How ‘Australians’ Look at You

Youth is a wonderful time that cushions and wraps you up in a world of naivety. Then you grow up and you become more aware of a few realities.  One of these was how other Australians actually view me.

I’ve lived in Australia for most of my life and I have Australian friends who don’t see me as being different to them. But occasionally I have reality checks that make me realise how the average stranger views me differently.

Case in point: Living in America

I lived in the Pacific North West of America for two years. In my first year I organized a BBQ with some Australians living in the region. I was in contact with a few Aussie families who spoke with me at length over the phone and then….they met me.

Utter and bitter disappointment. I’m not the world’s most confident and outward person and yes charm may not be my forte but I don’t have a disability in social skills either. In fact I’m much better at small talk than my husband who will only engage in the act if it means a pay rise. The reaction of the Australians at the BBQ was really quite something. Some of them just walked away and had their own party elsewhere. Some people hung around but mostly , I sensed an overwhelming tone of ‘You’re not Australian, why did you trick us’. I felt really awful because I had prepared footy games, cricket, a lamington eating competition, pies and sausage rolls and so much more and all I got was a rather rude reception from the people I had invited. It was Australians saying to me ‘you don’t look Australian’ and ‘you’re not one of us’.

Now some of you will say that these were just people with no manners and you’re right. Does that mean we’re a nation of bad-mannered, impolite , crass people? Surely not.

Another Case in Point: Meeting Aussie blokes in Canada

I met up with an Australian girlfriend of mine in Canada who introduced me to her aussie friends there. They were a group of young IT professionals, obviously looking for a date. Now I don’t know what my friend told them, but all I got from one of the disappointed faces was ‘ thought you were an Australian’.

Travelling Around Asia:

This happens to me when I travel in South East Asia as well, especially in Singapore. The excited look on an Australian face only to see I’m a ‘wog’ with an Aussie accent. The look of ‘she’s not one of us’ plastered all over their faces. And because I’m partly English and speak with a slight English accent, the Poms (English) don’t take too kindly to me either. I talk more about this in my post ‘To thyself be True’.

I might think I’m Australian, but most of my experiences in Australia and abroad make me believe I’m not.  Good thing I’ve skin as thick as cow hide and I believe myself to be a citizen of the world, where there will always be a place for me.

Un-Australian

What and who is an Australian?

My Answer: Anyone Albino. Wait. I’m following it with the Larrikin Caveat: Just Joking.

Last Saturday a lovely Nepalese man came to my door to pick up a couple of things. We got chatting. Half way through the conversation he bluntly tells me and asks ‘You’re not Australian, where do you come from?’  I asked him to guess and of course, as usual, he was way off the mark.  You see an Australian is someone white, preferably the striking image of a displaced Pom (English person). To be a person of any other colour, especially olive, is to be ‘from elsewhere’. Not so long ago and in some media portrayals today, this excluded indigenous people too.

I went to school with an Australian Chinese girl who was 3rd generation Australian but looked Chinese because her father who was born in Australia of Chinese parents, married a Hong Kong Chinese immigrant.  She struggled all her life with identity as she looked Chinese but spoke English only and with a broad Aussie accent. The Chinese didn’t know what to quite make of her and she didn’t hold any Chinese values in how she saw the world but she has NEVER in her life been mistaken for an Australian- the country where she was born, holds the same values, pays taxes in, and is a law-abiding citizen. As she tells me constantly, ‘I feel invisible’. Well done to those past PMs of Australia- your social engineering to make this a white country to the exclusion of the indigenous and others has worked.

Meanwhile, we have the likes of 10 pound Poms settling into Australia in the 1950s. Their offspring would be up to 3rd , some 4th generation Australians but no-one, absolutely no-one would ever mistaken them for being from elsewhere, even though their families would have spent an equal amount of generational time in Australia just like post war Greeks, Italians and everyone else of a non-white hue. In fact, we even managed to elect a PM from a 10 pound Pom family.

At what point in time do non-white migrants become part of the National Australian Identity?



The Media Making ‘Australians’

I have a number of observations on the continual portrayal of who and what is an Australian in this country and continual media bias. Let me use Nick Kyrgios as an example. Not withstanding bad behaviour should never be condonned, Corinne Grant, a white Australian woman wrote an article about this on Hoopla:

“Nick Kyrgios is un-Australian Apparently Nick Kyrgios is too rude. He swears, throws the odd tantrum, and his clothing is way too loud. Many Australians are tut-tutting about this young man and his potty mouth. How very un-Australian! Acting like a self-entitled dickhead is the preserve of middle-class white men, not young upstarts with Greek-Malaysian heritage and less than lily-white skin. Rage Level: Deep indignation. Whatever happened to tennis stars with names you could pronounce and acceptable skin tones? What about that nice John McEnroe? Or that Lleyton Hewitt? Sure he was a bit arrogant, but that was different. He was white. That lovely Andy Murray dropped the f-bomb quite a few times sitting side of court after losing a game the other night, but he’s Scottish. It’s so cute when a little white-faced ranga goes off tap. It’s rather different when a brown boy with a mohawk thinks he has some sort of right to belong. We decide the tennis champions in this country, and the manner in which they win.”

In fact just in today’s SMH there was a report on the expletive laden barrage of Andy Murray’s girlfriend. But I guess when you’re white and beautiful, it’s more permissible.

The media certainly know who to prop up as our nations faces and who we would rather sideline. The treatment of Michelle Leslie and Shapelle Corby is a another case in point. You could argue that Ms Leslie donning female muslim attire to curry favour with her prosecutors didn’t exactly warm her to Australians but the treatment of her in the media and the response by the Australian public was vastly different from Shappelle Corby. Yes the facts of the two cases did differ however I do know that Michelle’s offense was much less than Shappelle’s and yet on talk back radio the vitriol towards Michelle Leslie was quite astounding and disproportionate to her ‘crime’. Ms Corby on the other hand was deemed ‘one of us’ and therefore worthy of the attention and sympathy from your average Australian. I’m only gathering this from the tone of talk back radio and newspaper comments sections and the fact that Channel 9 thought her ‘Australian’ enough to retell her story in a telemovie.

A few years ago in a baby photo competition by a well known Australian brand, a multiracial couple sent in their photo of a Eurasian baby; part Chinese and part Anglo Australian. The awful amount of name calling and questioning whether that child was truly Australian enough to win an Australian baby competition was really disgusting. That baby was born in Australia and her identity and worth as an Australian should never be questioned nor based on her phenotype. The fact that the general public saw fit to abuse this couple highlights a couple of issues : a) the general lack of manners and respect in Australia towards difference b) the publishing of such commentary by the media and allowing it to take place c) the lack of media advocacy and support for the family. It kind of slaps in the face of a ‘fair go’, a supposed unique Australian value.

There are many examples of how a white face is chosen to be splashed across the front cover of popular women’s magazines (e.g The Australian Women’s Weekly), how a white story is more relevant and important than a person of colour and how indigenous news is treated by mainstream media (read articles by Celeste Liddle).

Even in popular television programs, you’d be hard pressed to find a non-white face. A very good play on the issue of media and it’s whitewashing in Australia is one called ‘Lighten Up’ performed at the Griffith Theatre in Sydney. It challenges the over use of white Australia in film. Even in media outlets like Foxtel, its own productions still cling to a white Australia but they feel good about themselves inserting ‘foreign’ channels for the rest of us. Why can’t a non white Australian face be used in Australian drama? What’s so uncomfortable about that when you walk down the streets of Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and Darwin and see many non white Australian people?

If we are to accept differing phenotypes as being Australian then we need to have responsible and fair portrayals from our media, and we need the heads of these mainstream media organizations to re-engineer who is an Australian. As challenging as this is for Anglo Australians to let go, putting your head in the sand long enough will only lead to suffocation.