Identity is a debate that many Australians are still arguing today. After all these years of living in Australia, the identity of the country is still something that cannot be agreed upon. Though many seem to have their own idea of what an ?Australian? is, there is no clear cut view of this thus the conclusion that an ?Australian? is a myth can be formulated. Thus, many people of Australia feel as if they should aspire to be citizens of the world instead.
It?s the phrase on everyone?s lips: Australian identity. What is it? To find out what Australian identity is, you first must look for certain evidence based on customs and traditions as well as rites and rituals. But the problem with this is that if you ask almost any Australian on the street the first response that you would get would be the same: the barbecue. Just about anyone can describe the rituals of an Australian barbecue: the man cooking, ?usually with a tinny in one hand and tongs in the other;? the women preparing salads in the kitchen. It is difficult to figure out why the barbecue is Australia?s ?single most identifiable domestic ritual.?(Carey, The Sum of Us, pp, 30) It might be that it connects Australian?s to their more ritualistic past but it is hard to believe that a countries entire cultural identity relies solely on cooking a piece of meat on a grill.
Sport is another subject that seems to dominate much of Australian society. Such events such as the Grand Prix and Australian Open seem to give some Australians a sense of identity. Australian Rules Football is another sport that seems to encompass many Australians and is a way that many Australians identify. But it is important to note that all three of these are dominant in Melbourne, the sporting capital of Australia. With the upcoming Olympics in Sydney being one of the few exceptions, sport is predominantly in Melbourne and isn?t nearly as popular in the other states thus making it difficult to argue for it is ?Australian? identity.
Australia Day is considered by many to be part of an identity that is strictly Australian, and given the name, how can you argue. Events included in this celebration include ship races, boat races and wheelchair races. All of this is great but how much they ?reflect the national character and identity and how much they reflect the images created by a select group of citizens known as the Australian Day Council is difficult to determine.?(Carey, pp. 30) This group was formed because of the lack of spontaneous celebration thus showing how little it means to many Australians. In other words, it would be hard to use this as an example of ?Australian? identity if the people aren?t very supportive of it.
Other than Australian Day, the only historical event that can be used to identify many Australian?s in Anzac Day. The only problem with this is that much of what people believe and celebrate is apart of a myth that has been taught and believed for years. The image of the Anzac which is central to the legend, was a created by C.E.W. Bean, whose role in the evolution of the Anzac legend and the accuracy of the image he imposed on the Australian public have provoked a vigorous debate amongst historians. The Anzac Book ensured that Bean?s image of the ?Anzac? became a model for Australians and the heart of the Anzac legend. The mere landing in Gallipoli instantly was considered as national triumph when in reality it was a disaster which cost the lives of 10,000 Australians and New Zealanders; the only success seemed to be the evacuation. (Kent, pp. 30) The movie Gallipoli, based on the Australians only helps to support this image of the Australian soldier. The truth, of course, is that Australian troops behaved like brutal barbarians in Egypt.
All these do is add to the myth that is Anzac Day thus not making it a good thing to base ?Australian? identity around.
Another idea in which Australian?s have tried to identify themselves with is multiculturalism, and is defined by the Macquarie Dictionary as ?the theory that it is beneficial to a society to maintain more than one culture within its structure.? At least this is the view of the many supporters of a multicultural society. Multiculturalism and a uniform conception of national identity are incompatible. Yet governments which inherit delimited territories cannot accept this. (Jupp, pp. 143) It needs to be asked as to whether most Australians have thought about the implications of a “truly multi-cultural society”? At the moment many Australian traditions are based upon our Christian heritage; but in a truly non-discriminatory multicultural society these traditions will lose their official standing so as not to discriminate against, or offend, other religions; especially when the population base for other non-Christian religions, such as Islam, grow enormously. For instance, it is “discriminatory” for Australian governments to recognise, and allow public holidays for, Christian religious festivals, such as Christmas and Easter. It is a “logical” demand of multiculturalism to demand that such “discriminatory” practices cease. In such an event, there are two basic “non-discriminatory” options: 1) to recognise, and declare public holidays for, all religious festivals (a political and economic nightmare), or 2) to ban official support for all religious festivals (this latter scenario being the more likely choice). Do Australians really want government recognition of, and public holidays for, Christian festivals (such as Christmas and Easter) banned? Don’t be misled by statistics of “ethnic background”: the vast majority of the Australian-born (second generation, third generation, or whatever) are Australians, who are part of the Australian culture; some may be raised in such a way as to be imbued with aspects of another culture, but that does not change the overall picture: they share (broadly) the same way of life; speak the same language; relate to the same national icons; operate under the same cultural mode of everyday behaviour; and they live in, and enjoy, the same country. Culturally, most Australians are just that: Australian.
The fact is that Australia is not a multicultural country. To use an analogy, it can readily be seen that a white dog, with a pink tongue and black paws, would only seriously be described as “multicoloured” by an idiot, or someone with an ulterior motive; so it is with multiculturalism: there is an ulterior motive behind the push to call Australia “multicultural”. The reasoning is that if Australia is called “multicultural” (which would imply that most Australians are everyday practitioners of foreign cultures), that the entire country will be perceived to be, as a whole, “multicultural” (no matter what the reality is); that, if this country is “multicultural”, you therefore need “multicultural policies”, that therefore you need “multiculturalism”, which will then be used to turn Australia on its head to produce a multiculturalist, internationalist society.
Australia is not a “multicultural society”, it is a monocultural society with some ethnic minority cultures at its edges, or to be more succinct, Australia is a “core-culture society”. The term “multicultural society” implies that the entirety of the society is multicultural, which is far from the truth, and is a term used in support of a political ideology. A core-cultural society is a far more accurate and truthful description of the Australian nation. Multiculturalism is not just a concept whereby first generation immigrants can keep their culture (they could’ve kept it anyway), but one which wants to ensure that immigrant cultures are passed from generation to generation, rather than anyone becoming “Australian”.
In conclusion, it can almost be said that Australia still is without a national identity. Thought it seems to have aspects that seem to point to an ?Australian? identity, the fact is that there are too many differing opinions on what this should be. It?s just going to take people agreeing on what they want to be identified as and until this happens, it?ll just have to be up to the discretion of each individual to decide. This is why an ?Australian? is considered to be a myth and thus why many people of Australia feel as if they should aspire to be citizens of the world instead. Maybe it?s not such a bad idea after all.
Gabrielle Cary, ?The Sum of Us?, Good Weekend, 25 March 1995, pp. 30-31
Livio and Pat Dobrez, ?Old Myths and New Delusions: Peter Weir?s Australia?, in Anna Rutherford and James Wieland (eds), War: Australia?s Creative Response, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1997, pp. 215-227.