The beer-goggle view of Australian culture

Let’s stop for a moment and have a serious look at our culture. The Australian culture; often referred to as ‘Aussie Culture’.

Speedos on the beach!

No, it's not Tony.

It was a sunny day and there wasn’t a lot of work to do. A Clydesdale horse was running free on a beach; jumping over puddles and roughing about in the sand. Later that day when things were cooler, the Clydesdale hooked itself up to a cart with a few of his mates, and as the sun set behind them they rode off into the into the cool evening; their dust trails glowing in the sun’s warm afternoon rays.

What a lovely way to spend the day.

What this image had to do with cricket or football we’ll never know. But it’s what hundreds of thousands of Australians saw in the middle of every match in the ‘70s & ‘80s.

Ever heard someone start talking about ‘Aussie Culture’? I’m sure you have. It’s supposedly the culture that is being threatened by immigrants (which have been coming to Australia for over 200 years). It’s apparently the culture that defines what it is to be ‘Australian’.

Get someone to define ‘Aussie’ or even ‘Australian’ culture, and they frequently talk about scenes of drinking beer, working hard and playing hard. Swearing, sitting around the barbeque and just generally making a dick of themselves. If you’re really lucky, they may even talk about eating a pie at the football. Oh yeah, and driving a Holden and swimming at the beach.

And then there’s ‘mateship’.

Sift through the links above for long enough and you’ll start to see certain themes emerge. Australians are all white and of Anglo decent. Only men work hard, and women are servants to those hard working blokes. Only men have fun while women are there to look good.

At the time that most of these commercials were made, Australia was largely an immigrant population formed from people that had fled the poverty and the devastation of Europe after the Second World War.

Even then the Anglos weren’t that different. Many were first generation Australians from families that had fled the oppressive poverty that had destroyed Scotland and Ireland as both of those countries became giant Industrialized soot-pits.

It is the customs and practices of this latter group that we owe a lot of what we call ‘Aussie Culture’, but we’ve even turned a blind eye to a lot of what else they brought with them too.

As it stands, our definition of our culture is largely made by how Australians ideally views themselves at play, and is mostly a by-product of people trying to flog consumables to us as we play.

This is in contrast to many other nations that are culturally defined by their religious practices and how they overcome the hardships that their nations endured. A much more self depreciating view of their world than we as Australians are often comfortable with.

It is no accident that people often define Australian culture by conjuring up the same images that we see in these commercials. They show people enjoying themselves. The make you feel good about the kind of life you live, and encourage you to reward yourself with one of their products, which makes you feel part of the community and part of Australia as a whole.

It’s how people want to feel. They don’t want to be the lonely piss-head sitting at home with the wife, watching the football on TV. The beer commercials that flash up on the screen during those football matches ensure that just sitting at home sinking a cold beer doing this, makes them feel like they are actually part of something. It makes them feel part of a community and social circle. It also makes them feel more masculine and part of the action.

If we ignore the alcohol fuelled violence & domestic abuse in our community, and the health issues that it brings along with the deaths on our roads every year caused by drink driving, we could almost see beer as a cultural icon. If it wasn’t for the fact that it is drunk in pretty much every country in the world, in almost exactly the same way.

There’s nothing Australian about beer, except for the local branding. There’s nothing distinctive about Barbeques either. Holden hasn’t been Australian since General motors bought the company and decided to use the name of one of that company’s Australian founders.

Mateship itself is quite a contentious term. There’s nothing in mateship that couldn’t be observed anywhere else, and is far from a quality that is distinctly Australian. Not even Australians buy completely into the ‘Mateship’ thing, as was famously demonstrated by Les Murry when he refused to word it into the Australian constitutional pre-amble after the Australian Prime Minister tried to have it included during a referendum.

Australians have held mateship up without challenging its virtues for some time, even though when you look past its face value, it appears to have been a justification for sending tens of thousands of young Australians to their deaths, in mud pits half a world away.

All that death they suffered just to discover mateship, just to define our culture? Bulldust.

There’s a real tragedy in all of this. There are things that we have neglected of our culture while we have embraced this commercially driven view of our society. Women and aboriginals tend to be forgotten, along with anything outside of our densely compact social microcosms.

We rarely embrace the major contribution that immigration has made on our country, and worse there are groups of people who are going out of their way to down-play the contribution on our culture by immigrants. Further more, they then attempt to marginalise immigrants in our community by claiming they don’t fit in with out culture.

So much for a ‘Fair go’.

In the pursuit of the iconifiction of beer drinking as a cultural idiom, we have neglected such things as ‘School of the air’ and ‘The flying doctor’.

While we try and paint ourselves as social, close and matesy, the reality is that much of what has defined us as Australian, has been dealing with our isolation and remoteness. These things don’t fit well into beer commercials, as no one likes the idea of being segregated and alone for much of their life. Yet we are.

Historically women have made major contributions to our community and culture. In fact, it’s in the history of Australian women that we see some of the most uniquely Australian developments in our community. All of which is neglected by our beer goggle view of our culture.

It is impossible to completely and wholly understand the part aboriginals have played in our community, but like it or not Aboriginals have made a major positive impact on the way all of us Australians live our lives every day. In our attempts to whitewash our culture over the last 100 years or so, Aboriginals have refused to go away, and are far more of an integral part of our community and culture than the some members of our anglicised community are often comfortable with or willing to accept.

To our community’s detriment, we still kick aboriginals to the kerb, only to come and seek them out when we need something from them. A shameful act that shows how little we actually understand about community in Australia

It’s time we stopped looking at our culture through the beer glass. It is time we stopped devaluing people in our community when we try to define our culture. It is time to stop telling people what our culture is, and rather start living our lives by developing and growing the culture around us.


About Josana

My blog is a journey into the seedy and nasty world of the internet. Hop into the Shark Cage with me, and we'll look at what lies beneath the world of the world wide pond that we surf every day. View all posts by Josana

11 responses to “The beer-goggle view of Australian culture

  • D St

    I was born in Europe and came to Australia in my early thirties.
    As a new comer I was totally mesmerised by the way the word “culture” is used/understood in this country. It took me years to try to understand why it’s so distorted and I cannot yet say that I do understand, or I’m willing to accept it the way it is understood…

    In Europe the culture of a nation is measured by its inventions an creativity – by how much they achieved intellectually, how many classic writers they have, how much they pushed the boundaries of science, literature, poetry, art…
    What Australians call culture to Europeans, Asians, Africans and South Americans is actually “life style”.
    And so it should be, no disrespect intended.

    If the ancient Greeks and Latins and Egyptians spent their time on the beach, watching the sunset, drinking, barbecuing and playing games, the world would not have today any engineering knowledge, no science and no art!

    Everybody in the world drinks beer plays games or watches sports, barbecues and all that – but they do that to relax…In Europe this is what you do in holidays. The rest of your life is dedicated to work, absorbing your national and the international culture through reading, going to the theatre, opera, movies, library…and other similar actions to broaden the mind, not just RELAX IT.
    That is what they call “culture” in the outside world – EVERYWHERE.
    A cultured person abroad is someone who read a lot of books, traveled extensively and has great knowledge of history, geography, other cultures. Etc…That is what is called CULTURE in any language, believe me – I speak 5 of them so I should know at least this.
    If I tell my fellow Australians about it – they’d go rather irritated or mad instead of reflecting a minute upon it!

    Also, when I travel to Europe, some of my friends laugh at me based on the fact that Aussies are so proud of their “culture” described in this article, they advertise it like it’s the most progressive in the world amongst other cultures…!
    Of course people think I’m an idiot for living here…they even ask me if Australia has electricity everywhere. No wonder since all we advertise is love of beer, beaches, surfing, mateship and footy!

    Please people, change these cliches which are great perhaps for tourism, but are not going to bring us any respect from the smart world out-there

  • kabdoo

    I work for a multinational IT Company. We were recently advised that all Christmas Parties must be renamed “end of year parties”.

    I am a devout Muslim so I assume this policy was aimed at appeasing people like me. The thing is, I haven’t attended a company Christmas party in the 13 years I’ve been there. I don’t have any issue with the fact that it’s a “Christmas” party. In fact I make a point of wishing my colleagues Merry Christmas and Happy Easter every year. The reason I avoid Christmas parties like the plague is alcohol consumption that seems to be an integral part of any and every Australian event. I have several Anglo Christian friends who don’t like these events for the same reason.

    I was once accused of being disloyal to my country for complaining about the fact that Australia Day celebrations that had been held downstairs in the courtyard had been brought into the office and I found myself trying to work with my desk surrounded by people drinking beer.

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, mate. 😉

  • shelbyw

    some valid points ere, especially in relation to indigenous australians, but on a whole i find your diatribe to be a mass generalisation……

  • Viola Wilkins

    The Bogan Delusion (myths, mischief and misconceptions) by David Nichols is a good read and available in better local libraries.

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  • sarah

    when i was in japan, i had to hear all the time how australia is “number 1 happy country” everyone soo relaxed and nice, always on the beach blah blah blah, it made me feel ill after a while to keep hearing these annoying misconseptions about us.
    Our government likes to perpetrate this lie while continuing to take our liberties away and encourage us to squable amongst ourselves about issues that dont really matter like the burqua ban.

  • sarah

    @ D st
    I say your friends arnt terribly “cultured’ as you say if they have to ask dumb ass questions like
    do Australians have electricity..
    get over yourself dude.

    • D St


      “Dude” – my friends that you find fit to criticise addressing to a stranger with ‘Dude’ to show how “cultured” you are yourself …made that slightly sarcastic remark about electricity in Australia based on movies Australia makes…and exports to the World…showing always some remote beer addicted community somewhere on a wast beach or in the middle of a desert, where a Crocodile Dundee lives in a shack, by the billy can fire…camps outside all the time and seems to be happy only far away from the minimum of civilisation – like a shower and a bottle of shampoo for example….and sleeping on the floor even in a 5 star hotel because HE DOESN’T KNOW ANY BETTER; or like the guys travelling with’ Priscilla, Queen of the desert’…or ‘Wolf’s Creek’…or ‘Chopper’…or ‘Snowtown’ and the way Australians live and die in Snowtown…
      I did not make those movies…and never seen any movie even myself other than the positively idiotic ‘Neighbours’ where decent living conditions are shown.
      People all over the world think Australia has only two cities – Sydney and Melbourne where probably only few thousands live like people should in the 21 Century… But no movie seems to be made there ever…unless it happens in Red Fern and the heroes are some junkies…
      So there! THINK!
      This is exactly the point of this very discussion here: send the wrong message and the world will judge you by it! It’s not even funny!
      Do you think I like being judged for living in a backward country?! Think again!
      Deal with it and get over yourself…”Dude”!!

    • D St

      @sarah – Not to mention that just the other day a fellow Aussie, a guy working in a Govt Office, a guy with a degree in HR (?!!) tried hard to convince me that Kazakhstan was a FICTITIOUS country in a… “Borat movie”!
      How is that for culture, ‘sarah’?

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