Australia is a country that has been described as diverse, multicultural and unique. Our geography, flora, fauna and cultural history are different to anywhere else, which has definitely captured the attention of the rest of the world. Australian society has evolved in a very short space of time from the earliest convict settlements established in the mid nineteenth century, to the cosmopolitan states that currently exist and attract immigrants from all continents across the globe.
Australia’s history has reflected conflict, human rights violations, economic growth and the hardship associated with establishing a refined society in a harsh and primitive landscape.
Throughout the various stages of Australian history, Australians have attempted to grab onto an identity that makes them unique and able to bond with another fellow Australian. This has not always been easy, given the diversity that has grown over the centuries.
The definition of the true Australian identity has changed over time. One aspect of Australian Identity that is continually misrepresented to the rest of the world is the stereotypical image of the tanned, athletic, easy going, slow talking Australian.
It is true that our climate and geography enable Australians to spend leisure time at the beach or outdoors. It is also true that Australians tend to love sport. However, this Anglo Saxon image is far from what the average Australian looks like today.
Due to the technological revolution and a lifestyle that includes an abundance of food, many Australians are actually overweight and the bronzed god image simply does not fit most people.
The demographics of Australian society in general have also changed over time, as migrants from Europe, Asia and the Middle East have moved the balance from a previously British dominated population. The average Australian could be Asian or European or Anglo-Saxon but would most likely be a mix of a couple of cultures.
Therefore, the aspect of appearance cannot be considered when looking for true Australian Identity. It may not be the original inhabitants of Australia, the dark skinned aboriginals, or the stereotypical suntanned blonde or even a pale-skinned European. The true Australian Identity cannot be based on appearance and an image, as to be a true Australian; you could be a multicultural mix of many. The true Australian identity is linked to opportunity and the hope of a better life.
It would be too general to claim that the true Australian identity could be defined effectively by examining the indigenous communities that existed before British settlement in Australia. It would also be unrealistic to just focus on the British colonies that developed from convict settlements to towns that attracted free settlers seeking a better life from what Britain and Europe offered. Perhaps the only idea that we can retain from these early times is the concept of seeking a better life and this is a common aspect of Australian identity that was present within all who came to Australia.
Those who came during the Gold Rush, the bushrangers who challenged authority and lived a life of crime, the Europeans who fled poverty or the evil of war, all held onto the idea that this country provided an opportunity for something better. This has been something that has been present hundreds of years ago and is still significant to people seeking a better life, illustrated through the many refugees who risk their lives attempting to come to Australia by boat every year.
This is only one aspect of our identity, as courage to face challenge and take risks is a quality that many Australians value and respect. Another aspect of identity that appears to be considered a characteristic of a true Australian is that of mate-ship. History shows that Australians are there for one another and will come to the assistance of each other in spite of potential danger to themselves. This courage or generosity of spirit was seen in our soldiers during the wars, in the volunteers who risked their lives to fight fires or rescue fellow countrymen from disasters.
In various different stories of heroism or sacrifice from ordinary people who showed Australia what more they were capable of. This idea of mate-ship has been depicted in literature and through the legacy of the ANZACs. Mate-ship is also associated with having a sense of humour and having someone laugh and joke with, being a ‘mate’ to someone in a time of need is something that most Australians believe they can identify with, which ties in with the Australian qualities of tolerance and acceptance.
Australia has become known as the lucky country, this doesn’t come from the natural resources our country contains within it, or the opportunities that have been provided for many of the people who have come here in search of more. We are lucky as our national identity is still evolving even today and we seem to be retaining the best aspects from history (such as the ANZAC legend) and adopting anything new that we feel improves and enhances our quality of life.