eruvian nose flutes* are tubes that the locals insert into their nostrils and then blow. There’s a New York variation that also incorporates a Peruvian element… but they inhale instead. Peruvians and Manhattanites might thrill to their national nasal heritage, but we Australians have luckily dodged national anything. We have precious few defining traditions. Surfing, contact sports, extreme cake decorating and collecting stubby holders are as close as we get. What are our defining images? Is it something involving galvo or something involving crochet? How many gumtree paintings must we endure before our eyeballs start to melt? Do foreigners look at Australians and instantly know something… anything… about our national psyche? They most likely cast a sideways glance and shrug. Much like us. The defining element of a nation is something that never really got off on these shores. Didn’t get off the boat and didn’t take off, either. The indigenous stuff got shoved aside by sturdy Anglo-Saxon imagery, which then morphed into wannabe American culture and now, well… who cares? It’s all global and on Facebook. If there is any regret, it was perhaps that we missed a wonderful opportunity to be conquered by the French. It was an oversight that condemned our forefathers to the monotony of mutton and black tea and really, really bad English cars.
As a result, we don’t really have much culture. But then, there are some elements of national culture we’re probably well enough without. Burmese tribeswomen have made elongated necks a point of national identity, Chinese gals bound their feet and Maoris cover their faces with permanent tattoos. Worthy and ethnic, sure, but possibly quite painful. Germans have lederhosen, Scots wear kilts and Papua New Guineans don penis gourds… all very cultural but all faintly silly. Young men on Pentecost Island fling themselves off high cliffs into dashing seas, Inuits go ice-fishing and Glaswegians drink; all high-risk activities undertaken in the name of tradition. Culture, identity, tradition: whatever you call it, we never really got around to it. Thank goodness. It all could have gone so wrong, especially with Canberra in charge. If you need some examples, say Easter Island and think brooding stony-faced statues, try Transylvania and reach for an olive stake, think Siberia and it’s salt mines. Consider the Dutch and it’s wooden shoes. Japan, well – ever heard of hara-kiri? You never know what imagery you’d get stuck with when you embrace a national culture. Best give it a wide berth. And shrug. *Rearrange the letters and it becomes ‘useful as prevention’ … which seems pretty obvious, really.
Sue Webster debates the benefits and downsides of Australia’s (lack of) identifying national heritage. 79