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By Ian Nance - posted Thursday, 28 November 2019

We take a well-deserved pride in Australia's being one of the world's most successful countries for multi-culturalism. In large cities it is normal to find various diasporas of the world's different heritages, with their vast range of dress, lifestyles, habits and languages.

However, many groups here tend to see others as variants of their own if they cannot understand the structure of that other's language.

The syntax of all forms of speech or writing will often reveal nuances of meaning. In my own instance, my study of Mandarin has opened my mind to some minor delicacies within Chinese poetry which lie under the rigid translation of phrases.


It behoves English-only speakers to try to absorb even a minor understanding of another tongue because in so doing, many aspects of that learning reveal a degree of awareness about another kind of culture.

Think of our own particular Australian slang expressions. How would a newly-arrived Chinese be expected to cope with utterances such as: "he's a few sandwiches short of a picnic", "not the sharpest tool in the shed", "never let it be said yer mother raised a dingo"?

That kind of puzzling patois would confuse a non-fluent English speaker totally, yet to those who understand the nuances expressed by these phrases would give a subtle insight into the whimsy of many of our laconic idioms.

I consider that all nationalities have their own forms of these utterances thus it is an advantage to our cultural appreciation and knowledge that we understand that they do exist outside the staid style of literal usage.

Australia has a large number of immigrant as well locally-born Asian and Middle Eastern citizens, besides its more historic British and European forebears whose attitudes and culture played a significant role in shaping what has come to be our "Aussie" culture.

Yet it is almost impossible to define just what comprises that culture. We won't find its elements written, but most of us know instinctively when something fits or transgresses the bounds of that intangible.


Over recent years, we have absorbed from our media various negative, as well as positive, attributes of different ethnicities, particularly in the area of religious belief. Chinese as well as Muslim lifestyles feature prominently and it is subtle conditioning which can impose a desire to 'conform' to some sort of undefined Australian culture.

As I just pointed out, a considerable degree of our cultivation stems from British traditions, particularly those of England. I recall one memorable example which caused me to have this opinion.

In my early schooldays (a long time ago) I used to delight in accompanying my travelling sales representative father during school holidays on his forays around outback New South Wales.

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About the Author

Ian Nance's media career began in radio drama production and news. He took up TV direction of news/current affairs, thence freelance television and film producing, directing and writing. He operated a program and commercial production company, later moving into advertising and marketing.

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