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The characters that define Australia

Date
...Sonny and Skippy.

...Sonny and Skippy.

THIS is a time of year when pundits pontificate pointlessly about “the national character”. I reckon the best way to analyse the national character is to identify our national characters --- the public people who intrigue, infuriate and inspire as they perform their roles in the Australian drama.

So here’s 26 (or so) for the 26th (or so) -- my attempt at a definitive alphabet of Aussie archetypes. Some are fictional, some are factual and some are in-between. Some are dead but still living in our imagination; some are not human, but no less illustrative of who we are. These are the national characters for 2013.

A is for Julian Assange, the stirrer, the latest in a grand tradition of Aussie mischiefmakers abroad (taking the title long held by Germaine Greer).

Louie The Fly.

Louie The Fly. Photo: Mortein

B is for Lara Bingle, the beach girl. She’s never going to teach astrophysics, but if her ambition is to fill a bikini, she’s a success.

C is for Chopper (Read), the charismatic crim who will one day be called the Ned Kelly of the 20th century. Portraying him launched Eric Bana into a career of villains, losers, best friends and almost-heroes.

D is for Anh Do, the standup comic who arrived from Vietnam in the days when we had boundless plains to share, and became our most beloved boatperson.

Misfire...  the ‘‘Where the bloody hell are you?’’ advertisement.

Misfire... the ‘‘Where the bloody hell are you?’’ advertisement.

E is for Edna Everage, the harpie. We wished we had a grandmother like her.

F is for John Farnham, still on his farewell tour.

G is for Peter Garrett, who once symbolised idealism, activism and blunt speaking, and now symbolises the compromises of politics.

Anh Do.

Anh Do. Photo: James Brickwood

H is for Bob Hawke, the silver bodgie, who held the world record for beer-skulling before attempting the world record for crying on TV.

I is for Ita (Buttrose), who plays her own role better than Asher Keddie, and symbolises the success since the 70s of smart sexy sheilas.

J is for Clive James, the Kogarah kid who outsmarted the snobs and wankers of Europe. 

Red Dog

Red Dog

K is for Kenny, as played by Shane Jacobsen, and Darryl Kerrigan, as played by Michael Caton, and Paul Keating, as played by Paul Keating -- three semi-mythical figures with an elegant turn of phrase.

L is for Louie the Fly, who keeps making comebacks, which suggests either that he’s immortal or Mortein does not work.

M is for Muriel, as played by Toni Collette, the dag who triumphs despite constant advice that she’s terrible, and Mad Max, the desert avenger played by Mel Gibson before we withdrew his Australian identity.

Bert Newton

Bert Newton

N is for Bert Newton, who rose from sidekick status to icon-in-his-own-right, a master of the Aussie art of self-mockery.  

O is for ‘Oges, the boozing, chundering, smoking, swearing ocker created by Paul Hogan before he became Croc Dundee. Oges symbolises the Australia from which we haven’t quite evolved.

P is for Kerry Packer, portrayed by Lachy Hulme and Rob Carlton as a bullied boy who grew up to be a bully boy.  

Toni Collette in <em>Muriel's Wedding</em>.

Toni Collette in Muriel's Wedding.

Q is for the Queen of Australia, by which we do not mean Gina Rinehart but Elizabeth Windsor. Is she an Aussie, is she, Lizzie? We think so. Can’t say the same about her son, though.

R is for Red Dog, as portrayed by the recently deceased Koko, who demonstrated blind loyalty to a distant master – just like Australians at Gallipoli in 1916. And Julie Rafter, as portrayed by Rebecca Gibney, the matriarch of the modern suburban family in the most suburbanised nation on earth.

S is for Skippy, as portrayed by 16 different kangaroos in performances that convinced us it would be a sin to eat an animal who can play the drums, open a safe, dial a phone, and communicate in complex clicks. S is also for Dick Smith, our most stimulating ratbag, and Sharon Strezlecki, as portrayed by Magda Szubanski, a model of the innocent enthusiasm which is Australia’s most endearing quality.

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean.

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean. Photo: AP

T is for Malcolm Turnbull, the angry intellectual. He’s the man who never was and never will be, too much of an individualist to lead any party for very long. There’s still a chance he’ll be our first president.

U is for Keith Urban, the traitor. A symptom of our tall poppy syndrome is an aversion to Aussies who bignote themselves overseas. Before The Voice, we vaguely knew Urban as a wild Queensland boy whose addictive personality was soothed by the love of a good woman. On The Voice, we learned he was smart, charming and generous. Now that he’s got the big bucks on American Idol, he’s ready for lopping.

V is for Jean Valjean, not an Australian but definitively portrayed by Hugh Jackman, the allrounder who shows how, in the past two decades, the cultural cringe has been replaced by the cultural strut. Anything they can do, we can do better, and Hugh is our chosen champion.

Adriano Zumbo, patissier, will be preparing a surprise creation using pineapple during the World Chef Showcase. Photographed at his Rozelle production facility on September 22, 2011. NEWS-SMH photo by Marco Del Grande

Adriano Zumbo, patissier, will be preparing a surprise creation using pineapple during the World Chef Showcase. Photographed at his Rozelle production facility on September 22, 2011. NEWS-SMH photo by Marco Del Grande Photo: Marco Del Grande MDG

W is for Shane Warne, the mug-lair who is the envy of every Australian male because he can behave like a hoon and get away with it. We'll never know how he won Elizabeth Hurley.

X is for the X-Factorians, all the young warblers who are finalists  in the TV talent quests with which Australians are obsessed, and who fill “Where are they now” programs three years later. Remember Bonnie Anderson, Wes Carr, Altiyan Childs, Andrew da Silva, Kate de Aurago, Sarah de Bono, Casey Donovan, Natalie Gauci, Reece Mastin, Darren Percival, Joe Robinson, Jack Vidgen, Mark Vincent? May their career trajectories be an inspiration or a lesson to you.

Y is for Mandawuy Yunupingu, the cultural pioneer who blended Aboriginal music with American rhythm and blues in Yothu Yindi and made rock fans think about the concept of a treaty. The word Yunupingu means “rock that stands against time”.

Rob Carlton and Asher Keddie in <i>Paper Giants</i>.

Rob Carlton and Asher Keddie in Paper Giants.

Z is for Adriano Zumbo, spreader of the macaron, who symbolises how immigration made us a nation of gourmets or possibly gluttons.

Do you agree with these choices? Go to Comments to tell us who else you'd put in each alphabetical slot?

You have just read the Who We Are column, by David Dale. It appears in printed form every Sunday in The Sun-Herald, and also as a blog on this website, where it welcomes your comments. David Dale teaches communications at UTS, Sydney. He is the author of The Little Book of Australia -- A snapshot of who we are (Allen and Unwin). For daily updates on Australian attitudes, bookmark The Tribal Mind.

3 comments so far

  • Please don't put 'all Australian men' in the category of Shane Warne;

    Commenter
    ellajai
    Date and time
    January 27, 2013, 8:43AM
    • B for Bingle. What the?
      Barry Humphries surely or Bob Brown.
      Surely Germaine Greer still gets an Australian guernsy.
      What about Hazel Hawke?
      Molly Meldrum had the country holding it's breath hoping he'd pull through. Surely a worthy entrant.
      And what about Eddie and Bonita Mabo. The (real life) Castle writ large.
      And no we don't want to be anything like Shane Warne, unless we have a cricket ball in our hand.

      Commenter
      David Tester
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      January 27, 2013, 9:50AM
      • How cruel to link Red Dog to your other nominations.

        Commenter
        gabrianga
        Location
        YWD
        Date and time
        January 27, 2013, 4:24PM

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