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Noble lies



Didn't the Olympics dismantle one of our favourite national myths - that our "selfless" athletes "do it for Australia"?

The selflessness actually comes from their families who sacrifice precious energy, time, money and fossil fuel on a group who are some of the most ambitious, single-minded and selfish people this country produces.

They have to be.

Meals, sleep, training, competition, medical treatment, rehab ... everything revolves around them, yet we're served the fantasy "they do it for little or no reward".

Please. How many people get the taxpayer-funded opportunity to put their adult life on hold, cocooned in a state of arrested development while they fly around the world to meets, chasing a dream?

Attend an Olympic opening ceremony?

Compete in a final?

Win a medal?


This myth then feeds others such as "plucky little Australia punches above its weight internationally" and "we're a nation of battlers" - as if to be born in Brookvale or Bendigo ensures your sinews are made of sterner stuff than a kid raised on the snooty streets of Darfur or Baghdad.

I love my country and wouldn't want to live anywhere else but, as a citizen, I often feel condescended to by the relentless mouthing of mistruths, and we in the media are complicit.

Plato, 2500 years ago, wrote of the necessity of "noble lies", constructed and voiced by a state's elite to maintain social harmony and cohesion. As a nation, we're special at manufacturing and swallowing absolute beauties, such as:

We're egalitarian: Despite the vertiginous gap between rich and poor, the most highly concentrated media ownership on the planet, and the fact we're home to the richest woman on earth and still think she deserves a widdle tax break.

We're sports mad: Opposition fans aren't segregated at our sporting venues. No one gets stabbed or commits suicide. Fans don't throw banana skins when black players go near the ball. We don't get 100,000 fans to college football games.

We're laid back: Yet we work the longest hours of any nation in the developed world.

We thumb our noses at authority: But live in one of the greatest nanny states on earth. I recently saw two Germans laughing at how pathetic the "Alcohol Free Zone" at my local beach was as they photographed it. We live in a country where you can't fly kites or play ball games on some beaches, or unleash dogs some in parks. Rebels!

We're bronzed Aussies: Yet 61 per cent of Australians are either overweight or obese and we're ranked the fifth fattest nation in the world.

We have an affinity with the bush: But I'd wager more Poms have been to Uluru than Aussies. Most of us are about as home Out Back as those schoolgirls in Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Mateship is uniquely Australian: We somehow think we invented the concept of friendship by renaming it. Reckon they might also have an idea of mateship in Syria or Sarajevo?

We believe in a fair go: Except if you're a 13-year-old Afghani boat person. Or you're a gay couple who want to get married. Or you're disabled. Or Aboriginal. Or Muslim.

We just get on with it: And don't complain, yet perpetuate one of the most vexatious, self-centred talkback cultures in the Western world.

We've heard plenty of prescriptions about what our athletes need to do to improve their lot in the next Olympics and I think the first step is not much different than it is for the rest of this country: cop it on the chin.

Apparently, we're meant to be world's best at that as well.

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here. His email address is here.

84 comments so far

  • Anything you do like about Australia and our way of or attitude to living?

    Date and time
    August 27, 2012, 4:18PM
    • Well the Reality is: Australia is populated by humans, just like every other nation, and we have human failings just like people everywhere. There's almost nothing unique about Australians. Others have similar good or not so good qualities. There's nothing too much wrong with Australians but nothing that special about us,either. Australia's chief merits are the beautiful climate and nature of Australia and it's relative lack of crowds. We'realso blessed with relative stability, peace and prosperity. Being born in Australia instead of in a poor family in Africa or Asia is like winning life's lottery.

      Date and time
      August 27, 2012, 9:18PM
    • "Reality", more to the point, have you got anything to say to refute the points in the article?

      Date and time
      August 27, 2012, 10:07PM
  • Walking in the Save the Sando March I did have to chuckle that part of the march was going to wait for the lights to change before crossing the Princes Highway at St Peters. The surge across the road was probably one of the most rebellious acts of the day.
    Although I am sure that the people trying to drive down a half closed King St between 4pm and 5.30pm may have thought otherwise.
    Most cultures share myths about themselves. Unless you buy into them whole-heatedly and then have them brutally shattered they are stories that become part of a common history. The don't have to be right for everyone, just good stories.

    I don't like sport, the beach, the bush has too many creepy crawlies for my liking. I do love a good protest march though.

    Date and time
    August 27, 2012, 4:20PM
    • M.
      The thought of various crew of Newtown/Enmore and now Marrickville tragics walking to protest the closure of a hotel contrasts with the anger and violence which took place when the Star Hotel in Newcastle closed.
      I hope that the various groups intermingled and looked less like a demarcation rally. The Goths and Punks were probably outnumbered by the well heeled refugees from the North Shore who formerly lived in the Eastern Suburbs/ Paddington/Glebe Birchgrove-Balmain Rozelle Leichhardt enclaves who were there lined up waiting for a table for their brunch at their favourite venue. Such venue will of course be closing in about 18 months after the Hoi polloi have moved on.
      Surely there could have been a few buskers with suitable protest songs, but that is so last century.
      Just think how good it will be to enjoy the ambience of the place while waiting for that special table. Then again, who wants to hear live music when we spend more dollars and time downloading music to stick in our ears.

      The Old Guy
      Date and time
      August 27, 2012, 11:30PM
    • It was wonderful The Old Guy! Punks, metalheads, indie folk, a few Goths aand people who seemed to have once frequented venues such as the Sando and the Annandale all marching together peacefully. The two best things I saw was a woman carrying a wee baby moving through the crowd to see Doc Neeson while yelling ot the iconing line from the Angels and the man playing the bagpipes in "It's a Long Way to the Top" from the back of a truck.
      I love a good protest march.

      Date and time
      August 28, 2012, 9:29AM
    • M, the pub went broke because of mismanagement. They were aware for at least 2 years that they were headed in that direction but did nothing about it. Are you really protesting for the right to send a company bankrupt and still stay in business anyway? Someone else should be paying for your enjoyment? Doesn't really make sense does it?

      Ah... the great Australian entitlement complex. I understand now.

      Date and time
      August 28, 2012, 1:21PM
    • Admittedly I don't know much about it, but presumably the Sando has gone broke because of lack of patronage. If the protesters are all so concerned about it, go there and have a drink from time to time!

      Date and time
      August 28, 2012, 3:39PM
    • J, I did not say why I was there, only that I was proudly marching, and you are assuming that you know. Feel free to project your assumtions elsewhere. If you would like to find out I suggest that you ask.

      Date and time
      August 28, 2012, 4:21PM
    • The protest was to "Save the Sando". What an incredible leap J made about why you'd be at such a pointless protest.

      Date and time
      August 28, 2012, 5:46PM

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