Serle, Geoffrey: Austerica

Serle, Geoffrey

Godzone: (6) Austerica unlimited?’, Meanjin Quarterly, 26, 3, September 1967, pp. 237-50

Serle Austerica Unlimited (full text) This was a landmark article, skewering a culture in transition from postwar to postmodern but still encumbered by baggage from previous decades. It was also a time well ahead of the re-flowering of Anzac in the 1990s. See also by Serle.

Serle, biographer of Sir John Monash and distinguished Australian historian, recalled his childhood in the Australia of the 1930s, when attitudes to Anzac exemplified the ‘double loyalty’ that Australians felt, to Australia and to the British Empire.  ‘On Anzac Day, fire-eating generals would indeed tell us that Australia became a nation at Gallipoli, but went on to dwell on the glories of the Empire of which Australia was only a subordinate part and the inherent superiority of the Britisher over any other “race”.’ (p.237)

But, if Anzac Day in the 1930s was ambivalent as between Australia and ‘the Mother Country’, by the 1960s, according to Serle, there was a risk of Australia being submerged by American influences; the British connection was a back-number and Australia on its own was ripe for cultural colonisation as ‘Austerica’. Serle asked: ‘What will the recent flowering of a sense of Australian history, the feeling for the bush tradition, Anzackery, and the rest amount to in practical terms. How deep do our roots penetrate now?’ (pp. 244-45)

Australians must be in many respects among the least nationalistic people in the world and, on the surface anyway, most sceptical of patriotic gestures. It is very odd how little indoctrination is imposed on our schoolchildren, how little revered are the founding fathers or other possible heroes, how few care whether we have a national anthem, how casually Australia Day is taken. (p.245)

Serle went on to describe the ‘cynical irreverence’ of Australians ‘which derives largely from the relative absence in our history of those crises of defence of hearth and home which have produced the standard patriotism of other countries’. He wondered whether the ‘Vietnam crusade’ might bring change. Nearly fifty years on, we might wonder what later crises have generated today’s apparent patriotism.



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