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Why are Australians whingeing?

By Millsom Henry-Waring - posted Thursday, 9 February 2012

'The Whingeing Poms'? Not anymore, Australians take a long hard look in the Mirror – as a nation; we (or should I say you?) have now replaced the Poms for whingeing.

Why are Australians whingeing? For most of us, this is the lucky country and if not, it certainly as the potential to be. I arrived in Australia over ten years ago as a 'visibly' different skilled migrant who has also is able to 'fit easily' into Australian society because of the still social and political privilege of being British. These varying identity positions have provided me with a distinctive viewpoint to look at Australia from the outside and from within and I must confess to being somewhat alarmed at a number of peculiarities about the Australian psyche, especially over the last few years.


Why is there still a reluctance to acknowledge the historical legacy of 'race' and its decimation of the First Australians? How could a gap between Indigenous and other Australians be overlooked for so long? How could any meaningful discussion about multiculturalism seriously be attempted or fully realised without dealing with past relationship between First Australians and the first settlers? Why does it appear to be un-Australian to call Australian society racist? How can a narrow and at times inhumane view of asylum seekers, refugees and some migrants be allowed to dominate and constrict any effective discussion and action? Why aren't we championing our place within the Asia-Pacific regions? It seems incredible that these issues are not being seriously tackled as Australia is in an enviable position to take advantage of real engagement with its indigenous communities, to extend its multicultural credentials and to harness the potential of its regional position within the Asia-Pacific.



The Green's Senator Bob Brown's comments in the press yesterday (6 February 2012) about the sexist/misogynistic commentary about Australia's first female Prime Minister largely fuelled by sections of the media are timely. Some of the commentary would not have been given much oxygen within the UK, yet here it appears far too uncritically. Many women (and male) commentators have already alluded to the rampant sexism here in Australia and the fact that a senior public male figure is saying it should bode well for Australia. As Brown indicated, its mostly men that are the culprits here, and much of it is so unconscious, but nonetheless still damaging. It also has to be said that a number of women have also fallen into this trap of defining and judging women by the traditional view of what a women's role is. For me, there remains a deep sense of unease about how Australia treats women especially those in public life. For Senator Bob Katter to state that "I don't think sexism is riding high in Australia - if anything it's probably the other way around' reflects a failure to understand the insidious nature of sexism and its diminution of the female gender. We have been told time and time again that despite a few gains over the past 100 years for many women, on virtually all levels of private and public life, from equity in terms of pay, access to senior roles, recognition in terms of doing the majority of the caring work, the rise in cases of sexual harassment and domestic violence; the increasing pornification in all forms of popular culture, the position of women in Australia remains constrained within a highly sexist culture. Look no further than the recent treatment of women by the armed forces, key sporting codes and other bastions of male activity - not exactly a ringing endorsement of gender equality in Australia. Clearly, on many levels, the equality of the sexes is not as extreme as in other parts of the world, but within Australia, it is way, way behind what it should and can be.

The Monarchy

Why is Australia holding onto the need for a Monarchy? The British on the whole find it bizarre that such a modern democratic country like Australia has not let go of the apron strings – even the Queen has given Australia permission to grow up. The Queen would not be take it personally, she would I am sure always have a sense of pride and relief that one of her offspring has finally left the nest. I was astonished to find that even though I was already a British citizen by birth, for the first time I had to swear my allegiance to the Queen when I became an Australian citizen. How bizarre? It is possible to find ways in which Australia can still keep ties with the monarchy but not in ways, which extend such a dependent relationship with it. What are you so frightened of Australia? It's seriously time to grow up and enter the real world of adulthood. Sure there are challenges, but there are also great opportunities too.

The Economy

Australia in comparison to the rest of the world IS doing well economically. Australians on the whole are living longer; live in world-rated cities; have more disposable income than past generations; have access to good standards of healthcare and other public services. Many key organisations and governments around the world acknowledge this. Yet within Australia, there are powerful voices which paint a story of gloom, somehow this still is not good enough – we still need keep to an economic model that despite being heavily flawed and bankrupt (as attested by the GFC and the current woes in Europe and North America) that reinforces inequality for many and privilege for a few. As a result, there appears to be a dominant view that we have the inalienable right to grow endlessly and unsustainably which has led to a mean-ness of spirit, a lack of generosity (which I find very un-Australian) to spread the wealth (and the love). Of course, there are individuals and businesses that are doing it tough as Australia (like many other countries) transforms (as we apparently must?) to the seemingly endless cyclical shifts and changes of the global market place.

So get over this irrational sense of gloom and entitlement Australia! You need to learn to make your own way in the world, to understand that you also need to make your own luck and not expect it on a silver platter for all of your life. Stop whingeing!

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About the Author

Millsom Henry-Waring is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Melbourne. Millsom's research and teaching interests are based around notions of visibility, difference, otherness, blackness and whiteness, specifically in the areas of identity, intimacy, popular culture, new technologies, nationalism and multiculturalism.

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