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.