As confusing as individual identity may seem, imagine a country full of individuals all with their own ideas on how they belong together. What does it mean to be Australian? Is it a representation of our shared history, a reflection of our culture and values, a product of our lives lived in a dramatic environment of ‘droughts and flooding rains’ or all or none of the above?
The Australian population is made up of people whose ancestors have been here for 60 000 years and connected strongly to the land, descendants of Irish political prisoners, the poor of London and rural England, soldiers, seamen and landed gentry escaping scandals, all of whom initially didn’t want to be here. The families of American, European and Chinese gold hunters, Italian, Greek and German farmers seeking a better life, and refugees from Vietnam and more recent conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. The latest arrivals have always been pressured with the task of fitting in, of assimilating within the national identity. Given our very disparate individual and family histories and consequent cultural differences what is the basis of this national identity? Is it merely a remnant of an idealised history that never really was? Have we ever had a shared history, culture and values?
Aboriginal Australian philosophy observes the impact of the land on culture and identity; recognising that there are fresh water people, salt water people, desert people, rainforest people and many more. Although we like to think that we are separated from our environment now, it may be more accurate to say that we are no longer aware of how it shapes us. Anyone who has travelled Australia will have experienced the cultural differences between rural and urban, country and city, tropical and temperate people. Is it time to reconsider our national identity then in terms of this place that we all share and are adapting to rather than on any particular history that we do not?