Australian Cultural Identity

Last Updated: 31 Mar 2020
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The Australian poet Bruce Dawe was one of the first Australian poets to recognise the average Australian as one who neither lives in the country or in the centre of a metropolis but in the middle class suburbs that expand outward from the cities. He writes for the great middle mass of Australian population about matters of social, political and cultural interests. Though Dawe is well aware of the sense of the ironic in city and suburban life in Australia that not all is well in the average Australian’s life in suburbia.

Bruce Dawe poems often concern’s the average Australian people in the suburbs confronting their everyday problems, he observes and records the sorrow and hardships of average people struggling to survive. Our cultural identity even a stereotypical view of Australian’s is that we’re laconic, anti authority and we live in egalitarian society. Bruce Dawe’s views on Australian cultural identity are represented in ‘Life Cycle’ ‘Up The Wall’ and ‘Homo Suburbiensis’. ‘Life Cycle’ represents the proud and passionate nature of Australian people especially at sporting events.

Life Cycle is obviously about Australian Rules Football and football team’s supporters from when they are young to when they are old. Their feeble passion for their club when they are young “Carn, Carn they Cry …feebly at first’ to when they are old and proud and passionate supporters. They are brought up from the beginning with football in their blood, when they play football and win they are praised and showered with glory but when they lose they are shunned by proud parents.

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Dawe is well aware of the excesses, the lunacies of the Australian Rules supporter but the poem is not attacking what might appear to be an Australian social evil. Dawe borrows many liturgical statements to emphasise the passion of Australian Rules followers. “They will not grow old as those from more Northern States grow old’ borrowed from Binyon’s “To the Fallen” links in with the patriotic Anzacs who fought against the odds with pride and dignity. The football followers are patriotic about their team and the true followers support their team through thick and thin.

On the football field race and ethnicity mean nothing it is forgotten, physical prowess and class of the player dictate people’s views on the player. You would love him or hate him depending on which team you followed. A strong image of an Australian society that is proud and passionate is represented in ‘Life Cycle’ but sometimes this pride and passion is taken to seriously and it can ruin the sport and turn it into something of a social evil. Bruce Dawe in ‘Life Cycle’ represents the football as a culture, a religion, away of life for many Australian people.

Sport in Australia is significantly more popular then in most places in the world as Bruce Dawe said when he commented on ‘Life Cycle’ “I think all Australians have something of a predisposition to treat sport as being just a bit more religious than in other places’. Just looking at the newspapers and it’s obvious that football dominates the sport section it is Australia’s national game an icon that only Australian’s know. Bruce Dawe recognises how significant sport in particular Australian Rules is to the average Australian it is away of life a culture.

Chicken Smallhorn a former Fitzroy wingman that gained god like status among the Fitzroy followers for his exploits on the football field, “Chicken Smallhorn return like maize-god in a thousand shapes, the dancers changing” Like race and ethnicity religion is forgotten on the football field, all players and supporters have one religion or aim rather to win the Grand Final and place their hands on the premiership trophy, the holy grail of football. Like a religion the supporters hope for salvation, whenever their team is losing and having a terrible season they hope their clubs season will change they remain optimistic.

“Having seen the six-foot recruit from Eaglehawk their hope for salvation” The true supporters remain through the slumps of their club they believe in their club it is their religion. The poem ‘Homo Suburbiensis’ represents a classical suburban household set on a quarter-acre block with a flower garden and lawn in front and a vegetable garden with lawn at the back. Dawes view of Australian cultural identity is that where people live in the typical Australian suburbs where it is an egalitarian society which is laidback and laconic.

The imagery suggests that Dawe is both celebrating suburbia, while in some ways puts down the suburban householders dreams The rich smell of “compost” and “rubbish”. The space taken vastly by overcrowds dry land with drying plants represent the overcrowding of suburbia. His thoughts are lost escaping the pressures that comes with life. The traffic unescapable to his mind. Dawe shows a sympathetic look towards this person “lost in a green confusion”, as even in the retreat of his backyard he still cannot escape the lifestyle of suburbs.

Though in comparison to a woman’s life in the suburbs it is significantly better. The peace, beauty of nature and freedom he encounters in is backyard allows him to relax in his middle class life. To be ordinary in Australia, whether in the suburbs or in the city, is the norm for men to hide their concerns and troubles. The image of green beauty, fertile and fecard backyard and the man admiring his backyard in middle class suburbia represents the laconic laidback attitude and the peace he encounters in his backyard.

This is a good example of an ordinary life, as this particular person needs to escape the pressures, which highlight “TIME, PAIN, LOVE, HATE, AGE, EMOTION, and LAUGHTER”. All which are present and Dawe makes that aware of an ordinary Australian life. Being achieved in his back yard. Representative of a modest life but a life lived fully in suburbia. A clear image in ‘Homo Suburbiensis’ is of your typical Australian bloke, who comes home after work and relaxes in his backyard as the sunsets. This is part of the Australian dream to come home after work do a nice family and relax in the outdoors in a peaceful backyard in suburbia.

Bruce Dawe himself was once portrayed as an ordinary bloke with a difference, an Australian ‘Ocker’ who believes in the simple things in life. Dawe maintains that there is one constant value in an unstable world where politics play a major role. The man is a suburban householder with an ordinary Australian life standing alone in his backyard on a quiet evening among his vegetables. Dawe understand the ordinary life of a man as when he was younger he didn’t hold a regular job and ‘knocked around’ giving him a rich experience of the occupations of an ordinary man.

He also understands the language of the common man and writes in simple everyday language. The laconic wit of the ordinary working-man, backyard speech patterns combined with Dawes own flair for word play allowed him to create the everyday common Australian in such poems as ‘Homo Suburbiensis’. The typical male in suburbia is that of a middle class white Anglo-Saxon with little religious believes but most probably Christian backgrounds. Though this means little in suburbia where everyone is even in their backyard admiring the beauty and peace of Australia.

While life is predominantly easy and peaceful for the male life can be significantly harder for women in suburbia. In ‘Up the Wall’ the middle class housewife life is illustrated as hard irritating work. Her isolation is emphasised in the second stanza with the repetition of ‘she says’ this represents the vacuum in which her speech occurs. Her husband similar to the male in ‘Homo Suburbiensis’ is at work all day remains in his masculine world at home within the suburbs offers little help and pays little attention to his wife. There is little sense of community and support within the Australian suburbs.

The male voice only appears in the concluding couplet where the final powerful appraisal is made of the poems content. The domestic life of the housewife after he has spoken the matter ends. This structure replicates the power of the masculine head of the household all be it in the 160’s but we still live in a patriarchal society. It also reveals the disjuncture between the masculine and feminine worlds and how little he appreciates what his wife goes through each day. The presence of his ‘fraud’ contrasts heavily with her aloneness.

The Cultural identity for women and men varies; men are laidback laconic ‘ockers’ while women are middle class housewives without a job. The structure and form of ‘Up the Wall’ allows us to sympathise with the housewife’s life in the suburbs. Dawe uses the Shakespearean sonnet form ironically; the readers expectations of the form as a portrayal of love are dismantled just as the reader’s assumption about marriage are overturned. The iambic pentameter is used to represent the restriction; monotony and tension of a suburban housewife live in the 160’s.

It also challenges the reader’s expectations as we sympathise with her as she struggles through everyday while her anger and tension rises. Other poetic techniques such as caesura and enjambment are used also to represent the constant interruption to her day and the rising anger and tension she feels in her repetitious life in suburbia. She has little cultural identity just one of a middle class suburban housewife in 160’s Australia. The average Australian living in the middle class suburbs that expands outward from the cities has a strong cultural identity.

Dawe represent Australia as a suburban based country with strong links to sport while being laconic and laidback. Men enjoy a laconic lifestyle enjoying sport while women have a less enjoyable lifestyle suffering from the stress and tension of being a middle class housewife in suburbia. Bruce Dawe writes poems for these ordinary Australian’s about matters that interest them such as political, social and cultural concerns. Dawe celebrates aspects of urban and suburban life while also satirically criticising suburbia, where Dawe believes the heart of Australian cultural identity can be found, suburbia.

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Australian Cultural Identity. (2016, Aug 25). Retrieved from

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