By Rama Gaind
PS News Books
The Australians: Insiders and Outsiders on the National Character
By John Hirst (Black Inc., $22.95, softcover, 213 pages)
In some quarters, this book could well be “regarded as an unfashionable book because it believes that there is such a thing as an Australian national character”.
Disagreements about Australia’s past are also arguments about Australian character as highlighted by eminent historian John Hirst, who is well qualified to elaborate.
This book is designed to do good service to the nation by tracing both tradition and change in the Australian character. There are old voices and new, along with “celebration, criticism, humour and insight”.
In this captivating collection, Dr Hirst cites examples of “good old Aussie spirit” bravery by Australians, and one of them is the terrorist attack in Bali in 2002. “At their baptism into the new era of terrorism the qualities that Australians valued were stoicism, making no fuss, pitching in, making do, helping each other.”
The anthology offers an assorted range of voices from the past and present, from inside and outside Australia that validate how our history makes an intense impression on us, often in unexpected ways.
Together with the “outsiders”, who are mostly British in this book, there are also a number of ethnic voices that effectively remind us that there are more important issues at stake about the national character than whether Australians are braver, friendlier or sportier than their antecedents.
There is also a difference between what Australians think of themselves and what they are really like.
The Australians gathers key assessments of the national character on topics as diverse as war, humour, mateship, sport, suburbia, put-downs and going native.
Contributors include Winston Churchill, Ned Kelly, Henry Lawson, Peter Cosgrove, Germaine Greer, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Captain James Cook, Mark Twain, H.G. Wells, Patrick White and Oscar Wilde.
The key aspects of our shared collective history reflect the themes around which the discussion is structured.
To find out more about Rama Gaind click here.