Does Australia Have Any Culture?


Does Australia have any culture? No.

That’s the opinion of many overseas, and right here in Australia.

Most recently, retired English cricketer David Gower said in response to a question about the upcoming Ashes series being a clash of cultures:

“I’m tempted to say, how can you have a clash of cultures when you’re playing against a country with no culture? That would almost be sledging.”

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About a decade ago I travelled to Bali and Phuket and even beyond, and I began to see truth in similar statements.

We might have plenty of cultural festivals, the yoghurt range at most supermarket is superb, and our beer and bread is based on some of the finest yeast cultures on the planet.

But nearly every country I’ve visited features a traditional dress, music, food and architecture.

As a fourth generation white Australian male, what’s my culture?

A pie with a side of steak and prawns cooked on a barbecue, with pavlova for dessert?

Well pavlova is from New Zealand, and the rest of that meal has existed for well over two hundred years.

What about my traditional music, dance or clothing? A singlet, board shorts and thongs, drunkenly swaying to Crowded House or ACDC. Bands whose key members aren’t Australian either.

Even if that was traditional, it’s not something worth re-enacting at the airport to welcome visitors. However if that job were going, I’d gladly take it.

A couple of years ago I went travelling again, this time through parts of Europe and Asia. Instead of seeing what my culture lacked, this time I saw the advantages.

We’re often accused of not having a culture. By countries with thousands of years of well-documented history, ingrained rituals and religious practices.

Such as Israel and Palestine, whose historical baggage far exceeds the check in limits even for Qantas business class. Their history certainly isn’t holding back their development. Just like a lack of talent isn’t holding back the Australian cricket, rugby union or swimming teams. Instead of Israel and Palestine, insert the name of just about any nation on earth, and that statement still stands.

In Australia we have our own mammoth issues with history. When Europeans settled here just over 200 years ago, they bulldozed an established civilization many thousands of years old. Properly integrating with Aboriginal culture is easily one of the biggest problems facing Australia today.

Right now however, there are far more superfluous issues to be considered. Such as the advantages of being one of the most culturally diverse nations in the history of the planet.

In most countries, your clothing and race reveals whether or not you’re a local.

The only way you can tell a tourist in Australia is if they’re acting like one. Wearing a “Caution Koala’s next 10km” t-shirt and caught in a rip at Bondi Beach, marching around the Opera House behind a guide with a small flag on a stick, or stuck at a train station trying to decipher how to buy a ticket.

We might not have any typically Australian food, but you can get just about anything else, and its quality in terms of ingredients and preparation are admired on a global scale. For example, most visitors agree that our McDonalds and KCF are the best.

Unlike other countries, in Australia your accent doesn’t reveal the town or city or often even state that you’re from, and nobody gives a stuff about your family name, who your parents are, where you went to school or where your grew up.

Our rivalries have been forged through battles on the sporting field, not actual battles.

To me, Australia is a place where if a hand is offered you shake it, if someone needs help you give it, and you’re free to believe whatever you like as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.

Also, I reckon there are a few traits that mark me as distinctly Australian.

Such as knowing my football club song, how to fill out a box trifecta and a good price for a kilo of prawns, but not knowing every word of the national anthem, the date of the Queen’s actual birthday or where my name is “from”, and being equally proud of all those things.

Along with understanding the logic behind drive through bottle shops, believing that insulting friends or family is a sign of respect, and despite our efforts to capture typically Australian on film, I think this was best done by a bunch of drag queens in the desert.

Really though, the idea of “Australian” is very much a work in progress. We’re so diverse and have been together as a group such a short time, that any definition is still up for the defining.

Which is actually an amazingly privileged and unique position.

Compared to more established and less diverse countries, we have nowhere near the baggage. Through our actions and decisions, we all have a pivotal role in determining what it means to be Australian.

Our history is our future. Our culture is what we decide. Please, let’s not stuff it up. We are the lucky country.


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