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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?


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.

  11. Patrick Brosnan

    English drama is total rubbish: Midwives, New Tricks, Hustle? The advertisements on the ABC are enough to make you vomit. The comedy is generally better though.

  12. Tim nash

    It is funny when you read these articles, about Australians.

    It’s easy to get frustrated, but you need to be inside the looking glass of a tabloid newspaper.

    The Daily Telegraph have been guilty of writing more than one of the old ‘whinging pom’ articles.

    It’s really just base drivel for the masses.

  13. Roberto Tedesco

    I don’t think this person’s article is a lot to worry about – the phrase “small business owner” on top of a whole bunch of hoary cliches just about clinches it. I seem to recall there was a series of articles on British expats before Christmas, so it’s all ground that’s been covered recently, and doubtless will be again.

    If this person were to be a regular contributor to Guardian Australia I don’t think I’d want to know.

  14. ggm

    As a disclaimer I am a dual UK-Aus citizen of some 25 years residence in each country.

    So if I say that there *is* a huge amount of casual racism inherent in Australia, its not because I think the UK is any better: I know its not, its just *different*.

    Why do people feel they need to say this? Because some Australian culture is in denyal about the residual racist element in our culture.

    Rather than doing a tit-for-tat response “your mother smells” it might pay to try and take a 10,000 ft view, and ask “what is it, about australia, that makes it such a nice place, but yet we still have a certain lack of sensibility around wogboy jokes” or “how come the cronulla riots still happen when everyone is a new arrival” or “why do we love objectifying islam” or a heap of questions. Sure. the Uk does it too. Does it excuse it here? no.

  15. ggm

    A second comment. my partner, who is australian born and bred, said of the UK “I like the sexism of australia better: at least you know they are objectifying you” and I think this goes to the substance of the problem. The guardian probably did want to claim a higher moral ground, and what she says rings true: you get a lot of apparent equality in the UK but under the cover, its the same class of bias as we have here, except here, its sometimes more overt.

    better? worse? different.

  16. Hamis Hill

    Exceeding strange how, after founding the joint and continuing to export millions of its subjects here, the British somehow know nothing about Australia.
    Got a good share of Irish in ya, Rundle?
    There’s a fecund stereotype for you to exploit in future insulting articles.
    The cultural cringers are far more deadly (to the brain cells) than giant spiders.
    The bigger problem is how few Australians appear to know anything at all about the “Mother” country.
    Is that inherited “insularity” perhaps?
    But if you don’t go (to the UK) you won’t know.
    But, why even care? Australia is completely culturally self-sufficient and does not need to cultivate the good regard of foreigners.
    And the only authentic Australians are routinely treated like garbage, which tells visitors all they need to know.
    And the locals don’t even know that their flag is actually multicultural. Duh?
    But it always was a repository for people with no inheritance?
    The much touted alternative to the Mudorch monopoly is tainted by ignorant prejudice?
    And vice versa?
    Rundle the Pommy Basher! How f-cking pathetic.

  17. Colleen Murrell

    The article by Rae Earl was a load of nonsense but let’s get the facts right – she is not a Guardian journalist. She appears to be a freelance writer, living in some exotic place called Tasmania.

  18. Guy Rundle

    i didnt say she was a guardian journo, colleen – which was why i put the emphasis on whichever editor thought the piece was worth a run

  19. Colleen Murrell

    Well perhaps you should have been a little more clear – the “article” was actually under on the website under a banner called “Comment is free” which wd suggest it is a piece of writing which probably didn’t even earn the writer any money.

  20. Chips

    Colleen, Guy’s point remains. The Guardian falls over itself to portray Australia in this condescending light. If you’re not in the UK experiencing this coverage as an Australian (rather than as a Brit in Australia who’s probably produced similar shite in past roles) then it’s difficult to understand how tiresome it is.

  21. Colleen Murrell

    Well Chips, all I am saying is the article/blog/commentary by the freelance writer should be put into context rather than being cited as a genuine Guardian paid-for article and used to fan flames against a bit of upcoming competition. But I agree with you that incorrect/snidey coverage of your home country can be very tiresome. Living over here I read quite a lot of it.

  22. Hamis Hill

    Chips, surely your opinion is that The Guardian falls over itself to portray a particular version of Australia in a condescending light; in your valid, direct experience as a UK resident.
    However the narrative of recent decades revolves around the struggle of Australians to achieve a clear and independent national character.
    Pommy Bashing used to be one of those attempts at differentiation.
    All and sundry in this state of flux seek to define Australia on their own terms: taking Miranda Devine, a staunch and proud colonial Irish Catholic, who constantly denigrates, in her newspaper articles, the distress felt by New “Pommy Bastards” at finding themselves in a strange land, as evidence that Australia is not “British” anymore.
    Devine’s default position that Australia is now, then, a part of that great Irish Catholic Empire.
    Australians are constantly being “got at” in this manner by foreign cultural chancers seeking to dictate who Australians are and what Australia is.
    All on the negative basis that because Australia is not British no Brits in Australia can be Australian and while Devine can openly celebrate her cultural peculiarities here, Poms have to shut up or go home.
    And take all their shared Australian and British history with them?
    Gee, that would be very convenient for those intent upon driving us towards a Banana Republic status.
    Do Australians, of any cultural heritage, need to countenance this dispossession of any Australian heritage?
    No-one here is telling Devine, in particular, to abandon her proud Irish Catholic Empire world view, so why does she deny the same right to others, all attempted under this false, unfinished cloak of Australian nationalism?
    Hoefully, Chips, you are not one of those paranoids who hangs out in an Aussie Ghetto in London, and then goes on to pretend that you know all about the British.
    That would be like a refugee from Afghanistan, marooned in Rooty Hill for a few years, claiming to then know everything about Australia.

  23. Hamis Hill

    An Australian acquaintance, who as a Merchant Seaman took extended leave in the UK, told me that, in consequence of all the Pommy bashing and “Pommy Bastard” hate he’d been brought up on, thought that he’d have to fight his way out of any pub he revealed his identity in.
    Instead, he related that whereever he went outside London he was regaled as a long lost son and never had to buy a drink.
    Not what he was brought up to expect.

  24. Hamis Hill

    Didn’t that famous Pom state: “For every Bash there is an equal and opposite Bash”?
    Don’t get too precious, it’s un Australian.

  25. floorer

    Australian msm is largely prosaic, Guardian is largely not. Guardian wins.

  26. Guy Rundle

    the article may have been grouped under ‘comment is free’ online, but it was a full page article in the ‘G2’ section of the print Guardian. i can assure that Earl was paid in full for it.
    Are you digging yourself into a hole so deep that you can call it a tunnel and see light at the end of it?

  27. floorer

    rundle all I think when you pick on Colleen is why are you so toey.

  28. Colleen Murrell

    G2 must have shrunk if that was a whole page article – but you are there and I am not. I’m afraid I only saw it in Australia where it was grouped under the ‘Comment is Free’ section. Luckily I have developed a thick skin Guy or I would find your comments unnecessarily unpleasant. But then I’ve been on the receiving end of a fair bit of pommy taunting over the years over here in your fair country. The funny thing is by roots I’m actually Irish. Have a nice weekend!

  29. green-orange

    The Guardian is about to launch an Australian version ; this was simply ordered so they could get a lot of hits from Australia to interest advertisers.

    No one has mentioned that the author doesn’t even live in Australia, only western NZ…….

  30. Colleen Murrell

    In this week’s “Women’s Weekly” Portia DeGeneres talks of Australian spiders “like dinner plates” (p. 32). Some people think it’s Poms who spread these stories. #justsaying

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