By Matt Hurley
Australians are blessed with a unique and enduring national character, forged in our relatively short history by events, people and folklore. A world famous stereotype, we are thought to be laid back, easy going larrikins; proponents of the “fair go”.
Pity that it is fanciful at best. In contemporary Australia our national character is an ironic hypocrisy, and a demonstrable fallacy.
Our very beginnings were critical in the development of Australian identity, for without them, there would be no Australia. As a convict colony, we had our [colonial] beginnings as boat people. Boat loads of what some may argue were undesirable people.
By contrast, we now demonise and abuse those who arrive here no less legitimately than our ancestors. In fact these desperate people trying to arrive here by boat today are only seeking asylum from some terrible part of the world, when we colonials arrived by boat it was British imperialism, nothing short of an invasion against the natives. At what point in our history did undesirables truly arrive by boat?
The 1854 Eureka rebellion in the colony of Victoria, and subsequent siege was a significant moment in our history, which undoubtedly contributed greatly to our perceived national character. The miners’ revolt against the colonial authorities unfair miners’ license tax had mass public support and resulted in the Electoral Act of 1856.
Could you imagine if such a situation were to take place today? If a group of people actually took arms against the authorities for some cause, no matter how noble, Murdoch’s propaganda machine would not have to work hard at all to ensure public opinion stood firmly against the rebels. We would already be utterly outraged by the very notion. We get bent out of shape about the smallest of trivialities, let alone when protests against the government’s patently unfair attack on remote Aboriginal communities impacts our commute from work, for example. We cannot abide the most meagre effect on our own busy schedules for a righteous cause, how could one possibility think we would now support a civil war over a tax? The people of the state of Victoria 2015 have zero connection to the people of the colony of Victoria 1854.
The folklore of Ned Kelly is another Victorian colonial era narrative that we feel is intrinsically part of us, an intimate element of our identity, or at least we’d like to think so. Ned was an impoverished larrikin who stood up against the colonial authorities, in utter defiance he thumbed his nose at them and trod a fine line between folk hero and monster.
Now consider a similar situation in today’s Australia. Suppose a ruffian from any given disadvantaged community did a runner after shooting a couple of cops. Even if, like Ned, it was a simple matter of self preservation, the very fact would be inexcusable. The ensuing game of cat and mouse would not be reported but dictated by the media, and I doubt our contemporary fugitive would find such community support as Ned enjoyed on the run. In our current Australia it seems in poor taste to even acknowledge police wrongdoings, we have been conditioned to accept that they are infallible and beyond reproach. To consider that our contemporary fugitive may have been the victim of persecution would seem absurd.
A modern day siege of Glenrowan would also prove at odds to our perception of the historical event. Would the bloody skirmish between a band of outlaws and the police be remembered as the defiant last stand of the Kelly Gang? It seems doubtful for much the same reason as a modern day Eureka Stockade.
It is clear that if these colonial era events laid the foundations for our Australia, someone stuffed up the frame and roof. Nothing is lining up square.
So what of the Aussie larrikin? The Aussie larrikin is dead. Long dead. We now call anyone who displays any tendency toward larrikinism a “hoon”. Condemn them outright, dob them into police, watch with glee as they are dealt with on a worrying number of reality television shows glorifying overzealous policing. Any display of rowdiness or even youthful exuberance is invariably labelled antisocial. In Queensland there is even anti-partying laws! State enforced wowserism.
I have read elsewhere recently something that suggested our beloved larrikin of verse, the Jolly Swagman, would no longer even be able to camp by a billabong. And it’s spot on. Our love of bureaucratic process and overzealous law enforcement has killed the larrikin.
And what of the laid-back Aussie? Well, this stereotype is true in a perverse, corrupted way. Laid back to the point of sheer laziness, we are a manifestly apathetic people. We just don’t care about anything, least of all politics, and it has naturally came to pass that our shepherds have turned to wolves.
And this is the ultimate irony: I believe that it is the one scant element of our national character that we truly do possess has been our biggest weakness. Our carefree “she’ll be right” attitude has resulted in the neglect and deterioration of our national identity.
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