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Feb 27, 2013

Are giant spiders on the Aussie Guardian menu?

The Guardian is coming to Australia -- where giant spiders will probably kill you. Will the British care about anything other than deadly wildlife and local cliches?

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


When The Guardian announced it would open an Australian online venture my first thought was “Will it be able to kick the habit?”. The anti-Australian habit, that is.

Aussies are a reliable target of jokes in the UK from all corners. From the Right, it’s simple snobbery. For the liberal-Left, they serve as a safe substitute for the real object of their disdain: the British white working class. Sometimes they damn us with faint praise, as holy innocents and lovable bumpkins.

The Guardian is the absolute worst culprit for this, and I was going to do a search and gather a few quotes to show people what they were in for. Fortunately, The Guardian has done it for me — in a piece by Rae Earl, a Liverpudlian, now resident in Hobart. It’s a masterpiece in a way; Earl hits every cliche of Brit reporting on Oz in a single one-page piece. Did you know the “spiders are big … dinner-plate-size arachnids can meander into your house”? (In Hobart? Did they fly in from Cairns to visit MONA?)

Or, that “Australian TV is “awful”? Here is the main channel line-up in the UK tonight: Supersize vs Superskinny (fat and thin people swap diets); Benidorm ER (fly-on-the-wall in a resort casualty department); Sun, S-x and Suspicious Parents (parents spy on their kids on holiday using concealed cameras); Flog It! Trade Secrets (I … oh god) — and Wednesday is the good night for TV.

Moving on, there’s a dose of blatantly false folksiness:

“No horsemeat scandal here — most people can name the field or farm where their steak comes from.”

Oh yes, why who doesn’t check a pack of burgers in Coles to see the name of the cow they were taken from? Then we get onto the racism thing:

“Some people are openly racist in a way that would be unheard of back home.”

Unheard of? Racism? In Britain? In Britain of the riots? Of the deliberately bungled Stephen Lawrence case, and dozens of others? In the Britain of the Daily Mail? The Britain where a zero-immigration party (UKIP) can poll up to 15% of the vote? Please.

From the racism there’s a segue into bumpkinism, in a breathtaking passage:

“Australians — particularly my beloved Tasmanians — will cut off their arm to help you. Just don’t try to change things. They don’t want things changed. Or as one taxi driver said to me: ‘You could live here a hundred years and still be our guest. You’ll be treated like a guest but a guest doesn’t try to change the decor’.”

First off, I’m calling bullshit on that cab driver quote. Decor? The word is rarely used in Oz, whereas it’s common in the UK. It’s convenient yokelism. Secondly, Earl is living in Tasmania, a state that went from being the most conservative in Australia to being the most liberal, the home of the first Greens party in the world, the last state to decriminalise homos-xuality and the first place to try and ratify gay marriage.

Earl’s reportage is simply lazy and unresearched, in service to the cliche that generates an easy mood piece. “You are walking into a country, not yet sure of where it is going or who it wants to be aligned with …” Gaaaak.

Normally one would just move on from such a piece. They come out every few months, they’re always tiresome and lazy. The problem is the editor who would have seen this as a goer shares an attitude endemic through the organisation — Bloomsburyish condescension, borne of the narrow, insular group from which editors and journalists are drawn in an explicit class society.

How will the new operation’s parachuted-in editors handle the cultural shift? Will they listen to the “beloved” Oz journos they’re recruiting from Fairfax and elsewhere? Or will the staff all be sent out on a hunt for the great Tasmanian spider — after a quick refresher course at the masterclasses The Guardian is running?

We will watch with interest.

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30 thoughts on “Are giant spiders on the Aussie Guardian menu?

  1. Ginas new vajazzle

    You arent wrong. They served up some cheap and easy tripe with an eye more to the audience at home than any Fairfax refugees they may be trying to corner there – but you may recall someone at Fairfax (also based in Tassie from memory) was recently arguing that a hatred of cats was a manifestation of our fear of things foreign. Let us not be too sensitive, unless laziness becomes a Guardian Australia habit – after all they include a number of Poms in Australia and you need to expect at least some Bloomsburyish condescension, until they get it out of their system.

    Then again we could switch over to the endless backslapping or gargoyle worship of Uncle Rupert’s world.

  2. frey

    And regardless of all of that it is still a step up from the offerings of News Ltd

  3. Julie Briggs

    To be fair, Australian tv is pretty poor.

  4. Gavin Moodie

    I second the motion noting the awfulness of British free to air tv. It is worse than Australia.

  5. Pete from Sydney

    Not bad Guy, usually struggle with your ramblings, but not bad…
    As for Gina and Frey….stick to the subject…can’t stand to see another media group cop a bit of criticism without dragging News into it?

  6. JacetheAce

    British TV drama is much, much better than Australian TV. But British programs are sold throughout the world and everyone with a TV has to pay a licence fee to pay for the BBC, so it can afford to be a lot better.

  7. Andybob

    On the plus side there doesn’t seem to have been any leadership speculation …

  8. Son of foro

    The CiF section of the Guardian is a shocker. It doesn’t matter what the article is within three comments there’ll be some holier than thou liberal revealing their disgust at the racist they saw in a pub in Warracknabeal in 1975. Not to mention their complete ignorance as to the cultural make up of modern day Australia.

    Such is their desperation to prove how right on they are even the Black Saturday coverage was taken over by these heartless freaks. People dying? Who cares, I need to prove my political superiority!

    Anyway, is Neighbours worse than Mind Your Language?

  9. Mike Flanagan

    Guy; Thanks for another well presented article, but I have to say you appear to be overly prescious and perhaps a little cynical about the bloody poms and their press.
    We do give ’em a ‘little’ stick overhere and I cannot imagine the Guardian escaping our cynicism and sarcastic wit.

  10. mikeb

    Rae must have the job from heaven. Writing for a UK mag from Hobart. The taxi-driver story might be partly true as you’ll find a much higher % of non-immigrant drivers and “decor” is certainly not a rare word in folksey old Hobart I’d have thought. As for spiders – if I saw one of those down here I’d be packing bags for old blighty quick smart.

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