Dec 4, 2012

Posted by in Essays | 0 Comments

What it is to be Australian

More than most nations, Australia’s culture remains in transition. It is a national preoccupation to question who we are and our place in the world, not because we doubt ourselves but because we want to be sure we have got it right. We know from our achievements over the past 200 years that we have just cause for substantial pride but we acknowledge our feats in a self-deprecating way.

We do regard ourselves as privileged to inhabit this unique continent which, though it challenges us with the ferocity of its natural phenomena, rewards us equally with the abundance of its beauty and pleasures. As we tinker on the edges of this vast land we construct edifices which signify our capabilities and demonstrate our ability to conquer the odds. Yet the very heart of this amazing country remains a steadfast contrast: relatively undisturbed and a silent testament to the power, majesty and sheer timelessness of nature. It reminds us of our transience and keeps us grounded.

If there is a distillation of what we hold dear it may be summarised as discipline and decency. We believe in this nation and care for its future. We support our indigenous people, our migrants, and our future settlers. We honour those who have served our country, especially those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The only way we can repay the debt we owe them is to respect Australia.

We do not define what anyone should think. We encourage a wide diversity of views even when they are challenging. Australia, as an ideal, has a foundation stone of decency even if the early days of white settlement were not characterised by such generosity. The notion of Australia embodies tolerance, acceptance, respect and trust. It is a welcoming attitude of mind and neither a prescriptive nor proscriptive philosophy. We cherish certain values though they are not set in stone and none are held to be sacred. We are an accommodating people and tolerant. We tend to live and let live. All we really ask is that those who join us and those who have been nurtured by us work towards making this a better place. This is achieved by a positive attitude and negative sentiments only undermine it.

We are privileged, through a combination of the determined efforts of many of our people and our natural abundance of resources, to enjoy a role on the world stage that is generally well beyond the usual attainments accruing to a population of our relatively small size. While enjoying that status, we should be grateful for the privileges it affords.

Equally, we can be almost uniquely proud that, while not a warlike nation, our efforts in various global and regional conflicts over the past century mark us as self-sacrificing and dedicated to the common good. We have never been found wanting in support of our friends and allies even though that has cost us, sometimes, the cream of our future generations. We are most assuredly not alone in that but it is a defining national characteristic that we stand should-to-shoulder with those we call our friends no matter the cost.

Australia remains a fluid concept but, for the comparatively brief two centuries of our contemporary history, we can generally be regarded as a benchmark for doing things well. That said, we must – every one of us – remain continually mindful that complacency and the slightest tendency to arrogance will rob of us our achievements to date. That would be a tragic waste, not just for us, but for those who see our ideals as their hope for salvation. To be as privileged as we are and to enjoy what we do necessarily encompasses a very broad responsibility. Each and every day, each and every one of us shoulders that responsibility whether we are aware of it or not. That is the essence of what it is to be Australian. But, like an raw diamond, however we cut it will reveal sparkling facets.

 

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