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 in a multicultural society?

Arguably, the dominant viewpoint in Australia’s institutions is that Australia is a multicultural society where it would be racist to assert a national identity. It is a viewpoint that sees vilification of Australia’s past along with the present day Australians who base an identity around respect for it. As said by Singer/song writer Dennis O'Keeffe

"All too often now we hear of multiculturalism, as though it is some new phenomena thrust upon us. A reason, or even worse, an excuse to forget our past, to discredit the Australians that have gone before us.

We must not forget these people for these people are my people. They who came here in chains, who were lashed while they worked in convict gangs at Port Arthur. They who like many others were driven through starvation or oppression from their home-lands to the shores of this new country, Australia. They, who for a multitude of reasons that hopefully, I or my children will never witness or experience, decided not to harbour grudges or discontent but rather to look to the future. They who embraced this country as their own and said; 'let's get on with it, this is a new land, this is our home.'"

In truth, there is nothing in human psychology that makes a commitment to multiculturalism inconsistent with a national identity. To the contrary, human history has shown that it is very common for people to have a mosaic of social identities that a national identity helps bind together. These identities may include include pride in a nuclear family, pride in an extended family, pride in a local community, pride in a city, pride in a religion as well as pride in their country. This helps explain how countries like Switzerland and China, which have very high levels of linguistic and cultural diversity, have managed to combine a strong national identity with very visible multiculturalism. Ironically, it is a commitment to that diversity that makes it difficult for countries to consider their minority groups seceding from the nation. In short, the secession is a blow to the national identity that has diversity as central to it.

China ethnic diversity
The ethnic diversity of China is a significant part of the Chinese contemporary identity.

Although multiculturalism and Australia's identity are portrayed as somewhat polar opposites today, in the past, Australia successfully fused multiculturalism with a binding identity. In the penal era from 1788 to 1868, a Convict or Emancipist identity transcended racial and religious diversity in the Convict class to form a degree of solidarity against the “exclusive” free settlers. Later in the Gold rush of the 1850s, a commitment to a loose set of values around human equality helped bind migrants from the world over. As said by Eureka rebellion leader Raffaello Carboni,

"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."

Finally, Banjo Patterson’s nationalistic song, Waltzing Matilda, successfully fused Aboriginal words like jumbuck and German words like Waltzing to create a song that inspired solidarity by referencing diversity. (Admittedly, economic factors resulted in an identity that embraced diversity giving way to a race-based identity that excluded it in the form of the White Australia Policy.)

There are two main explanations for why multiculturalism is now being used to discredit a national identity rather than support it. The first is that many white Australians don’t want to connect themselves to a past that includes Convicts, dispossession of Aborigines and racism against non-whites. While the likes of Dennis O'Keeffe have been able to see an inspiring story in brutalised people overcoming their challenges to make their world a better place than the one they were born into, others just see a history that lacks the glamour to be found in the histories of Europe. These people need an excuse to say they aren’t Convicts or pillages of Aborigines. Multiculturalism becomes that excuse.

The second reason is power. In short, national identities are problematic for individuals seeking to use identity politics as a way of eliminating rivals in the quest for power. Specifically, strong national identities act like social glues that make it hard for individuals who are part of the national identity to be eliminated or discriminated against. For example, in Nazi Germany, Adolph Hitler positioned a blonde-haired blue-eyed ideal of a master race 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 Hitler's power who lacked blonde hair and blue eyes could be eliminated without ordinary Germans feeling dissonance at Germans killing Germans. All that mattered was that people with blue eyes and blond hair that waved Nazi flags were not being killed.

The Nazi Party defined itself as nationalistic; however, it devalued an inclusive national identity and instead encouraged adherence to a Nazi identity based on an appearance that most Germans did not look like. 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, the devaluing of a national identity allowed Chinese communists to kill other Chinese without any dissonance. Likewise, during the Cultural Revolution, it 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)"

Five Teachers

Communism in China asserted global citizenship above Chinese nationalism. This made it easier for Chinese to kill Chinese.

Although it would be wrong to say that individuals in Australian institutions have aspirations to become the next Hitler or Mao, they do use identity politics to build factional power bases that help when attracting funding, attracting reciprocal citations for academic papers, getting promotions and silencing dissent. These identities may be based around gender, race, sexuality, religion or politics. In order for the identity to be powerful, rivals must be able to be excluded from it. Furthermore, potential members of the minority identity will have more passion for it if it is their only identity and not diluted by a national identity. For this reason, a caricatured Australian identity is often positioned as the enemy that must be fought against. Different groups have reacted in support or against the caricature in different ways.

The far right

From what is often term the far right comes an approach to identity that is heavily embraces the labels of Australia and is therefore an identity that is disproportionately represented in stereotypes of Australia. An example is The True-Blue Crew, which aligns itself with the Australian Flag and a jingolistic view on history. It also identifies itself as being in opposition to the left-wing and the spread of Islam in Australia. 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.” (5)

True Blue Crew
True Blue protest march - source Daily Mail

The moderate right

The moderate right can be differentiated from the far-right in that it supports an Australian concept without basing it on opposition to a foreign one. It is often found in the sporting realm where it may drape itself in the Australian flag; however, there is no real enemy aside from opponents in the sporting arena. This identity may also express a similar level of support to the environment or Australian culture as it does to a sporting representative. In short, it praises rather than criticises.

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.

It should be stressed that members of the moderate right aren't always exclusively Australian in their identification. They may also have a mosaic of identities including religion or heritage that stops them from going to the more extreme positions of the far right. One such example was Indigenous athlete Cathy Freeman who was named Australian of the Year in 1998 and won gold at the 2000 Olympics. Freeman waved both the Aboriginal Flag and the Australian Flag as an expression of her identities.

The far left

If the right can be defined as aligning itself with a jingoistic view of Australia, the far left can be defined as aligning itself with a subversive view of Australia. Instead of aligning with Australia, it aligns itself with a modern myth of Marxism that is inclusive of ethnic and religious identities. The alignment with minority groups is a way of championing mainstream western morality that opposes discrimination; however, it is in conflict with the reality of Marxism. Specifically, Karl Marx opposed religion as he saw it as an instrument of oppression. Furthermore, he opposed ethnic identities as he believed they subverted Marx’s dream of human fraternity. Communist leaders like Stalin and Mao likewise opposed religion and ethnic identities because they believed that any individual with a mosaic of identities would lack passion for Communism.

By championing Marxism, the far left 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. If they have the national identity, however, they are seen as components of a fascist machine that must be eradicated. 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." (6)

Anti True Blue protest organised by ANTIFA - source Daily Mail. Although ANTIFA members hide most of their face, their faces can still be clearly seen as white.

The moderate left

The moderate left can be defined as a group of Australians who have a transnational "western" identity. Because they struggle to see anything positive in Australia, they are not motivated to identify with Australia. Instead, they have adopted an identity that largely takes its cues from activism originating in the USA or Europe. Although some of the activism originates with the far left, it is also carried by western multinational companies that want to transcend national identities in their marketing. By adopting the campaigns of the multinationals in their buying behaviour, the moderate left expresses membership of that global western grouping. Admittedly, the moderate left may reject the western label and argue tshey don't elevate the west above Asia or Africa; however, their actions clearly show a bias towards the campaigns of Europe and the US. That bias reflects how they see themselves.

Activism often originates with the trans-national far-left only to be adapted by multinational companies so it fits their commercial interests. In the above examples, Coca-Cola has adapted western campaigns to reduce CO2 emissions and legalise same-sex marriage so that buying coke is an expression of those transnational campaigns.

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)

The great irony of the premise that multiculturalism is inconsistent with a national identity is that it has effectively excluded non-whites from discussions of national significance and from making appearances in in popular culture. This is reflected in the dominance of white voices academic discussions of national significance as well as the virtual exclusion on non-white faces in media and entertainment industries. In short, if a white Australian criticises the racism, sexism or some other social ill in “our” past and present, he or she gains a kind of moral status akin to the religious convert that says, "I was blind but now I can see." In contrast, a person of colour can’t access the same status because he or she is not seen as part of the “our” or “we.” Instead, they are the “other” who is criticising across the colour line in a way that is akin to racism.

An example of the influence of race can be seen in the different reactions to Catherine Deveny and Yassmin Adbel-Magied in their criticism of Australia.  Deveny has been the most derogatory of the two but rather than suffer due to her criticism, her insults have increased her following amongst a loyal group of white people. For example, Deveny gained acclaim from a section of white Australia when she said,

"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.

In contrast, coloured woman Yassmin Abdel-Magied made a political comment using a historical reference when she tweeted “Lest We Forget (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine)” on Anzac Day. Unlike Deveny, Abdel-Magied had to answer questions about her ancestry and was told to go back to where she came if she didn't like Australia. Later she made a comment was subject of a racial hatred investigation by the Human Rights Commission. It was never publicised which of her words led to the investigation, but they may have been,

“All these aussies outraged about ‘gangs’, acting like they’re not descendant of actual convicts lol.”

It was the kind of comment that homogenised all white Australians as flawed due to a convict stain. Because she did not share a racial identity with whites, there was nothing in the comment that had status for some whites over others. This was very different to the Deveny's comment that divided Australia's whites into good and bad, with followers of Deveny being the good versions.

The contrasting fortunes of the two women illustrate the way that race has come to dominate Australia’s national identity within institutional power that advocates the celebration of a multicultural society. Fortunately, it is a race-based identity that is influential but is still a fringe one. Somewhere outside that fringe has emerged an identity that may not be completely defined and obvious, but it exists nevertheless and has proved accessible to people of diverse ancestries. While it is an identity that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the identity politics of those seeking to enhance their power, it does seem to lend itself to a feeling 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

3) Ensuring Fair Retirement for Australians Accessed June 2018

4) Election speeches 2001 John Howard Accessed June 2018

5) Accessed April 2018

6) Accessed April 2018


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