Australian Identity forum explores whether unique “Australian values” really exist


Institute for the Study of Social Change director Professor Richard Eccleston (back left) with Tasmania's Australians of the Year for 2017 (clockwise from top right) Anthony Edler, Margaret Steadman, Rosalie Martin and Mitch McPherson.

Institute for the Study of Social Change director Professor Richard Eccleston (back left) with Tasmania’s Australians of the Year for 2017 (clockwise from top right) Anthony Edler, Margaret Steadman, Rosalie Martin and Mitch McPherson.

On August 3 the Institute for the Study of Social Change hosted an Australian Identity forum featuring Tasmania’s Australian of the Year for 2017, Rosalie Martin, Senior Australian of the Year Margaret Steadman, Young Australian of the Year Mitch McPherson and Local Hero Anthony Edler.

The event, sponsored by Australia Post and the National Australia Day Council, was the finale event in a week-long regional roadshow in which the Tasmanian award recipients visited schools and participated in public events around the state. With backgrounds in speech pathology, environmental activism, youth work and suicide prevention, the speakers explored with students the importance of communication; respect for themselves and others; and how to build strength at a personal and community level.

If you missed the event, watch online now for a thought-provoking discussion about Australian identity, values and stereotypes and the progress that still needs to be made by way of inclusiveness, diversity and healthy communication.

Watch the Australian Identity Forum now via the University of Tasmania’s livestream page(Please note the main part of the forum begins at the 26 minute mark).

Institute for the Study of Social Change director Professor Richard Eccleston said the institute had taken on a coordination role with the Tasmanian Australians of the Year to ensure local community members had greater opportunities to draw inspiration from the local award recipients.

The Australian Identity forum, which was held at the Stanley Burbury Theatre at the University of Tasmania’s Sandy Bay Campus, was moderated by ABC journalist and newsreader Angela Ross. Read the transcript of Angela’s introductory remarks here:

Angela Ross – Australian Identity Forum speech

Whenever I think about Australian identity, I’m reminded that our culture and values are steeped in our history.

As Jamaican and American political rights activist Marcus Garvey once said… a people without the knowledge of their history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.

A few years ago my mum came to me with documents someone in the family had uncovered revealing our family tree on my father’s side. It turns out my great, great, great, great, great grandfather, Edward Humphrey arrived in Australia as a convict on one of the ships of the First Fleet, the Scarborough. He arrived at Port Jackson, in Sydney on the 26th of January 1788. His crime… stealing a coat and a pair of boots. For that he got a sentence of transportation for seven years.

As I looked through the documents I asked mum why we were just finding this out now? Surely this is the type of story that should be passed on, remembered. Because in my experience convict heritage was celebrated. But of course our past was buried many years earlier out of shame… the shame of being of convict stock.

There is no escaping the fact that the history of our country is shrouded in trauma and shame. Not only are we a nation founded with convicts but there’s the trauma of the treatment of this country’s first people, the indigenous Australians at the hands of my ancestors, the British. This trauma may feel distant to someone like me but not for another Australian who is for example a member of the stolen generation or a non-white person living in this country in the era of the White Australia Policy.

There are so many aspects of our history which would have shaped who we are today… the question is how and which values have remained? Some believe the influence of convicts has made us anti-authoritarian or contributed to the culture of supporting the underdog, celebrating good sportsmanship, humility or on the flip side, the development of Tall Poppy Syndrome. Or why we have the ability to laugh at ourselves.

Of course there’s ANZAC Day, marking the landing at Gallipoli which is often spoken of as the birth of our nation, why is that? Mateship, sacrifice, bravery… is that part of our identity? Or was it because we felt we had proved our worth to the English, lifting our convict stain? Does this reveal an insecurity which lingers on today?

At the same time our history reveals that our values are fluid, our identity is constantly evolving. We’re affected by our history but have moved on. We’ve progressed from a nation of convicts to a society which values social welfare, public healthcare and education. And we’re one the world’s most multi-cultural countries, seeing ourselves as inclusive and tolerant.

The identity of an independent Australian woman like me for example is so far removed from the identity of my great, great, great, great grandmother Elizabeth Turner. When her husband was transported to the Moreton Bay penal settlement in 1828 she wrote a letter to Governor Ralph Darling begging to go with him because she couldn’t see how she and her three children would survive without the support of a man. Thank goodness things have changed. I still believe we have some way to go to achieve gender equity and I have the freedom to say that because in Australia whatever you think about pay equity or perhaps more relevant to the current discourse, same-sex marriage, we have the freedom to express our view.

So maybe in finding common ground our identity is shaped around an understanding about our culture and what brings us together… like understanding why a sausage and bread emoji appeared on Twitter to celebrate federal polling day last year… it confused the Americans… what’s with the hot dog they asked? Any Australian would correct them with, ah it’s a sausage sizzle mate.

I’m sure our panel tonight can help us find more common ground as community advocates they represent the best of we who are as a nation… Tonight we welcome the 2017 Tasmanian Australians of the Year.

Tasmania's Australian of the Year for 2017, speech pathologist Rosalie Martin. Image by Mathew Farrell

Tasmania’s Australian of the Year for 2017, speech pathologist Rosalie Martin

The Tasmanian Australian of the Year is Criminologist and speech pathologist Rosie Martin. She has been recognised for her work helping prisoners with literacy and communication. Rosie is credited with transforming the lives of many inmates at Risdon Prison by delivering a literacy pilot project and parent-child attachment program. Rosie also runs a private practice specialising in services for children with autism. Rosie believes we need to focus more on kind communication when discussing divisive topics, a skill which will help us tonight.

The 2017 Tasmanian Senior Australian of the Year is sustainable living advocate Margaret Steadman.

Tasmania's Senior Australian of the Year for 2017 Margaret Steadman

Tasmania’s Senior Australian of the Year for 2017 Margaret Steadman. Image by Mathew Farrell

Margaret migrated to Australia as a child in the 50’s from England. She has also worked in prison education but has been recognised for her leadership at Sustainable Living Tasmania over 13 years, helping people understand how they can help build an Australia that is ecologically sustainable. She also volunteers at the Migrant Resource Centre’s refugee program and I’m sure her strong sense of social justice will shine through in tonight’s debate.

Tasmania's Young Australian of teh YEar for 2017 Mitch McPherson. Image by Mathew Farrell

Tasmania’s Young Australian of teh YEar for 2017 Mitch McPherson. Image by Mathew Farrell

Mitch McPherson is the 2017 Tasmanian Young Australian of the Year. Mitch has worked tirelessly to increase awareness and remove the stigma surrounding mental health since his younger brother Ty committed suicide in 2013. He started the charity Speak Up Stay ChatTY and since then has spoken at more than 450 events including school groups and sporting clubs. Mitch is particularly interested in encouraging men to talk about their problems and I’m sure his experience in this field will prove invaluable for this forum.

Last but not least we welcome Ant Edler the 2017 Tasmanian Local Hero.

Tasmania's local hero for 2017 Anthony Edler. Image by Mathew Farrell

Tasmania’s local hero for 2017 Anthony Edler. Image by Mathew Farrell

Ant is recognised for his work with disadvantaged and at-risk young people. He is the coordinator of the RisdonVale Bike Collective where he has helped hundreds of young people fix broken-down bikes while developing life and employment skills. Ant’s strong understanding of the complex issues faced by disadvantaged youth should provide some interesting insights when discussing Australian identity.

Watch the Australian Identity Forum now via the University of Tasmania’s livestream page(Please note the main part of the forum begins at the 26 minute mark).

Comments

This post doesn't have any comments

Leave a Comment

 


Posted by in Events , News on


  Back to all posts