Colony and Empire
AUSTRALIA'S NATIONAL IDENTITY AND CULTURE
Our country's political position of being "under the rule" of the British monarchy (whether in a symbolic sense or in a practical sense) has stymied the development of Australia's national identity and culture.
As William Byrne has pointed out in Republic Vs. Monarchy:
"Heads of State can fulfil an important role in the national psyche. The fact that Australia's Head of State is the Head of State of the United Kingdom is not just an incident to be taken in isolation, it is just the "tip of the iceberg" in the number of ways that Australia shows its cultural servitude to Britain.
Australia's past emphasis on its "British connection" has also fostered continual denigration of Australia's culture as "inferior" to that of Britain, thereby creating the "cultural cringe".
"The use, past and present, of the English Monarch as the symbol of Australia in many facets of Australian life does not fail to imbue into many people the impression, whether intended or not, that we are transplanted Britons beholden to the "mother country" and its Monarchy. This means that instead of naturally developing indigenous Australian ways of life and culture, many look to Britain for ways of cultural expression. As Donald Horne pointed out: "It is continued obsession with the monarchy that has helped preserve remnants of a colonial mentality and a nostalgic Britishness".
"The psyche of Australia's culture is still impeded and undermined by continual, but usually subtle, references to the English Monarchy, and the institutionalised remains of British rule: various government bodies still print all envelopes with the heading "O.H.M.S." (On Her Majesty's Service); we are defended by the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force; many other institutions bear the prefix "Royal", such as the R.S.P.C.A. (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), Royal Flying Doctor Service, Royal College of Nursing, etc.; our legal system has Queen's Counsels, while our State takes on a royal persona (e.g. "Smith versus The Queen", "Regina versus Smith", with criminal cases being prosecuted by The Crown); offenders are jailed in Her Majesty's Prisons; Royal Commissions are appointed to investigate matters of importance; the Royal assent is required to create new laws; Scouts promise to "do my duty to... the Queen"; and the Australian flag, with the British flag in pride of place, is seen probably every day (in one form or another) by most Australians. To cap it off: every single coin used daily by the general public has the English Queen starring on it, as well as which her portrait is on all $5 notes (all made, of course, by the Royal Australian Mint).
"Although dismissed individually as trivial, these symbols, remains and reminders of a "British Australia" actually appear everywhere and everyday, so that collectively they have eroded the "Australianness" of most Australians, and have infected them with a certain sense of being "British" or "British-Australians", this manifesting itself in a lack of true "Australianism" in our nation's culture. As one commentator put it: "The subconscious of Australia's collective culture has been extensively, but not irreparably, damaged by our still-continuing subservience to British institutions and symbols". Despite any protestations to the contrary, how can we develop a truly Australian culture with one hand while we salute the Queen with the other?
"The continuing servility of having an English Monarch has enormous ramifications for the continuing development of the Australian national culture.
"Australia has an identity, but it is an identity that is constantly stunted and stifled by our own political and cultural servitude. We should acknowledge the important contribution that Britain, and British people, have made to Australia. However, we have our own identity, culture, and way of life, and for that to fully develop Australia needs to attain independence."(150)
In Australia's early years, the "British connection" created a social and political climate where Britain was referred to as "the Home Country" or "Home" (even by those Australian-born who had never set foot in Britain), and where Australian children were taught "Loyalty to the Empire", rather than "Loyalty to Australia, first and foremost".(151)
Such happenings ensured that a substantial part of the Australian population was pro-Britain in many ways; politically, culturally, and even economically. This style of people have been referred to collectively by some as "the British Brigade".
For at least the first 150 years since European settlement, this "British Brigade" was predominant in Australia. It espoused a doctrine of "British imperial patriotism", a widely held ideology, the large support for which can be seen in the "jingoistic fervour" which was aroused by the British Empire's involvement in the Sudan War in northern Africa (1885), the second Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902), and the Boxer Rebellion in China (1900).(152)
As Ross McMullin has noted,
"nearly all Australians possessed a strong pride in Britain's heritage; family links, educational influences and social conditioning combined to make this inevitable."(153)
This "British mind-set" was reinforced in many areas of Australia's national life, such as the commencement in 1905 of an annual Empire Day as a "special festival for the schools", whereby children were taught that patriotism meant "loyalty to both Australia and the Empire", illustrated by the suggestion that "the cry 'Australia for the Australians'... should be 'Australia for the Empire'."(154)
With nearly one in five Australians being born in the United Kingdom, and with their affections for Britain being passed onto their children (most Australians were of British descent), it is not surprising that many Australians regarded Britain as "Home". However, during World War One, many Australian soldiers fighting in Europe had visited England whilst on leave - and they were disappointed with what they found - due to many small English annoyances and differences (the ANZACs especially disliked the very obvious English class system). One letter-writer wrote that he hated England, and that "they ought to give England to Germany and apologise for the state it is in". Due to the various cultural differences between the English soldiers and the Australians, the ANZACs actually developed more of an affinity with the Scottish troops, rather than with the English soldiers.(155)
Interestingly, rather than fighting for England or the Empire, many Australians held the view that it was in Australia's best interest for Britain to prevail; that is, "they were pro-British for Australia's sake, not for the sake of blind fervour towards the Crown".(156)
Following the end of World War One, Australian troops returned to their native land, which many now "saw with new eyes". Their experiences in Britain had made them more "Australian" in their outlook.(157)
Australians can take pride in our nation's British heritage, however, we should recognise it for what it is: It is only a part of our national heritage; it does not comprise our entire national identity nor our national culture (although it has provided a part of the basis for both).
Colony and Empire
Australian Nationalism Information Database - www.ausnatinfo.angelfire.com