Australian folk culture hijacked or exposed?

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by Neil Godfrey

Okay, there’s almost certainly no one Australian “folk culture”. But I came away from Woodford disturbed after hearing one of Australia’s most popular folk singers, John Williamson, call on “true blue aussies” to stand up for the environment and to take on the chin insults that will surely follow, insults like being called “green” or “red”! John Williamson included a song in which he heartily extolled the pride of a bush worker killing off animal pests. I was reminded of Adrian Franklin’s “Animal Nation” (interviewed on Late Night Live March last year) where current public hostility to immigrants, the other, is reflected in our policies and attitudes towards the “non-native” wildlife.

But why should the word “green” be sung as an insult against those wanting to protect wildlife? Aren’t the Greens doing probably more than anyone at the moment to protect Australia’s heritage? And why is “red” also an insult to one widely seen as carrying on the 19th century mateship and working class values I thought had been extolled by the likes of Peter Lawlor and the Eureka Stockade, Henry Lawson, Banjo Patterson, C.J. Dennis? Weren’t a good portion of the returning diggers from World War 1 proud to be “red”? Wasn’t the government (the troopers) so scared of their “redness” that they quickly resettled them all over the scattered lands to prevent them from posing a serious threat in numbers in the cities?

Then it hit me slowly like a freight train in a nightmare slow motion. This most popular of Australian singers was leading thousands to take great pride in their “Australian-ness” — but it was a non-thinking bigotted Australian-ness — the type of which I have come to be ashamed. It is the type that votes for a man who smashes Australian values and undoes 150 years of Australian history and struggle by telling the willfully blind sheep that he is “the working man’s best friend”; — but does he totally smash our values or does he expose them?

Weren’t the Lawson’s also racial bigots? Didn’t the mateship of the gold fields come with a generous serving of racial vilification that eventually entrenched right up to recent times the White Australia Policy?

Were our historical “reds” also our rednecks?

Greens go beyond nationalism and are presenting a broader world humanist philosophy. Is that too much for little people who cannot even say “sorry”?

John Williamson also sang of aborigines. But I was not sure if he was singing of them as part of the “beautiful” Australian landscape. I listened in vain for a hint of a “sorry” amidst the strains of tough and hard beauty.

Maybe all that has changed is that where once it was the Left that was the political mouthpiece of “aussie values” — now it is the Right that has become their expression — nothing has changed except the custodians. Yes?

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JohnWilliamson, Greens, Reds, Australian, folkculture, environment, aussievalues, aussie_values, Australian_values, Australianvalues

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Neil Godfrey

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