Tuesday, July 11, 2000
Greg reminds me of some of the more annoying habits of Brits who meet Aussies, which can largely be summed up as treating us as though it were still 1850. Of course it cuts both ways: my perception of Americans divides cleanly between loud-mouthed New Yorkers and Jerry Springer audiences, while all British women are of course tarty molls who say things like "Freshen yer drink, Guvner?" (or British Airways flight attendants who patronisingly murmer "Tea or coffee?" - thanks Claire). The problem with Australians being misinterpreted is that we don't really have a strong identity to begin with. We don't even want to become a Republic, apparently, though that little joke of a referendum owed its result to stupidity and paranoia more than anything else.

However, a fear of independence is deeply engrained in our history. In 1937 Robert Menzies complained about the UK's 1931 Statute of Westminster (which gave us political autonomy) saying "I know that quite a number of responsible people are troubled about the proposal to adopt the Statute of Westminster for the reason that they feel it may give some support to the idea of separatism from Great Britain." Well, duh! The UK was trying to get rid of us. Tellingly, we didn't ratify the statute until 1941.

I think a lot about Australia's lack of a cohesive character, especially because it's increasingly fashionable to complain of how we're being Americanised. I think we are, but I don't have nearly as much of a problem with it as most. Sure, there are some aspects of American culture I definitely dislike, but I feel that America's cultural influence over Australia has been as positive as it has been negative. Partly that's because I don't think I would have been happy in the Australia-of-yore, and partly because Australia also draws a lot from its ethnic and multicultural communities which offsets the deadly onslaught of McDonalds and Coca-Cola (which are by common consensus the embodiment of evil - how exactly?).

It's also very fashionable to align oneself with British culture in the process of dissing America. This worries me. Albeit it's not a full-blown return to colonialism, and more of a Cool Brittania kind of thing, but any reiterations of some sort of higher bond with the mother country seems like a couple of steps back to me. It's not that I dislike British culture - my life is pretty much based around it - but it seems imperative to me that Australia realise that it's not some final outpost of imperial white civilisation, and embrace the geographical and ethnic realities.

I'm currently reading this excellent book Engagement: Australia Faces the Asia-Pacific by our rather brilliant former PM Paul Keating, who I was very sad to see go. Keating's emphasis on foreign policy, particularly that of forging greater links with our closest Asian neighbours, was widely criticised by short-sighted conservatives as an attempt to make Australia an Asian country. In response, he said:

"Australia is not, and can never be, an 'Asian nation' any more than we can - or want to be - European or North American or African. We can only be Australian and can only relate to our friends and neighbours as Australian."

Keating's emphasis on Asia was not the result of some special sentiment for the region, but almost the opposite. Keating realised that Australia's position on an international level should be based on logic rather than sentiment. It is logical that we share the closest relationships with our nearest neighbours, from whom we stand the most to gain economically. It is sentimentality that keeps us tied to the apron strings of Great Britain, or even to some extent America - some belief that because we are predominately of Anglo or European descent, we share a more viable connection with countries on the the other side of the world from us.

This emotional blindness has caused Australia to behave on an international level in ways that undermine us. Keating correctly identifies our relationship with America as being one that swings from forelock-tugging obsequiousness to adolescent resentment. Our relationship with the UK fits the parent-child even more closely, with us desiring independence but also wanting to be nurtured and validated by an authoritive figure. It's this sort of ambivalence which hamstrings us and prevents us from attaining a real concept of ourselves - one which we could use to challenge the half-baked opinions of us flaunted by Brits like Greg.

Oh, and Greg, about Neighbours: you know Hannah? She's about my age minus however many months you are behind. Anyway, here's a little scoop for you: she's had to leave the show because she's a lesbian! Not many people know that, but she has this girlfriend who's about ten years older than her, and I keep seeing them together (you know, together) when I'm out and about. It's all very funny, especially because she behaves like a bigger star than she is.


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