So “retro-ocker” here we come, just when “Australia, the lucky country” has almost escaped its “ocker” image.
The latest series of television commercials aiming to entice Americans to come to Australia features a gorgeous looking young girl on a beach asking “Where the bloody hell are you?”. It sounds like a comment Shazza, the “ocker” chick, from the local SBS comedy Pizza might be screaming at her dope-smoking boyfriend.
It just doesn’t sound credible: a line probably unfamiliar to most Yanks dispensed by a sweet young thing circa 2000. Other situations used in the series include Aussies telling the audience that “the beers have been pulled”, “camels shampooed” and “sharks cleared out of the pool”. These phrases are more likely to cheer the heart of the more traditional baby-boomer Aussie remembering the good old days when Australia was full of real Aussies: you know the type - the ones Tony Abbott likes - the ones who don’t have foreign names or accents.
Mr Howard has endorsed these notions of Australianness by supporting the advertisement. Peter Costello, Tony Abbott and others of their ilk all seem to be suffering from some form of an identity crisis and are trying to return to a bygone era of Australian culture. Will prospective travellers from other countries get the drift of the ads? I doubt it.
Where are the old Antipodeans heading? Where do they want to take modern Australia? Do they feel cast adrift, somewhere faraway in the southern hemisphere, from those English and American cultural sources they have traditionally connected to, on a collision course with greater Asia?
This retrospective “ockerism” has recently been invading the media, particularly television advertising, and is returning to Australian popular culture. This “strine” English takes me back to the simpler life we led as kids north of Brisbane in the '70s: it goes even further back to my '60-something mother’s youth.
I recall often hearing phrases such as,“living off the sheep’s back”,“she'll be right”, and “bloody oath”. In those days men were“blokes”, women “sheilas”, and I often heard Waltzing Matilda. These “ocker” linguistic and cultural references may give baby boomers and others of the Howard generation some warm moments of nostalgia for an era in which they were in their prime, but for others like me, they signify a time which was much less cosmopolitan and much less interesting.
This iconic Aussie image which has become part of the traditional Australian cultural identity emphasises the contribution of those who battled and tamed the land, the environment and even the aboriginals (now it is about taming migrants for the conservatives). These icons are important and still relevant to many, but are they ideals appropriate for the future of Australia? How relevant are they to younger generations? They may also be interpreted as excluding those who don't have a connection to this view of history from being considered a part of the nation.
I am happy to leave the past in the past where it belongs. Relish it, revel in it if you must, but that doesn’t mean we have to continue to live it. These ideals of “Aussieness” are only a minimal part of what has driven Australian culture. The principles of equality and equity are strong underlying elements in Australia’s historically classless society.
The ideals of the fair go and mateship that have bonded Australians socially are what Australia is renowned for. They are much more constructive sentiments to focus on as cultural reference points. They are, I believe, the source of Australia’s open, easy going pluralistic society; but are they fading with the past?
John Howard and his followers perhaps want to return to that less complicated, less demanding world of the 70s. Women were still relatively powerless; in most parts of Australia a house on a quarter acre block was still affordable; the dollar was stable; protectionism isolated Australia from the vagaries of the world economy; the white Australia policy had not long been dismantled; thanks to Gough Whitlam and the ALP, education had become more accessible to all; multi-culturalism was just a rumour in federal parliament and Skippy the Bush Kangaroo ruled. It was an ideal time for those of that era.
Sentiment can be an abstract notion, though. We often view memories through rose coloured glasses. Many baby boomers have experienced a good life, but nothing lasts forever. Communication technological change, international conflict, media saturation, unbridled capitalism and the free worldwide market have done much to make the world a more complex and demanding place in which to live.
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