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March 21, 2008 / Amy Bradney-George

culture

The sunburnt country

Have you ever heard that joke? The one about Australian culture? It goes something like this:

Q: What’s the difference between an Australian and a tub of yoghurt?
A: The yoghurt has culture.

Not a very good joke, admittedly, but it raises a point I’ve been thinking about quite a bit recently. Part of it relates to the subjectiveness of definitions of culture (what is culture, after all?), but more is about the relationships individuals have with their society, specifically their country of residence (to avoid going off on tangents of multicultural families and individuals). And also how our culture might be represented in popular media forms.

I recently read an article in the Sydney Morning Herald about Australian actress Leah Vandenberg, who’s cultural heritage is vast and very much representative of the Australia I’m glad to be a part of (the diverse one). Vandenberg talks about how difficult it has been to get work with her darker skin, brown hair and brown eyes. She uses the term “blondist”, and while admittedly this is not quite as dominating as it once was, most local shows’ casting doesn’t reflect the Australian-ness I like to identify with. SBS is arguably the best at capturing what it is to be Australian, with shows like East West 101, but what about the other channels?

I was working on a film last weekend and one of the other actors there and I got talking about it. He wasn’t your stereotypical surfie Australian bloke, and he said it was hard to get cast because of that. I find it disgusting, because I could see he was a good actor, very committed to capturing and expressing the atmosphere of the movie we were working on. And I think he had a good look for film and tv. So I have to ask: why white? Why is it usually the “token” characters who obviously have a less anglocentric background?

The bigger issue here is our culture. What is it to be Australian? What does it mean? If someone were to ask, “what is your culture like?”, how would you (how could you) describe it?

I think it’s the indefinable nature of “culture” that causes some of these issues. We all have our own definition of what it is, and perhaps we don’t think about it enough. It seems all too often we talk about Australia’s “lack of culture”. I think we have culture, but whether or not everyone realises and accepts what that culture is might be another question.

This morning I read about the “white flight” occurring in NSW schools where white Australian’s have been leaving public schools which are more multicultural than the private or specialised schools. Is this really happening? Why?

I don’t often like to use the word racism, but that’s what it sounds like. The issue may be more complicated than that, but somewhere in there that word is floating around. And I wonder, do Australians talk about a “lack of culture” because we can’t agree on what it is to be Australian? Some might say it is multicultural, that you can’t stereotype an Australian by appearance because we are becoming more and more diverse; others would say it is the white Australian which defines our culture. Without a common ground perhaps the opposing opinions create a non-culture that leaves us all a bit lost.

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2 Comments

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  1. Lindsay / Aug 30 2008 9:35 pm

    Thanks for your artice, quite interesting, you are trying to ask questions, with a slight tone of disapointment in the current state of our culture. One thing about a recently invaded/settled country’s culture, is that it needs time to develop hence Australia’s culture is constantly changing. I wrote an article about my view of Aussie Culture at Sydneyfriends Blog.

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