Tag Archives: Australia

Australia and the United States – Interesting Comparisons

Why are Australians more accepting and trusting of the role of government than Americans?

  • The United States was settled primarily in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by people fleeing from tyrannies;
  • Australia was settled primarily in the nineteenth century in a land much harsher and more difficult to settle than North America — government was needed to provide roads, water, finance, health services, to enable people to move and populate much of the land. Government was viewed more positively than had been the historical attitude in America. Settlers weren’t fleeing to Australia from governments, either. They were being transported by governments and relied on governments services for survival.

I’ve also found Australia at times to be a very controlled country, too tidy and neat and orderly sometimes. Australians pride themselves on the larrakin tradition, the disrespectful and self-reliant “digger” of Gallipoli, that sort of thing, which is seen as originating in the convict past, and many of the convicts were Irish rebels. But there is also a stifling authoritarian and reactionary strain in Australia, led by conservative politicians, churches, wealthy businesses and various clubs like the Returned Services League. And that, I have heard it said, might be seen as traced back to the other sector of our convict days, the guards, soldiers, police, brutal applications of power. It’s that second element that I feel has been depressingly dominant for far too long now, especially since it is led by political figures who want to take us towards the American ways of privatization of what have traditionally been seen as public services, such as health care and education.

What are the voting (government participation) differences?

  • Voting is not compulsory in the United States, or course, and voting takes place on a Tuesday;
  • I think many Australians look askance at both of those practices. By making voting compulsory the poorer and otherwise voiceless sectors will have a say and those seeking election cannot avoid taking their interests into account; that’s a good thing. Also by making it compulsory the otherwise “silent majority” will have their say so that radical partisan movements of either the left or right cannot take over the government by default.
  • It is more democratic to have voting on a Saturday. That’s a holiday or half-day holiday for most people so it is much easier for people to arrange to get out to vote. Sunday would have been better but we have the influence of the churches insisting generations ago that Sunday people should be in church and reading the Bible, not getting mixed up with worldly things.

Such are some interesting (to me) reflections inspired by an interview with historian Judith Brett and comments on a recent Drum program by David Marr. Some of the ideas may be myths, but they make interesting discussion topics — well for some of us anyway.

 

Changes

I’ve been bringing myself up to date with the way the world has been changing these past few and more decades, beginning with the 1960s. I am constantly reminded of two quotes, one I heard by Sting quite a few years ago, and another more recently from my mother.

Sting was talking about his boyhood and how everyone listened to the same radio programs, the range of entertainment and recreation and things were more limited but that meant you shared a lot more with everyone in society. He said he thought it was better then. I asked myself if that was just a typical opinion of anyone looking back and thinking things were better in the old days, but I did have to wonder if he was also right.

My aged mother was reflecting on the years of the Second World War and those following, and saying how she remembered society as being less divided than it is today. Obviously, I thought, during total war a nation is going to pull together. And certainly there were serious conflicts afterwards as different sections found their new places with respect to each other afterwards. But I also remember learning at school or soon afterwards how Australia was one of the most egalitarian countries in the world with one of the narrowest gaps between rich and poor. And in the late 60s and 70s there was certainly more hope despite our youthful naivety about what it would take to bring about real change. Perhaps since then we have lost that naivety and come to understand how power works and cannot be so easily changed.

But surely it is true that there is less optimism and less social cohesion today in Australia, and I can only imagine as an outsider from what I hear in the news about America what the divisions are like in the U.S.

One of the truisms Karl Marx pointed out (oh how I must be showing my ancient past to be citing Marx today!) was how the capitalist system produced workers who were alienated from their jobs. Today I notice that businesses and institutions seem to try to make up for that loss by artificially creating communities and personal meaning through human relations programs to offer workers some sort of personal group identity and meaning in their work places. But the alienation, I think, has meanwhile been extended beyond the workplace to the consumer society as a whole. Targeted products, especially via the new technologies, have enabled services and products tailored for ever more fragmented groups.

We’ve come a long way from the days when I could go to school and talk about the latest black and white Batman short that was showing at the local cinema and expect others to know what I was talking about.

I don’t think such changes are the imagined product of wishful nostalgia, either.

 

Australians on the looney NRA fringe

Last night I was mystified listening to Bob Katter, a prominent political figure (of a “minor” party) in my state of Queensland, saying the following on a respectable documentary program:

The program is Four Corners; Katter’s comments come in the introductory minute and again from the ten minute mark.

I want more firearms sold because I want more firearms. I want more people involved in protecting our country.

What? How can giving citizens guns help protect our country? Don’t we have armed forces for that? How can my neighbours and I having guns be an assistance to national defence? Unless we are occupied by enemy troops. But it’s going to be a bit late by then.

So I kept listening for his explanation and it soon followed:

I want my nation to be able to protect itself. We’re a tiny little country, 25 million people. And a lot of those people would owe allegiance to other countries that may well be our enemies in any future confrontation. So, I mean, not only have you got the threat from outside, but increasingly, you’ve got a threat from inside. And it may not just be a threat. They might have a majority in this country in within the next 25 years – if you want to extrapolate the number of people coming in. So you’ve got a threat from within as well as from without.

Could the link between wanting guns and racism be any clearer?

One detail that I found curious and troubling was that as soon as Bob Katter launched into the above words his voice suddenly changed. It moved from matter-of-fact normal into a kind of defensive, victimhood, high-pitched whining.

Guns, racism, victimhood.

Just to end on a totally irrelevant note, I suppose we should not be shocked by anything from the guy who pelted eggs at the Beatles when they arrived at Brisbane airport in 1964: I am the egg man: Katter

 

 

Realities behind Australia’s national myths

The things they never taught us in school!

Two works I have read recently have been eye-openers for me.

When visiting Macquarie University (Sydney) a few years ago I was struck by a rather untypical statue on campus:

I could never figure out why or what it was about until I saw a photo of the same on the back cover of a book, Selling Sex: A Hidden History of Prostitution by Raelene Frances. Professor Frances’s opening paragraph explains:

In the pages of this book you will meet many women who have sold sex at some stage of their lives. The first is called simply ‘Joy’. For eighteen months in 1995-97 her larger-than-life figure leant against a red door-frame on the corner of Yurong and Stanley Streets in East Sydney. Being a statue, she is not really a sex worker. Or is she? The story of Joy became something of sensation in the mid-1990s, not just because she was said to be the only statue of a prostitute on display in public anywhere in the world, and not just because she personified the seedier side of Sydney. Surrounding the creation ofjoy was a quite extraordinary mystery. . . . 

The story of Joy, as well as the history of her statue, follows.

The above is just introduction to what particularly “struck” me, something that had never crossed my mind in my sheltered innocence and protective armour of national myths. Australian myth-peddlers and exploiters love to play on our belief in the “hard country” in which we have managed through toughness of character to survive. The “outback” is life-threatening and cannot be tamed, but it presence has been a major factor in the moulding of our “national character”. Tough, resourceful, loyal to mates — traits we associate with the pioneers who settled there to plant cattle stations and with those who worked for them. Writers like Henry Lawson helped to grow the myth.

So it comes something of a . . . surprise, let’s say, to read what apparently enticed men from the city to seek adventure and a financial start there and “build our nation”:

A woman like Japanese prostitute Matsuwe Otana would no doubt have had many European and Chinese customers who were engaged in the pastoral industry, as well as the mines and the ports. Drovers or pastoralists in town on business or for a rest welcomed the services provided by the karayuki-san. More commonly, Europeans took Lheir sexual pleasures closer to the stations on which they worked. Here they had access to a plentiful and cheap, if not always willing, supply of Aboriginal women.

The use of Aboriginal women as ‘stud gins’ is a recurring theme across the northern frontiers, from the late nineteenth century in Western Australia and Queensland, and until the 1920s and 1930s in the Northern Territory. . . . .

In the Northern Territory, too, young Aboriginal women were used as ‘bait’ to attract or hold European men to station jobs. Writer Xavier Herbert maintained that the women had to be there: without available women, men would refuse to work on remote stations.

Oh. Suddenly puts the myth in a different light. Best not tell the children.

Then there’s the Anzac myth. read more »

Australian folk culture hijacked or exposed?

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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