Are you proud of your culture?

Photograph of Australia Day reveller by Trinn Suwannapha

Are you proud of your culture? It depends which culture you mean, I guess. Over the weekend I’ve pondered that while we all celebrated our Australian culture, and somewhere — not that I bothered participating — gay men celebrated “gay culture”. Again.

The photo (above) is from ’Pong’s photo essay on Australia Day. Classy eh?

The rest of the pics show precisely how we celebrate the Birth of Our Great Nation at the very place where the key events of 1788 took place. It’s pathetic. It’s embarrassing.

As I Twittered to ’Pong at the time, “So many people in your Oz Day photos use the flag as clothing. Fat-arsed drunks sitting on it! Nation’s flag: show respect.”

’Pong is primed to become an Aussie. Citizenship has been approved. But the disorganised mess that is the Department of Immigration and Citizenship failed to hook him into the year’s biggest swearing-in ceremonies. That’s OK, because he wants to do an Aboriginal Welcome to Country first, and he has trouble with Australia Day.

[A] national day is normally set on the birth of the modern nation: a revolution or an independence from the colony… In general, it is a significant event in the history that reminds the people and draws them together to value the pride of the nation.

On the other hand, Australia Day is on 26 January, the day British first fleet of convicts arrived. What is to be proud of? It neglects the fact that there were indigenous tribes living here thousands years ago and the settlement has never been reconciled with them. I have not seen any message of this history in any publicity piece of the day at all. It seems to be suppressed everywhere. Therefore the core content of the day is very shallow. What to feed the punter are just public live show, fireworks and getting drunk, not any difference from New Year Eve, Melbourne Cup or even Mardi Gras.

Ah yes, Mardi Gras. Where “gay culture” (whatever that is in 2008) is reduced to a parade which is really only a public freak show followed by yet another self-indulgent dance party.

“Oh no,” I can hear certain inner-urban gay men cry, “It’s a chance for us to express ourselves as gay men and celebrate as a community.”

Yeah right. Because chances to “celebrate as a community” are so goddam fucking rare, aren’t they! There’s only Mardi Gras and Sleaze Ball and New Year’s Eve and the Harbour Party and Homesexual and one party after another every weekend of the year. Not to mention a swathe of nightclubs. There’s no shortage.

Imagine the Sydney gay scene’s response to, oh, an Australian equivalent to the Tianamen Square incident. “OMG, the government has called in the army and is shooting students at Sydney Uni. Quick! We’d better organise a party! I can wear those Diesel camo shorts!”

Actually, no. If the slaughter were at the University of Sydney the response would be a whine. “Oh, that’s so far! I’m not going all the way over there!”

My friend Richard Watts in Melbourne was spot on yesterday when he complained, “I don’t get gay culture”.

Last night I had to go and take photographs for MCV at Midsumma Mooning at the Laird, which is an event where men show off their arses to the audience, with the most attractive arse voted as the winner. When one man made his arsehole wink the crowd went wild. It was about as tasteful as a wet t-shirt competition, and just as sexy.

This afternoon, I have to go take photographs at the Peel, which is hosting an underwear party. Yes, a party of gay men, dancing, in their underwear. Don’t ask me where wallets will be kept, because really, I don’t want to know.

Now before anyone complains that I’m wrong, that Mardi Gras is more than just a party — there’s theatre and exhibitions and music and — yeah, you’re right. It does have those things. And when someone asks “When is Mardi Gras?” and you tell them that it runs right through February into early March, the response is always, “No, I mean the party.”

Anyway, I don’t want to structure my social life around one specific aspect of my persona — being a gay male — any more than around being a geek or being right-handed or having brown hair or blue eyes or a penchant for a particular kind of curry. Variety is the spice!

The Snarky Platypus and I were right to stay well clear of Australia Day celebrations, instead writing a new National Anthem.

Thankfully, Geoffrey Robertson took away all Australia Day concerns for both me and ’Pong.

Last night on SBS, in Who Do You Think You Are?, Robertson discovered that he’s descended from dirt-poor Scottish peasants and a woman who was probably the illegitimate daughter of a Prussian prince. His closing speech summed up our feelings brilliantly. I can only paraphrase it here because we weren’t recording it.

Being Australian, Robertson said, isn’t about where you come from — you can come from anywhere. It’s about knowing you can build your homes here and make your connections with this wide brown land wherever you’re from. And wherever you may travel after that — he now lives in London — you may be an ex-patriate but you’ll never be an ex-patriot.

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  1. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    Rachel Hills’ article in New Matilda, As Australian as the Library Queue, is a nice thing to read after my rant, too. A brief quote:

    No doubt, there are a lot of people in this country who take pleasure in and identify with the larrikinism of Steve Irwin, the athleticism of Cathy Freeman, the girl-next-door-made-good quality of Kylie Minogue or the beachy beauty of Jennifer Hawkins.

    But there are a whole lot of others (and many of those in the former group) who enjoy — or even prefer — the grace and intelligence of Cate Blanchett; the devil-may-care rebelliousness of Germaine Greer or Peter Singer; the soaring creativity of silverchair’s Daniel Johns or fashion designer Akira Isogawa; the compassion of former Young Australian of the Year Hugh Evans; the wit of Chris Lilley; or even the delightful nerdiness of our new Prime Minister.

    It’s obvious that we appreciate and take pride in these people and their accomplishments. But for whatever reason, they haven’t become as much a part of our national story as our athletes and larrikins — even though, in many ways, they better reflect the country’s diversity and reality than the myth.

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  2. jason’s avatar

    heheh SO expected this post :)

    There was so many pluses about Australia Day. It’s nice that young people can feel free to be irreverent.

    Not to mention hundreds of thousands of families getting together for a BBQ. And all that jazz on the waterfront. Not wholesome enough?

    I saw a lot of young asian and lebanese guys dressed in the flag. It’s BRILLIANT that young people from all backgrounds were having fun with the flag.

    Also nice to see no media beat up about race tensions as they did in the past. I suspect the police requested some sort of media blackout on those dullard nazi groups to not making things seem a million times worse than what they are. I know the Daily Tele would of ordinarily had a field day to drive ad revenue.

    And taking photos of a rubbish bin?? Have you gone out LOOKING for a negative angle? Can we please see a photo of the Stilgherrian household rubbish bin. I’m sure it’s immaculate!

    Lastly. Everyone has heard the stories of the first fleet. Rudd apparently will be apologising. Yes it’s overdue. It’s important to have a national day. Overwhelmingly, nobody is excluding anyone. It’s important that new Australians are allowed at least a little bit of pride, without the endless cynicism and arm folding. Maybe it just suits some better to hold themselves apart for the rest.

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  3. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @jason: I can’t speak for ’Pong, since I wasn’t with him at The Rocks — and I’m assuming you’re noticing which words are his and which mine? However his photos presumably reflect how he saw things in that place, at that time. I had no input, except to select one image from his short list to use here.

    ’Pong’s impressions may have been tainted because a drunken yobbo similar to the one pictured thought it’d be “fun” to thump him with some over-sized novelty object — resulting in several hundred dollars’ damage to his equipment.

    I suspect I’m old-fashioned on this issue, but I do think the nation’s flag should be treated with dignity and respect. For me, that means it doesn’t become a tea-towel or a beach towel, underwear or any other article of clothing. The only time you should wear a flag is when it’s draped over your coffin.

    However, go your hardest with green and gold, boxing kangaroos or any other informal national symbol!

    That’s my opinion, and I’m happy to hear counter-arguments. :)

    Still, I will say that it’s good to have a National Day that isn’t filled with serried rows of soldiers and tanks filing past chaps in uniforms giving rigid, unsmiling salutes. That Way Danger Lies.

    I’m not good with crowds, though. I hate finding myself in the midst of a mob. My theory is that the IQ of a group is inversely proportional to the square of the number of people present. And I despise mindless tribalism. That’s not National Pride.

    Anyway, if the Telegraph isn’t managing to find a negative angle, someone has to step in. ;)

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  4. jason’s avatar

    Yeah true. Since Pauline Hanson I’ve been a bit nervy about misuse of the flag too. But the youthful enthusiasm I witnessed yesterday makes that seem old and over with. Thank fuck.

    Yes fair enough of Pong to be influenced by what he saw. And the general issue of rubbish is one that annoys the hell out of me, so I see his point. (I was never young enough to understand why leaving your rubbish on Bondi Beach was an ok thing to do).

    No comment on Mardi Gras.

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  5. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @jason: Re Pauline Hanson: Yes, you should never wrap trash in the flag.

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  6. Simon Slade’s avatar

    I half agree about the flag.

    I don’t mind the flag image on a towel (tea or beach) or even on underwear — if you feel you are only able to be patriotic with your pants off!

    I draw the line at using an actual flag as clothing, though. I think that is a sign of disrespect.

    As for the photo “Eventual Rubbish,” I took it to be a comment on the activities and cultural mix of Australia on Australia Day — beer, water, the programme from some event, intermingled with McDonald’s and DietCoke. Perhaps I am reading too much into it.

    At least no-one had vomited into the bin! Yet!

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  7. 'Pong’s avatar

    Hot debate on the image of rubbish. I am glad that I led you to see the world in another angle. It does not have to be negative but certainly the truth. What we can read about our own dump is my point of view. I have been photographing junks for a while and they still fascinate me what people leave behind as part of a disposable world. My practice is to try to look deeper than the surface. Taking photo of my own rubbish is quite a good idea too.

    There were a couple of incidents I missed the photo opportunities: two boys were pissing on Bethel Steps, two girls invaded men’s loo just because they could not queue the lady’s. Class acts.

    My point of Australia Day is too light in the content to provide pride of the nation. And it was not easy to see the theme the on the day in a deeper level. It becomes just another occasion to get fun and pissed.

    Regarding the broken equipment, I put that aside as an expensive lesson. Those drunk boys deliberately kicked an Aussie-flag inflatable ball at me and did not seem to care when I told them that they had broken the gear. They must have thought it would help my shots.

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  8. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @jason: Reflecting further on what you’ve said… I agree that there are many good celebrations of Australia Day. Suburban councils and country towns often hold heartwarming community events. Even if the bush ballads or the local pub rock band aren’t to everyone’s taste, we accept that they’re the style of the day. There’s a snag on the barbie, beers on the table and cricket on the lawn.

    Comedian Akmal Saleh made a wonderful little film for SBS the other year about exactly this point — Australia Day is for all Australians, and it’s generally a day of quiet national celebration rather than nationalism.

    What I find offensive, though, is that the key location of Circular Quay and around the harbour nearby usually becomes an ugly,drunken rabble no different from New Year’s Eve or a major sporting event. I see nothing wrong with pointing at that ugly behaviour and saying, in a loud and clear voice, “You, Sir, are a yobbo and a pig, and a disgrace to this nation. Clean up your act.”

    Australia is already self-indulgent. The Lucky Country has had it very, very easy when compared with other nations, and we have plenty of opportunities to party and let off a steam.

    I, of course, have never been loud or drunk in a public place. Ever.

    @Simon Slade and @’Pong: Looks like you’re in agreement over the interpretation of that photo.

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  9. jason’s avatar

    When I am king I will have anyone who did not keep left on escalators branded unAutralian and comprehensively tasered.

    Not sure what time of day we are talking about, but the Rocks and the Harbour was chock full at midday with people wanting to enjoy the jazz and watch the ferry race. Big crowds come with some issues I suppose.

    Don’t we have any better criticism of Australia day? It’s like visiting Thailand and turning your nose up at all cultural events because of systemic prostitution. A lot of the “partying” that occurs in these areas, including to no small extent hotspots in Sydney, is driven and sponsored by tourists – on their very worst holiday behaviour. Sun burnt poms is our revenge.

    I try to not judge the modern person unnecessarily. Rowdy behavior and nauseating bravado (literally) is not something we’re going to shake off anytime soon. Shakesphere wrote about it constantly. Corey Delaney has read all his shit.

    We could ban alcohol advertising. Should of been done when tobacco advertising was banned. Those bastards are really thriving and pushing the selfish excess-culture. No wonder some of our youth think the world is a play pen. Sure all our sports will probably collapse without that big white bear and crazy womanising advertisements, but I’m sure they can make up the dollars with the plethora of new lolly drinks squarely targeting teens. Not to mention branded sweets. Fuck off already! On my last cinema venture, I witnessed over my tub of popcorn a meek, tired government advertisement empowering young women with the right to say no (to a bloke offering them a drink, etc). Immediately following were two bright, glittering, expensive ads showing how crazy and hilarious your life could be if only you drank more. It’s easy to see who is winning the battle.

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  10. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @jason: Loving the discussion, as always. I’ve always thought “Tzar” would be a suitable title for when I’m running things. I’ll pick up two points…

    Don’t we have any better criticism of Australia day? It’s like visiting Thailand and turning your nose up at all cultural events because of systemic prostitution.

    No, I don’t think it’s that. I think it’s more that if someone talks about the bits they don’t like, then it looks like that’s all that they think. They might like 95% of what they see, but because 95% of what they’ve written isn’t about that then it skews perceptions.

    We could ban alcohol advertising. Should of been done when tobacco advertising was banned… I witnessed [...] a meek, tired government advertisement empowering young women with the right to say no (to a bloke offering them a drink, etc). Immediately following were two bright, glittering, expensive ads showing how crazy and hilarious your life could be if only you drank more. It’s easy to see who is winning the battle.

    Yep, good propaganda costs money, for both execution and repetition.

    However a question I have is about banning advertising. If a product is legal, should it not also be legal to advertise? I know, some products are harmful, some even downright dangerous — so why are they still legal?

    I don’t know the answer. Whenever I think about it, the cogs in my brain start making an odd grinding noise and all the guinea pigs scream “freedom of speech” and “interference with trade” and “fight the bastards” and “protect us from ourselves” all at once, very loudly. Only copious quantities of Irish whiskey makes them stop.

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