On national and personal identity – Part 2

“Australia’s official presentation of itself is fascinating. Totally subservient to our hoped-for protector (against whom?); a ‘middle power’ throwing its weight about in the Pacific (as any Deputy Sheriff might); and patronisingly friendly towards the relatively under-developed nations to the north; and seeking to make friends with other nations in order to obtain a seat in the UN Security Council.

Overall there is a certain smugness projected, but which does not seem to be persuasive.

In its image of itself, Australia produces a quaint collage. Initially, it was proud of its white, British and Christian ori¬gins. Typically, its explorers kept finding things which the indigene must have already known about. (Burton and Spake seeking the origin of the River Nile come to mind.) From the mid-1960s it became progressively proud of its convict heritage. In the mid-1970s it saw itself as progressively cosmopolitan, drawing upon its increasing ethno-cultural diversity (the Aborigines just need to be more patient).

It has always seen itself, correctly, as egalitarian, welfare-minded, with gender equality, and with increasing intellectual and social freedoms (in spite of opposition from the religious fundamentalists who are still riding their high horses).

Beneath this surface mixture of identities, a few chasms run this way and that. The tolerance by the Australian public of its often pathetic rulers (as in the second decade of the twenty-first century) is itself an essential ingredient of the core image by Australia of itself; tolerant and laid-back, while a little rough on the fringe.

Other essential components of national identity are the national icons, each of which should reflect some significant aspect of the nation’s history. A nation with a very brief history has, however, little of the past to choose from. However, there is the publicly celebrated ANZAC tradition. It is a reflection of the courage, tenacity and loyalty of Australia’s soldiers during defeat in WW1. I wonder: apart from the successful battles against the Japanese in the Pacific, can Australia claim any successes in wars, usually other countries’ wars?

A misted-over part-icon is a highway man, a strange choice. There is then the cringe-arousing fondness for a cross-dressing humorist gladiolus. Icon or not? Those seeking a little too assiduously to create national icons have offered the Eureka Stockade as a harbinger of a thrust to democracy. Icon? Doubtful. Why does this remind me of foreign-owned mining companies and taxation?

Perhaps it is time for modern Australia, with its 30% non-Anglo-Celt multi-ethnic composition, achieved over more than half a century, to establish new icons. What could these be? How will we identify them?”

(When I suggested, in one of my other books, that we immigrants should be free to nominate new, and possibly more appropriate, national icons, I was fiercely attacked by a well-known historian. Traditions must be upheld, right? Which traditions? British settlement based on the destruction of a whole indigenous people? The White Australia policy? This evolving nation has now much to be proud of.

What are the national icons which will reflect the new national identity? Perhaps we need to define more clearly this new identity. As seen by our Significant Other nations, or by us? If by us, will Aborigines and immigrant non-Anglos have any input rights?

The extracts shown above are from ‘Musings at Death’s Door’ and are intended to inspire some thought about what identifies individuals as well as nations.)

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