When you walk into the Commonwealth Bank you don’t see advertisements on the walls attacking banks for paying obscene salaries to their executives. McDonalds would refuse to place banners outside its stores stating that Big Macs are rubbish and the Whopper is a superior burger. In a similar vein, News Limited, the publisher of this website, has taken the unremarkable commercial decision not to use its products as a vehicle to trash its reputation.
The person in question is Dick Smith and the material is a 28-page magazine he has written called Dick Smith’s Magazine of Forbidden Ideas That You Won’t Read About in the Mainstream Media.
As a businessman, Smith has harnessed the concept of martyrdom – be it real or imagined – as his preferred marketing technique. He has made millions presenting himself as a nuggetty Aussie battler taking on the big guys, despite being bigger than most in Australian business.
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Diagnosing the pathology in the Federal Labor Government has become something of a national pastime. The commentariat, practitioners and pundits have all had a go trying to work out why an otherwise healthy government languishes so far in the polls and seems to have such difficulty engaging with the electorate.
We hear many analyses. Some blame party factionalism. Some blame the killer instinct with which KRudd was removed from the Prime Ministership. Perhaps we are not seeing the “real” Julia. Maybe the government lacks a “narrative”.
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When UK expat and young mum Jessica Green stood up at her Australian citizenship ceremony at Sydney’s Petersham Town Hall a few weeks ago to sing the national anthem, something quite bizarre happened.
It didn’t have anything to do with her singing (although she says she hates singing). A few “suggested videos” popped up on the big screen near the new Aussie citizens when the YouTube clip playing the national anthem finished. One of which was the Nazi national anthem.
“Everyone was staring at it, like: are you serious?” Jessica laughs. “That was slightly awkward.”
Otherwise, she says, it was a really nice ceremony. People of all backgrounds, many dressed in green and gold and some draped in the Australian flag, pledged their allegiance to Australia. In ceremonies like this year-round, people who have successfully completed the mountains of paperwork and passed the test required to become a citizen take an oath of loyalty to Australia. And now a prominent Gillard Government minister has floated the idea of getting kids to take the same pledge of citizenship at school.
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Around this time last year, a bouncer at a Brisbane nightclub was furious - he’d lost his favourite shirt.
As I dug through my wallet to find my driver’s licence and mentally rehearsed my usual lie (“How many have you had?” – “Just a couple”), he told me he had sifted through every drawer and looked under every seat in his Commodore.
“Oh yeah it’s always the last place you look or something,” I mumbled as I pulled out a Target gift card.
Then he dropped this little pearl: “Yeah it’s pissing me off ‘cause it’s almost Aussie Day and I won’t be able to tell ‘em ‘we grew here, you flew here’.”
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Sitting in the Norrkoping campus of the Linkoping University, Sweden, southwest of Stockholm, I am overwhelmed with a sense of wonder that the sun has begun setting at 1 pm. It will be dark by 3.30.
Though a clear, sunny day, snow is forecast for this evening and there is a type of cold that would make most Australians shiver.
In the corridors here, one of the central topics of conversation amongst staff and students is the rise of the far right, anti-immigration party – the Sweden Democrats – that received 5.7 percent of the votes and gained 20 seats in Parliament. Their motto, “responsible immigration policies” for Sweden is, according to one of my colleagues here, a euphemism for limiting Muslim migrants.
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Ray Martin has suffered an uncharacteristic lack of judgment - and possibly also taste - in using our most important national day to reignite debate over the Australian flag.
In doing so he has damaged the republican cause, by exposing himself and the broader republican movement to accusations of opportunitism and grand-standing.
Don’t get me wrong - I don’t love our flag, for the simple reason that it’s got another country’s flag plastered all over it. As a modern and independent and multicultural nation it is a total anachronism that one-quarter of our national ensign is occupied by the Union Jack, regardless of the (generally positive) role of Britain in settling and colonising our nation.
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Much discussion has been had recently – mostly media engineered discussion to coincide with Australia Day and the launch of News Ltd’s new nationally syndicated Taste section – on the subject of Australia’s national dish.
In years past dinner meant a slab of charcoaled fatty steak and three kinds of over-microwaved veg. Food was once the subject of much inattention and is now our newest obsessive interest. However, no one is sure exactly what Australia’s national dish is – or if we even have one – and there has been an awful lot of to-ing and fro-ing about it.
Traditionally lacking in a food culture to call our own that doesn’t involve a well-done steak (and with the majority of the Australian population having little knowledge of indigenous eating habits beyond the witchetty grub) generations of immigrants to our shores have introduced stir-fries, pastas, curries and many more culinary masterpieces that make up the wonderful multicultural cuisines eaten across Australia.
Not since Australia clinched victory in the 1983 America’s Cup has the Boxing Kangaroo been up for a fight like this.
It might not be Australia’s national flag, but the fighting marsupial is proving to be a rallying symbol of unity ahead of the Winter Olympics in Canada.
Only a few weeks ago, debate was raging about whether the nation’s official ensign, sporting a Union Jack in the corner, was appropriate for a modern Australia. Opinion polls at the time showed we were mostly happy with our flag. This doesn’t mean we don’t have a special place in our hearts for the kangaroo with a KO punch.
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Everyone looks at my neck and thinks I’m a red-necked Indian-bashing racist.
The day before Australia Day, I caught the bus to work. Sitting up the back, sweltering in the heat and breathing in the sweat of the others condemned to the ride, I was tapped on the shoulder. The man behind me, breath heavy with booze, declared me a “sister of the Australian cause”.
Confused and a little scared, I tried to ignore him. But the curious journo in me won out, and I asked him what he was talking about. Beaming and red-faced, he pointed to my neck, and THAT tattoo.
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I am concerned at the logic that because some jerks are treating Australia Day the way Liz Taylor treated the institution of marriage that we should get rid of the celebration altogether.
The structures of our society are no better or worse because of actions of a few. Trend is not established by a few data points.
Global warming is not off because of a cold snap in the UK. The monarchy is no more appropriate for Australia because Will seems like a great bloke. And our flag is no more or less appropriate because some people (mis)use it.
As our annual obsession with national identity reaches its peak, after weeks of debate into the meaning of red meat, high carb beverages and the quaint French phrase ‘oi, oi, oi’, here is one more idea to think about.
On Australia Day 1999 the Coalition Government introduced the reaffirmation ceremony to mark 50 years of Australian Citizenship. It’s a pretty simple idea where natural born Australians join with those who are taking up citizenship for the first time to recite the pledge together:
“As an Australian citizen, I affirm my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I uphold and obey.”
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As we head towards yet another Australia Day, a lot is being raised and debated about how we see ourselves as a nation, as a people, and as a part of a global community. Tensions have arisen of late regarding topics of border security and the safety of foreigners on our shores.
But perhaps, most intriguingly, as an aside to these debates, there has been a strong suggestion that the Bogan identity, which has plagued Australians for decades, is no longer being worn as a badge of honour, but rather, and rightfully, as one of shame.
Could we finally be seeing the end to our redneck wonderland? Are Australians favouring intellect over yobbism, manners over crassness, compassion over blind patriotism? When articulated in these straightforward binaries, one can only wonder - why it has taken so long?
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A few days ago on this website, editor David Penberthy wrote to explain why, as he put it, “Australia Day is rubbish”. Well, not to come across all Sam Kekovich, but I reckon he’s full of it.
According to Penberthy, this annual celebration - which nicely bookends a silly season that begins with the running of the Melbourne Cup - is a shallow glorification of all that’s wrong with this country, “a half-witted contest to see how much meat you can eat and how much grog you can sink.”
As if there’s anything wrong with that.
The fact is that no free country spends its national day navel gazing. Instead, they hook on to some element of their individual creation story and use it as an excuse for a piss-up.
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DAVID Penberthy is spot on with his piece on Australia Day - and I’m not saying that because I’m some boss-schmoozing suck up or because I’m protecting some fat paycheck (I’m seriously not).
The day’s been bastardised by bogans and for a while now has been descending into a celebration of banal racism.
But Penbo does not go far enough when he says we need to transform the day into a celebration of belonging to this country.
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