I’m not one for Australia Day. It seems too much an accident of history to be worth celebrating. My national day is Anzac Day – partly for family reasons, but also because it marks a separate Australian identity being defined on the world stage. Though given a choice I would probably define our independence from “Curtin defies Churchill” Day.
Still I always find January 26th a useful pause for defining that hardy perennial – Australian values and attitudes. Looking back on my 58 years, I can think of no place on earth that I could have been more privileged and advantage to be born into. Talk about winning life’s lottery.
The Australian Government’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection has helpfully defined:
“Australian Values Statement – Provisional and Permanent
Australian Values Statement – Temporary”
It is good to know that even “Phantom” Scott Morrison is a bit uncertain about an issue as imponderable as national identity. So here is my list with supporting examples from our sporting past.
- The rule of law/the fair go/an even playing field: Fairness seems to be embedded deep in the Australian psyche. Perhaps it stems from the transported convicts who stole a loaf of bread, then realised that they were the victims of societal crimes more than perpetrators.
Whatever its origins, when I hear migrant’s stories of dispossession I feel privileged to live in a country where political or economic power does not give you an automatic right to confiscate the hard-earned property of others.
Sport is by definition a codified rule-bound contest, but at the edges the margins of ‘fair play’ get decidedly fuzzy. But at core we want sport to be a contest of talent, skill and work ethic. Not a game for chancers, scammers and manipulators.
Most of our major sports have salary caps and talent drafts so that inherited wealth does not become a permanent guarantee of competitive advantage. There is no Australian equivalent of the English Premier League where Manchester City spends 6 times more than Swansea or Norwich. Australians aspire to being part of a meritocracy not a plutocracy.
Our cycling hero is Cadel not Lance. In the aftermath of Lance the brutalist dictator, there is time for a Chifley or a Cadel to deliver the substance of a Snowy Mountains Scheme or a Tour win.
Similarly those who don’t support Essendon despise them, along with half of those who support them but also deplore what they have allowed themselves to become. Essendon’s arrogance demeans cherished national values more than it trashes a sporting competition.
‘Cheating’ seems a European invention. Perfidious Albion; slimey wops. The use of legalisms to make big business corruption seem acceptable is more of an American invention. Either way it is distinctly Un-Australian.
In the 32/33 Bodyline series Australia was on the receiving end. Bodyline was within the rules of the day, but not within the hazy, undefined ‘spirit’ of the game. My grandfather was at Adelaide Oval the day Oldfield had his skull fractured. He always insisted that if one person had jumped the fence to protest, there would have been an all-in riot. But we didn’t. We sent a telegram. And waited for the 1934 tour for our revenge.
- Liberal Democracy: Australia has no ‘divine right of kings’. When you are dismissed you go quietly. When you are beaten on the big stage you give the other mob their go – and their due.
Defeated players sit sullen on the MCG grass as the premiers collect their cup and medals, thinking “we’ll be back here next year to do you in September.” Not “we’ll be round your house next week with a kalashnikov and a battalion to do you.”
Perhaps that is why Australians of different political persuasions found the last parliament so unedifying. We want the contest (sporting or political) to be fierce, but then we expect the loser to shut up and let the premiers rule for the good of the country until the next season starts. St Kilda was stiff in 2008 and 2010, but Geelong and Collingwood were still respected premiers.
- We value humility, and our humour is self-effacing: By now we know that Adam Goodes has been named Australian of the Year, and that reflects his community contribution as much as his sporting one.
But if I was naming our Sportsman of the Year it would have to be Adam Scott. His US Masters win was brilliant, but over the course of the year I came to respect his personal qualities as much as his flawless golf swing.
When he holed the 20-footer on the 18th that took him into the playoff against Angel Cabrera, he screamed “C’mon Aussie” as the putt dropped. In that moment he was focussing not on his own success, as much on Greg Norman, Jim Ferrier, Jason Day and all the other Australian ‘near misses’ at Augusta down the decades.
After his British Open disappointment in 2012 of letting the unbeatable lead slip over the last 4 holes, Scott said “I’m very disappointed but I played so beautifully for most of the week I really shouldn’t let this bring me down. I know I’ve let a really great chance slip through my fingers today, but somehow I’ll look back and take the positives from it.”[
Every vanquished says this, but most are beaten men the next time the pressure cooker heat is turned to extreme. At Augusta, Scott showed that he had the rare humility and resolve to ‘stick it’ the next time.
But the personal qualities that most endeared him to me, were shown in his return to Australia in November to play 4 consecutive local tournaments for half the money he could have been competing for overseas. These were the places and people that nurtured him growing up, and he was back to let all of us touch the hem of his green jacket.
Importantly he competed and didn’t just ‘put in an appearance’ as others have sometimes done on their homecoming tour. He landed 3 legs of the quaddy before a protest and short-half-head saw him nutted in the final leg. A distinctly Australian way of celebrating!
- Tolerance, Acceptance and Opportunity: Look at how we celebrated the international sporting deeds of ‘Aussie Hana’, ‘Aussie Kepler’ and maybe in the future even ‘Aussie Fawad’.
OK it helps if you bring established talent when you arrive. But NicNait, Bacher and Majak were all nurtured locally before they showed the ability that excites us. DiPierdomenico, Koutoufides and Pavlich is a champion half-forward line of Southern European descent.
There are blemishes in our history, but Australia has much to be proud of in how we have progressively assimilated and accepted waves of migration – first from war ravaged Europe, then Asia, now the Middle East and Africa.
I choose to see the current migration controversies more as questioning the volume and speed of change, rather than demanding a xenophobic exclusion of strangers. As a country we adapt, adopt and reach out – but we also grapple with preserving the best aspects of an identity that stems from the Anglo Celtic waves that flocked to our shores in the 19th century seeking gold, farmland and above all else – freedom.
And now we have an indigenous footballer in Adam Goodes as our Australian of the Year. I commented in May that I have long been awestruck at his skills, smarts and athleticism. But it is his work ethic more than his talent that represents what Australia aspires to become. To me Adam Goodes will always be like James Brown: “the hardest working man in football”.
Our country will be the better for following his example.