Desperately seeking an Aussie identity

(This article first appeared in the Brisbane Courier Mail)

Our culture may not be distinct, but there are still some things that mark me as clearly Australian – knowing my football club song, how to fill out a box trifecta and a good price for a kilo of prawns.

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

So as a fifth-generation Australian male, what’s my culture? A pie with a side of steak and prawns? With pavlova for dessert?

Pavlova is from New Zealand, and the rest of that meal has existed for well over 200 years.


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

Even if that was traditional, it’s not something worth re-enacting at the airport to welcome visitors.

As an Australian whose ancestors all arrived within the last 200 years, I’m often accused of not having a culture. That’s often by countries with thousands of years of well-documented history, rituals and religious practices. 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: Koalas next 10km” T-shirt, caught in a rip at that 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 the world over.


Unlike other countries, in Australia your accent does not reveal the town or city or often even state you’re from, and nobody gives a stuff about your family name, who your parents are, where you went to school or where you 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 do reckon there are a few traits that mark me as distinctly Australian. Such as knowing my footie club song, how to fill out a box trifecta and a good price for a kilo of prawns.

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 typical Australians on film, I think this was best done by a bunch of drag queens in the desert.

Then, 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.


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, any definition is still up for the defining.

Which is actually an amazingly privileged and unique position. Through our actions and decisions, we all have a pivotal role in determining what it means to be Australian.

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This article first appeared in The Brisbane Courier Mail: