What unites a truly diverse Australia?
From what I understand of the United States, despite its huge diversity, its cultural stories are unifying. For example, the poem inside the base of the Statue of Liberty is called The New Colossus, and it runs as follows:
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbour that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Australia is reaching a stage in its history where it actually needs to answer this question. We have benefitted hugely from being part of the English-speaking world – but in many respects, it means we have not had to think for ourselves. When we think about human nature, we default to Shakespeare and the Bible. When we talk about economics, we refer to Adam Smith and Karl Marx. And because we had this rich legacy to draw from, it became part of our foundation…and so did the idea of just borrowing from the broader Anglosphere canon.
As a result, I think that Australians have never had to really think about how to tell our own stories, and what we did tell was often in line with what the authorities of the day wanted. In the digital era, when the ability to tell stories is really important. But because it’s not a skill we have developed culturally, we are swamped by the sheer volume of content.
I imagine that for many migrants, much of the older Australian experience remains hidden. They may have heard of Henry Lawson, but never read his poems. Likewise, they may have heard of the Eureka Stockade, but not really understood why it’s important. To be fair, of course, many Anglo-Saxon families don’t know much about these types of things either.
It’s also now hard to talk about what Australian “culture” is now, in a digital era where what’s popular comes and goes in a flash. In a digital world, anyone with a PC and a mouse can create media content which caters to their needs and views. And longer-term, it likely puts the legacy media at risk. If large swathes of the population don’t watch free-to-air TV, listen to commercial radio, or read broadsheet newspapers, then these organisations will lose the ability to reflect the culture. In fact, this has already happened – but neither the mainstream media nor much of Anglo-Saxon Australia seems to be aware of the shift.
Are we getting to the point where we just see ourselves as naturally multi-racial? Can we write generic stories about growing up in the suburbs, without the perception of it as being “the migrant experience?” Can we see writers of other backgrounds describing life in the bush? Maybe these changes presage a broader shift in the stories Australia tells about itself – and changes our collective perception about who we are.