The Australians: Insiders and outsiders on the national character since 1770
Black Inc., $29.95 pb, 211 pp
Back in 1981, Richard White, in his seminal study Inventing Australia, dubbed the Australian concern with defining national identity ‘a national obsession’. It was a time when ‘the new nationalism’ associated with John Gorton and Gough Whitlam had reignited debate about anthems, flags and the paraphernalia of nationhood. The converse of this fixation has been the recurrent fear that the ‘cultural cringe’ has still not been laid to rest.
But today we are not alone in revisiting national identity. The United Kingdom, for example, has recently introduced a citizenship test designed to assess the applicant’s readiness to adapt to ‘Life in the UK’, as the test is called. In Denmark, a similar test has been criticised for concentrating too much on ‘obscure historical and political details that even full-blooded Danes might have difficulty answering correctly’. Clearly, these days citizenship isn’t meant to be easy.