Viw Magazine

  • Written by Nicholas Bromfield, Lecturer, University of Sydney
Scott Morrison emphasised national unity in his Australia Day address last year, but this is not the message that everyone wants to hear. Facebook

Last year on Australia Day, Prime Minister Scott Morrison used Facebook to describe Australia as a place “made up of so many peoples”. But he also stressed the importance of January 26 as the day Australia “did change forever” and said all Australians “must come together” on this day.

He didn’t mention the calls by many Indigenous people to change the date and change the nation.

Australia Day provides prime ministers with a platform to talk about national identity. Our leaders typically seize the opportunity to communicate their personal understanding of what “Australianness” is. They do so by mobilising the history of the nation, the politics of the moment and the ideology of their party.

But Australia Day also provokes fierce public debate over Indigenous dispossession, disenfranchisement and discrimination. The holiday doesn’t mean the same thing to all people, just as national identity doesn’t mean the same thing.

In a new research project, we used content analysis to examine all prime ministerial speeches on Australia Day from 1990-2017. This allowed us to quantitatively see how prime ministers represent Australian national identity through language over time.

Our study found that prime ministers have consistently described Australianness as being male, heterosexual, white and having few class divisions. We found this pattern across both time and party.

Australia Day has typically been a time for leaders to stress unity and traditional Australian values. Mick Tsikas/AAP

Let’s not talk about class

Australia is a class-divided society. But prime ministers do not acknowledge this fact on Australia Day, regardless of their party.

John Howard is the only prime minister to explicitly mention class on Australia Day. But he did so by claiming that social mobility was attainable for everyone:

We believe very deeply that a person’s worth is determined by their character and by the effort they put into being a good citizen, not according to their social class.

The tendency of leaders to avoid class can be partly explained by Australia’s culture of egalitarianism and the “fair go”.


Read more: Why Australia Day survives, despite revealing a nation's rifts and wounds


But prime ministers also avoid class as it hampers the myth-making of a unified Australian society. This undermines their rhetorical attempts to bring the nation together.

A bloke’s Australia

The overall tone of leaders’ speeches on Australia Day consistently refers to a patriarchal and heteronormative view of Australian identity.

For instance, we found male Australia Day award winners are mentioned in prime minister speeches at a rate of 3:2 compared to female recipients.

Howard dedicated large parts or whole Australia Day addresses to the achievements of Australian male cricketers such as Don Bradman (1997), Mark Taylor (1999), and Steve Waugh (2004). But he only managed two sentences when female sprinter Cathy Freeman won Australian of Year in 1998.

We also found men are consistently portrayed as strong and brave nation builders. In contrast, women are described as passive carers and mothers serving the nation.

In 2011, Julia Gillard described Queensland Premier Anna Bligh as having “steel in her backbone” yet also “occasional tears in her eyes” in her response to devastating floods.

Gillard also emphasised the protective masculinity of the Defence Forces, describing the “brave man […] who waded through chest high water to rescue an elderly lady” in the floods, as well as the diggers in Afghanistan who were “protecting the weak and allowing little girls to learn to read”.


Read more: Australia Day, Invasion Day, Survival Day: a long history of celebration and contestation


Malcolm Turnbull frequently portrayed the stereotype of women as carers of the nation, such as in 2018:

Here in this country […] we are as new as the little baby in the arms of her migrant mother.

It’s important to note, too, there has only been a single mention of queer identity on Australia Day since 1990. This was when LGBTI+ rights advocate Rodney Croome was nominated for Australian of the Year in 2015.

Tony Abbott described Croome’s nomination in a single sentence, noting he was an:

activist who more than anyone else ended legal sanctions against gay people in this country.

Julia Gillard emphasised the masculine bravery of the Defence Forces on Australia Day, while her successors also employed gendered language. Lukas Coch/AAP

Minimising Indigenous viewpoints and violent history

When it comes to Indigenous people, prime ministers have been largely silent in their speeches. They have either minimised the racial violence in Australia’s history and the dispossession many Indigenous people feel – or haven’t mentioned it at all.

Paul Keating famously tried to reconceptualise Australian identity by offering symbolic reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. But he was the exception to the rule.


Read more: First reconciliation, then a republic – starting with changing the date of Australia Day


Prime ministers may well now conduct Acknowledgements of Country. But they have also have legitimised white possession through their descriptions of the importance of the day. In 2014, Tony Abbott said:

We are the grateful inheritors of two rich strands of history: a British heritage and an Aboriginal one […] we have become one people sharing the one land.

Abbott’s “one people” ignored colonial violence and contested sovereignties in favour of promoting national unity and white possession.

Morrison used similar rhetoric last year when speaking to an audience of new citizens:

While our beginnings were marked with the cruelties and dispossession of empire, they were also accompanied by the idealism of the Enlightenment age. Australia was to be a great project.

Morrison acknowledged dispossession of Aboriginal land, but the dovetailing reference to Western Enlightenment undermined any potential recognition of colonialism’s brutal legacy.

Reproducing dominant Australian identities

Prime ministers do not challenge these rhetorical patterns on Australia Day because nationalism is seen as a non-partisan way to emphasise unity.

Further, those who see themselves reflected in prime ministers’ Australia Day speeches continue to support the day. This, too, draws boundaries around what is safe territory for prime ministers when highlighting national unity around Australianness.


Read more: New research reveals our complex attitudes to Australia Day


Indigenous people continue to challenge these patterns by reconceptualising the celebration of Australia Day as a day of invasion and continuing dispossession.

But without a radical restructuring of the values, traditions and practices surrounding Australia Day, we can expect to see a continuation of these dominant conceptions of Australianness and the marginalisation of identities and peoples that fall outside these parameters.

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Authors: Nicholas Bromfield, Lecturer, University of Sydney

Read more http://theconversation.com/white-male-and-straight-how-30-years-of-australia-day-speeches-leave-most-australians-out-130279

Has Australia really had 60,000 undiagnosed COVID-19 cases?

A preliminary study, posted online this week by researchers at the Australian National University and elsewhere, estimates 71,000 Australians had COVID-19 by mid-July — 60,000 more than official...

Andrew Hayen, Professor of Biostatistics, University of Technology Sydney - avatar Andrew Hayen, Professor of Biostatistics, University of Technology Sydney

How could wearing a mask help build immunity to COVID-19? It’s all about the viral dose

People infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can spread the virus when they speak, sing, cough, sneeze or even just breathe. Scientists think face masks help limit virus spread by ...

Larisa Labzin, Research Fellow, Institute for Molecular Bioscience, The University of Queensland - avatar Larisa Labzin, Research Fellow, Institute for Molecular Bioscience, The University of Queensland

the pros and cons of different COVID vaccine technologies

ShutterstockThe World Health Organisation lists about 180 COVID-19 vaccines being developed around the world.Each vaccine aims to use a slightly different approach to prepare your immune system to rec...

Suresh Mahalingam, Principal Research Leader, Emerging Viruses, Inflammation and Therapeutics Group, Menzies Health Institute Queensland, Griffith University - avatar Suresh Mahalingam, Principal Research Leader, Emerging Viruses, Inflammation and Therapeutics Group, Menzies Health Institute Queensland, Griffith University

Government extends COVID health initiatives at $2 billion cost

The government is extending the COVID health measures for a further six months, until the end of March, in its latest acknowledgement that pandemic assistance will be needed on various fronts for a lo...

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra - avatar Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

How to clear Victoria's backlog of elective surgeries after a 6-month slowdown? We need to rethink the system

ShutterstockWith the number of COVID-19 cases in Victoria continuing to trend downwards, Premier Daniel Andrews yesterday announced a phased restart of elective procedures in public and private hospit...

Stephen Duckett, Director, Health Program, Grattan Institute - avatar Stephen Duckett, Director, Health Program, Grattan Institute

Kim Kardashian's new range of maternity shapewear could exacerbate body image issues for pregnant women

ShutterstockControversy has erupted in recent days over the launch of Kim Kardashian West’s new range of maternity shapewear.Available online from today, the products are part of Kardashian West...

Kassia Beetham, Exercise Physiology Lecturer, Australian Catholic University - avatar Kassia Beetham, Exercise Physiology Lecturer, Australian Catholic University

Understanding the Critical Role of Industrial Design in Product Development

The world abounds with products that are not hastily made but goes through lengthy design and development processes. In today's market, people are looking for items that are not just visually ap...

Ester Adams - avatar Ester Adams

Different Ways to Use your Australian Wool Quilt

Not many people are aware of it, but Australia is one of the leading producers of wool in the world. About a quarter of the total global production of wool, for instance, comes from Down Under. ...

Ester Adams - avatar Ester Adams

Easy Home Makeover Tips Using Soft Furnishings

If your home is starting to feel dull, all you need is a quick makeover. The easiest and most effective makeovers to do in your home are installing a set of new soft furnishings. Updating your c...

Ester Adams - avatar Ester Adams

Writers Wanted



News Company Media Core

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion