Saturday, July 13, 2013

Face it: Australians are different

(First published in The Dominion Post, July 12.)

THE ONLY surprising thing about the end of Robbie Deans’ career as coach of the Australian rugby team was that it took so long for the axe to fall.
Australians are far more stridently nationalistic than New Zealanders, and it must have riled Ocker rugby fans that a Kiwi (or should I say Koy-woy) was in charge of the national side.

The Australian attitude toward New Zealand is essentially one of indifference, but they can be prickly about their small neighbour and hate to admit we can do anything as well as they can – still less better. That’s why, when New Zealanders succeed across the Ditch, Australians deal with it by claiming them as their own.
The relationship between the two countries is complex. We have a lot in common, but no one should make the mistake of thinking we’re alike.

Their history, politics and culture are different from ours. Some historians would argue that the two countries took fundamentally divergent paths because one was settled by convicts, sent there against their will, while the other was founded by free people motivated by a desire for a better life.
Paul Henry found out to his cost how different Australians are. Hugely popular (if polarising) here, he tanked on Australian breakfast television.  They just didn’t get him.

Australians will tolerate and even embrace successful New Zealanders, but only on their own terms. It helps if you’re prepared to become more Australian than the Australians, as in the case of New Plymouth-born broadcaster (and now naturalised Australian) Derryn Hinch, who adopted their larrikin ways with gusto.
Deans’ dismissal by the ARU probably had less to do with his win-loss record – which wasn’t so bad once you exclude defeats by the All Blacks – than with his nationality. No matter how many games the Wallabies won under him, he would have struggled to win acceptance.

Now they’ve got a dinky-di Australian in charge, Earth is back on its axis and national honour is restored.
* * *
ONE OF THE most interesting aspects of the recent upheaval in Australian politics was the way in which sexual politics intruded on media coverage.

High-profile female commentators such as Anne Summers and Kerry-Anne Walsh conspicuously lined up on the side of the deposed Julia Gillard. It was hard to avoid the conclusion that they saw Gillard’s overthrow by Kevin Rudd as part of a gender war.
As with the 2011 media coverage of Alasdair Thompson, the Auckland Employers’ Association chief who was mercilessly savaged because he made a politically incautious remark about women workers, it seems that some women journalists abandon all semblance of objectivity the moment gender issues crop up.

* * *

DON’T YOU LOVE the way sanctimonious academics and health commissars demonise alcohol while sanitising, and even promoting, cannabis?
The head of Australia’s Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education – yet another of those tiresome taxpayer-funded anti-liquor groups with grandiose names – popped up on Jim Mora’s radio show a couple of days ago, essentially arguing that dope causes less damage than alcohol and should therefore be decriminalised.

This highly debatable proposition is frequently heard from smug, middle-class baby-boomers who are safely insulated from the pernicious effects of habitual cannabis use.
Such people are typically well-educated and have high-paying jobs, usually in the public sector. A spliff at the weekend does them no harm. They are far removed from the pestilential effects cannabis has among unskilled workers and those on welfare.

The pro-dope, anti-liquor evangelists still buy into the 1960s-era delusion that cannabis is grown and sold by harmless, dreamy hippies, whereas alcohol is foisted on a helpless populace by bloated, rapacious beer barons. Hostility to capitalism is often at the heart of anti-liquor lobbying.
“Dope harmless, booze wicked” is the wowser’s equivalent of the robotic chant “four legs good, two legs bad” from George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

Their propagandising is highly effective, entrenching myth as truth. Only this week my fellow columnist Dave Armstrong, an intelligent man, fell for the familiar wowser line that “we live in a binge culture as far as alcohol is concerned”. But anyone who remembers the 1960s and 70s knows that binge drinking was far worse then that it is now.
* * *

WAS THERE ever a more useless piece of advice than that offered in a radio ad I heard recently on what to do in the event of a dog attack?

If you’re attacked while riding a bike, the ad suggests, you should dismount and place the bike between you and the dog.
This would be an excellent suggestion but for one thing. It would require the dog to desist from attacking while you slow to a stop, get off and manoeuvre the bike into the defensive position.

It’s possible there are pitbulls trained to observe such Queensberry rules, but somehow I doubt it.


Vaughan said...

I think the big cultural influence in Australia came from the the settlement of Irish, unlike in NZ where the Scots were influential.

That Irish influence is a big reason for the confident, sunny optimism of Aussies--always up for a joke. That trait is often misunderstood by NZers as cocky arrogance. NZ culture values signs of humility more, and to be understated.

Not better, just different.

I would like to see a joint ANZAC rugby team, where half the players come from Australia and half from NZ. Plus one mutually agreed upon.

As for the coach? That's a hard one! Robbie didn't get the results that were wanted against NZ and he played a more sober style than the free running, daring Aussies like.
He lasted longer than the previous Aussie coaches, though, so he had a fair go.

Kacy Fletcher said...

Great post - app valid points
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