Life in Oz: nothing like Neighbours

Answer me this - if things are so great Down Under, why do so many Aussies leave?

Patrick West
Columnist

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Last week I pointed out that the Americans now like to portray us Britons as the underclass on television, and that the Yanks simultaneously represent themselves as rather erudite, polite and classy fellows. Although this does mirror reality – Americans are unfailingly polite and us Brits have regressed to an Elizabethan state of barbarism – I thought it unfair, because Australians deserve a bit of a bashing on television, too.

Now don’t get me wrong, Aussies. I’ve had many a good ‘tinny’ and ‘scooner’ with Australians. They get drunk in the same way as the Dutch: they become infantile, anarchic and generally loveable – and rarely do they get hostile and nasty like us Brits. But there are plenty of misconceptions about Australians, many of which have been perpetuated by television.

The obvious culprits are those late twentieth-century phenomena, Neighbours and Home and Away, which invaded Britain’s living rooms in the 1980s and which, after a shaky start when the protagonists all had mullet haircuts and drove bad Datsuns, came into their element in the 1990s. Britain’s other errant children of the Empire were shown to be cheery folks living in the sun, a people who had seemingly found the promised land, inhabiting what almost seemed like a utopia.

During the same period, Britain was producing gloomy soap operas such as EastEnders, in which the characters were all murdering each other, barging into each other’s room and exclaiming ‘Wos goin on?’ or breaking up fights with the interdict ‘He’s not worth it!’ American soaps of the time, such as Dallas and Dynasty, had preposterous pseudo-Shakespearean epics between competing, incredibly rich families, in which the leitmotivs were envy, malice and the lust for power.

In Neighbours, the Ramsays and the Robinsons argued over things like who was responsible for leaving leaves in the swimming pool. Or there was the episode when it was feared that Ramsay Street’s Korean inhabitants had eaten Bouncer the dog. And let us not forget the time when Lou and Harold took magic mushrooms in the outback.

It was all very silly and surreal, but us Brits loved it, because all the characters were bronzed and looked generally happy. But it was a distortion of reality.

I work with a few Australian journalists and there are many Aussies who ply their wares on Fleet Street. There are lots of Aussies in Britain in general and in London in particular. This begs the question: if Australia is so great, why do so many Australians come and live over here?

It’s because Australia is not the paradise it is portrayed to be on Neighbours. One of my Aussie colleagues is often asked why she chose to live in miserable, rainy Britain. I asked her the same question the other day. Her answer was simply: ‘Australia is nothing like Neighbours. It’s more like Kath & Kim.’

She went on to explain that the Land Down Under is not populated by the hearty, the gregarious and the welcoming, but by white trash (I don’t particularly like that phrase because no-one has the courage to use its equivalent, ‘black trash’, but you get the point). Australians are some of the most coarse, racist people on earth, as Kath & Kim rightly portrays. For example, an American girl who seeks courtship will tentatively ask you for a meal and weeks of getting to know you; an Australian girl will come up to you at the Walkabout bar in London’s densely Aussie-populated Shepherds Bush and inquire ‘Would you like a fuck?’

This is why so many Australians, especially the clever ones, move to Britain or elsewhere. Because despite all of their protestations against Barry Humphries’s character Sir Les Patterson, Oz’s own farting, swearing reprobate ‘cultural attaché’, Australia remains a philistine country. Think about it. Who do the Americans celebrate as national heroes? George Washington, George Gershwin, Ernest Hemingway, Franklin D. Roosevelt and so on. We Brits revere Chaucer, Shakespeare, Elgar, Nelson and Churchill. And who do the Australians put on their postal stamps? Ned Kelly, a murderous bandit who famously put a metal dustbin on his head and tried to kill coppers. Can you imagine Britain having Harry Roberts as a national hero?

This is why all the most cerebral Australians, such as Clive James, Germaine Greer, John Pilger and Peter Singer have lived for so long either in the UK or the USA. They all wanted to get away from the land of Kath & Kim.

I don’t mean to be rude to the Australians, who are really quite charming and part of me does warm to their earthy sense of humour and childlike joie de vivre.

And I apologise for going on about re-runs on satellite television. It’s only because, what with the advent of Sky Plus, I don’t seem to know anybody who watches the main five channels anymore, apart from the news, football and late night gambling shows that contain such questions as: ‘What “G” is the study of the world’s topography and its people? Is it A) Geography B) Gynaecology, or C) Geoff Hurst in the 1966 World Cup final?’

But I will address current television shows shortly, in particular Life on Mars and its peculiar, disturbing nostalgia for the days when the Old Bill could go round beating up Irish people and blacks with impunity. And saying ‘guv’ a lot.

Previously on spiked

Mark Adnum suggested Australians celebrated Rabbit-Proof Fence as a way of dealing with colonial guilt; Amir Butler warned about Australian plans to ban hate-speech. Dolan Cummings thinks Home and Away is the contemporary choice for those missing Dawson’s Creek. Or you can read our previous reviews at: spiked issue TV.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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