(Original post by wildcolonialboy)
dmeI've been a bit troubled by some of the conversations I've had, and some of the things that have been said to me by Brits about Australia; what is deemed acceptable in what would normally be fairly polite, insubstantial conversation.
I'm keen to know what TSR members think about this; I've had a couple of conversations end awkwardly, and I'm keen to hear people's opinions. I apologise in advance for its lengthy nature, and props to anyone who reads it.
I moved to London in February from Sydney, where I was born and grew up; I consider myself an Anglo-Australian (in that I'm both a dual citizen, and the cultural orientation of my family was more immediately British, because of social background and our dual nationality).
Essentially, when the subject of my Australian origin arises, there is a good chance I will have to listen, yet again, to some inane stereotypes about Australia and its history, and often have them thrown in my face as if to somehow imply that it reflects poorly on me.
To provide one example, someone asked me how I could possibly be so well spoken (others can judge the extent of my vocabulary, and rhetorical skill, or lack thereof, but I do have an accent that is quite soft with a slight RP lilt which some Brits take to be well spoken). He asked who in Australia would be capable of teaching me to use words with more than four or five letters. It's as if Australians were not the highly urbanised, well-educated, long-lived, healthy society that it is,but some backward frontier plantation. It is even more bizarre considering that Australia is now wealthier, better educated, and longer-lived than Britons. Putting aside the issue of accuracy, it's as if it's still the 1890s in the minds of these people.
This has started to disconcert me a little, insofar as I know when I meet someone, and mention I'm Australian in response to a question about my origin or accent, there's a good chance that I will have to endure the same old canards being trotted out, and a possibility that they'll be used in a way I feel is actually quite offensive (and that the utterer would not dream of insulting the national origin of, say, a Pakistani or a Chilean).
I didn't really care at all at first, but when you experience what is probably the 500th instance of these stereotypes being raised, as if this is the sum of your personality and your nation's character, it becomes quite irritating and a source of vague distaste not just for the people involved. What makes it disconcerting is that these are not the dregs of society, imperialist nutcases or BNP types. It has even become acceptable in public discourse by the Prime Minister (ridiculing Julia Gillard's accent; that required a particularly notable lack of class and common decency). I've had people on the Guardian website assert that "Australia has no culture", and that 'It has not produced any artistic or cultural works of note or value, ever'. Even those who claim to be well educated, sophisticated and cosmopolitan are profoundly ignorant and bigoted on this subject.
To me, it feels analogous to being German and having Hitler raised every time you mention you're German; it may not be as insulting, but it smacks of the same kind of myopic and parochial triumphalism and a kind of exalted ignorance (which is probably a perfect recipe for a second Splendid Isolation, though I imagine it would not be by choice this time around).
To have someone imply that you're the descendent of criminals, when in fact your forebears were free settlers, is quite unpleasant because of the inferiority implied in the question; no one cares in Australia, but here it's like they're beating you with a cudgel that has the words "You are a serf" carved onto it. It is also quite an ill-informed understanding of convict transportation. I'm personally not descended from any convicts, but even those Australians who are would only be so in very small proportion. Transportation was ended in New South Wales in 1850, a time when the number of free settlers arriving was dozens of times larger than the number of convicts arriving (there were about 150,000 convicts transported in the eighty years between 1788 and 1868; by contrast, we had about 500,000 free settlers arrive from Europe and North America in the 1850s alone). It also shows a callous ignorance of the structural economic forces and legal framework that prevented people from earning a living and criminalised their survival. To imply that those convicted and transported for offences are somehow unworthy or lesser individuals has unsettling fascistic and eugenecist overtones.
It's as though they're saying, "Without us, you are nothing. And even with us, you're still only slightly better than the scum from which you descended". It's as though they're attacking the very legitimacy of Australia's existence as in independent nation, the separate life we have lived for many years, the efforts many of my forebears and their fellow citizens and British subjects put in to create a peaceful, prosperous society of which Australians are justly proud, and which surpasses Britain in many ways.
The irony is that while these people pour scorn on Australia, in fact its economy is quite sound compared to Britain's, it is far more prosperous than Britain (GDP per capita is now about 20% higher), it accepts far more immigrants than Britain (a country three times its size) in most years. It feels like... being a Pole and having your country rubbished by a Russian; a country of notably lower living standards, less democratic, a more rigid economy along with some extra police state characteristics for good measure, and being rubbished on the basis of some view that may have been true in the late 1940s.
These are invariably people who haven't travelled to Australia, but should know better if they insist on bringing up Australia's history every time they meet an Australian. I mean, when I meet someone from a country I haven't been to, I usually ask a few questions about where they're from in the country, say something like "Oh, don't you have the such and such there...", try to find some common ground. Here, what you seem to get is someone telling you what they *know* about your country, despite never having travelled there, and often doing it in a ghastly impression of the accent in question (didn't Marx write about that being an English trait?).
What is most galling is the arrogance; apparently well educated, sociable people have said to me, "We still own you" (their basis for this claim is that the Queen of Australia is our sovereign; again, they operate on misunderstandings and urban legends, and fail to understand that under the Australian constitution only the Governor-General can exercise the powers and prerogatives of the monarch). There seems to be a free-fire zone in which people are allowed to say the most unpleasant, conceited, bigoted things as long as it's about particular countries (like Australia, or the United States). I think sometimes they forget that Britannia no longer rules the waves.
My final point (aplogies again for the length); a couple of times recently, I have put a bit of pepper and the gloves and fired back, and tell them I think what they're saying is a bit rude and quite ill-informed (and inviting them to travel to Australia). They reply that it's "just a bit of banter@, by which they mean to say I can't take a joke.
I accept that for historical reasons, Britain and Australia particularly, and particularly in the area of sport, have what might be described as a sibling rivalry. I would make two points; the first is that eventually siblings grow up. Britain is not the older sibling anymore, of that we can be certain; Australia was the ugly duckling that transformed into a beautiful swan, Britain perhaps becomes the old unmarried spinster? It certainly seems so now that it has turned its back on the Commonwealth to have a fling with a sophisticated older European man, who is actually a spendthrift, lazy wife-beater. Its younger American boyfriend is broke, and all its children have gone to be with wealthy Asian businessmen. Massive tangent there, but I think it furthers my point about Britain seemingly being quite insular and isolationist (and that many of its native-born citizens appear to be as well).
By taking it outside the area of sport, and starting to make it about issues people do take seriously, like their nationality, their heritage and ancestry, their worth as other people see it, one forfeits all "banter rights". Just as one does when you start making racist, homophobic or misogynistic, you can claim it was jocular and the recipient can't take a joke, but you shouldn't be shocked when people don't accept that it is funny, let alone clever.
I strongly believe that when you use these incorrect, misguided stereotypes and irrelevant facts in a way in a way that questions the legitimacy of a nation's existence, the honesty of its people, and generally act as like a dick and express opinions on issues about which you know nothing, then you really are crossing the line.
But.. I would certainly like to hear the opinion of TSRers.