tip off

What does Australia Day mean for the ‘iPod generation’?

Yesterday I saw a young woman walking down the street wearing an Australian flag bucket hat bearing the logo of a Murdoch-owned newspaper. Another young woman was sporting an Australian flag bikini. A little odd on an inner-city street, to be sure. Still, it was summer; it was Australia Day… But the striking thing was that she’d also painted her entire body green and gold.

Several days earlier, Australia had awarded Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith its most exalted military honour, the Victoria Cross. Roberts-Smith told reporters, “I do what I do because I believe in the country that we live in.”

In his speech, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott noted that while 64 VCs were awarded among the 1st AIF of 330,000 soldiers, and 20 among the 2nd AIF of 500,000, our Afghanistan deployment of only 15,000 has already won two VCs.

“So it seems that the iPod generation can equal the silent movies one!” concluded Abbott jocularly.

Roberts-Smith is 32; Trooper Mark Donaldson was 29 when he was awarded the Victoria Cross in 2009. The “iPod generation” is my generation, too – and that body-painted girl’s.

Increasingly, public discourse is demanding that Australians hold their nationality dear – that they be explicitly ‘proud’. Australia Day is a carnival of consuming nationalism: shops sell all manner of flag-emblazoned merch and copious barbecue provender, while Sam Kekovich spruiks lamb.

The more simplistic strands of nationalism hold that if you have any reservations about the racial and socioeconomic privilege that enables this ‘Aussie pride’ to be so boldly expressed, you must be ‘guilty’ or ‘ashamed’.

But I don’t believe you need to put your life on the line to show your love for your country. Nor do you need to dress up like a cast member of X-Men Origins: Jingoism.

I’m not alone. Most of my peers don’t buy into the pageantry of Australia Day. They might enjoy their day off, get drunk on Aussie beer and wine and eat lamb, pavlova and lamingtons, but they’re uncomfortable with conspicuous nationalism.

That’s not necessarily because, as Gerard Henderson argues, they’re ashamed of celebrating the anniversary of indigenous dispossession, having been brainwashed by a guilt-stricken intelligentsia.

Rather, some younger Australians are questioning the increasing belligerence and divisiveness of nationalist sentiment, as well as its exploitation for politics and profit.

These people use their online social networks to talk about Australia’s sporting and cultural achievements – for example, celebrating Jacki Weaver’s Oscar nomination, or bemoaning the woeful fortunes of the Australian cricket team.

However, they also use Facebook and Twitter to express their reservations. Many of my friends agreed enthusiastically with David Koch’s op-ed. They were pleased and surprised to hear their own feelings echoed by cosy establishment darling Kochie.

They’re also keen to draw distinctions between ‘discerning’, introspective nationalism and its ‘vulgar’, extroverted cousin – epitomised by Australian flag and Southern Cross decorations and merchandise, and slogans aggressively addressing newcomers to this country.

“They ought to reschedule Australia Day so that it doesn’t clash with F-ckwits Draped In Flags Day,” tweeted Tim Sterne). “I remember when it was considered quintessentially Australian to mock the solemn pieties of US-style nationalism. Times have changed.”

Meanwhile, Cate Lawrence, who runs sustainability advocacy group Green Renters, wrote on Facebook: “Happy Australia Day! Eat some locally grown food, drink some Australian wine and don’t buy all that sweatshop plastic flag cr-p.”

Several years ago, when I was working for triple j magazine, we were putting together a special commemorative poster for that year’s Hottest 100 countdown. The countdown is always ceremoniously broadcast on Australia Day, so we put a callout online for readers to send us photos of their Australia Day celebrations, for inclusion in the poster.

Most of the images we received depicted young people having barbecues, drinking beer and horsing around in parks, backyards and swimming pools. The majority were not tricked out in nationalist drag – the exception being a group linked to racist boneheads Southern Cross Soldiers. (We didn’t use their photos in our poster.)

However, at the Big Day Out music festival I’ve increasingly noticed Australian flag imagery shifting from a belligerent, antisocial statement to a casual costume. As I noted this time last year, if you asked these kids to define ‘the nation’, could they? Or is a flag just what they feel is called for on the day – like a suit to a formal event, or a Santa hat to the work Christmas party?

Importantly, Tony Abbott’s ‘iPod generation’ varies wildly in its degree of intellectual and political engagement with the issues surrounding Australia Day. For us, being Australian is not as simple as being ‘proud’ or ‘ashamed’; it ranges from being something we don’t consider relevant at all to something we strongly believe deserves considered thought.

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  • 1
    David Coles
    Posted Thursday, 27 January 2011 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    I am pretty confident my generation doesn’t get off on the flag draping rubbish either. I may, perhaps, change my view if we had a flag that lost the Jack. One that actually had the capacity to represent all of the people of the country rather than just those of us descended from those hunted out of the place that actually owns the Jack.

  • 2
    Lorry
    Posted Thursday, 27 January 2011 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    What? no cries of Invasion Day - so disappointed.

    For those that don’t like the union jack, go live in China and see if they care, alternatively call lifeline, they care (apparently).

  • 3
    Holden Back
    Posted Thursday, 27 January 2011 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    It’s BYO straw man around here, Lorry.

  • 4
    paulk_x@hotmail.com
    Posted Thursday, 27 January 2011 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    What is this so-called “public discourse” of national pride? It’s not hard to ignore, whether you agree or disagree. Just turn off the TV. Most normal people do. I don’t feel any cringe about the symbolic meanings of the day, I enjoy myself and drink. My friends aren’t middle class intellectuals so there’s no cringing about the past. +1 to Lorry.

    Or is a flag just what they feel is called for on the day – like a suit to a formal event, or a Santa hat to the work Christmas party?”
    Youtube ‘Jaydos Prepares’.

  • 5
    Nate
    Posted Thursday, 27 January 2011 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    G’day Lorry!! Since you brought it up and I happened to be reading… as an Aboriginal Australian, every year Iam reminded of the day our way of life came to an end, there have been no treaties or such agreements between Aboriginal people and the British Colonies at that time, leaving Aboriginal generations displaced. It wasn’t until 1967 when were given some recognition….so yes I’m kind of pissed off by that… wouldn’t you be??. anyone would be?? The fall out from the White Australia and Assimilation polices last century are still ringing in our ears and have affected the mental health and well being of our generations which continue today because the conditions that created them have never been adequately addressed. There are great Aboriginal and non Aboriginal people on both sides working hard to close this gap right now, a mess left over from past governmental mistakes. So give them a break!!

    I understand that most Non-Aboriginal people enjoy a day of relaxation and some like wearing their flags which is fine!! Iam not suggesting that they should even change their ideas about their national Australian flag paraphernalia if they buy into that kind of consumer nationalism outlined as one of the major points of the article above…good luck to them!!. Australia will continue to do what it has always done …..it will celebrate it’s European heritage, as this day represents the creation of that time here. You must understand though that this was not the experience of all people on these lands, and you must not expect that they will adopt your view either. Because I am connected to my people and my ancestry I can never celebrate this day it only represents destruction for us. Iam not wanting to persuade your sarcasm, but I believe I have the right to call this day what I perceived it to be, it may not be your experience… and you may never really understand unless the same thing happened to you…. but it has most certainly been the experience of my ancestors, family and community. Besides to me it is not “Invasion Day” to me it’s more like “Survival Day” we have survived and our story will continue on.

  • 6
    Tim nash
    Posted Thursday, 27 January 2011 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    The whole thing gets so tiring year after year, especially the flag wearing types.
    When you quiz them about why they do it..the answers are so vacant or shocked, that you had the nerve to ask its hardly worth asking in the first place.
    It seems there are a great deal of people who are more interested in fashion statements of Australian patriotic nature than thinking about what it means to be Australian.

  • 7
    Posted Thursday, 27 January 2011 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    Lorry, as an automobile, how can you have an opinion on the flag? Not only do you have no hands with which to type, you are not sentient either!

  • 8
    AR
    Posted Friday, 28 January 2011 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Is Lorry a red neck, brain dead relo. of FC who seems, thankfully, to have gone missing?

  • 9
    Graeme
    Posted Friday, 28 January 2011 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    What’s wrong with grabbing a Coke, some KFC and a bunch of Chinese made Aussie flag gear and getting drunk on the beach while complaining about how those foreigners don’t understand our way of life?

  • 10
    SusieQ
    Posted Friday, 28 January 2011 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    A good article that raises some valid points, as does Nate in his (her?) post.

    We never used to bother very much about OZ Day til John Howard turned it into some sort of faux American type celebration (yuk). You only have to look at the ugliness of Cronulla a few years back to see how ‘love of country’ and flag waving can turn nasty. I find it difficult to feel proud of a flag that has the union jack in the corner and can be hard to distinguish from the New Zealand flag from a distance.

  • 11
    fitter
    Posted Friday, 28 January 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    straya day should be renamed bogan day really. Happy to have a day off, but if I want to see pissed yobbos wearing flag capes and white sunnies, I can go for a drive to cronulla.

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