A most problematic question for Nationalists is to define Australian culture. Thinking of that which culturally marks us unique compared to anywhere else in the western world is not easy. We have never had it successfully explained.
We pondered this outwardly simple, yet challenging, proposition. Typical answers we receive are, “The beach… the football… a beer and barbecue with your mates… Anzac Day…” To surmise in the colloquial these are crap answers. But each contains a kernel of truth. A particle of Australian culture resides in each, although they do not constitute a whole. So, just what is Australian culture, even just a significant component of it?
Is it as some say “Giving it a go?” Is it “A fair go for all?” These are qualities and attitudes connected to national character, not culture, yet people reel them out as answers. The Oxford Dictionary provides a practical definition of culture for our needs: “The ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or a society”. It then offers an example of Afro-Caribbean Culture, which immediately evokes a mental image. This raises the question, what vision is mentally summoned by the mention of Australian culture?
In Australia, or America, which share comparisons, the only ritualistic events that constitute cultural expressions on a mass level are sports. America has its gridiron football and baseball chief among these. Australia boasts three football codes, and cricket, sitting atop a well-established bias towards athletic pursuits.
However, we deny these are cultural attributes. Once upon a time, they were, without a doubt, but as Sport moved out of communities and into stadiums a disconnect occurred. As Sport lured big money, so its marketing became big business, and any cultural attachment was denigrated. In this age, the so-called ‘Woke’ money behind the AFL, NRL and Rugby AU has an entirely different relationship with the community. Sport’s governing institutions have assumed a role of corporate moral authority dictating globalism’s mercurial values to the masses, not because of a holy centre, but because money requires conformity.
Returning to perceptions of a national Australian type there has been the bushman, the Digger, the bronzed Aussie and least pleasing, the ocker. One can connect each to a wider culture, even the ocker, although he presides over its collapse. Today his counterpart is the ‘bogan’, which is more unattractive, given his penchant for violence.
In rural Australia and regional areas, an Australian spirit lingers on in degrees. Gundagai, for instance, retains a sense of Australian history, just to use it as a random example. In the country, one still finds a cultural relationship between the national sport and the local community. One also can sense the existential residue of a wholly Australian way of life which still evades a comfortable definition of culture which is wholly inclusive.
If anything, the rural parts of our country are holdouts, but let’s not mistake that many of those are dying: with farms being acquired by foreign powers like China and drought driving our farmers from their lands, leaving behind ghost towns. The eerie wind that whistles through the abandoned chains rattle the ghost of a bygone Australia.
The fusion of Aboriginal culture into our own is not only disrespectful to the Aborigines but more importantly, it’s an insult to us. However, we say this with full knowledge that Nationalists of old attempted to find an independent definition of Australian culture as distinct from our European origins in the native spirit of the land. We speak of the Jindyworobak Movement. It did not last, nor should it have, but it established a desire on behalf of Australians to release ourselves from the yoke of British cultural domination. Clearly, it was not felt back then that Australia as yet had found its own voice in literary expression. Nowadays, we retrospectively laud those such as Henry Lawson, and in them, we find that voice, but now in the past; an anachronism.
We can worship the memory of Ned Kelly as an Australian icon, cultivate the myth of the bushranger as the Americans do the Wild West, but again, these are not contemporary. Moreover, by doing so, we embark on an atavistic pursuit. So where are we with determining Australian culture? We’ve found a rural Australian culture mostly in decline, archaic terms of reference, but nothing of the here and now.
Those conservative ‘Patriots’ who go out and march with their flags flapping defiantly are the most baffled of all. They cannot fathom their predicament but appeal to symbols to express an identity yearning for a cultural womb. Yet, their flag and decals are usually expressions of the suppression of free Australian identity. Those who march with the Australian flag as a statement pay scarce mind that it is a design which required British approval. One cannot substitute an Australian flag in the hope of marking time until a satisfying definition of Australian culture is discovered.
Fashionistas speak of culture, but as a concept abstract of its parent host. Some in the past worked to express Australianness through apparel design. Jenny Kee comes to mind, but given she is half-Chinese, a most unsatisfactory conduit. All the rage in the 1980s, her colourful wool knit jumpers included floral designs and koala motifs, which were, as the Poms say, naff. Which means our search has led us into no man’s land. Although, we have something to confess.
We do, in fact, have an answer for you. Having meditated deeply on this topic, we arrived at a definition of Australian culture, which, sadly, you won’t like. Because it goes like this — Australian culture is consumerism, like everywhere in the supposed ‘civilised world’. We are what we buy and Australians buy by brands, which don’t necessarily define Australian identity.
Australian youth mimics the generic fads out of the US, while the crass materialism of the celebrity watchers creates a hole the size of a collapsed star in the soul of the succeeding generation. Shopping was not always necessarily an act of gross consumerist gorging. Think of how the Moorish bazaars not only operated as trading hubs but exemplified the culture they serviced. But the move away from community such as markets represented here, or even the old Aussie corner shop, leaves behind a time when shopping and culture met on an equal plane. When you purchase from a brand retailer you are buying into a ‘culture’ all-be-it an ersatz experience of one.
To adopt a technological determinist approach, the adornments of unique culture fall away in the force created by a thrust towards hyper progress.
Australia stopped only briefly to contemplate a culture independent of England, but by then, World War 2 came along and after that, it was all the way with LBJ. The much hallowed ‘Menzies Years’, which are falsely revered as a golden age was in reality when consumerism overcame the will towards a struggle for culture. Also, it was when politically Australians gave up the ghost.
Australian culture is whatever you buy, so long as you shop conservatively by choosing well-known brands and avoiding individualism.