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Defining Australian world-class culture

Defining Australian world-class culture

“New York City is where you go to make it,” said the producer of Masterchef, a popular cooking reality TV show, when asked why the show took finalists for a week in the Big Apple. It struck me as odd that in order to “make it,” Australians need to leave their own country.

Corner of Swanston and Bourke Street, Melbourne, Australia

Australian culture is a sticky subject, even for Australians themselves. Australia is gloriously multicultural now–yet it maintained a White Australia policy until…

I attended a Wheeler Centre event—Our World Class Culture—where three “cultured” Australians discussed what Australian culture is. It was a particularly interesting experience as a outsider: a chance to listen to educated Australians candidly speak about their strengths and weaknesses. What surprised me the most was how often they compared themselves to America, although they conceded that they needed to stop comparing and concentrate on improving from within.

Australian culture is defined by prowess in sport, the Anzac tradition, a no worries attitude. It’s brimming with festivals and celebrations, yet it’s not necessarily a place that supports the arts and “high” culture.

Creative Australians feel as if they need to go overseas to get exposure—and they often end up staying there. Creative people need to feel like they can make a living here, to prevent an exodus of talent.  Creative people are supported both financially and emotionally by the community in America–something that I never really realized until it was pointed out at the forum.

Melbourne CBD, Australia

There’s still a colonial legacy in which Australians look outward for approval. Unlike America, there was no moment of rupture with England—and as part of the Commonwealth, Australia is still closely connected with England. Australia lacks the rampant patriotism of America: the red, white and blue, the country music, the extensive mythology by which we define ourselves (the tales of Johnny Appleseed and .

America has an incredible confidence in itself: we call it the “World Series” of baseball despite only competing with ourselves. We’ve produced heaps of new art forms, like blues music, jazz music, Western films. Australia seems to struggle with promoting itself as a world-class destination, feeling the need to see “real culture” in Europe or “make it” in America.

Melbourne CBD, Australia

I leave you with a joke from an Australian friend:

What’s the difference between Australia and a pot of yogurt?

After 200 years, Australia still doesn’t have any culture.

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  • hypnotiq_huny

    Thats interesting. When I think of Australia I think of their flora, fauna, accents, and the opera house. But that’s not really culture though. Never realized that. Same with Canada.

    Coincidentally , a lot of people say america doesn’t have culture. Which of course isn’t true. We may only have a few hundred years (post – native american) , but i definitely think we have something!

  • Anonymous

    I was surprised at how often the panel referred to American culture. I never thought of us as having much, but the panel really did point out how we support burgeoning art forms–like jazz and blues–which was really cool to think about!

  • hypnotiq_huny

    It funny because sometimes I think we don’t see it that way in America. We’re such a mixing pot that sometimes we divide in our own country. Whether it be North, South, East coast, West coast, African American Culture, Hispanic American, etc!

    But, I agree, we do support burgeoning art form. Like Jackson Pollock and abstract expressionism and a lot of the most popular modern music started in america. Rock, Electronic/Techno, Rap and Hip-Hop, etc

    We may not have the 1000s of years in culture, but we are a very modern progressive cultured country.

    P.S I recent found out in Spanish class, salsa music was created in New York. I would’ve never thunk it!~

  • Australia’s insistence on the Tall Poppy Syndrome limits our ability for growth and excellence. I think this could be a reason why many who want to top their field do head over to America, they feel there are more opportunities and they will gain more respect because of it.
    You don’t want to shine too much here because you will quickly be brought back down to size. Stems from our convict background, where as America was founded by “entrepreneurs” those intent on creating a better life.
    You can still see the convict attitude coming forth in our disrespectful attitude to authority and the fact that our society has rules set up which cater more to the rif raf.
    Having said that I do like our convict heritage in the fact that times were brutal and they adapted and survived. This is where our tough attitude comes from and the “no worries” attitude which I do not think is like how it used to be.
    Australians struggle with defining our culture because it really came from a mixture of so many and we still have that inferiority complex where we have to compare ourselves to others and try to define ourselves based on that.
    Hopefully we’ll figure it out, evolve out of some traditions and beliefs that hold us back and celebrate what is unique about us rather than trying to compete and be like others.

  • Anonymous

    Really interesting – I know very little about Australia, I must admit, so it’s fascinating to read what you’ve learned since you’ve been there!

  • Anonymous

    Great points! What a great fact about salsa music–I never would have thought!

  • Anonymous

    Great points! What a great fact about salsa music–I never would have thought!

  • Anonymous

    Excellent points–I was very interested to know your opinion. I’m really enjoying life in Australia, so it was interesting to hear an honest critique of what many Australians felt were the country’s weaknesses. I definitely see the disrespect to authority–I was shocked when I got here and heard the term “glassing”–like, you actually need a term for people hitting each other with a glass?!
    Thanks for the insight 🙂

  • Anonymous

    Excellent points–I was very interested to know your opinion. I’m really enjoying life in Australia, so it was interesting to hear an honest critique of what many Australians felt were the country’s weaknesses. I definitely see the disrespect to authority–I was shocked when I got here and heard the term “glassing”–like, you actually need a term for people hitting each other with a glass?!
    Thanks for the insight 🙂

  • Anonymous

    It’s funny because it’s not THAT different, but there are lots of little differences!

  • Anonymous

    It’s funny because it’s not THAT different, but there are lots of little differences!

  • ytravelblog, as always you have summed it up so well. I totally agree that the tall poppy syndrome is what can hold us back. we are afraid to do well or be the best. 

    i think we need to embrace our mix of cultures and let that be part of the defining culture of australia.