The Little Book of Australia

The Little Book of Australia

The Little Book of Australia

The Little Book of Australia

Excerpt

In offering this little tract to the public it is equally the writer’s wish to conduce to their amusement and information. That was the opening sentence of the first book ever published about Australia. The same motivations are behind this little tract 220 years later. But as well as wanting to amuse and inform, I’d add a third ambition: to provoke. I hope this book will get readers thinking and talking about Australia’s identity.

I started this project because I kept hearing politicians and pundits going on about what ‘the average Australian’ wants, believes, expects, fears and won’t stand for. In the mid-Noughties, they suddenly discovered the importance of teaching ‘Australian values’ to recent arrivals, and they started labelling certain actions, opinions or people as ‘un-Australian’.

It seemed to me that most of their generalisations were based on guesswork, prejudice or wishful thinking, and hardly ever on facts. I thought it might be useful to do a reality check, to bring together all the information a person might need in order to speculate about national values and to ask whether there is—or ever could be—an average, normal or typical way of living here. Those politicians and pundits seemed keen to enforce standardisation. I was keen to describe diversity. I was particularly curious about how, in just 50 years, this country transformed itself from one of the dullest places on the planet to one of the most interesting.

There were plenty of history books about Australia, and plenty of books about scenery, but very few books about what kind of people 21st-century Australians might be. You can tell a lot about a nation from the ways it shops, competes, talks, eats,

Watkin Tench’s A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay, (discussed on page 152).

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