War and Struggle: The Evolution of “Team Australia”

Yu Xuan Chia – Singapore

Editor’s Note: This piece is authored by David Power, who is a student at the Euro-American campus of Sciences Po where he is specializing in Political Science and Social Policy. David is completing the final year of his undergraduate degree at the University of Amsterdam.

The Commonwealth of Australia, a liberal democracy with a highly developed economy, continues to develop its history through the formation of national narratives—both the formation of the Australian identity and the continued prevalence of the ‘Aussie Battler’ in Australian political rhetoric sheds light on the relatively young state’s dependence on a national ethos.

While Indigenous Australians may have lived on the Australian soil for thousands of years, the beginning of the state of Australia, the federal government, and its modern national identity, takes place in 1901. This formation of federalism marked not only a clear separation from British rule, but also a deviation from British Identity, resulting in the beginning of both Australian ideology and national identity. This Australian ‘national identity’ continues to develop and transform as the country enters the midst of the 21st century.

World War I, even as we commemorate its 100th year anniversary, continues to act as a strong pillar in the narrative of the Australian ‘battler’. Many Australian men died on the coves of the Turkish Gallipoli peninsula, a brutal massacre of young lives which continues to elicit sentiments of patriotism not only through the veins of the Australian public, but also through the minds of Politicians and their respective speechwriters. On the 25th of April 2015, Tony Abbott presented himself in front of thousands who made the pilgrimage to pay respect to the fallen soldiers. Examining the importance of the historical site, Abbott stated, “we are here on Gallipoli, because we believe that the Anzacs represented Australians at our best.” His statement was in respect to the dead corpses that lay on the ground in 1915; however, the continuing rhetoric of heroes as a forming the nation-state’s identity cuts deeper. If there is an Australian ‘essence’, one could presume Abbott thinks it is made up of purity and good-value judgements. He continued to suggest that Australians were adored for their ‘larrikin sense of humour’, which, primary sources would argue is incorrect: many British soldiers felt distain towards their Australian peers for their brashness and the crudeness of their ‘comedic’ nature.

Nonetheless, the narrative of the Australian soldier lives on. While ANZAC soldiers faced extreme circumstances and confronted brutality, they continued to place themselves on the front-lines. While we may not refer to individuals in contemporary Australia as ‘soldiers’, the prevalence of the ‘Aussie Battler’ in the social consciousness tends to shape political discourse—at least that which is led by the major parties. Both the Australian Labor Party, Australia’s centre-left, and the Liberal Party of Australia, best described as Australia’s centre-right, use the terms ‘Aussie Battler’ and ‘Honest Worker’ when doctoring both speeches and campaign policies. Abbott’s constant use of terms such as “honest workers” and “giving a fair go” barely differ from former Labor leader Kevin Rudd’s allusions to “Howard Battlers”—all being pieces of political rhetoric designed to encapsulate the Australian identity as being constituted by equality of opportunity. Naturally, the outcome is Australians producing quality results through ‘hard work’.

In an interview with Sydney Radio 2GB, Tony Abbott claimed that, in his position, “everyone has got to be on Team Australia.” In reference to migration, Mr. Abbott claimed that certain minorities must adapt to ‘mainstream’ Australia, continuing his discussion by claiming that Australia is “comprised of good, decent people, who want to put Australia and its people first.” The continued construction of the Australian identity as something ‘decent’ and ‘good’ further enshrines the vision of Australian exceptionalism in the eyes of both the public and its leaders.

Australia is young. The state, as we know it, was formed in 1901, and thus has had far less time to develop a strong and organic national identity than countries like the United States. The romanticized narrative of war, coupled with the notion of ‘struggle’, empowered Australia to transform itself from a loosely formed federalist creation of six British colonies, to a thriving multicultural federal state. A state in which national identity plays a large role in the minds of the Australian people, but flows from the pens of political speech writers.