By Kosta Sarandopoulos
When did Real Australians history officially end?
It sounds like a trick question…or maybe just a ridiculous one.
But if we were to follow the national narrative (or read between the lines) it may be a more valid query than it first appears.
It often seems that everything that made Australia… Australia is a thing of the past and the current batch of Australians are just a watered-down version of the real thing.
Let us take Anzac Day for example which is our biggest and most universally accepted national Holiday.
Anzac Day originally commemorated a failed Gallipoli campaign that occurred from 1915 to 1916, although in time encompassed all military action seen by Australian servicemen and women.
The Anzacs have barely existed after that conflict and were revived for a short period in WW2 in Greece & Crete.
Anzacs certainly do not exist today although we’re told of a certain spirit that lives on.
But is the Anzac culture open to all Australians?
For example, the Gallipoli Scholarship Fund is only open to Australian citizens who are direct descendants of Australian and, from 2021, New Zealand veterans.
It sounds more like a spirit of exclusion at times.
The masses of Australians who are of Post War immigrant descent don’t pass the pub test on this one.
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The stockmen & bushmen celebrated by Banjo Paterson existed in the late 19th century & early 20th century…& exist no more.
Aussie or Ocker slang when we rarely hear it sounds comical at best & only spoken by very few Australians..possibly born in the 1940’S.
If not entirely dead; it is certainly dying.
Almost everything that we’re told is uniquely Australian is a thing of the past.
So when did real Australia’s… real history officially end?
Perhaps it was a little later?
The ’50’s, 60’s..maybe early 70’s at the latest?
It can at times look that way.
My own recollections of the 70’s was living among people who had an inane fear that a changing population would be the death knell of the ‘real Aussies’.
This caused many a conflict and much consternation especially in migrant communities.
So whenever the exact date may have been, the belief that the end of a unique ‘Australian’ society was nigh existed and was palbable among sections of the commnity.
So many older Australians at the time sighed with a tinge of loss & sadness when thinking of the post-WW2 era… an era that actually propelled Australia upwards in the world’s eyes.
No matter how many times one can extol the virtues of our immigration, multicultural nation with our great standard of living, stability, wealth etc ..many choose only to see negatives or refuse to acknowledge any recent greatness.
Their minds where stuck in expolits from a bygone time.
So much more has happened to us in the last 70 years than the previous 150 years of white settlement.
Then of course there is the misnomer of white settlement.
The term settlement implies a peaceful bunch of hardworking folk that rolled up its sleeves and proceeded to build a great nation and ignores the violence perpetrated against our Indigenous people.
If Australian history ended in 1945 then it seemingly began in 1770 with Cook’s arrival.
Thousands of years of pre-European history were covered in about 1 project in 1 term of Australian Heritage when I went to school.
Thankfully this take on history is now changing.
The so-called ‘white settlement’ was more like an invasion & we have much more research going into what was a pre-white Australia.
The guerrilla wars indigenous people fought against the invaders for example was never taught at schools in the past.
Neither were the darker chapters of history re-told that included massacres of countless Aboriginal tribes.
But again this is chipping away at the self-esteem & self-belief of many white Australians.
We weren’t always the good guys?
Perhaps we can also ask when did Australia’s history officially begin?
Many of us were told that it began when Captain James Cook of the British Royal Navy took possession of the eastern coast of Australia in the name of George III on August 23, 1770.
Or maybe 26 January, which marks the 1788 landing of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove and the raising of the Union Flag by Arthur Phillip?
So it’s back to the pre-war history books for inspiration & a search for that elusive identity.
Here a lost soul can take refuge in real or fictitious heroes of WW 1 & WW2, bush wisdom, and small country town simplicity.
A place where real Australians dwelled and the true Australia was being forged.
A time and place where Australians were the good guys fighting the evils of the world whenever called upon by mother England while managing to build a great nation at the same time.
Wow… why would anyone want to know anything beyond this?
Everything after WW2 is just an afterthought. Lesser people living off the greatness of the great generations of the past.
This is also a very white narrative filled with stories & legends of people who were predominantly Anglo-Celtic.
This has led to parts of our war history being omitted or shamelessly ‘whitened’.
Let us take the example of a man called Billy Sing who is perhaps one of our greatest and least known war heroes.
During the Gallipoli campaign, he distinguished himself by becoming probably our greatest sniper ever.
He had an official tally of 150 kills & unofficially is believed to have over 300 kills. They did make a movie about Billy Sing and a white caucasian actor played him.
Of course, Billy was half white ( his mother was English ) but old grainy old photographs show a man who clearly looked oriental in appearance.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if an Australian moviemaker could remake this movie with some more authenticity?
Quickly before an American does it!
It would be especially gratifying in these anti-Chinese times we’re living in where any Asian face is treated with suspicion.
The Chinese Australian community ( who have also faced barely spoken about historical mistreatment) would surely greatly appreciate such a hero.
Modern Australia still has sport though.
In fact, most of our great sporting triumphs came post WW2 and are still mainly accomplished by Anglo-Celtic Australians.
Our supercharged Olympic Swimming team is a great example.
They are the new bronzed Aussie heroes of bush legend bursting with Anzac spirit.
It’s only when interlopers or perceived outsiders enter the scene that lingering doubts about identity pop up again.
We see the ugly side of this in AFL’s treatment of its indigenous stars.
We also saw a swimming legend’s ugly attack on two young tennis stars of non-English speaking background a few years ago.
It was Dawn Frazer who suggested that both Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic should “go back to where their parents came from”
The comment went with hardly a murmur of protest from most Australians and silence from our political leaders
This is in a country where hardly a week goes by without sports stars making the news for the wrong reasons.
We’ve seen footballers beat their partners, rape women and assault members of the public.
As a big Rugby League and Tigers fan Dawn would be acutely aware of this.
We’ve even seen ex-stars from Dawn’s sport of swimming charged with drug offenses.
Dawn never insisted that these bad boys leave the country as they have shamed us all.
Despite Nick Kyrgios’s antics ( frustrating that they have been at times) they are nowhere near the severity of what we’ve seen from other sports stars…footballers in particular.
It is obvious that there is one type of reaction for one type of Australian and a different reaction reserved for the ‘other’.
It’s almost like an ‘I told you so’ moment when an Indigenous star or one from non-English speaking background fails or says something controversial.
They really are not the ‘full quid’…’not REAL Aussies’… ‘they don’t get the Anzac Spirit’.
But what’s more is they really do not look like those images we have of past Australians….from old movies, TV shows and advertising posters. While Chips Rafferty & Jack Thomson graced our screens migrants were steadily growing the nation’s population. They were largely ignored (until their numbers started to alarm some folk) and the Aboriginal nations were about to die out apparently.
They were really of no account.
This is the era many older Australians pine for.
They tell exaggerated or selective stories to their kids & grandkids of how great things were and pass on the disease.
I recently had a plasterer work at my house who was near retirement age who told me how unhappy he is with modern Australia.
“Things were so much better in the old days”, he said while Ray Hadlee spewed his outrage on his radio in the background.
He made sure to mention he grew up with many Greeks and Italians who were much better migrants than the current ones.
Hmm… I wonder if anyone actually told them that way back then when it would have mattered.
I grew up in a Greek family and I never heard it.
Australia today was just going to the dogs…apparently.
I thought about telling him how really great we compare to most nations on earth through troubled times like the GFC’s & pandemics etc .
How resilient our economy is.
How much so many people from different walks of life have contributed to this success and how much of the world envies us.
But I didn’t.
What’s the point.
To many like him, Australia was made great before most of us came here.
We still live in the after-burn of the great ones.
The ‘glory’ and success of the last 70 years of post-war Australia is often lost on many Australians.
Even the success of ‘newcomers’ and the indigenous is really a credit to the Real Australians who ‘built’ this nation and gave them the chance…not that they appreciate it.
This of course ignores the reality of Australia’s economy before WW2 which was struggling with a world wide depression.
The war and postwar economic reconstruction changed Australia forever.
High population growth and high government spending helped Australia to develop into an affluent society in the 1950s and 1960s.
This post-war world was not some dreamy past populated by tough stockmen and poets.
It was created by modern people from many lands who worked in factories, bought houses, started businesses and put Australia on the map.
But it’s hard to squeeze even a little pat on the back from these hard ‘modern Austalia is crap’ types.
Another common theme often expressed with clever memes on social media is how soft our younger generations such as the Millennials or Gen Zed are.
I could probably dedicate another couple of hundred words to this subject.
But didn’t we just see some of that generation absolutely kill it at the Tokyo Olympics; enjoying the equal-most successful Games in history?
They can’t be that soft.
Either can the rest of us and our nation’s current position in the world is a testament to this.
*Kosta Sarandopoulos writes about multicultural issues. He was born in very multicultural Marrickville NSW. When he first went to school he was shocked to discover he could not speak the language.