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.
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.
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.
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.