to America to make their fortune. Some went to Japan to establish television shows.

The global swagman's desire for new experiences gave rise to the expression that "there is nothing more Australian than spending time in someone elses' country."

Buying bread from a man in Brussels
He was six foot four and full of muscles
I said, "Do you speak-a my language?"
He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich
Men at Work

I've been to cities that never close down,
from New York to Rio and old London town,
but no matter how far or how wide I roam,
I still call Australia home.
Peter Allen

Expression - Songs such as Downunder, movies like Crocadile Dundee and iconic expatriates like Nicole Kidman, Russel Crowe, Kylie Minogue, taking a jar of vegemite overseas, Qantas theme: "I Still Call Australia Home."

2000 onwards - Bogans and anti-bogans


The word 'bogan' originated in the 1980s in reference to teenagers that listened to heavy metal. Over the following three decades, the category was expanded. The book, "Things Bogans Like" suggests that bogan and Australian are interchangeable terms.

Traditionally, bogan was a term that was negatively applied to people rather than a term people chose to embrace.

Expression - Southern Cross Tattoos, bumper stickers,


Anti-bogans are by far the largest social group in Australia and hold most of the power. They do not have a clear idea about what they are, but they know they don't like bogans and are not bogans.


Area-7 - Nobody Likes a Bogan

Expression - Songs like "Nobody Likes a Bogan", books such as "Things Bogans Like", the "comedy" of the Chaser and Catherine Deveny


2) Karnow, Stanley Mao and China Penguin Books 1972


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