My Australian Culture
I am Australian. As I grew and assumed the responsibility of an adult I saw the world through the rose-coloured glasses of a young version of myself; someone who loved life and wanted to make a difference to the world. I discovered that I didn’t really impact the world around me but grew in awareness of the world and its people. I am still shocked by the behaviours of some people in my community and remained in admiration of others.
The Australian community is diverse and multicultural. Australia is a cultural diverse community. This cultural diversity has been both problematic and enriching. Our knowledge and experience has grown. We enjoy varied architecture, festivals, traditions and food. All country towns that I have lived in have had a local Chinese restaurant.
For those unable to learn from difference has led to discrimination and ignorance. I believe that an inclusive society can be achieved through education. The ignorance that is a “not knowing” can only be eliminated by educating those who “do not know”. I believe that education is the answer building inclusivity into our modern day Australian culture. It must be our dream.
My Cultural IdentityCulturally, I am a nonindigenous Australian woman who grew up in the north west of NSW. I’m a country girl who has travelled and studied. My cultural identity has been modified through societal and family values, morals and way of life – behaviours learned from life experiences. If my cultural identity is dependent upon the experiences of life, then I am Australian. Comparable with other people across the world, “I like who I am and can imaging being no other” (Guillaume, 2000).
On contemplation, I have realised that my values, morals and way of life (my culture), is not uniquely Australian. My cultural identity resonates with my experiences that have grown from a skin colour privilege (MaIntosh, 1990). My cultural identity is different to other Australians. My belief is that my cultural identity echoes the majority of Australians but that is not the culture of all Australians. Connelly expressed this “white ethnicity” that aligns with “the majority culture” (2002).
I have been raised in a culture that has welcomed the way I look and my (white) convict ancestry. I have had the advantage of privilege deprived of understanding. This has shaped my world and my experiences.
My Awareness of Diversity and MulticulturalismCultural Diversity is as necessary for human kind as biodiversity is for nature (UNESCO, 31st Session, 2001). In today’s Australia, cultural diversity is part of the fabric of what it is to be Australian. A study has shown that one in five people aged over 65 in Australia were born in a non-English speaking country, which is predicted to increase to one in three by 2021 (Keast 2015). Consequently, Australia should be flourishing, but are we?
Our nation is recognised as a place where people from other nations live. Captain Cook discovered the East Coast of Australia and opened up the nation to become a penal colony, a prison. Chinese immigration was occurring since the gold rush era of the 1850’s. Post World War 1 and World War 11 saw immigration for Europeans in need. The Vietnam War saw an influx of people seeking refuge during the 1970’s. Even before that, the indigenous people of Australia are thought to have arrived some 50000 years ago (Horton 1994). Australia is a culture that has grown from the diverse people who have chosen to or have been obliged to live together as one nation.
It is important to consider how we, as individuals and as a group, interpret the concept of multiculturalism. Are we many cultures in one nation or many nations in one culture? Is there a degree of “separatedness” that would suggest struggles and an impeding unrest (BBC Magazine, 2001) that stems from inflexible differences. A workable approach to multiculturalism could be one that does not put people into “ethnic boxes” but rather sees “a fusion in which culture borrows bits” in order to transform society into a new version of a “community culture” (BBC Magazine, 2001). There are many successful examples, particularly in our cities where new immigrants have assimilated into “our society”. From my observation, education seems to be key.
Australia and her people are diverse. Australia is a land that has been built on the principles of dissimilar groups of people living on the one land. We are separated by geography and limited by modern history. To be Australian means that there is a high possibility that your heritage originates from other lands.
My Awareness of Discrimination and InclusionI grew up in a society that saw “white as cultureless or the norm” (Perry, 2001). We just were. Everybody was white. Life just went on. I had no awareness of discrimination or inclusions growing up in the 1970’s in rural NSW. I had no idea that Indigenous Australians had only just been granted the right to vote, and that the Aborigines Welfare Board had only just stopped taking children away from families.
My awareness grew. I went to University in Sydney in the 1980’s and then accepted my graduate placement at Alice Springs Hospital in 1990. My awareness grew as my experience grew. As a young nurse in the Northern Territory, my world changed. There were a multitude of struggles going on in Alice Springs. Multitudes of people are attracted to Alice Springs. I was one. I wanted to experience life and make a difference. My experience grew quickly as I was in Alice Springs during the Hermannsburg riots in 1990.
I was overseeing the ward on night duty. AT 21 years of age and an extremely inexperienced RN, I was the most senior staff member. I was “in-charge”. I heard a knocking coming from the staircase. Fearfully, I approached the fire door but did not open it. Timidly I asked, “Who’s there?” I was told. The purpose of the visit was clearly explained. I was not in danger but this person had some “sorry business” with one of the other patients. He had a knife and was obliged to undertake “Payback”. I told him that this was not possible tonight and he needed to leave the premises. He did. I was in charge and that was respected.
My heart was in my throat. I am not sure what made him listen to me. I am grateful that my evening visitor had chosen the fire escape and not the front entry as there was no security at that time of night, in those days.
My authority may have been associated with my fair skin. A “skin coloured privilege” (McIntosh, 1990).
Violence and racism was evident in this community. It was not restricted to white against black or black against white. The Alice Springs I knew was an area where people who did not live on their communities anymore came. It was also a place where different tribal lands met. There was often violence when family groups fought, such as the Hermannsburg riots. Other struggles were related to drugs and alcohol, family and domestic issues. This was both indigenous and non-indigenous groups.
I believed that Australia was inclusive and respectful of all people. Our policies and practices encourage a country where all are free. Our education system is world renowned. Education is our fourth largest export (NCVER Conference, 2015). Our health system is one of the best in the world. Australia, as a nation has an impact on other nations. We make a difference.
AND yet, in 2018 a young indigenous woman walks into a local shop in rural Australia and security are called. She has lived in the area all her life and has never been arrested for theft. She has that “look”. This is not a once-off situation. This happens regularly to her and her family members. This young woman was a friend of mine.
Indigenous people as a group are still dying early. The figures for 2010-2012 show that life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men is estimated to be 10.6 years lower than non-Indigenous men, while life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is 9.5 years lower than non-Indigenous women. (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012).
Martin Luther King “had a dream” in 1963. In the speech he gave during the demonstration for freedom in America he declared that all people have “unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (King, 1963). As a nation Australia has made significant progress when looking at diversity, inclusion and multiculturalism. It is a journey that needs to continue.
My own personal journey continues. I am far more aware of my whiteness and my how my Australian culture has protected me from the realism of the pain and suffering other Australians have experienced. My awareness grows daily as I open my eyes to my experiences and those others around me. It alarms me to think that I am so naive and blinkered in my approach to cultural struggles and racism. I want to be better. In the words of Martin Luther King “we can never be satisfied” as long as our people “are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity” (King, 1963) by the injustices of modern day discrimination.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2012). population. Retrieved from www.abs.gov.au:indigenous health
BBC Magazine. (2011, February 7). Multicultuarlism: What does it mean? bbc.com.
Connelly, J. (2002). Whiteness: A Personal Awareness. Narratives from the Field of Difference: White Women Teachers in Indigenous classrooms. unpublished.
Guillaume, A. J. (2000). To be an American, Black, Catholic and Creole. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences. https://search.proquest.com/openview/2930d86655f14809bc3d54fda25c2c74/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=41036
Horton, D. D. (1994). Unity and Diversity: The History and Culture of Aborginal Australia. Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torrese Strait Islander Studies. Retrieved from http://www.abs.gov.au/Ausstats/abs@.nsf/0/75258e92a5903e75ca2569de0025c188?
Keast, J. (2015, July 29). Study Aims to improve services' understanding of CALD seniors. Retrieved from Australian Ageing Agenda: http://www.australianageingagenda.com.au/2015/07/29/study-aims-to-improve-services-understanding-of-cald-seniors/
King, M. L. (1963, August 28). American Rhetoric, Top 100 Speeches. Retrieved from American Rhetoric: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm
McIntosh, P. (1990). White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Independent School, 49, 31-35. http://www.ywca.org/atf/cf/%7B6EDE3711-6615-4DDD-B12A-F9E0A781AE81%7D/White%20Privilege%20Unpacking%20the%20Invisible%20Knapsack.pdf
Perry, P. (2001). White means never having to say you're ethnic: White Youth and the Construction of Cultureless Identities. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 56-91.
UNESCO. (Nov 2, 2001). The General Conference of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation. Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (p. 13). Paris: UNESCO.