It may surprise Guy Rundle that I listen to Cold Chisel, drink Tooheys and VB, and watch the cricket. Not just that: I even play cricket.

I took up the sport as a child growing up in Canley Vale in Sydney; my heroes were Allan Border and Terry Alderman. In my local under-11 team, I was called “Chee Quee” after the Chinese-Australian cricketer of the same name. In more recent times, I captained the first XI at Balliol College while a student at Oxford (although I was far from being of Blues standard).

All this, I suspect, will do little to change Rundle’s mind about my book, Reclaiming Patriotism, which he reviewed last Friday. That, of course, isn’t the point. One doesn’t write a book with the expectation that everyone will agree, but with the hope that it provokes debate.

For this reason, I welcome Rundle’s effort to offer a critique. Yet I was surprised by the attention he devoted to my “complex” history as a first-generation Australian who grew up in south-west Sydney. Among other things, Rundle suggests that I am hostile to the things he enjoyed as a young boy on the Mornington Peninsula — the beach, cricket, a Sunnyboy — because they “exclude” people such as me “by definition”. His suggestion is that as an Asian immigrant who has been “carried on the winds of war”, I could never, for whatever reason, enjoy the simple pleasures he associates with being authentically Aussie.

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This involves a wilful misreading of my argument in Reclaiming Patriotism. According to Rundle, I propose that civic values alone must form the basis of patriotism, leaving no role for emotions in loving one’s country. Rundle believes that I propose a patriotism that involves merely “an abstract attachment to a set of ideas”.

It is true that I argue that any patriotism shouldn’t be reduced to things such as a love of the beach. If that were the case, then Australian “country-lovers” such as Rundle might as well move to California.

But I also argue that patriotism must involve an emotional dimension. It is just that I think any patriotic affection must ultimately be tied to a national historical tradition rather than to things such as a beach lifestyle. I make no apologies for believing that a sense of an Australian democratic achievement and an egalitarian public culture should be a central part of an Australian national identity. If Rundle believes that such attachments are objectionable (or “contentless” and “lifeless”), or preclude a love of Sunnyboys, then that reveals a spectacular failure of imagination.

What makes Rundle’s take all the more insipid is his charge that my patriotism is that of an elitist Oxford exile.

In writing my book, I was motivated by my concern that the 2005 disturbances in my home town (the Cronulla riots) signified a troubling development in Australian patriotism. That, and the fact that the Left vacated the field during the Howard years. It is rather that simple. And another thing: I’m no exile in the mode of Clive James or Germaine Greer. I’m typing this from Sydney, where I currently live, having returned from England.

As for elitism, I make very clear in Reclaiming Patriotism that the content of any national culture has to be subject to ongoing debate and deliberation. If anyone is being rigidly prescriptive about national identity, it is Rundle. Playing the role of self-appointed cultural commissar, he hands down his determination: apparently my immigrant background means that I’m unable to share in the kind of anodyne cultural lifestyle he loves most about Australia.

Then again, I suppose my “complex” history doesn’t fit the stereotype Adorno-quoting Lefties like to have of exotic immigrants (for some reason Rundle seems to think I’m a refugee who escaped my war-torn land of birth, France). I’m an Asian-Australian who plays cricket. I love a bit of old-school Aussie rock. While perhaps it makes me a dag, I also have an interest in Australian civic history. Sorry, Guy.

Indeed, it is disappointing that Rundle feels he has to suggest that I am less patriotic or Australian than “the Brunswick Trot, wearily grabbing a placard and going to another demonstration of behalf of David Hicks, an Australian abandoned by his government”. Patriotism needn’t be so insecure or adolescent in expression. Loving your country can involve something more sophisticated than beating your breast and declaring your love is truer than those with whom you disagree. How curious that Rundle has all of a sudden dumbed down on us.

Most disappointing, however, is Rundle’s cultural nostalgia, which sounds strangely familiar. Alongside the crashing of waves on the beach and the taste of orange Sunnyboys, Rundle forgets to mention the white picket fences, the Morphy Richards toasters, the stay-at-home mums. Maybe it’s because he thinks these are parts of his authentic Australia of yesteryear that I can never understand.

But Guy, mate, I do agree with you about one thing: someone turn on some Cold Chisel. I’ll happily sing along.

I’ll even shout you a round (do Carlton intellectuals and Brunswick socialists drink VB?). Feel free to check if my accent is Aussie enough and to test my knowledge of cricket. I’m sure you want to.

I subscribe to Crikey because I believe in a free, open and independent media where news and opinions can be published that I can both agree with and be challenged by.

As a Crikey subscriber I always feel more informed and able to think more critically about issues and current affairs – even when they don’t always reflect my own political viewpoint or lived experience.

Jess
Singapore

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