What is the Australian Identity?
For years, many sociologists defined national identity simply as shared feelings of understanding, national sense of self and cultural heritage. In 2012, Holmes, D., Hughes, K. & Julian, R. (2012) made a compelling statement that national identity, while reinforcing a shared sense of character and uniqueness, creates a rather singular identity that not all people within the country will necessarily share. In Australia, national identity has become a social issue that has been argued and debated by Australians. This issue has become a problematic subject for various reasons. One reason is that an influx of migrants has caused citizens to question the appropriateness of asserting a national character that migrants are not in conformity with. A second reason is that the internet has facilitated the flow of ideas so that likeminded subcultures based on music, religions, TV shows, cooking, and politics now operate in various countries around the world. These subcultures provide a more meaningful sense of belonging than that provided by vague concepts of a national character.(www.convictcreation.com) This paper will discuss the key aspect of Australian national identity and how is this national identity being re-shaped by immigration. This paper will also identify if the Australian identity is increasingly “hybrid” one.
Many questions have arisen addressing the Australian national identity. There has been claimed that ethnicity and multiculturalism are two of the factors that influence our sense of national identity. Van Krieken et al (2006, p.277) explained that the Australian national identity could be seen “as having been historically formed around a distinctive Anglo-Celtic ethnic core and at the same time it can be understood as an “invented tradition” or “imagined community” in which variety of disparate phenomena have been thrown together to create a national mythology, a sense of common identity and a sense of the Australian nation.” Kukathas, C. (1997, p. 178) cited that “the pursuit of national identity requires an emphasis on the features of an Australian “narrative” which identify a heritage, as well as
institutions, held in common. Yet the dilemmas that the Australian narrative faces are the rights of aborigines and a variety of immigrant cultural traditions, making the idea of a single national identity implausible- unless the notion of identity is emptied of any substance”. What is Australian and un-Australian? And what is to be an Australian? These are some of the questions that often answered with a self-definition of what many would regard as influenced by our citizenship, ethnicity and our sense of national identity. According to Wood, P.K. (1999, p.19-20) “Citizenship carries legal or juridical significance while identity has social and cultural weight. Identity allows for the effective formation of groups which sometimes leads to claims for legal entitlements.” For example, the term Greek Australian is somehow inconsistent with true Australian national identification and citizenship, and moreover we argue that a single national identification sits uneasily with the legal acceptance of dual or multiple citizenship in current Australian legislation. However, it is important to note that the notions of citizenship and associated assumptions about ethnicity and multiculturalism shape our ideas and actions in relation to our national identity. Ethnicity in other hand is viewed as an essential, fixed and static characteristic of ethnic minorities. Scott, P. (1991, p.39) cited that ethnic identities are inherited therefore seem to remain immutable while national identity is a fluid process in constant negotiation with its constituent groups. Ethnic diversity must be understood as a social reality not as an option, and the acceptance of ethnic cultural individuality. Singular identities however cannot be formed at the expense of shared national identities, though it has to be processed through unbroken negotiation not imposition of shared characteristics and shared fate. In Australia, ethnicity means the “ethnic minorities” who emerged in Australia by Australia’s postwar immigration program. The “ethnic minorities” are marked by ethnicity. For example, Italian-Australian, Greek-Australian, Arab-Australian, etc., while the Anglo-Australian, however is an unmarked category. “Thus the label ‘ethnic’ is not applied to this group and the fact that its members have an ethnicity typically goes unrecognized.” (Holmes, D., Hughes, K. & Julian, R. 2012, p.129). Hall, S. (1992, p.257) explained that the representation of Australian identity constructed through dominant political and cultural discourses is hegemonic,
and as such ‘does not represent itself as an ethnicity at all.’ Furthermore, in a culturally mixed society country like Australia, social issues like ethnicity and cultural diversity and background, beliefs or religions, family origins and even arguing who is Australian or un-Australian are the issues which will be unresolved and will continue as issues to be argued and reflected in the future. These issues influenced the attitudes towards multiculturalism and national identity. Holton, R. (1997, p.ii) confirms that the majority of people in Australia believe that “you do not have to be born in Australia to be a true Australian.” Openness does not however mean cosmopolitanism, in the sense of being a citizen of the world with no special links with Australia. Moreover, to be considered as a real citizen, a person should acquire qualities that are established by national identity. Many Australian citizens are still confused and ask the question- What it is to be an Australian? Harris, P. & Williams, V. (2003, p.212) noted that being an Australian is now less securely tied to sharing a common system of wage regulation and education. “An emphasis on national identity pitched around notion of shared responsibility and common commitments helps fills this vacuum.” In the other hand, looking back at the question- What is un-Australian? One wonders what the question meant to be, or is there such thing like un-Australian? Multiculturalism is a body of thought in political philosophy about the proper way to respond to cultural and religious diversity. Mere toleration of group differences is said to fall short of treating members of minority groups as equal citizens; recognition and positive accommodation of group differences are required through “group-differentiated rights,” a term coined by Kymlicka, W. (1995). It is known all over the world that Australia is a multicultural country. People from different part of the world have migrated to Australia to live a better life. An individual who practices, adopt and abide the Australian Law are called Australian. One however, wonders if multiculturalism contributes factors to influence Australia’s national identity, or multiculturalism change the essence of Australia’s national identity pattern? Moran, A. (2010, 2) cited that national identity is not necessarily in conflict with multiculturalism, that multiculturalism is not necessarily divisive, and that national identity is not necessarily homogenising and threatening to cultural diversity. Hollinger, D. A. (1995) further explains that
multiculturalism means conceiving national identity as involving an open and ongoing dialogue about national traditions, rather than as something simply handed down from the past. It means understanding national identity as post-ethnic, and accepting that different individuals and groups in multicultural Australia have different ways of being Australian, and of engaging with Australian national identity. Tate, J.W. (2009, pp. 110-113) stated that during the time of Prime Minister John Howard, he articulated a particular concept of the Australian nation in which an Anglo-Saxon Australian ‘lifestyle’ was identified as a ‘core’ culture and, as such, was given a privileged and dominant status. Tate, J.W.(2009, p.97) also added that by the time John Howard contested the 2007 federal election, Australia had moved away from a multicultural model of nation and returned to a more ‘constitutive’ model, premised on an ideal of assimilation which was dominant during Australia’s pre-multicultural history. “This shift away from support for ‘multiculturalism’ towards a greater focus on an Australian core culture is evident in a number of changes that occurred during this time” ( Holmes, D., Hughes, K. & Julian, R. 2012, p.146). These changes of multicultural models and policies had re-shaped the Australian national identity. In 2007, the Howard Government explained the importance of national attachment: “Becoming an Australian is much more than a ceremony. It is an opportunity to fully embrace the Australian way of life, to broaden education options and employment opportunities, to vote and to have a voice in the country’s future…People taking up Australian citizenship are welcomed into one of the safest, most tolerant and peaceful societies in the world.”(2009, p.30) This significant change made by the Howard Government creates a modern national identity of Australia. “Modern nation states have had to create national identities as a means of drawing together otherwise unconnected people within artificial borders. The creation of a national identity requires not only constructing an idealised image of the nation, but also creating an outsider or ‘other’ that defines who the nation is not”(Flahive, E. 2007, p.141). Moran, A. (2010) emphasized that “Howard at times recognised that diverse immigration had made a valuable contribution to Australian national identity, including changing it for the better. But his predominant rhetoric characterised Australian identity as something looming out of the past, as a settled, permanent entity that people like his
predecessors Hawke and Keating had believed that they could change, and which fellow-travelling intellectuals had endlessly and fruitlessly debated.” He also added that Howard saw secure national identity as an important counterpoint to the economic change that he was committed to, giving national identity a firm footing in his social conservatism. “Economic reform and change – inherent in globalisation – can involve dislocation for communities and individuals. The anxiety this brings cries aloud for consistency and reassurance in other aspects of people’s lives; the sense that not everything is changing.”(Moran, A. 2010)
Recently the Australian government published that “Australia is one of the most ethnically diverse societies in the world today. Almost one in four Australian residents were born outside of Australia and many more are first or second generation Australians, the children and grandchildren of recently arrived migrants and refugees. This wide variety of backgrounds, together with the culture of Indigenous Australians who have lived on the Australian continent for more than 50,000 years, have helped create a uniquely Australian identity and spirit” (www.australia.gov.au) These statements have proven that Australian identity is increasingly hybrid: a mixed of culturally diverse people with an ethnic and indigenous Australian backgrounds. This means that every Australian has the right to maintain their native cultural identities and practices within the context of Australian laws. “People are encouraged to maintain their own cultural traditions, and to respect those of others, in an atmosphere of tolerance and understanding. Cultural maintenance means valuing the integrity and significance of cultural pluralism and acknowledging its civilising effects on social development in Australia. The second element is social justice. It has been recognised for many years that people who do not speak and understand English reasonably well, and identify primarily with a non-Anglo-Australian ethnic tradition, are likely to be socially disadvantaged. This is particularly so where educational, employment, legal, medical, welfare and other cultural institutions are not geared to the ethnic pluralism that is now the central feature of Australian society. The social justice element of multiculturalism emphasizes the need for giving everyone a ‘fair go’ regardless of colour, religion, and cultural
background. It aims to ensure that programs and structures are developed that guarantee access to the appropriate awards and services that are part of everyday life for native English speakers … The third element of the policy of multiculturalism is economic necessity. It is based on the recognition that economic inequalities are too frequently linked to particular ethnic groups in the Australian social structure.”(Gould, B. 1999)
In conclusion an Australian identity does not have specific physical characteristics. Eye colours, hair colours skin colours, heights, weights and all other physical characteristics are not part of the identity as they might be in China, India, Vietnam or other countries where the physical characteristics of the people in the nation are similar. Modern Australia is now a mix of all nations. The Aboriginals who have been here for 50,000 years followed by the Anglo Celtics who arrived since 1788, the European migrants who arrived mainly since the end of WW2 and the Asians and Africans who mainly arrived since the 1970’s. These people have widely differing physical characteristics and cuisine. They have their own cultures, ideas and traditions. By being identified as “Australian” means they abide by the laws of Australia and enjoy the benefits of living here. They know how the legal system works and participate as jurors. They know that they are able to progress by working hard. They can build or buy a house and own a piece of land. They have access to high quality fresh produce and safely processed foods. They have access to a free medical care system. These people are the modern Australians.