Earlier this month, the ABC’s Q&A program aired an episode titled, ‘The Australian Identity: Who Are We?’. The debates that were had and the questions that were asked provided an insight into the current discussion being had across many of Australia’s cultural institutions and its spillover into the public arena.
There were four panelists, one of which was Marlee Silva who’s an aboriginal activist, another was aboriginal ex-Labor Senator and former Olympian Nova Peris. Also on the panel was Tarang Chawla a domestic violence campaigner and Anthony “Lehmo Lehmann” a comedian.
Each held slightly different viewpoints but essentially agreed on what could be called the ‘meta-narratives’ of the discussion. Which included, but wasn’t limited to, the idea that Australia’s most important cultural characteristic isn’t its Christian or English heritage or even its Western identity, but it’s supposed multicultural nature.
Another is the systematic racism that apparently exists in almost all facets of our society, something brought up very regularly as Nova Peris continually injected race into every answer she gave, even when it was irrelevant to do so.
The framework with which the discussion was had essentially portrayed almost all aspects of Australian society in a negative light and as problematic, with the exceptions of Aboriginal culture and Australia’s supposed multicultural nature, which were very obviously being portrayed as its most attractive aspects. For those who may be thinking I’m exaggerating or simply misrepresenting what was said, watch the episode for yourselves.
Domestic violence, a serious issue that obviously should be condemned in all its forms, was something else heavily focused on in the show. Domestic violence victims and families of victims bravely told their stories and some also went on to explain what they believe are the reasons behind why it occurs in the first place.
Unfortunately, it became quite clear that the focus was shifted towards the idea that all men are culpable and responsible for upholding a system that allows for and even encourages this sort of behaviour.
This abhorrent idea is absolutely false and genuinely sexist in nature. To make such a claim one would have to believe in the fundamental premise of the claim, which is that Australian men foster the idea that this behaviour is acceptable, something demonstrably false. And when listening to the panelists substantiate this claim, it’s obvious the same argument used across the West is used here as well. The idea that ‘toxic masculinity’ is the fundamental reason behind why a minuscule fraction of men perpetrate these detestable actions.
This focus on ‘toxic masculinity’ as another of Australia’s cultural traits was argued as further evidence of why we need to focus more on becoming multicultural and move away from the few things left that many Australian’s still point to as manifestations of Australian culture.
Things like Australia’s love of sport and even its unique form of humour, simply perpetuate this system of sexism and racism. These arguments were the ‘meta-narratives’ of the show and were not challenged until the very end.
When Lehmo and Tarang were asked if their love of sport was perpetuating a system that encouraged ‘locker room talk’ and therefore sexism. A slight disagreement ensued but both quickly caved and got back in line with the ‘meta-narrative’ when challenged.
I suppose I’ve somewhat digressed from the question I’m seeking to answer. But an important part of an answer to this question is understanding why this question even needs to be asked in the first place.
In order to better illustrate what I mean, just ask someone if India has a culture, or China, Rwanda or Greece, the answer will invariably come back as yes, of course. Yet, when asked if Australia has a culture, some will answer with the typical response that is; Australia is multicultural and that’s our culture or will simply dismiss the question as a whole.
I often ask myself, why do people frequently struggle to answer this question or even simply dismiss it completely. One of the reasons is certainly the fact that Australia as a modern nation, is very young. And cultures such as China’s, Greece’s or Aboriginal culture have a long history which is often seen as a prerequisite for a ‘real’ culture.
The Australian Culture Defined
The reality is that Australia does have a distinct culture. Our distinctive dialect, identity, traditions, and customs are heavily influenced by several factors and have made a unique culture found nowhere else in the world.
Furthermore, just to clarify my point, Aboriginal culture is certainly apart of Australian culture and is one of several reasons why Australia as a whole is unique, rare and wonderful. But, Aboriginal culture does not dominate the Australian way of life, Australia’s ‘mother culture’ does, which I’m attempting to describe in this article.
Australia’s ‘mother culture’ can be found in Australia’s love and deep appreciation of the outdoors and nature. In the influence Australia’s unique flora and fauna, found nowhere else in the world, have had on us. In our love of sport and our often dry and self-mocking humour.
Our anti-authoritarian views, love of the ‘underdog’ and those who are self-made. And our Christian, Western and English heritage that has provided us with the framework necessary to create a government and legal system that are both indeed flawed but are also arguably among the fairest and most just systems to have ever existed.
Australia’s distinctive and ancient Aboriginal culture has heavily influenced our way of life and how we see ourselves in the world. The unique noise of the Didgeridoo, the spotted colourful paintings and even the shape of the Boomerang automatically make one think of Australia and its notable culture.
To summarise, Australia is multicultural in the sense that there are manifestations of other cultures here. But, we aren’t multicultural in the larger sense of the word. We do have a culture here that can be articulated and even broken down philosophically.
It is incorrectly asserted that Australia lacks an overarching culture. And, this is unfortunately an increasingly common idea espoused by activists. Some of whom, such as Marlee Silva, even advocate for the dismantling of the foundations of our society. And in order to defend Australia we need to push back against the neo-Marxist idea that we have no unique culture. We must articulate what makes Australia so unique and overall a good place to live.