Racism in Australia

Stereotypical Aussie Koala

Stereotypical Aussie Koala

Cultural Insights on Life in Australia

Before I get to the meaty part I’d like to say a quick gidday to all my lovely Aussie readers. Please don’t take these notes about my perceptions on Australian culture and racism in Australia personally. Just think of me a whinging Pom and a backwards Kiwi reporting on cultural differences that I’ve noticed during the six months I’ve been living here in Australia.

I just want to give people who may be thinking of moving to, or visiting the lucky country a balanced view of what it’s like here, because some of them think life in Australia is all beach time, hunky lifesavers and sunny days. Then they get here and they don’t like it.

Is Australia a Racist Country?

Now for the juicy stuff, the cultural insights which I fear may incite the rage of my new, friendly and often funny Australian hosts. A month or two ago there was a big furore in Australia when the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said “adios” to the news that Sol Trujillo, a Mexican, and a bigwig in a major Australian telecommunications company, had been fired. You could call Rudd racist. Or you could call Trujillo humourless and a bad loser, because he then launched into a diatribe about how racist Australia is, and claimed that living here is “like stepping back in time.”

Some Australians were upset, even shocked, at being accused of racism, but none-the-less, the fact that Aboriginal people have a statistically lower life expectancy and literacy rate just looks bad. Of course, statistics can lie, but somehow the fact that there are loads of Aboriginals living here would have passed me by if I didn’t read about them suffering from alcoholism, child abuse and poor health care in the Australian newspapers. But then again, I live in Noosa, Queensland, a mostly middle-class enclave populated by lucky white folk, and there seem to be a few pre-conceptions about Noosa residents too, namely that we are all rich, stuck up ex-hippies. But I digress.

Racist Pre-conceptions About Australians

I’m sure that all Aussies aren’t racist any more than all Kiwis are sheep shaggers, or all Brits are football hooligans, and many of them may be racist sheep shaggers or hooligans too. However, I should mention that when I moved to Australia one British friend asked how I was liking it here in “the new land of apartheid.” Ouch.

I think I’ve been quite controversial enough now in my bid to expose a little bit about Australian culture, so rather than irritate my generous hosts any more, and risk being deported to the chilly shores I’ve escaped from, I’ll end here. I think I’ll save my thoughts on Queensland anti-hooning measures and street brawling until next time.

Thanks for having me Australia, I love you really, especially the hunky lifesavers, great beaches, sunny days and amazing Aboriginal culture.

Thanks for reading, please add your comments below and don’t forget to subscribe by email now if you haven’t already so you don’t miss out.

Good luck with all your plans!


21 Responses

  1. Having visited Australia many times, I find it both racist and sexist in attitudes, tho I trust the next generations are making conscious changes.

    • There’s always room for improvement isn’t there? My four year old Kiara has been learning lots about Aboriginal culture at her day care so she is our expert on that which is heartening.

  2. I speak as an Australian (grumpy old woman) who has lived overseas in Oman & the UK before coming back home to Oz in late 2000.

    Interesting that Shelley comments that we’re a sexist nation. I’ve don’t find it thus ALTHOUGH I wonder if it’s a cultural (mis-)perception. We’re a very laid back lot who do like to laugh and take the mickey out of anything and everything, race and sex included. I am aware from my own international friends that this can be seen the wrong way. All comes down to communication and barriers.

    As for racism, that’s a very complex issue. Technically I’d have to say yes, we’re a racist country. BUT we’re also a very friendly, integrated multi-cultural nation, with a long history of accepting migrants and their cultures (especially their food! I recall days when my mother serving pasta was considered very, very “ethnic”).

    The aboriginal question is incredibly complex. I would highly encourage any visitors & urban Australians to do that visit to Alice Springs one day and see just one aspect of Indigenous life in this country. If there’s one message I’d like to get out to the “white” community (Australians included) & international visitiors, it’s that our Indigenous people are NOT a single people, they are a proud, MANY PEOPLES. They need to be respected as the many tribes they are before we see true progress in improved health and reconciliation. And the Aboriginal people in Central Australia live a very different life (& speak a different languages) to those Indigenous communities residing in southern or eastern or western States.

    Overall, I’d have to say this country of mine is accepting and friendly. Smile and enjoy.


    • Brilliant comments, thanks so much for your insights. I do hope I get to experience some of the many Aboriginal groups in Australia sometime. I’m going to a talk about the Naidoc at my library next week so that’s a start! Very funny that pasta was considered ethnic food – look how far we’ve come. My kid’s favourite meals are sushi, satay, butter chicken, pasta and pies so you can’t get much more multi-cultural than that. I do think that Aussies come across as sexist and racist by name-calling like Sheilas or Poms when they do it for a laugh. Certainly political correctness hasn’t gone mad here yet so that’s a good thing and you can’t fault the Aussie sense of humour. Cheers!

  3. Annabel, your meaty subjects are the best! You’re my sister in cross-cultural immersion and champion of the underdog. There is so much more to learn when we look beyond the generalities. There truly is no such thing as “they.” It all comes down to individuals. So even categorizing “Australians” as racist could be kind of a lump-sum statement in itself, couldn’t it? We all generalize and stereotype at times, no matter how conscious we are. But thanks for being so balanced in your perspective, and attempting to raise the bar a bit.

    • RE: Even categorizing “Australians” as racist could be kind of a lump-sum statement in itself, couldn’t it! This is so true Nanc,y and I know it. But that’s what’s interesting: where does political correctness stop and where does racism begin? For example, is it wrong to say that English people drink tea all day long even though many of them do? Some stereotypes are true! But the French have it all wrong when they say English people never wash:)

      I find it interesting when I travel that every country has a different country that they joke about and look upon as their idiot neighbors. The English make jokes about the Irish, the French about Belgians, Americans about Canadians etc. And within each country there is often a huge north/south divide and rivalry.

      Thanks so much for your thoughts.

  4. Interesting listening to the views of new people to our shores. I am sure the perception of Australians is about 75% media beat-up just like our perception of many overseas countries, i.e. loud obnoxious Americans, whinging Poms, sexist women denigrating middle east, all asians know karate. I could go on and on.
    When I was growing up I found it very interesting visiting my italian and greek mates and their parents and their perceptions of Australians.
    Their parnets left their own country to bring their children up in what they considered a better place and they love it here! Their children on the other hand kept on saying how wonderful their home country was even though many of them were born in Australia and had never been there and lived through the hardships that their parents had, nor could they even begin to understand why their parents made the heart wrenching decision to leave everything they knew so their children could have more opportunities than they did, yet a lot of my mates still rattled on about the home country much to the dismay of their parents.
    The real funny thing is the more things change the more they stay the same.
    That was 30 years ago and when I talk to my 17 year old sons mates and parents it is still the same just from different countries now than when I was a teenager.
    I guess the perceptions of Australians is much like the statistics the media throw around, they just make stuff sound the way it needs to at the moment of the writing.
    As for me I find the majority of people who call themselves Australian I have met on my travels are very easy going and laid back and the only time they make reference to other people in derogatory terms, whether it be race, religion or politics is when someone is trying to force their ideals onto others. That is a guaranteed way of getting an Aussie fired up everytime.
    Great article Annabel ‘keep em comin’ 🙂
    DG’s comments are very good and fairly close to the mark, as I work in remote aboriginal communities with many different clans I could make some fairly strong comments but I won’t as at this time it serves no purpose, maybe another time 🙂

    • It sounds as if you’re a font of knowledge on this so maybe you’ll share another time. I know I’m such a newbie and have lots to learn about Australia and Aboriginals too. I really hope I get to visit some remote communities sometime so I can experience them for myself. I also know that there are huge issues and that I can offer no solution. But I think talking and writing about them in general is a start! Thanks so much for sharing, I really appreciate it.

  5. Oh I learn a little more every time I visit your blog 🙂
    Keep up the great work!

  6. Hi. I am an Australian. I think the view of Australia portrayed in the mass media in the UK is often a caricature.

    Some British migrants bring this caricature with them and judge everything from that starting point.

    I think Australia is racist, but I don’t have any evidence that it is more racist than any other country. And surely it is that relativity between countries that we are talking about when we say “racist country” as all countries are racist to a degree.

    For example, when I lived in the UK I witnessed the relations between different races and heard the comments from the white British (some British people didn’t mind saying it in front of me because I’m white). From what I saw I could easily infer that Britain is a racist country. Obviously the UK has also had huge problems with nationalism and the Northern Irish which thankfully are getting better but in parts of the UK it is still an alarming issue. The BNP have just won European seats.

    But given all of that I still have no evidence that the UK is more racist than anywhere else. Each country has different issues to deal with.

    I think if laws are in place to discriminate then a country can be proven to be racist. But Australia doesn’t have that like it did in the past – in fact the governments have spent decades and zillions trying to solve these issues. But I don’t think failure in Aboriginal health and welfare is evidence that Australia is more racist than anywhere else.

    The UK does not have a nomadic tribal people with a totally different culture settled over vast distances in remote towns and missions (from past racism). If they did and they had produced far better outcomes than I would agree.

    The UK struggles with the people from central Asian who are not that different in culture to themselves (when considering the gulf between Europeans and Aboriginals) – so why do they think they would do a great job if they had British Aboriginals?

    I think “some” new migrants from Britain (for example) who often just assume that they would do it better are instead portraying their own inherit bias – which is ironic given that it is “bias” that they are accusing others of.

    Whilst the UK has a core of PC people who believe they are not racist, so does Australia. While the UK has a group of people who are openly racist, so does Australia. And both countries have everything in between.

    Australians have been debating Aboriginal issues for decades. Many things have been tried, some have worked a lot have failed. There are still no clear answers on how to improve things. I agree with another comment here that Aboriginals are not all the same. Like any other group of people they have disparate lives, wishes and beliefs.

    Any migrant to Australia who brings passion, ideas and good faith to the Aboriginal cause are more than welcome. The migrants who just use the issue to give themselves a feeling of superiority over Australians are probably not the type who are going to help Aboriginals anyway, (Not accusing any here of that)

    Not all media in the UK takes the simplistic view. The BBC world service has just broadcast a series on “New Australians”. I have not listened to it yet but they have selected a disparate group of immigrants from Africa, the Middle East and India and asked their opinions on being a new immigrant in Australia (issues/racism etc). It is here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/programmes/090624_outlook_newaustralians.shtml

    While this may sound like a bit of a Brit bash it is not meant that way. The same comments could be made in reverse and between other countries – it is just the way of the world – all struggling to understand each other. Thanks Annabel for your great blog – I have enjoyed reading it over the last few months and keep learning about Aboriginal issues – the more people who care the better.

  7. Thanks so much for your excellent, thoughtful and informative comments. It’s brilliant that you took the time to share them with us. I’ll follow that link and check it out. I have to agree with all you say and you are quite welcome to have a Brit bash if you fell like it! Thanks again.

  8. Not meaning to add controversy to your meaty subject, you should not ignore the recent racist attacks on Indian students in Australian soil. I think some government officials (finally!) admitted that, there could be racial causes.

    • Thanks for raising this. What I found was the main concern in the press about Indian students being beaten up was that other foreigners might not want to come and study in Australia any more so it would have a negative effect on the Australian economy. Subtext: otherwise it would be OK? Scary.

    • we must be careful here as the people attacking the students don’t consider themselves to be Australian. Unfortunately SOME of the people that we welcome to our shores bring their own hatreds and forms of racism with them and because it happens in Australia we are all labelled racists. Yes there are racist Australians just as there are racists in every country in the world but I believe them to be the minority. Most people are tolerant and treat all people just as they would want themselves to be treated. But unfortunately as seems to be our nature we focus on the minority and label everyone the same.

  9. Thanks for commenting again! This is getting interesting. I wonder what they do consider themselves to be? I think when it comes down to it this kind of behaviour is unacceptable. It’s unfortunate and embarrassing that it’s taking place in Australia, but these kind of racist attacks do take place all over the world. Indeed, what’s going on in with Indian students being beaten up here is nothing when compared to the Israeli’s treatment of Palestinians or Lao’s attitude to the Hmong hill tribes. There are too many other terrible examples to mention here.

    What is true is that people who do bad things do give others a bad name, like my example of the British football hooligans. So all Brits are tarred with the same brush, just as all Australians have been. I suppose that’s why all the normal, well-balanced folk in the world have a duty to try to make things change and stamp racism out. It won’t happen overnight, but, if all kids can be educated about cultural differences and be taught to appreciate and enjoy them then surely it will all come to an end one day.

    Incidentally, I have noticed that my children have been learning about Aboriginal culture at school and in childcare so certainly it seems as if the Australian education system is making steps to stamp out racism and create a tolerant, multi-cultural society. Bring it on! I’m excited to be a part of that.

    • I am a primary teacher from the UK working at a school nr Peregian (emmigrated here end of last year) and I too will be teaching my little brood about Aboriginal Culture through the Dreamtime Stories. After spending several months travelling from Kununarra in WA to the Northern Territory in 2003, I am looking forward to exploring this indigenous culture in more depth and offering my little chickpeas the chance to learn about this essential part of Australian history.

      • That’s brilliant. As I already mentioned my four year old has been loving learning about Aboriginal Culture and sharing it all with her family back at home. We are so lucky to have passionate, caring teacher like you to help make the next generation better. Keep up the good work.

  10. Hi Annabel
    I’m Australian, but I’ve also lived in New Zealand and spent some time in the US. Is Australia a racist country? No more than any other place I’ve been. Is racism a problem in Australia. Of course, as with any multicultural nation. I’m shocked by the attitudes and deliberate typecasting by non-Australians, especially those who have either only visited or never even been here and whose own countries have committed past atrocities against native people. Spend two weeks in a nation and you’re an expert. It’s a bit of a double standard to sit in judgement and call an entire nation prejudice.
    In fact, most of Australians are proud of their multicultural status. More importantly most Australians would be the first to agree that conditions for Aboriginal Australians in rural areas are appalling. It’s true that Aboriginal people have the poorest health statistics of any indigenous people and it’s not something that any of us is proud of. That’s why we support government and charity organisations. That’s why we celebrate reconciliation day, why we demanded it along side Aboriginal people, why Kevin Rudd (a so-called racist) was the first prime minister to acknowledge the atrocities of past government actions. To those international poo-poers I say look to your own backyard before you disperse criticism and mind that you don’t come off sounding ignorant yourself.
    Thanks Annabel for raising this issue. Anti-racism is a personal crusade for me, but what I hate more is ignorance and typecasting in general.

    • Ignorance is the worst, and that’s what racism stems from I think. When it comes down to it anyone who’s truly racist is just showing how uneducated and backwards they are.

      I was scared to raise this issue but I’m so glad I did, I’ve learnt a lot and it’s all been positive. Thanks and keep crusading:)

  11. I’m so lucky – what a wonderful bunch of intelligent, thoughtful and well-informed readers I have. Thanks for adding another great comment.

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