the games

Catherine Driscoll catherine.driscoll at
Sun Aug 27 17:13:19 PDT 2000

Rob writes:

>To this once-mobile wog, Australians seem more like this than any
>other people twixt whom I have lived - and I've always found it a safe
>guiding stereotype when mixing with identifiably Strine strangers.

People from other countries often think I'm English, South African or something generally Scandinavian. But Australians always know I'm Australian, and it's not my accent.

I'm not saying there are no cultural coherences, of course there are -- but they're very mobile things and oh so dependent on the context of your looking for them. In some ways resenting the successful Australian cricket team, or only just being able to conceal a delighted speculation that Sydney may dismally and embarrassingly fail to turn in a star performance as Olympic city, are much better Australian attributes than the sports-worship and the digger-myth. But Australians don't really share in any sense either of these tendencies.

Australia is increasingly representing itself as cohering around certain ahistorical behaviours and attitudes. I'm wary of these cultural coherences being identified with social criticism in the way they often are. I'm wary of them being valorising homilies like bravery, resourcefulness, humour or generosity. I'm scared of us not noticing things like 'our' oppression of aboriginal people, imprisonment of immigrants and refugees, systematic impoverishment of regions of Australia, exploitation of neighbours, casual embrace of racism and other bigotries, and smug self-congratulatory tendencies, because we're so busy noticing that Australia is less tyrannously narrow-minded and more able with certain amused modes of self-criticism than the US or Britain.

>...It's about what everyone
>consciously or unconsciously agrees to be understood by everyone else in
>the society *as a normative guide*. A lot of Australians are much as I've
>described 'em, I reckon, but theoretically, none of them need be like that
>at all. All we have to share is the understanding that this is our ideal
>type, performing the role of appropriate scheme to guide one's social
>practices. We don't actually have to agree, we just need to understand.

and i recognise the caricature you're using; so in the way you mean it, there's clearly some truth in it. but.

>F'rinstance, in Oz, I'd dare call a male stranger ugly before I'd call a
>woman ugly. And I'd dare call a female stranger a lousy driver before I'd
>call a man one.

This is hardly specific to Australia -- it's late modern patriarchy... no?

>That's what it means to share a
>culture, I reckon: my actions/words towards you (recognised by me as an
>Australian stranger) are informed by what I understand you to understand to
>be understood by me. They neither convey my agreement with those
>principles nor an expectation that you agree with 'em.

yes. that's what culture means on whatever scale it's operating, i agree -- the circulation of meanings in ways that form social groups. but it matters a hell of a lot what those expectations and principles are, and intervening in them seems very important.

>So accents are bad things, too. Not because people fear you won't agree on
>such things, but because people fear you won't understand what everyone
>understands others to understand as the default-setting understanding -
>heh, heh - well, y'know what I mean.

this i understand, but the next bit i don't. can you say it another way?

>So suddenly there ain't a reliable
>premise for anything. So people say nothing. So we get ghettoes and the


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