Aussie. I Love It, But Leave Me Out of the Flag Waving
Mark Seymour reflects on uses of the Australian flag.
Author: Mark Seymour.
Date: 24 January 2010.
Mark Seymour asks why some Australians are so keen to show off how much they love the place.
I’m driving down EastLink. The transponder’s beeping the cost every few minutes, but it’s OK. I’m cashed up and it’s a great bit of road. The sky is a perfect blue. There’s a light wind and the website told me there’s a straight swell hitting the peninsula coast. Great day, great surf. It doesn’t get much better. Tonight, there’ll be a barbecue on the deck overlooking the creek and a few cold ones.
A silver Rodeo passes me on the right, then moves across in front. The tray is full of plumbing supplies, a ladder, plastic pipes. There’s a sticker on the back window, ”Australia. Love it or leave it”, and an Aussie flag up in the corner.
It gets to me straight away. But why? Well, the sticker is demanding I take an emotional position about my country and I’m not feeling like doing that at the moment, so I feel slightly annoyed.
Bumper stickers are a conspicuous form of political self-identification. Everybody reads them. Stickers that say ”I shoot and I vote” or ”Nurses: You can’t live without them” are intended to convey a clear message about the opinions held by the driver. Fair enough. That’s their business. And it may or may not be mine. Stickers like that aren’t asking me to take a position.
But the ”Aussie. Love it or leave it” is an entirely different animal. It demands I take a position for the simple reason that I, too, am an Australian. In other words, the sticker is saying: ”Do you love your country? If you don’t, then what are you doing here?” And it’s not just me it’s asking. It’s everybody who holds Australian citizenship.
For this reason I am forced to ask myself where I stand. Do I love my country? I’m fourth-generation, Irish background, brought up in the burbs. I love footy, surfing, barbecued steak, hard work and Victoria Bitter. I’m a stat; surely the sticker isn’t aimed at me. After all, I know where I stand. I belong here.
So then, who is it aimed at? Anyone who hates Australia? So why would you be here if you hate it? Maybe if you are a recent immigrant who can’t find work, or you are totally skint and can’t afford to leave, or an Indian taxi-driver.
The problem with this sticker is in its use of the word ”love”. It’s unconditional. It doesn’t allow for the middle ground. I’m really thinking now. Love Australia warts and all, the sticker is telling me, or piss off. Well, my problem is that I can’t honestly say that I do love it warts and all. In fact, Australia’s got warts that I utterly despise, like the fact a whole lot of Indian students have been bashed in Melbourne over the past few weeks. That’s not good. I can’t say I’m proud of that. Or that despite the fact we enjoy one of the highest standards of living, our Aboriginal people are among the most disadvantaged on the planet; not good either. Or that our public health system is a shambles, or that the Murray-Darling Basin is dying. Hell, maybe I should leave, because I can’t honestly say that I ”love” Australia unconditionally. After all, the sticker’s demanding I do that. Isn’t it? Or can you love your country with strings attached?
If only I could sit down with the plumber over a cold one and discuss it. You see, what the sticker does – as do the many forms of conspicuous nationalistic merchandise that are so popular now – is shut down negative thought about Australia, right at that moment when the wearer is passing you by, which increasingly can be anywhere at any time, as opposed to the appropriate occasions, like Australia Day. Meanwhile, it doesn’t take a plumber or a rock musician to find fault with this country. You don’t have to dig very deep, my friend.
Statements like ”Aussie. Love it or leave it” don’t leave Australians like me with any wriggle room. I think that Australia’s pretty good, but it’s not that good. And when I see children hanging out down at the local fish and chip shop with their shoulders draped in the Australian flag, I can’t help thinking it’s inappropriate.
I mean, really, why are they so determined to show other Australians how much they love the place? Or do they even think that deeply about it? Why is it so important to know what someone’s nationalistic feelings are when you’re at the supermarket? Who actually cares? I look at this 16-year-old in boardshorts, with interesting hair and his thruster under his arm and the thruster’s got the Australian flag impregnated into the deck, and I feel like saying: ”Yeah, we get it. You love Australia. So now can we move on? Maybe you really need to get out more. Like right out of Australia one day (when you’re old enough) and see what the rest of the world is like. Because there are all these other places that have exciting, vibrant cultures with a great deal to offer humanity, and I’m afraid that many of them are just as sophisticated and interesting as ours, perhaps more so.”
You can go on about how great Australia is to other Australians for just so long. And then it gets boring. We all know what a great place it is. It’s the rest of the world we need to convince. Especially India, right now. Really, the world’s a big place and Australia is only one nation.
I’ll be performing for the City of Penrith on Australia Day. Doubtless I’ll look into a sea of faces, many of whom will be recent immigrants, and I’ll say to them, as a proud Australian, how pleased I am they could come.
Mark Seymour is a Melbourne musician.
Original comments from The Age website:
Well said Mark.
I will always look with suspicion at people who have stickers on their car like that. It immediately brings to mind the brain dead thugs who had the nerve to wrap themselves in the Australian flag during the Cronulla riots.
It is possible to love this country without making a big song & dance about it, and yes there are some aspects about Australia not too love. Nationalistic thuggery is not one.
paul | belair south australia – January 24, 2010, 10:10AM
Mark, you bewdy!
I have passed by those protruding nails that you reference before, and you just slammed every single one of them square on the head.
I think I might just print that and hang it up at our BBQ…
Joffa – January 24, 2010, 10:28AM
Great article. I, like the writer, am not totally enamored with all aspects of Australian culture and life. I am also completely broke, and couldn’t afford to leave Australia even if I wanted to. I often feel like asking those people whether they’d pay for my emigration to the Netherlands if they feel so strongly about those who can’t abide the Southern Cross flag.
Might not be such a bad idea, actually.
Justin | Sebastopol – January 24, 2010, 10:56AM
Paul – you’re right…the mention of “Cronulla” still sends shivers up my spine – that demonstration of vicious thuggery, flag-burning, racist beatings, bigotry and tribalistic separatism was appalling, and signals one of the futures which awaits this country.
But to be fair, those Lebonese were provoked beforehand, by an over-excited crowd protesting years of beatings and sexual harrassment on Sydney’s beaches.
Robert – January 24, 2010, 11:02AM
Excellent article. The ugliest term to arise in this country in recent years is ‘unAustralian’. The idea that some feelings or opinions somehow are not permitted and you are disenfranchised if you hold them. It is an obvious American media import – designed to kill thought and stifle debate. Do we want to imitate a country that is so stridently patriotic and inward gazing (with a flag flying from every other home) or do we want to be a little more complex, interesting and engaged with the world at large.
Older countries don’t seem to have a problem with this love/hate aspect of their national identity. You can’t imagine anyone getting accused of being unIrish, unFrench or unSwedish. I’m guessing the market for “Belgium. Love it or leave it” bumper stickers is pretty limited. They aren’t so insecure that they cannot contain contradiction and criticism. They don’t need to advertise their nationhood on their T-shirts, car boots, or even their bodies. Every time I see a young person draped in the Australian flag or branded with the Southern Cross it brings me down. Ten years ago these kinds of display would have been a joke but now they seem to be ubiquitous. Very little that is good in the world (and much of what is very bad) has come from patriotism or nationalism but most of what is good has come from sound principles and care for our fellow humans no matter what flag they are under. I like this summary of the lunacy of patriotism,
“Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it.”
Candide | Hanoi – January 24, 2010, 11:47AM
A sticker like that is just designed to stop people thinking for themselves. If you “love” your country then you don’t think critically about government policy or culture, and you don’t work to make this country better. It is designed to support the status quo and benefit those that get rich off ignorance and xenophobia.
Deb | Melbourne – January 24, 2010, 11:44AM
Very well said Mark. I look at bumper stickers as I do number plates, the motors vehicles these people drive and their road manners. It’s almost like their showing the world their DNA footprint! And what is their purpose? Very little actually, other than to always be in your face with their one liners. They really don’t contribute very much at all.
Piere | Mornington Peninsula – January 24, 2010, 11:33AM
Mark, this is a wonderful article but i have one suggestion.We’ve allowed the users of phrases like this to steal our language. When I say I love Australia, I certainly love it as it is, but I also care enough about it to accept its imperfections and to want to make it even better.
I suspect those that use this phrase would be exposed if challenged on whether this means no changes ever. Lets love it and make it even better.
andre gilbert | malvern east – January 24, 2010, 11:16AM
When I lived in London one of the things I couldn’t stand the most was the flag waving Aussies. The Londoners are sick of them and they give Australia a bad name, making Australians look like morons.
One of the things you quickly realise from a global perspective, when you travel around the world, is just how insignificant Australia really is.
Dean | Melbourne – January 24, 2010, 12:15PM
Fantastic Article Mark, I am glad someone took the courage to write something like that. I totally agree, I am proud to be Australian however it is not the be all and end all. Australia really lacks a culture. It pains me that anyone with a culture who settles here that may be different….get’s bashed!
Mick | Richmond – January 24, 2010, 12:11PM
Very well said Mark. I look at bumper stickers as I do number plates, the motors vehicles these people drive and their road manners. It’s almost like their showing the world their DNA footprint! And what is their purpose? Nothing really, other than to always be out there screaming at the top of their voices!
Piere | Mornington Peninsula – January 24, 2010, 11:22AM
I think it was Samuel Johnson who said: “Let us take a patriot, where we can meet him; and, that we may not flatter ourselves by false appearances, distinguish those marks which are certain, from those which may deceive; for a man may have the external appearance of a patriot, without the constituent qualities; as false coins have often lustre, though they want weight.”
Such are those who publicly promote their patriotism as the chief mark of their character. Ignorance, bigotry and prejudice more frequently are!
Lesm | Balmain – January 24, 2010, 12:25PM
Bang on Mark.
I don’t love Australia any more. Once Howard had sanctioned pig shooting, fishing, dirt bike riding and Jezzzuz up there as out primary cultural pursuits what was the point. Sporting heroes claimed they were proud they had never read a book. F$$%K Me! We are a dumb country and proud of it. We turned our Universities into shops and made business men our public intellectuals Here’s a thought experiment. Pretend for a moment your a citizen of the world. Suddenly nationalism seems stupid and those buggers in Haiti are your neighbours.
Andrew TO&STB – January 24, 2010, 12:33PM
Nationalism is a scary thing. The attitude of “Australia -Love it or leave it” is one of intolerance and one that has led to most conflicts among nations.
As we leap into the 21st century, the antiquated, provincial attitudes that ANY country is isolated from the rest of the world just doesn’t apply anymore. The reality is that the world is a big place, and as mentioned in the article, Australia is just one country among many. I think Australia is a great place to live!
Alanzs – January 24, 2010, 12:32PM
“Patriotism” is one of those words that can mean anything to anyone. Certainly the bumper bar sticker-mentality Mark mentions demonstrates its most vacuous. And there’s a lot of it around despite Australia’s successful, world-beating multiculturalism.
Max Gross | Yarra Ranges – January 24, 2010, 1:07PM
To all those precious commentators above knocking our great country, I have a question for you.
Have you travelled overseas??????????
Methinks not, or you would not bestow such flaccid comments on our country. Go get an eyefull of other countries and I guarantee you will be a lot more appreciative of how you live here.
And for the record, I have travelled a lot.
I have no idea what point you are trying to make, Mark.
Australia is not perfect by all means, but Australia Day is celebrating how far we have come in our unique part of the world.
Lastly, try reading your article to your audience in Penrith and see what feedback you get. I’d be interested in hearing back sometime.
Happy Oz Day to everyone.
From the burbs | Melbourne – January 24, 2010, 1:10PM
Great article Mark and thankyou. I’m regretful to say that many of these “flag waving” Australians that I know are those who have never left the country and rarely pick up a book. I love our country, and believe it’s a beautiful place to be. It’s just unfortunate some of those in it are so insular. One other such sticker I abhor is the “Australia is Full” one. Too many are guilty of sticking their heads in the sand when it comes to the culture that is classified as Australian, thanks for speaking about it.
Rachel H | Mitcham – January 24, 2010, 1:09PM
@ mick, Courage? It takes no courage and no imagination at all to write an article like this. Dilettantes like Mark Seymour need to keep their opinions to themselves. Self promoters are always a pain to any real grass roots movement , I remember save St Kilda, I marched alongside Mr Seymour back in 88 and 89, fat lot of good he did anyone except himself.
Jay | Melbourne – January 24, 2010, 1:09PM
Nice one Mark!
It is indeed peculiar why very young people are displaying such tendencies. Are their young minds being targeted by racist propaganda? It’s a scary thought.
Australia Day in particular gets harder and harder to sit through, having to watch all the flags, face-paint and drunken eulogising. It’s a very anglo-saxon holiday. I imagine it would be intimidating for many.
glazedham | Melbourne – January 24, 2010, 1:42PM
There are some great views posted in the responses, but lets face it, Australia does have a culture, it just seems to not be what some people want it to be. I don’t see one comment that express’s what Australia’s culture is or should be!.
As for Dean’s comment….on recent travels to London I was lucky to run into any English!
Andy | Melbourne – January 24, 2010, 1:39PM
The reason there is no culture is because Australia was founded on the very principle of dispelling criminals, who in the beginning had no pride in who they were to begin with, how can they have pride in the country that was originally their prison?
SarahS | New Hampshire, USA – January 24, 2010, 2:10PM
Superb, pithy article Mark. Thank you. It should be compulsory reading for all Australian school kids. And adults, if you could encourage us all to read it (pity it wouldn’t all fit on a bumper sticker….). There is a separate article in today’s Sunday Age suggesting that Facebook be leaned upon to remove anti-Indian hate pages. Perhaps they could all be replaced with this excellent article…
musicmelbourne | carlton – January 24, 2010, 2:10PM
While the articles point was driven across, I can’t believe someone allowed this to be printed. Musicians are not always writers, and writers are not always musicians. If you can’t write, don’t. This was very poorly written. I think that my 10 year old could have done at the same, if not a better job.
SarahS | New Hampshire, USA – January 24, 2010, 2:08PM
Years ago, I only had to cringe at displays of racinationalism of this kind when travelling the US.
Then Howard sucked up that American conservatism and sprayed it all over his moronic battlers.
To you weeds, I say “This Garden’s Full!”
SP | Melbourne – January 24, 2010, 1:53PM
Australian culture? There isn’t any. It’s all imported, distorted, thwarted.And to sum up, the code I have to enter in order to post this comment is “ROOTER”. Says it all really.
Max Gross | Yarra Ranges – January 24, 2010, 2:18PM
@ Glazedham. Australia Day is a celebration of the arrival of the first fleet of Anglo Saxons to this land, what did you think it was?
Celebrate Harmony day if you want a more multicultural experience.
Jay | Melbourne – January 24, 2010, 1:50PM
@From the burbs, how could we not have a “Happy Oz Day” with a leering headbutt of a post? If you don’t understand the point then perhaps you didn’t learn much on your travels but stayed in the ‘burbs with your mind. The article is clearly not about Australia Day but about a style of thinking and living that you have provided a fine example of. Well done. By the way all parts of the world are “unique” – that’s what unique means.
And using words like “methinks” when you are clearly not thinking but using psychic powers (you must have to know whether or not the posters above are well travelled) or just displaying your reactionary ignorance (and I’m not saying I’m judging you by leaning one way or another on this) does not make you look smarter.
@Jay isn’t St. Kilda still there?
Candide | Hanoi – January 24, 2010, 1:50PM
The flag draped youth are a not a product of any sort of nationalism they’re born of the dumbing down and denigration of White Australia, they’re ignorant alright but on every level, they’d be no more capable of understanding a White Nationalist than a Socialist.
If they were possessed of Patriotic or Nationalistic spirit they’d be a movement not a lifestyle group.
Jay | Melbourne – January 24, 2010, 1:46PM
@Jay. Thanks for the history lesson. Surely we’ve moved beyond triumphalism. The date of holding our national holiday has always been contentious. The argument that it is offensive to the aborigines is largely forgotten. At the time, the supporters of the date spoke loudly that it was a day for everyone and that the date was just a nominal choice. Now, it seems, that the date is wholly concerned with anglo-saxon celebration. Which is fine, but needs to be demonstrated with a little reserve dontcha reckon? That’s what Seymour is saying. Restraint. Quiet pride. Awareness. Respect.
@SarahS ‘articles’ should be spelt with the possessive apostrophe – article’s
glazedham | Melbourne – January 24, 2010, 2:54PM
Agree with most of this. I think it’s identity insecurity, and Australia suffers from a severe case of it. Personally I’m sick of this ‘Australia is the best country in the world’ rhetoric. Sounds like people are trying to convince themselves. I know I’d rather just live in the best country in the world without wasting my time, breath and energy trying to convince others that it is so. Nobody really cares; Australian or foreign.
Dee | Melbourne – January 24, 2010, 2:53PM
I’m confused. So if I go to one of our beautiful beaches on the 26th and lie on a towel which is in the form of a large Aussie flag, I am a nationalistic goon?
And if my kid stops at the local fish and chip shop on his way to a sporting event with the flag draped around his shoulders he is a racist, ignorant, inward looking, barely travelled twit.
And god forbid my kids make the narrow minded decision to buy some Aussie flags to stick on their bikes while riding around their neighbourhood.
Crikey! We all know this place isn’t perfect, but I reject the idea that just because I happen to love this country and I am not afraid to say that I have a certain pride in living here, I can now be branded an intellectual dimwit and bigoted xenophobe.
razorcat | Melbourne – January 24, 2010, 2:48PM
Candida from Hanoi. Or Mark Seymour incognito.
How clever you are.
Methinks you aren’t really, just another no-name trying to appear clever in cyberland.
The author is trying to downgrade our country and I’m not having a bar of it.
As I said before. Let him try reading his article in front of a live audience and see how much positive feedback he gets.
And if I have psychic powers, guess what I am thinking now.
From the burbs | Melbourne – January 24, 2010, 2:34PM
@ Andy re. “on recent travels to London I was lucky to run into any English!”
That’s probably because you were were hanging around the tourist areas of the West End…
While I lived in London I met many real Londoners. You know the ones with the cockney accents? There’s a big difference between visiting a place and actually living there.
Dean | Melbourne – January 24, 2010, 2:33PM
As with the call of driver’s license being reviewed periodically, citizenship should also be reviewed at a similar rate.
Earning citizenship via the birth canal should also be reviewed, demanding evidence that the aspiring citizen has experience with topics they are required to influence when voting.
Questions such as… when was the last time the aspiring citizen offered a hand in friendship or income support for those neighbourhoods bearing the full cost of immigration policy?
When was the last occasion the birth canal citizen ventured outside their cultural majority and caught a bus or train to neighbourhoods attempting to absorb the multicultural ideal they elected as policy and preach so profoundly, and choose to avoid regularly?
When was the last time the birth canal citizen chose to step in and mediate on behalf of the war victim confronted with horror and PTS, and took them to the store shopping, show them how to rent in their very own neighbourhood and fund the difference, take them to their own school gate with their children, stand between the misunderstandings of the young male challenging their size as best weapon in achieving their goals and their prey?
When was the aspiring citizen last seen pro actively involved prior to conflict instead of commenting post conflict, anticipating need instead of posting blame in the aftermath of a breakdown of those unable to deliver to the need?
This rising nationalism results from profound failures by those with influence ignoring their obligations when delivering policy which they vocally support, yet choosing to burden those neighbourhoods most ill equipped to deliver and rushing to condemn them.
CharlesC – January 24, 2010, 2:31PM
from the burbs,
You seem to be so perceptive that you have found a meaning in the article that wasn’t actually there. I see nothing in the article that is trying “to downgrade our country”. I do see that the author is taking a dig at the ‘uber patriots’ who seek to out-patriot anyone else by displaying their bigotry and prejudice to anyone who isn’t ‘one of us’. The ones who believe that Australia must always reflect their ignorance and xenophobia because those qualities are what makes Australia what it is! The ones who think that anyone seeking to grow in understanding of the world is to be suspect and anyone who doesn’t share their narrow and constipated world view is un-Australian.
To love Australia fully we need to see its greatness as well as its human failures and to want to overcome those human failures so that our society can actually advance rather then ossify in some worship of the 1950’s
Lesm | Balmain – January 24, 2010, 3:52PM
i’ve often thought, and this is similar to nearly every second home-owner/resident in the USA, that any so called “We grew here, you flew here type” who actually has to drape, wear, tatoo, or otherwise display an Australian flag in any place other than an official flag pole (where it truly belongs) is either a half-wit, imbecile or moron.
i fail to see why such slow non-thinkers need to have the flag at all? Is it just reminder for them of not having any idea at idea which country they are in now?
Thanks Mark, and some of the bigoted rascist comments above bear out your well observed piece.
Vajras | Sydney – January 24, 2010, 3:41PM
Mark Seymour sees a slogan on a bumper sticker, makes his own narrow interpretation and gets thumped on the back and labelled ‘brave’.
Is that because he’s a rock star.
doyoupeopleactuallythink – January 24, 2010, 3:39PM
Totally agree with you Mark.
I’m an Australian citizen and proud to me (most of the time). But stickers and sentiments like them don’t leave any room for helpful criticism.
If we were all given the ultamatim of loving it or leaving, nothing would improve and we’d all turn into a Communist nation.
Being a dual Irish citizen also gives me the opportunity to see Australia objectively when I’m not here, and a new appreciation when I arrive home.
Most of these flag-waving, breast thumping, jingoistic, nationalistic men (let’s face it) have probably never ventured past our shores, albeit for a footy holiday in Thailand or Bali (which, they would probably say is just another territory of Australia anyway.)
Alice | Melbourne – January 24, 2010, 3:27PM
“The author is trying to downgrade our country and I’m not having a bar of it.”
Oh really. How do you ‘downgrade’ a country? Did Mark downgrade the soil? The trees? or …. the people like yourselves? I’d like some context please. And from what – to where? OK, a select view on history: massive deforestation for sheep (foreign to Australia) causing soil erosion. Killing off of Aborigines (competition for land). Unable to take care of a land stewarded by the majority of people in this country over the last 222 years (ie whites).
Great start. Now, what are we going to? Because apparently you wont have a bar of it. But I am guessing the above history is fine or ignored by you. Which seems to be a common position here.
To me, we are already downgraded when we refuse to recognise history as it happened, get off our high horses and make amends (oh yes, we’re not the only ones who need to do this). Then once we sort the past, we are no longer shackled to lying to ourselves. That would be great. Then me (and a few others) would feel we are living in a mature country that had the guts to fully own up.
But hey, no real pressure, so it probably wont happen.
The absence of other posters like you gives me hope that we are maturing.
happyez – January 24, 2010, 4:06PM
Yesterday. And you?
Candide | Hanoi – January 24, 2010, 3:29PM
I do not get you Candide? Care to explain?
Are you assuming something my being a resident in the Macarther region that I do not face some situation not familiar with this topic at hand?
CharlesC – January 24, 2010, 4:13PM