Thursday, July 02, 2009

What is characteristic of Australians?

When you have visited a variety of countries other than your own, you will always note differences in characteristic customs and attitudes from your own country. So there is no doubt that there are modal differences in attitudes between countries. Australians are great travellers and also have people from many ethnic groups in their own country so an awareness of Australians as different is widespread. The article below is one attempt at defining the traits that are most characteristic of Australians and I personally think that they have got it pretty right. I have made a rubric of something that I think is particularly spot-on -- JR

THE question was asked and Australia has answered. What makes Australia great? What are the things that separate us from other nations?, a social networking site has this month searched for the opinions of ordinary Australians and those visiting our shores. In the past few weeks themes of freedom, community and teamwork have emerged.

This week the final pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place on the site created by Qantas and supported by News Limited, publishers of The Courier-Mail. Social researcher Mark McRindle, who has been monitoring the site, said pride and fun completed the Australian character.

"Australians have a deep pride in our country and culture which is more often felt than spoken," Mr McRindle said. "Our understated Aussie spirit stands in contrast to the overt nationalism of other countries."

Contributors agreed. "Forrest" from Sydney said: "We don't seem inhibited by the fact we're at the end of the world. "In the hearts of most Australians the love of this land, her people and achievements just is."

Susan from Clifton Beach, NSW writes of our eternal optimism and she'll-be-right attitude in a world of negativity.

On fun, Mr McRindle said the typical Australian had a joke at heart. "From our colourful language to our unique humour, the Aussie spirit is one of fun," he said. "Only in Australia is a redhead called Bluey and a stranger called mate."

Phil from Glebe summed this up, saying "this is what I like about Australia. We can laugh at ourselves in the face of adversity.

Perhaps in a reaction to British formality or born of survival in this harsh land, Australians developed a no-worries attitude and a strong sense of fun.


Our man in the USA: A fair dinkum sort of bloke

You might think a top Washington diplomat only picks the swankiest of destinations and transportation when on holiday. Not so with Dennis Richardson, Australia's ambassador to the United States for the past four years, and his wife, Betty. In fact, their favorite destinations include U.S. national parks and small-town diners, and when the couple travel, they do so by car and stay at hotels for as little as $37 per night (the Red Rock Motel, Mile City, Mont.). "We've been to all 50 states and have driven through 48 of them," Mr. Richardson says over the phone at the end of June, just two days before he and his wife are planning to add a 49th state to their traveled-by-car list: Alaska.

The car? A Chevy Impala rental, which will take them about 8,000 miles from Anchorage to the District via El Paso, Texas, he says and chuckles.

What's the primary appeal of Alaska and Texas? Natural beauty, Mr. Richardson says. "If you did nothing but spend time in the national parks, you'd do great," he says. "I think the National Park Service deserves a gold medal," he says, adding that one of his favorites is Yellowstone National Park.

In Alaska, he plans to go fishing, and in Texas he and his wife plan to visit Big Bend, the 800,000-acre national park in western Texas that borders Mexico and is one of the least visited national parks in the country.

Will the hot and dry Big Bend remind the emissary of the Australian "desert that touches the horizon" (as tourism site www.australia. com refers to it)? Yes, perhaps a bit, but Mr. Richardson's preference for the road trip over the plane trip has more to do with his wish to get an up-close and personal look and feel for the flora, fauna and people of the United States than any love of the big sky or other reminders of his homeland.

Furthermore, how would you possibly run across hole-in-the-wall, one-of-a-kind diners if all you do is fly to a resort destination and never have a look around?


Australian politicians becoming more religious?

AUSTRALIAN politicians, unlike their US counterparts, have traditionally been reluctant to bring God into politics. But a new study shows federal MPs are invoking Christian beliefs with increasing frequency to justify their policies and articulate their personal values and visions for the nation.

The research shows that the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has been the politician most likely to cite his Christianity in public speeches, followed by the former treasurer Peter Costello and the current Treasurer, Wayne Swan.

A Melbourne University politics researcher, Anna Crabb, analysed a sample of 2422 speeches by 60 prominent federal politicians - the leaders and senior frontbenchers of the three main parties - between 2000 and 2006 and found the use of religious language had increased over the period. In 2000, 9 per cent of the speeches used religious terms. The proportion increased in each of the following years, reaching 24 per cent in 2005, before easing to 22 per cent in 2006.

Ms Crabb's "quantitative semantic" analysis, published in the latest edition of the Australian Journal Of Political Science, also found that politicians have used Christian references when discussing an increasingly diverse range of issues. Liberal and National MPs were initially more likely to use religious language than their Labor counterparts. From 2004, however, ALP politicians referred to Christianity almost as frequently as Coalition MPs.

Party leaders were more likely to highlight Christian ideas than other frontbenchers.

Ms Crabb said the findings demonstrated a break with the past in Australia where politicians had rarely put their faith on display and had been careful to maintain a separation between affairs of church and state. She said there were several reasons for the breakdown of this traditional separation. They include the demise of sectarianism, especially inside the ALP [i.e. the Labor party is no longer as Roman Catholic as it once was], which had contributed to a greater willingness to use Christian ideas in political debate. Conscience votes on stem cell research and abortion legislation had also prompted more MPs to discuss their attitudes towards Christian moral teachings.

But Ms Crabb sees the main explanation as lying with the September 11 terrorist attacks. The attacks had not only led to significantly more references to Christianity in speeches on foreign relations but had also prompted a wider erosion of the traditional view that political decision-making should be based on rational arguments rather than on religious faith or doctrine.


Homosexuals want it both ways

IF IT'S OK for a couple of hundred men to prance along Oxford St with feather dusters strapped to their backsides during the Mardi Gras, who could be offended by comic Sacha Baron Cohen dressing up like a homosexual fashion designer and camping it up?

Sydney's self-anointed guardians of the homosexual flame, that's who. Who are they? Hairdresser Troy Thompson (no jokes about stereotypical gay occupations, please) and homosexual activist and hospitality worker Gary Burns, that's who. What is their complaint? They claim that the Bruno character in Cohen's latest movie will reinforce the straight community's stereotypical view of homosexuals as a group of mincing, lisping, limp-wristed queers and increase prejudice which could cause sniggering and ridicule.

Hold on, doesn't the annual Mardi Gras do more than enough to reinforce that view already? Most Australians would know some homosexuals - male or female - who don't fit the stereotype perpetuated by the Mardi Gras and the more extreme members of the homosexual community generally. There are lesbians who don't have basin hair cuts, who don't roll their own cigarettes and who don't wear workman's overalls.

And there are homosexual men who don't work in hair salons, wave their hands about as they speak or dance to Kylie Minogue's music, but the homosexual organisations don't seem to see them.

The Mardi Gras crowd likes to attract attention. For years, Mardi Gras organisers have claimed that their parade draws such a huge audience that, realistically, if everyone they boasted shows up actually did show up they could not fit on Oxford St even if they were jammed cheek-to-cheek, as it were. The organisers like to proclaim they are proudly out there, sometimes they are offensively out there. There is no other display of high-camp behaviour in the homosexual world that matches the Mardi Gras, even if it is getting a little tedious with its tired old attacks on Christianity (but not Islam) and its stereotypical marching boys and dancing queens.

The Mardi Gras mob get grants from the NSW Government and the Sydney City Council to fund this display of stereotypes. Shouldn't Thompson and Burns be objecting to the expenditure of public money on an event that only reinforces the high-camp image of the gay community?

Burns is a serial litigant. He sued John Laws for using the expression "pillow-biter" during a program and The Footy Show for lampooning Elton John. The origin of the term "pillow-biter" is interesting. It came to public notoriety when British MP Jeremy Thorpe, a former leader of the UK Liberal Party (not to be in any way confused with the Australian Liberals) was accused of having a homosexual affair with a model, Norman Scott. During an extraordinary trial, Scott claimed that Thorpe had subjected him to various sex acts during which he had no recourse but to "bite a pillow". Thorpe was acquitted but the English language embraced a new expression.

I don't know whether or not Baron Cohen's new film Bruno promotes a stereotypical view of homosexuals. I haven't seen it. But I do know that it would have to work hard to beat the Mardi Gras' record for promoting the stereotypical perspective.

What Thompson and Burns are trying to do is reshape the homosexual stereotype to fit their ideal. This is a big task that they are clearly unsuited for. "We have people coming over to our country stereotyping us in this imagery," Burns said of Bruno. "The majority of gay men are not like him. People will continue to hold prejudice against gay men as that's the stereotype imagery that causes ridicule and sniggering."

Homosexuals come in most shapes and sizes. They are not universally limp-wristed, nor do they all lisp, but nor are they uniformly creative or musical or good dancers. They are just people. Some of them, clearly, like to prance up Oxford St. Many of them don't.

If Thompson and Burns don't like the idea of Bruno, they should be even angrier about the Mardi Gras but I can't find any evidence that either of them have ever complained about the Mardi Gras' depiction of their friends.

Baron Cohen has done it again. He has outraged a minority, has exposed a deep vein of hypocrisy and probably attracted more viewers than he thought would ever pay to see Bruno.


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