Football, meat pies, kangaroos and ……………?

That awful jingle is tantalisingly ironic though. Did vegetarians decide not to buy Holdens? Were rugby followers turned off because the advertisement deemed football to be Australian Rules? And the fact that the great Australian meat pie often contains kangaroo meat, just adds to the irony. Besides, kangaroos and Holden cars do not get on well – they have a habit of colliding on country roads.

But the irony seems to have been largely missed. Hypnotic jingoism has a habit of prevailing. And now, General Motors have withdrawn the Holden brand from Australia – no reciprocal loyalty from the Yanks!

Apparently, we had not progressed in self-definition since Henry Lawson’s pieces in The Bulletin espoused our then collective colonial identity to be the spirit of mateship and egalitarianism, as characterised in his poems on life in the bush. Interestingly, ‘mateship’, by its definition, excluded women from this pseudo sense of nationalism. Gender inequality?
Well, fancy that!

The time frame here is the late 1800s when Australia consisted of six self-governing colonies that were subject to the British Parliament. The Federation of Australia occurred in 1901.

Then as now, the majority of Australians lived in the major cities. How could a national identity be based on a minority of Australians living in the bush – a place most city folk had never experienced?

This does however beg a reasonable question? Did this spirit live in the cities? Doubtful. Historically, city dwellers have been predominantly more concerned with materialism than any altruistic notions of ‘mateship and egalitarianism’ or, in the suburban context, ‘love thy neighbour’.

To add irony to irony, The Bulletin, which was supposedly the ‘great levelling journal’, would have perished if it did not achieve significant urban circulation. It was as geared towards those of a materialistic bent as much as any other section of society.

The romanticism of the notion of ‘the great Australian spirit of mateship’, was so appealing that the myth was embraced universally.

Banjo Paterson’s ‘Waltzing Matilda’ (YouTube) captured – and still does – the collective imagination with its melody and romanticism of the bush. But the content beggars belief. Our much-loved ‘unofficial national anthem’ is based on a mythical homeless transient who stole a sheep and committed suicide to avoid arrest. It’s enough to make you cringe – and that is something Australians have always been good at – cringing.

What caused the Australian cultural cringe has long been debated. It is often suggested that it stems from our inglorious beginning as convict settlements.

Britain had established a penal colony at Sydney Cove in 1788 to rid itself of undesirables, and lay claim to a hitherto land seen as inhospitable. Its other intention was to find new timber for masts for its naval fleet. An empirical convenience at the time – no more, no less.
The colony was called New South Wales.

Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia all had their beginnings as penal colonies.

The ‘cultural cringe’ has been defined as “the [misguided] penchant for Australians to see their artists’ and writers’ work as inferior to anything from overseas.” Further to that, we have always been highly dependent on international approval in order to feel good about ourselves.

It is as if we are a newborn – desperate for oxygen in the form of international approval. We are apparently not willing to have the umbilical cord cut – living and breathing in our own right, and standing on our own two feet seems too daunting. To this day, we are too insecure to risk becoming a republic. Besides, adherence to Britain keeps us in our comfort zone.

And so, we still have the British flag – the Union Jack – in the corner of our own.

Australia’s quest for a true sense of national identity has historically been marred by myths, conundrums, absurdity and deception.

By the time Ned Kelly was hanged in 1880, he had become a legend in his own right. He still is today. Along with his gang, he had stolen horses, robbed banks and killed three policemen. Kelly’s Jerilderie letter shed light on his indignation at the oppression of the Irish and his under-dog status. The Australian psyche, with its love of the underdog, shifted from seeing Kelly as a murderous outlaw to a folk hero of mythical proportions. How’s that for a mystifying conundrum? Curiously, Australians love the underdog, but if he or she dares to become too successful, they will turn nasty – the tall poppy syndrome.

Enter the Federation of Australia. To this point, the six disconnected colonies were renowned for their intense rivalry and jealousy. Achieving federation was fraught with folly as the colonies struggled to agree on differences in trade, taxes, defence and rail gauges. The differing gauges hindered the operation of rail services between states, and caused major inconvenence for travellers. These beginnings were hardly the stuff of a unified nation. Rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney over becoming the National Capital was to be so intense that a brand new conundrum was born – Canberra.

But blind allegiance to that grand old misnomer, “Mother England” was, and still is the greatest conundrum of all.

Mother England was certainly a euphemism for Barry ‘Bazza’ McKenzie who described England as “a shit creek” and the English as “rotten pommie bastards”. (YouTube)

The character Bazza was a fictional uncouth ocker created by Australian comedian Barry Humphries (aka Dame Edna Everage), a master at taking the mickey out of Australians. In tune with the national penchant for cultural cringe, Bazza was certainly cringeworthy.

In the film Barry McKenzie Holds His Own, the ever-erudite Bazza, on British-Australian military relations said:

Look, let me out of here. I mean, there’d be no Mother England if it wasn’t for Australia. Our fighting men came over here when you Poms were ready to throw in the towel. Musso and them slimy yellow nips would’ve flattened this dump if it hadn’t been for me uncles and their superlative fighting spirit. I mean the game was nearly up for youse poms, no risk. And if it hadn’t been for Australia, Musso and them slant-eyed pricks would’ve strung every white kiddie up by the pills and gone chocka-block with all the nurses and bus conductresses. Oh look, let me outta here you ungrateful Pommy bastard!

Ironically, despite Australia’s overall affection for Mother England, derogatory slang towards the English, calling them “poms”, has always been as Australian as Bondi Beach. And beating the poms in The Ashes cricket series is, to most Aussie cricket lovers, the ultimate prize.

Barry McKenzie was in rare company amongst ‘notable’ Australians who dared to insult the motherland.

Similar sentiments to Bazza’s, though more eloquent, were expressed by Paul Keating who, whilst Prime Minister used parliament to lambast Britain for the treatment of Australian forces once Singapore fell to the Japanese in February 1942 during World War 2. Britain had capitulated.

Inferring that Britain abandoned Australia, Keating said:

I was told that I did not learn respect at school. I learned one thing: I learned about self-respect and self-regard for Australia – not about some cultural cringe to a country which decided not to defend the Malayan peninsula, not to worry about Singapore and not to give us our troops back to keep ourselves free from Japanese domination. Video of full speech

The fall of Singapore effectively marked the point when Australia reconsidered its defence relationship with Britain, and looked increasingly towards the United States for its future protection. And so, Australia became a nation of divided loyalties.

Soon after the fall of Singapore, wartime Prime Minister John Curtin had the courage to stand up to Winston Churchill, and brought troops home from the fronts of the Middle East to defend ourselves against the Japanese. Churchill was furious – apparently Australia mattered less. Considering Australia’s willingness to save the Mother Country in both World Wars, this was a blatant double-standard on the part of Britain.

Australia can rightly lay claim to being treated shabbily by Britain during times of war, yet whilst defence allegiance shifted, it retained its loyalty and subservience to that grand old misnomer. Who needs a mother like that?

Australia as a nation is said to have been born on 25 April 1915 at Gallipoli where the first deployment of the Australian Imperial Force was sent in World War 1. Quite strange that the birth of a nation is perceived to have emanated from a monumental military disaster caused by a reckless tactical blunder made by the top brass in London.

But this extraordinary blunder did nothing to tarnish Australia’s unswerving loyalty to Britain. Rightfully, there should have been outrage and indignation as a display of a new nation’s pride and dignity. There were 26,111 needless Australian casualties, including 8,141 deaths. Gallipoli was a futile exercise and had no influence on the course of the war.

Historian Jonathan King wrote this about Gallipoli in The Age:

But having just published accounts by the last 10 Gallipoli Anzacs who I interviewed for my latest book – Tall Ships and Tall Tales – and also for a TV documentary funded by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, I cannot hold my tongue.

These last eye-witnesses all pleaded for us “not to glorify Gallipoli” because it was such a disaster and there was little to celebrate. I thought they were brave, but none were upbeat about their “heroic” achievements. Sydney’s Corporal Ted Matthews, the world’s last survivor of the landing, told me on camera, “Gallipoli was a failure because the British mucked the whole thing up.” His comrade Trooper Len Hall said, “Oh yes, it was a terrible mistake altogether.” Melbourne tunneller Roy Longmore said, “They landed us on the wrong beach.” Sydney’s Private Frank Kelly said, “It was ridiculous. The ridges we had to climb went on and on and got higher and higher. Anybody who tried to capture Gallipoli would have to have been mad!” They may have been disgruntled but they spoke the truth – hundreds also died of diseases in the dirty, overcrowded beachhead because leaders failed to provide sanitation or enough clean water or edible food; incompetent English high command appointed via the “old boy network” sent thousands of Australians “over the top” to certain death; the Anzacs only captured a small area and all had to retreat.

Involvement in World War 1 to protect the Mother Country and her interests, came at a devastating human cost – over 60,000 Australian lives were lost from a country with a population of fewer than five million. And it came at a huge financial cost. Not only did Australia have to repay Britain for the cost of artillery and ammunition, it was expected to pay interest on the loans. What a cruel imposition on a fledgling nation in such tragic circumstances!

But again, Australians never wavered in their subservience. In fact, Robert Menzies stated it would be better that all Australians starve rather than renege on the repayments due to Britain. Mind-blowing buffoonery on the part Menzies who would have no doubt escaped to his beloved England to avoid the famine!

Menzies was in good company with other delusional royalists who believed the sky would fall in, if Australia dared any challenge that might upset the motherland.

Then a character called Jack Lang emerged. As Labor Premier of NSW, perceived by the right as a dangerous socialist, he was hell-bent on the completion of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, despite the Great Depression, which had put huge pressure on the state budget.

Lang did the unthinkable. He reneged on the payments. His bridge workers and the working class in general were more deserving. He dispensed with the tradition of Royalty, or its appointed Governor of NSW, doing the honours, and decided to open the bridge himself. King George V was outraged.

Also outraged were the extreme right monarchists of Sydney. The New Guard was formed and Lang feared for his life. In fact, civil war was feared. But Lang proceeded with his intention to open the bridge on the 19th of March 1932. However, Captain de Groot of the New Guard stormed through the crowd on horseback to cut the ribbon with a sword. The ribbon was re-tied and Lang cut it with scissors.

This display of extreme devotion to Britain is the most significant in Australian history. But there is little in Australian history to demonstrate much British devotion to us.

Rule Britannia!’ – and rule it did, with mesmerising effect. No Australian Prime Minister was ever more mesmerised than Robert Menzies.

Per se, here is Menzies’ public announcement in 1939 as World War 2 began:

Fellow Australians. It is my melancholy duty to inform you officially that in consequence of a persistence by Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her and that, as a result, Australia is also at war.

That’s right! “As a result, Australia is also at war”. There had been no legislative debate over entering the war. The words “As a result” were enough to explain involvement. Australians dared not dispute the lack of logical subsequence, because going to the aid of Britain was seen as an inescapable matter of duty.  Australia raised a volunteer force, the Second Australian Imperial Force, and sent three divisions overseas to support Britain.

While on the subject of Menzies, consider his announcement in 1965 regarding Australian involvement in the Vietman War:

The Australian Government is now in receipt of a request from the Government of South Vietnam for further military assistance. We have decided – and this has been done after close consultation with the Government of the United States – to provide an infantry battalion for service in South Vietnam.

This was a lie. No such request was ever received from the Government of South Vietnam.
Clearly, Menzies wanted to strengthen ties with the United States.

The American-driven war was supposedly to stop the spread of Communism through South East Asia. This was deception on a grand scale by the United States, based on the “secrets and lies” exposed in the historic 1971 Pentagon Papers.

And so, Australia’s tragic death and injury war toll was the direct result of political deceit. 523 died and almost 2,400 were wounded. 60,000 Australians in total served, and Vietnam veterans still suffer significant mental illness problems, resulting mainly from trauma.

Australians had always been suspicious of the Vietnam War. Compulsory conscription, “the lottery of death”, was very unpopular. By 1969, anti-war protests were gathering momentum. Opposition to conscription mounted, as more people came to believe the war could not be won.

In the well-known Moratorium marches of 1970 and 1971, more than 200,000 people gathered to protest against the war, in cities and towns throughout the country.

When Gough Whitlam became Labor Prime Minister in 1972, he moved quickly to complete the withdrawal of Australian combat personnel. The following year, the United States did likewise. In 1975 North Vietnam defeated South Vietnam.

Like never before, Australians had spoken up in opposition to authority, but it seems that since then, our old familiar apathy has returned.

We can never forget the genocide and maltreatment inflicted on the First Nations people – our original inhabitants who worshipped the land that our predecessors desecrated. This disgraceful blot on our history has not been generally accepted as an atrocity by European descendants. Even worse, former Prime Minister John Howard believes there was no genocide against Indigenous Australians. That opinion, flying in the face of historically proven fact and definition, beggars belief. Coming from a former Prime Minister is abominable.

It seems that Australians have been incapable of facing up to difficult realities. The truth is that our past is far from squeaky clean.

The new British monarch – Australia’s Head of State – is an adulterous man who recently became King Charles III. His illegally taped phone conversation with then mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles, whilst married to Princess Diana, included a wistful remark that he would like to be his lover’s tampon. It is laughable hypocrisy that Charles is the ‘Supreme Head of the Church of England’ and ‘Defender of the Faith’. And he is now married to Camilla who has the title, ‘Queen Consort of the United Kingdom’. Doesn’t engender much respect does it? It is bizarre that Australians still appear to be happy with the Monarchy. The republican movement is keenly aware of ordinary Australians who are firmly in the ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ camp. We could well argue that with Charles sitting on the throne, “It is broke.”

A lot has been written here about Australia’s traditional devotion to Britain. “Blind allegiance”, “subservience” and “unswerving loyalty” have been mentioned.

To face up to realities, the Mother England conundrum begs two questions – enter Aussie vernacular!
Question: “What has Britain done for us to deserve all this special treatment?”
Answer: “Bugger all.”
Question: “Have Australians been brainwashed into delusional adherence?”
Answer: “Bloody oath.”

The illegal taping of the tampon phone conversation was first released by New Idea, the Australian women’s magazine then part of Rupert Murdoch‘s media empire, in January 1993.

And here’s a conundrum wrapped in an enigma – it is that man Rupert. This ex-pat-Australian-now-American holds more power and control over Australia through his media influence than our ‘democratically’ elected politicians. They can live or die depending on the whims of Rupert Murdoch. In July 2011, The Sydney Morning Herald wrote:

Politicians of all stripes beat a path to Murdoch’s door. Murdoch doesn’t come to powerful politicians. They come to him. Australian prime ministers have made such a habit of breaking bread with Murdoch in New York that it hardly rates a headline any more.

Our so-called democracy is in fact a Murdochracy. The voting patterns of Australians are heavily influenced by News Corp mastheads like Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, Melbourne’s Herald Sun, and the national broadsheet, The Australian. Murdoch, known for his right wing obsessions, sells 70% of the newspapers in the country. To put it bluntly – our democratic system of government is a sham. But Murdoch’s undue power is lost on most Australians who happily buy the News Corp rags, or read online. Rupert is also a dominant force in pay TV and publishing.

But worse! Trust in government reached its lowest level on record in 2019, with just one-in-four Australians saying they had confidence in their political leaders and institutions, according to a major study of the 2019 federal election. The Australian Election Study 2022 results show that there has been only a slight recovery from the record low levels of political trust in 2019.

Political donations that remain hidden from public view, ‘dark money’, are a blight on our system. Australia’s weak donation disclosure rules allow for the source of large swathes of money to be hidden. These donations affect government policy and legislation, and therefore the ordinary Australian is being hoodwinked.

May Australians never be led by the nose again

When we come to consider the Australian national identity of today, we find that our short history is strewn with anomalies that have shaped, and continue to shape us – to warp us, to be accurate. These anomalies make up an unfortunate minefield of myths, conundrums, absurdity and deception – many of which have been explored here.

Now we have a new conundrum to consider … how were these anomalies allowed to occur?

It is blatantly obvious that Australians have been led by the nose, lacking the courage or willingness to think clearly and incisively, and to challenge the status quo.

It is this inaction that has historically allowed ordinary Australians to be manipulated – easy meat for Britain, the media, big business and politicians.

Thankfully, these days we are a better-informed nation, and we are realising that our identity has gone astray. The trouble is that we don’t really know what has gone astray – such is the confusion amongst the smoke and mirrors.

‘Astray-lia’ seems more apt!

Australians have done many great things in science and technology, medicine, the arts in all its forms, sport and an array of other fields. We have come a long way since 1788. We are a unique nation with many remarkable qualities and attributes. Our rich and diverse multiculturalism is a credit to us. These are the the real things that identify us.

It is time to face up to realities, define the true Australian identity, form a Republic and move on, unhindered by bulldust, the great Australian euphemism for bullshit.

“Dream on” you might say, but one thing is certain – we deserve much better than football, meat pies and national identity gibberish.


… lies and deception perpetrated by big business, politicians and the media, are severely disciplined – jail, fines, deregistration or deportation – by a constitutional, totally independent, gender-balanced board of elected, thinking Australians. All members are psychologically sound, honest, incorruptible and committed to ensuring that Australians are never led by the nose again.

By Bruce Keogh

It is sincerely hoped that this essay has not caused any offence to families of Australian service personnel who served in defence of Britain and its interests, in the World Wars. Similar sentiments go to Vietnam veterans, and families of those who fought in Vietnam.

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