What the bloody hell is Australian?


 Who the bloody hell are we?

As we hurtle towards January 26, I’m confused. Not about my personal identity (I’ll save that for another post), but about our national one. What the bloody hell is ‘Australian’ these days?

On the one hand, we’re outdoorsy, laid back, enjoy an untamed sunburnt country and bright blue skies, have a very safe national airline, eat raw onions and have an extreme commitment to smashed avocado.

On the other, we switch on the news to see woman after woman brutally attacked and left for dead, we turn away those fleeing persecution even though we have the money, food and space to save them, we ignore the warnings of leading scientists on climate change and we have a prime minister that calls himself ‘Scomo’ and refuses to acknowledge gay conversion therapy as a serious issue. 

My sense is that the first perspective I described is the ‘brand Australia’ we position ourselves on the world stage, and that the latter is the gritty 24-hour news cycle version. And the reality? Lost in translation, somewhere in between. 

To help me clarify where I stand, I turned to two Australians I know and trust, and asked them for their thoughts: Aboriginal affairs expert and climate activist Josh Gilbert, and agribusiness leader and dairy farmer Lynne Strong.

RG: What will you be doing on Jan 26? 

Josh: “I'll be attending the Saltwater Freshwater Festival in Coffs Harbour with my family, celebrating our culture, our values and optimism for the future. I love that we have the opportunity to share this, not only with the public, but also between us as Aboriginal People. It is our chance to learn from Elders, share stories of hope and continue building the pathway for future generations.”

Lynne: “This Saturday brings a mixture of celebration and mourning, and is an opportunity to reflect and acknowledge that, like Australian farmers, we can learn from the mistakes of the past. 

“It is a day to recognise the knowledge that has been here for centuries, to look back, to look forwards and, most importantly, to see where we are right now. We can only do this when we move beyond the anger and the hurt. Each and every one of us deserves to stand up and celebrate our diversity, our shared values and our successes.”

RG: What does Un-Australian mean to you? 

Josh: “To consider what this means, I think we need to ponder what being Australian means today. I look to my People for this - those who continue to give despite hardship, love despite racism and dream despite prejudice. Being Australian to me are these principles, these guiding lights that guide us, surviving a battered history. I don't believe we draw a line to divide us further, instead we break down barriers and accept that Australia will continue to adapt and mold over time to the wisdom of our Elders.”

 Lynne: “A culture of greed, selfishness, envy, and cruelty.”

What do you see as our positive Australian values? 

Josh: “I have a comfort that many of the Australian values we hold dear are positive- that of the fair go for instance, however caveat this with the lenses that are filtered over these. We are known to back the underdog or trust in equality, unless that person is unlike us in some way. I believe our society will continue to shift over time and that it is our position now to share what the future should look like and what we want these values to be.”

Lynne: “Whilst the rhetoric around Australia Day can be very divisive, the important thing is Australians are having the discussion. We care, we have empathy for our fellow Australians and more and more people have the courage to express their opinion, and show compassion for both people and the planet.”

For further information about Josh Gilbert, visit www.gilbertjoshuam.com or follow @GilbertJoshuaM on Twitter.

To join the conversation with Lynne Strong, follow her on Twitter at @FAotC.