There’s a joke that, unlike a tub of yogurt, Australia hasn’t developed any culture after 200 years in the sun.
The truth is that Australia has a distinct culture. Those who make such jokes just don’t like it.
It’s part of our national character as Australians to not take ourselves too seriously, but this poses a dilemma when we’re confronted with constant self-deprecation and even self-loathing.
When those who would tear down what we have built criticise Australia, we are often slow to defend our way of life lest it look like we’re taking things too seriously.
There is of course a place for critiquing ourselves and being honest about our past; there are undoubtedly some dark pages in the books of our history, and we do not always live up to the ideals of freedom and egalitarianism upon which Australia is based. But too often this is taken to an extreme by those who wish to cast Australia and Australians as fundamentally flawed.
The result is cultural cringe and self-doubt. But these are characteristics of a nation in decline, not a land of opportunity, prosperity, confidence, and hope.
When faced with challenges and threats, both internal and external as we currently are, Australians must be united around our shared values and an understanding of our national story.
As historian Wilfred M. McClay wrote: “Whenever any nation is faced with a deadly challenge to its institutions and its well-being, as we are today, it must find a way to draw upon its deepest sense of itself.”
Many Australians are denied the opportunity to do this because they are deprived of the opportunity to properly understand our history and way of life.
This is what we have seen with the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority’s (ACARA) draft national curriculum.
As Bella D’Abrera, the Director of the Foundations of Western Civilisation Program at the Institute of Public Affairs has documented extensively, the proposed national curriculum removed all positive references to Australia and its history and sought to teach students that the main features of western civilisation are imperialism, colonisation, and slavery.
This comes after a prolonged annual campaign by the media, led by the ABC, pushing a confected debate about changing the date of Australia Day, underpinned by the divisive narrative that Australia is structurally racist and that our national holiday should be renamed “Invasion Day.”
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has taken note of our wavering self-confidence and are now using the language developed by our universities and self-loathing elites to divide us.
Earlier this year, the CCP accused Australia of being a part of an “axis of white supremacy” and argued that while the era of colonialism had long gone, racism and hegemonism continued to plague the world.
But while the CCP promotes cultural cringe among its strategic rivals, it reflects McClay’s message domestically.
As one astute American Substacker has noted, China’s media regulator issued a notice in April this year calling for participation in the CCP’s “Party history education campaign.”
The statement noted that “some [people with] ulterior motives” had been spreading historical misrepresentations and distorting the history of the CCP to “confuse people” and destroy “national self-confidence.”
“If someone wants to destroy a nation,” the statement argued, “the first thing they do is to destroy its history.”
It is encouraging that the Minister for Education Alan Tudge has taken note of the potential implications of ACARA’s draft national curriculum and argued that it risks creating a generation of Australians unwilling to defend their country in the same way their forebears had to.
It remains to be seen how far Tudge goes in encouraging a more positive and balanced view of Australia in the curriculum.
But the challenges to our culture are pervasive and require constant attention, and the political class too often fails to address them appropriately.
This requires a renewed sense of self-confidence, a commitment to our shared values of democracy, egalitarianism, and freedom in all its dimensions, and a deeper understanding of the Australian story.