Current Issue #488

Modern Times: The true face of Australia

Modern Times: The true face of Australia

Australia is a country of myth and legend. Many dream of its blue skies and golden beaches, open society and warm people, but the understanding of few penetrate the veneer of these superficial images. 

This should be expected. We inhabit an island continent, remote and distant. And we make little attempt to share our diversity, our challenges and our realities with the world.

Did you ever wonder why Australia’s iconic game has never been seriously considered beyond our shores? Or why Australia does not have Indigenous language in our national anthem, as do New Zealand and South Africa? Why do we make no attempt to share and promote our distinct national character through a foundation, as the British Council, Alliance Française, Dante Alighieri Society, the Goethe Institute, and, more recently, the Confucius Institutes, encourage the learning of the cultures and languages of Britain, France, Italy, Germany and China respectively?

The face of Australia has changed, but the face presented to the world has not. Our elected leaders who represent us internationally, and business leaders who further our commercial interests through trade and investment, are predominantly white, male and middle aged. The monochrome walls in our corridors of power suggest that we are calling on the talents of some, not the best of many. This ultimately limits our capacity to reach our extraordinary potential.

Why remain culturally timid, unwilling to risk sharing a little of itself for fear that other may not like it. Anonymity is the safest option for the shy teenager, l acking in confidence and fearful of walking alone. We instead follow others, unwilling to stand out. The fl ag of another country appears on our own, and we make no attempt to absorb the most distinctive and authentic voices, of Indigenous Australia, into our anthem.

Our increasingly confident, proud neighbours increasingly see Australia as a backwater of the English-speaking world. Unless we are comfortable giving this impression, we need to act. It is, well and truly, time. Opportunities to project a distinctive and confident national image have been considered and rejected in the past; others are within our grasp today.

On two occasions in the past, Australian governments have considered the merit of establishing ‘Australia Foundations’ overseas. The idea was first considered by Foreign Minister Hasluck in 1967, then again by the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Alan Renouf, in 1974, but it was rejected both times. An Australia Foundation, which encourages a better understanding of Australian languages, literature, music and sport, would signal a more confident attitude to our place in the world.

Australian Rules football is a game of unprecedented spectacle. Fast, dynamic, exciting. Yet only seriously contemplated in the country of its origin. The mystification of our most popular national game – the idea that only Australians can understand and enjoy footy – is intellectually unsatisfying and deflects attention from deeper tendencies to remain comfortably removed, distant and insular. Football is a carrier of cultural values, a game with a broader audience to be grasped. It is time to share it with the world.

The symbols we deploy to represent our country do not reflect the complete reality of modern Australia. If our symbols were not important reflections on who we are and what we would like to become, we would not bother with flags or anthems. But we do. The moment has surely arrived to boldly assert a different image of our country, through the symbols behind that we gather, sing and fight.

Will this generation once again leave it to the next? With great leadership and the determination of a generation of Australians willing to cast aside the teenager’s timidity, we can stride purposefully into national adulthood. It is time for a confident nation to be open to the world. It is incumbent upon this generation to seize the moment. If not us, then whom? If not now, then when?


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