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Creating our own history

By Rachel Hills - posted Thursday, 27 July 2006

In Boston recently, I overheard the following exchange between an Australian tourist and an American tour guide.

"There's nothing in Australia," said the Australian. The American begged to differ. No, the Australian insisted, "There's nothing to see. No history." The American remarked on how many Australians he saw travelling. "You guys are everywhere."

It was an exchange that had taken place countless times before and which will no doubt occur again. It was significant because it illustrated some key differences between two outwardly similar countries: Australian self-deprecation versus American pride and America's inward focus versus Australia's focus on the outside world.


Australians are eager to gobble up the world around them. Per capita, we travel more than anyone else in the world. A year overseas after high school or university is near ubiquitous among those who can afford it - and those who can't afford it, save until they can. It seems extravagant at first glance, but $5,000 for a trip overseas is an infinitely more affordable financial goal than $100,000 for a deposit on a house.

In contrast, 80 per cent of US citizens don't own a passport and, broadly speaking, their knowledge of the world outside their borders reflects this.

When US singer Chris Brown visited Melbourne in May, he was dismayed to discover that it was cold. More disturbing than his ignorance was the fact that so many Americans who discussed the incident online seemed to think there was nothing ignorant about it. Why would anyone expect them to know the meteorological intricacies of far-flung continents like Australia?

Indeed, why would anyone expect them to know that the Northern and Southern Hemispheres are in opposite seasons at any given point in time?

While Australians are excited about the outside world, the United States is excited about, well, the United States.

At the Independence Day parade in Washington DC earlier this month, high school marching bands from across the country and immigrants from around the globe marched down Constitution Avenue to declare their love of all things American.


Onlookers dressed in the stars and stripes, children munched on red, white and blue popsicles, and families drank from “Take Pride in America” cups.

In Australia the only people who wear the flag are British backpackers who've mistaken it for the Union Jack.

Australian discomfort with patriotism is understandable - it's closely related to its ugly cousins, nationalism, racism and excessive self-love. If there's one thing Australians have traditionally riled against, it's a self-loving tall poppy. But patriotism is not without perks.

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First published in the Sydney Morning Herald on July 19, 2006.

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About the Author

Rachel Hills is Managing Editor of Vibewire.nets print projects division and a freelance writer based in Sydney.

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