Real Australians rule the Lucky Country myth

Australia Day

A beachgoer poses during Australia Day celebrations. (Paul Kane: Getty)

ABC The Drum

17 January 2012

Clementine Ford

 

Australia. It’s the Lucky Country, the land of the fair go. A fair dinkum place defined by mateship, honour and a masculinity so raw you could chuck it on the barbie and feed your working family for weeks.

We’re a country populated by battlers and diggers; honest, hard working folk who just want the opportunity to buy a four-bedroom house to cater to our future children, bask in the sanctity of our heterosexual marriages and enjoy the superior benefits of the kind of peaceful, economically sound democracy that comes with the arbitrary inherited privilege of birth.

Sure, we have to contend with the occasional latte swilling, bleeding heart leftie who’s out to destroy our way of life – but no-one said life in the Lucky Country would be all beach cricket and handsome fashion statements constructed out of flags.

From their nefarious outland known as ‘Inner City’, these cultural terrorists work in cluster cells to erode the very values our great nation was built on. Values like our right to enjoy the occasional joke about the blacks and the bum bandits, or threaten women on national radio, or wear witty and politically insightful t-shirts declaring ‘AUSTRALIA – WE GREW HERE, YOU FLEW HERE’.

But we prevail, as all great civilisations staring down the barrel of oppression must. After all, we’re Australian. We stormed the shores of Gallipoli. We held the Brisbane Line. We drove trucks into our nation’s capital to protest the highway robbery of the ‘carbon’ ‘tax’ and to listen to Alan Jones shout a lot. It was just like the intervention, but even more important because of how a carbon tax would drastically affect the lives of real Australians.

You know. Real Australians. Just like you and me.

And therein ends the jest. Because the problem with Real Australia is that everything about it is constructed on a precarious sausage stack of mythology, and we are in the fierce grips of denial about it.

We’re in denial about the reality of Australia and exactly how we wrestled the Lucky Country away from its traditional owners and declared dominion over it. We’re in denial about how fiercely (and hypocritically) we defend our own rights to exist as a nation of people free from the ‘thieving’ hands of what we see as ‘illegal’ entry and occupation. We’re in denial of the overwhelming privilege that comes from simply being born white and heterosexual in a peaceful democracy like Australia. And we’re in a state of utter and absolute denial about the fact that most of us actually don’t feel lucky at all, but entitled – almost as if we’ve done something to deserve this great fortune and thus have the right to scrutinise outsiders’ actions to see if they’ve earned that slice of the pie they seem perilously close to snatching from us.

The Australia that exists in our mythology is exactly that – a myth. We throw around words like ‘mateship’, ‘fair go’ and ‘battlers’ as if Australia were one giant mining town straight out of the 50s, with a cohort of good ole’ boys led by Chips Rafferty and the occasional speaking role for a woman chucked in to advance the romance subplot.

But in reality, the last decade has seen us become a nation of suspicious misers, greedily hoarding privileges we presume to be ours alone and gifted by the divine honour of Being Australian. We who chance upon privilege so easily and so arbitrarily often seem to be the most vehement and duplicitous in protecting it from others.

Asylum seekers are rewritten as ‘illegal boat people’, jumping the queue instead of waiting patiently as we presumably would do in the same circumstances. Gay people are dystopian rebels, forcing their lifestyle down our throats and undermining the sanctity of marriage as dictated by a God most of us don’t believe in. Feminists concerned about the objectification of women should go to the Middle East and thank their stars they only have to endure a bit of light-hearted, red-blooded larrikinism. Climate change is the Greens’ way of trying to rob us all blind.

And so forth.

Despite the enormous amount of diversity in Australia – cultural, sexual, racial, political – we still like to perpetuate a very limited construction of our nation’s identity. The ‘us’ of our consciousness is a result of 15 years of conservative governance encouraging an uncivilised human instinct to hoard power.

We have no social vision as a nation, preferring instead to ask of any initiative, “What’s in it for me?” We have somehow lost the ability to rationally see our situation as more fortunate than others, reasoning that our deservedness partly comes from the fact WE were careful enough to save our money in order to put down a mortgage on a house while those bloody queue jumpers think they can just get one given to them for free!

We don’t stop to think that while we were busy negotiating mortgage repayments with a (mostly) fair and reasonable bank, these objects of our scorn were worrying that their houses might be razed in the middle of the night, the men killed, the women raped and the children rendered orphans.

We don’t consider what it must be like to be told that someone else’s partnership undermines our own, therefore it’s only fair they have less of the pie.

While hand wringing about the inevitable Muslim plot to overrun Australia and destroy our way of life, we don’t think about how it actually must feel to have someone steal your land, destroy your culture, disempower your people and then tell them all to get over it because it happened ages ago and they have nothing to apologise for.

We are not, as a rule, particularly benevolent or generous to people different from us. But we are so wedded to our denial of all of this that the myth continues. The Lucky Country. The land of the fair go. A fair dinkum place defined by mateship and honour, Vegemite and white people on the TV.

Australia’s the lucky country, yes – lucky for all those who happened to be born here as white, middle class heterosexuals. But if we addressed the politics of our own denial, Australia could be better than a lucky country – it could be a great and bold country.

We are very good at forcefully demanding everyone else to be better… but we never seem to demand it of ourselves. Our answer to any kind of criticism of the culture that occupies the status quo is the obstinate, ‘IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT, LEAVE’.

And if you get tired of yelling it, fret not. That one comes on a t-shirt too.

Clementine Ford is a freelance writer, broadcaster and public speaker based in Melbourne. Follow her on twitter: @clementine_ford.

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15 thoughts on “Real Australians rule the Lucky Country myth

  1. “And we’re in a state of utter and absolute denial about the fact that most of us actually don’t feel lucky at all, but entitled – almost as if we’ve done something to deserve this great fortune and thus have the right to scrutinise outsiders’ actions to see if they’ve earned that slice of the pie they seem perilously close to snatching from us.”

    Scott Pengelly, are you reading this? She’s talking about you.

  2. Right on. I was thinking about this idea of “Lucky Country” yesterday after reading an article on MX front page with one guy calling Australia “The greatest democracy in the world”. It’s pretty comfortable living for some but not for everybody and there are plenty who don’t get a fair go and denying it doesn’t do much good. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy living here and it is mostly a good place to be but I get annoyed by the almost dogmatic patriotism (if that’s even the right word) that I see around the place. You’d think you would want to share “the greatest country in the world”.

    • I think ‘nationalism’ might be a better word. Patriotism is believing your country is great and being proud to come from it. Nationalism is believing it is the greatest and that all others are inferior

  3. I LOVE A SUNBURNT COUNTRY WITH CHOPS N SNAGS N CHIPS, KANGAROOS AND HOLDEN CARS I LOVE THIS PLACE TO BITS. CAMPIN ON THE RIVER, SWIMMIN BY THE SEA, AUSSIE AUSSIE AUSSIE THIS WIDE BROWN LAND FOR ME, SO CMON MATES GRAB A BEER, RUM OR BOURBON AND RAISE YOUR GLASSES HIGH, AND GET SOMEONE WHO DOGS US, AND PUNCH EM IN THE EYE, COZ IM A FLAMIN AUSSIE, ILL TAKE IT IN ME STRIDE. DONT LIKE IT HERE THEN BUGGER OFF, COZ I HAVE AUSTRALIAN PRIDE… Copy and paste this to your wall if you are a proud Australian

  4. I think the other part of the “myth” is that we got to be so lucky thanks to the efforts of white people. And only white people.

    The incredible contribution made by other migrant groups, the Greeks, Italians, Lebanese, Vietnamese etc, is never really acknowledged, and for those of us old enough to remember, the dismissal of these people’s work and culture, when in many cases they have come here with less, and earned far more than many Australian-born white people have. And sadly that’s held up to be unfair to those white people. That the good life that comes with hard work isn’t there on a platter for them, but without the hard work being required to get it.

    I love my country, but love doesn’t mean being blind to its faults, or thinking that because I love it and happened to be born here, I somehow deserve to be given all its riches. I could have been born anywhere, and it was sheer luck of the draw that I got Perth (rather than those awful east coast cities – just teasing).

    There is no difference at all between me and a woman in Afghanistan, a woman in France, a woman in Rwanda, a woman in Brazil, a woman in Japan, a woman in Cambodia, an Aboriginal woman in the Northern Territory. We have the same minds, the same hearts, the same bodies – we probably even want the same things from life. The only difference is that the things I have which they may not – education, a job, the opportunity to buy a house, the ability to sleep peacefully at night with no fear from the police, a democratic say in my country’s elections, and a robust and developing justice system – are all because I was lucky enough to be born in Australia.

    The inustice of that – that these things which are so wonderful and which I can afford to take for granted, are simply attributable to luck rather than any merit of my efforts – is enough to leave me cold. How close the cut. How narrow the tightrope.

    We are the lucky country. Because luck is all it is. We have no God-given right to what we have, nor any moral highpoint to deny it to others. We should be on our knees every day, kissing the dirt, and extending the hand of friendship to anyone who understands how precious what we have is, and who wants to come here and share that with us.

    • “I think the other part of the “myth” is that we got to be so lucky thanks to the efforts of white people. And only white people.”
      “We are the lucky country. Because luck is all it is”
      Ah, one of the few people who gets that the “Lucky country” was used ironically by Donald Horne. Too bad Clementine doesn’t, but good article nonetheless.

    • “when in many cases they have come here with less, and earned far more than many Australian-born white people have” you must be so proud

    • “There is no difference at all between me and a woman in Afghanistan, a woman in France, a woman in Rwanda, a woman in Brazil, a woman in Japan, a woman in Cambodia, an Aboriginal woman in the Northern Territory. We have the same minds, the same hearts, the same bodies – we probably even want the same things from life. The only difference is that the things I have which they may not – education, a job, the opportunity to buy a house, the ability to sleep peacefully at night with no fear from the police, a democratic say in my country’s elections, and a robust and developing justice system – are all because I was lucky enough to be born in Australia” umm yeh the difference was that your fore fathers built a country where you have freedom of mind, heart and body. where you have options in life. They created a country where you can have a education , job and a house. They could of sat on their arse and done nothing but they strived to create a better country something that you diminsh and justify as some kind of fluke.

      • It is a fluke. Where you happen to be born is entirely an accident.

        And I don’t think for a large part of the period of white settlement that Indigenous Australians have enjoyed many of those freedoms you mention. That’s the point both Jehenna and Clementine Ford were making.

        And that brings up another issue. Women have not always enjoyed those freedoms either.

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