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
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.
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,
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.
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,
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 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.
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
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.
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,
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,
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.
Does Australia need a national identity?
Consider how perceptions of an Australian identity may be influential in the following circumstances
What is the dominant culture?
Anglo social commentator Catherine Deveny stated:
Timeline of the Australian identity
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.
-Paintings, customs, songs, myths, stories
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.'
Note - Identity not defined along racial lines. As a consequence, hostility to Exclusives was far greater than any hostility to Aboriginal tribes.
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.
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
Ballad of Ben Hall
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
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.
Expression - Eureka Stockade Flag. No songs were written to glorify the Eureka Stockade.
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.
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.
Federated nation – 1900- 1950
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.
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.
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.
1950 - 2000- The larrikins, post-modernists
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
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.
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."
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 http://www.billshorten.com.au/ensuring_fair_retirement_for_australians Accessed June 2018
4) Election speeches 2001 John Howard https://electionspeeches.moadoph.gov.au/speeches/2001-john-howard Accessed June 2018
5) https://www.facebook.com/The-True-Blue-Crew-TBC-919594454819838/ Accessed April 2018
6) https://www.facebook.com/AntifaAustralia/ Accessed April 2018