The Legitimacy Of Ex-Pats
February 1, 2004 7:16 PM   Subscribe

Germaine Greer Doesn't Live In Australia Because She Loves It Too Much: What is it about ex-pats - and particularly Australian ex-pats, when they're as intelligent, witty and vocal as Greer, Robert Hughes, Clive James et al. - that makes their justifications for exile ring so hollow? [More inside.]
posted by MiguelCardoso (38 comments total)
What sort of legitimacy do ex-pats' opinions on the "old country" have at home? Their reasons and rationalizations, wherever they come from, seem to be similar the world over, whatever the century.

I have a tremendous admiration for Germaine Greer but I confess that, every time I read the "can't go home because I love it too much" argument, my first response is "Yeah, right..."

Is this attitude perhaps a tad unfair? Is there perhaps an unpleasant tinge of "love it or leave it" or even treason? [Via Arts & Letters Daily.]
posted by MiguelCardoso at 7:17 PM on February 1, 2004

It is, I imagine, possible to leave a place for legitimate reasons but still feel very close to it. I have known a number of Israelis now living in the US who say that they simply can not raise children in Israel because of the stress level and danger. On the other hand, I have a former friend who took a job in Netherlands who told me to fuck off and that he wanted nothing ever to do with anything or one from the US, a country he claimed he now detests...I guess then there are many reasons and some we can respect and others question. I have heard nice things about Australia and New Zealand. But then I don't live there and never have so what do i know?
posted by Postroad at 7:28 PM on February 1, 2004

At least Irish ex-pats can claim that they're merely following in the great Irish tradition of leaving the mother country.
posted by clevershark at 7:41 PM on February 1, 2004

I have a pretty low opinion of the likes of Clive James and Germaine Greer actually. Particularly Clive James. I mean, he's funny and intelligent, but face it, he is fundamentally English. He has abandoned Australia. But he still likes to call himself Australian to please the Brits. You can't have it both ways, Clive. Other ex-pats, like Barry Humphries, aren't quite so bad, but I have to admit finding it difficult separating my own tall poppy syndrome, from any wrong they may have actually done in rejecting the mother country.

And any arguments they might have that "you can't make it in Australia" can go bugger off as well.
posted by Jimbob at 7:46 PM on February 1, 2004

Or are we just voting with our feet?

"If Australia really is the lucky country, why do almost a million Australians choose to live overseas? ... Australia's consul-general in New York, Ken Allen, notes that there are still Australians who are "amazed by the idea that any of our fellow countrymen would willingly choose to settle overseas. They hear that somebody is going to live somewhere else, and they are likely to say: 'Mate, why would you want to do that?"' One reason is clear: according to a recent Federal Government report, half of Australia's expatriates earn more than $100,000 a year and one third earn more than $150,000 a year."

"Each year more Australians leave to join the global workforce - and most of them don't come back. ... No one would care if 1 million of Australia's C team abandoned their boring jobs for a new life in Coventry or Kentucky but when almost 70 per cent of those leaving are professionals, managers and administrators, then governments take notice. ... Many Australians surveyed on why they live abroad appear at pains to avoid criticising their homeland — the expat's version of "it's not you, it's me" — but for Allen, it is partly Australia's fault. The Tampa issue and the Republic debate have left him feeling jaded about his birthplace. "In Australia, there's a competitiveness among people. Here, if you have a talent, people around you tend to push you up. It is a land of opportunity. It's my Mercedes theory; if you drive a Mercedes here, you're a success; in Australia, you're a wanker.""
posted by bright cold day at 8:33 PM on February 1, 2004

Each year more Australians leave to join the global workforce.

Someone should fire that writer - what exactly does that mean? What is the global workforce? Isn't someone working within Australia part of it too? But I digress...

But yeah, I can see the problem - I'm trapped between loving Australia and wanting to stay here and change it for the better, and thinking "stuff this, once I've finished my PhD I'm moving to New Zealand". But people with Mercedes are wankers, Matt, and I'd like to see proof otherwise ;)
posted by Jimbob at 8:46 PM on February 1, 2004

I'd assume "global workforce" in this context means outside Australia, but I see your point. And I was very surprised when I heard the number was that high. That's one million out of a total population of 20 million, for non-Aussie readers.

(Must be cramped in Earls' Court. Boom-tish.)

I'm about five years away (training plus work experience) from heading over to the forex/banking London/NY nexus, and I think I'd be nuts not to pursue it. And I'd just be following a large number of my friends in the law/finance/professional services sector that have already gone. That second article sums up the reasons pretty well: money, playing in a bigger pond, being closer to the action, etc.

Maybe the Mercedes thing is geographically relative. i.e. you're only a wanker if you own one in Australia.

(... nah.)

Miguel, I agree Germaine's article was a bit all over the shop, but I think part of the Great Australian Sense of Isolation (GASI) is paranoia that the grass may in fact be greener Over There, and that all those whinging expats (including Ms Greer) may, in fact, be right.

It might be the case our reaction to the expats tells more about the Australians left behind than it does about them. Maybe our GASI is actually dependent on expats telling us how small and retrograde we are, so that we may poo-poo them and feel better about ourselves.

Funny old country ...
posted by bright cold day at 9:09 PM on February 1, 2004

... you're only a wanker if you own one in Australia.
You have hit the nail on the head there - the problem is nothing to do with the cars themselves, but what they represent to the great unwashed in this country. For many, owning a Mercedes is a symbol of success and they rush to get one as soon as they can convince a leasing company to let them.
Most of the manufactured goods on sale anywhere in Australia are made somewhere in Asia, including Australia's own car, the Holden
Fact-checking anyone?

An interesting facet of this phenomenon is the number of New Zealanders who move to Australia for much the same reasons. 20 or so years ago, there were valid economic reasons for the move, with NZ's economy in the toilet and Australia (rightly) being seen as a bright land of opportunity in comparison, but the situation seems to have equalised now and there are as many opportunities for most people in both countries.

What annoys me is the way these people effectively forsake the country of their birth and then use the reputation of that country to further their own careers, with Clive James being a prime example. If you don't want to live here, that is fine, but don't trade on the reputation built by those who chose to stay to further your own agenda. You are either Australian or you are not and, if you have lived most of your adult life overseas, you are not.

Funny old young country all right ...
posted by dg at 9:22 PM on February 1, 2004

You are either Australian or you are not and, if you have lived most of your adult life overseas, you are not.

Wow. That seems a bit severe, dg, not to say ultra-nationalistic. I mean, what percentage of one's adult life would allow a citizen to still be considered Australian? Who decides? Your criteria, if adopted by the world's countries would create havoc - not to mention a lot of stateless citizens.

Also, why shouldn't an Australian "trade on the reputation" of his country? And how is it you need to stay there in order to build it? Aren't most of the well-known Australians around the world mostly ex-pats? Haven't they contributed a lot to Australia's reputation?
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:40 PM on February 1, 2004

You are either Australian or you are not and, if you have lived most of your adult life overseas, you are not.

I think this highlights the flipside of the expat problem: the amorphous and ill-defined "Australian" identity. What, if anything, have expats lost by leaving Australia?

dg's statement above might carry more weight if the word "Australian" had a clear definition. But it doesn't. Think of the endless parade of op-ed pieces and essays every ANZAC and Australia Day about what it truly means to be Australian. We've got no idea, really.
posted by bright cold day at 9:59 PM on February 1, 2004

Maybe a bit severe, Miguel (and, given my status as a NZ citizen having lived in Australia for over 20 years, not a little hypocritical perhaps), but my point is that many of these people claim to be Australian when they have little or no tie to Australia and, apart from the tenuous claim to have "contributed to Australia's reputation", return nothing to the country. They generally only claim to be Australians when it suits them. What annoys me the most is the attitude that is displayed when these people leave Australia moaning that there are no opportunities for them - how many of them use their wealth and connections later to develop these opportunities for others?

I know that I am being unfair in criticising those who choose to work offshore and then use their Australian-ness to gain points in one way or another, but it seems almost unpatriotic to me to live and work in one country and keep all your money there, but trade on the reputation of the country anyway.

We've got no idea, really.
Good point and this hits at the crux of the issue - is someone Australian just by being born here, or is there more involved? Australians certainly do not accept someone as a native unless they were born here (regardless of their citizenship), but is being born here all it takes to be an Australian? When does someone stop being an Australian if they have lived out of the country for a long period?
posted by dg at 10:10 PM on February 1, 2004

As a Canadian I came south for the simple reason that I could make a lot more money in the US. However, one of the things I like best about the US is that Americans don’t ask themselves questions like "is someone Australian just by being born here, or is there more involved?" or "what does it really mean to be a (insert nationality here)-Canadian?"
I like the belief people here have in the fact that they are Americans, even when they have only been citizens for a few years. Confidence is appealing.
posted by arse_hat at 10:20 PM on February 1, 2004

You think these ex-pats are bitter? You obviously haven't met any ex-South Africans....
posted by PenDevil at 11:28 PM on February 1, 2004

The Australia she describes probably did exist in the early sixties when she left.
It's all a troll to coincide with Australia Day (26JAN)
posted by johnny7 at 12:10 AM on February 2, 2004

We've got no idea, really.

you hit the nail on the head.

Our national identity has to grow beyond the outdated unapologetic one-sided anglo cliches that are fed to us, they are irrelevant and inappropriate for the migrant population that are building what australia is today, and will be tomorrow.

*gets off soapbox*
posted by elphTeq at 12:32 AM on February 2, 2004

Jimbob - Clive James. I mean, he's funny and intelligent, but face it, he is fundamentally English. He has abandoned Australia.

Jesus. What does the man have to do? He only writes one of the best Australian autobiographies ever, a book more evocative of Sydney childhood than just about any other, and you would strip him of his identity because he came to England as a postgrad and stayed on here to work and eventually live? How many never-left-the-country Australians have contributed as much to the nation's heritage?

Yes, he seems overly English to Aussies watching his UK TV shows, because they're full of local references - they're aimed at a UK audience - but that doesn't change the nature of who he is. If you want to know how Australian James feels, ask him, don't assume that just because he hasn't lived in the country for years he doesn't feel as Aussie as you. Jesus, his accent hasn't changed one iota. And neither has Greer's, come to that.

dg - it seems almost unpatriotic to me to live and work in one country and keep all your money there, but trade on the reputation of the country anyway.

What would you have these people do? If there are one million Australians living outside the country at the moment, the number who have any kind of public profile is relatively minute. These few people are ambassadors for their native land whether they like it or not. They will, like anyone taken by circumstances away from their homeland, have mixed feelings about those circumstances, their home, and what it all means to them; and yet they're supposed to put all that aside and speak as impartial witnesses to the true Australian experience? They're just speaking for themselves, as Greer makes clear in her piece. It's not their fault that the UK press grab the Aussies they're familiar with every time they want a column on the subject; it's not their fault that the British are - obviously - unfamiliar with Australians who have never had a high profile in Britain. What are they supposed to do, go all Dietrich on the world, pass up every opportunity to make a few quid, and live life on the dole?

These conversations always come down to the same few people: Clive James, Germain Greer, Robert Hughes, Barry Humphries. These people were not only contemporaries (though Humphries was a slightly earlier generation), they were friends. Very bright, ambitious friends, who came of age when it wasn't possible to do what they wanted to do in life within Australia. This was before mass air travel, when it took weeks by ship to get from there to the UK, and before it was really possible to gain renown in the wider English-speaking world while still living in Oz. The country had only had television for a few years; the foundation stones for the Opera House had barely been laid; art and literature were alien subjects to most Australians; and if you wanted to study beyond a three-year degree, you went to the old country. Which James and Greer did. And they just happened to reach it at a very exciting time, the mid-'60s, and were bright and ambitious and did well, and life kept them here. Until the mid-'70s they could hardly afford to do other than stay, because a trip home would have meant taking months out of the year and spending half of them at sea.

That's a very particular set of circumstances, and it won't play out the same way for today's young Australians living overseas, thanks to cheap long-haul flights and improved communications. And yet there seems to be this assumption that James's and Greer's experience of expatriatism - which they're reporting honestly as they have experienced it - is what everyone continues to experience. It's not. It's not even the same now as it was in the early 1990s. I spent a year in England then, and news from home meant the occasional TV report (Keating touches Queen, shock), or sitting out the one-month turn-around for letters to reach home and replies to get back, or watching the phone eat pound coins as I talked to my folks at some ungodly hour. Sometimes I'd go to the university libary and read a month-old Age or Sydney Morning Herald. Now I can read them the day they're printed, and email friends and family about the contents and hear back from them overnight. It's a very different experience; in many ways I felt more "away from home" in that year than I have in the past three.

And yet the daily reminders are always present that this isn't home; I know I'm not Scottish, and that isn't going to change at some magical point where I wake up and say "'cnoath, I'm not an Aussie no more". The most that would happen (after years and years of being away, not a few years) is that I'd become both, Australian and not-Australian at the same time. It isn't an either-or proposition. You don't forfeit your childhood - your formative years - just because you up sticks and away for a bit.

I speak from more than three years experience, come to that. I haven't lived most of my adult life outside Australia, but I have lived most of my adult life overseas from my homeland. And whatever else I am or will become, I am Tasmanian; I was before everything else, and always will be. And if one of the many mainlanders who has moved to my home state in the past couple of years turns around in twenty years' time and tells me I'm not, they'll experience a righteous wave of anger, make no bloody mistake.
posted by rory at 3:04 AM on February 2, 2004

Bugger. Library. Me mum'd kill me.
posted by rory at 3:09 AM on February 2, 2004

I was going to write something but bugger it, I'm too lazy.
posted by bramoire at 3:46 AM on February 2, 2004

I forgot to say that Greer has spent her life being controversial.

It occurs to me that she must be losing her touch if she's pulling out the old "Oz, the cultural wasteland" chestnut. Finding faults with cultures is like shooting fish in a barrel.

Ignore her and she'll go away.
posted by bramoire at 3:50 AM on February 2, 2004

as intelligent, witty and vocal as Greer, Robert Hughes, Clive James

Oh come on Miguel, I would have given you more credit than to trot out that that hackneyed trinity as an example of the thinking of Australian ex-pats.

In the late 50's and early 60's when that lot jumped ship, Australia may have seemed like a bit of a pokey backwater, but to continue to give any credence to Greer honking on about how Australia is a cultural wasteland full of suburban oiks is both snobbish and plainly ignorant.

Australian food prices are low but just about everything else is, for many, unaffordable.

Is Greer trying to assert that the cost of living in Australia is higher than England? Seriously?

Each street has a nature strip; each bungalow faces the same way, has a backyard and a front garden, all fenced, low at the front, high at the back. Somewhere nearby there'll be a shopping centre with fast-food outlets and a supermarket.

Whereas I'm sure the the suburbs of Bradford, Milton Keynes and Sheffield are havens of architectural loveliness with nary a KFC in sight, and where the populace are a-buzz with talk of Foucalt, Pynchon and Greer's latest column in the Herald-Sun.

Aborigines could teach other Australians how to make living in Oz emotionally and intellectually satisfying, but nobody is going to give them the chance.

As any condescending hypocrite who hasn't lived in the country for forty years will tell you.

a fierce passion that churns my guts and makes my eyes burn with tears of rage and frustration

Much like I feel after reading such a hopelessly out-of-touch article like this.
posted by backOfYourMind at 3:55 AM on February 2, 2004

rory, I don't disagree with what you say and, having lived in Australia as an expat Kiwi for almost all of my adult life so far, I know exactly what you mean. It seems, though, that those who fled Australia to chase opportunities lock up their attitude towards the country and never revisit it from that time on. Australia has moved on in the past few decades and, while it may have a more relaxed attitude to life than many more "sophisticated" countries, the belief that Australia is a place where "... nobody has ever been heard to discuss a book or a movie, let alone an international event ..." disgusts me and that those who put themselves up as representatives of Australia think that this is true, thereby perpetuating the myth, is even worse.

Miguel, to (belatedly) answer your question - What sort of legitimacy do ex-pats' opinions on the "old country" have at home? - sweet fuck all from what I see and hear, if that helps.
posted by dg at 5:20 AM on February 2, 2004

Ermm. Bradford is a haven of architectural loveliness. IMHO.
The cost of living in OZ seems lower, but people also appear to be paid less. Plus - have you seen the cost of property in Sydney recently?

What sort of legitimacy do ex-pats' opinions on the "old country" have at home
It's an interesting question. One the one hand, you can say - you don't live here anymore, so your opinion is worthless, but on the other hand, ex-pat opinions are more likely to have a greater frame of reference.
If somebody said. I've lived in (a), (b), (c) and (d), and (b) really is the best/worst place in the world to live, then you're going to give that person more credence than people (like Bush) who think that (a) is the best/worst place in the world, because that's the only place they've ever lived.

I think it's sad that Australians have turned their backs on Australian Ex-Pats like James, Geer, et-al. I think it reeks generally of an inferiority complex, and that's terrible, because Australia really is a fantastic place.

posted by seanyboy at 6:05 AM on February 2, 2004

bright cold day: I remember watching a series last year which said something like 'Australia's national pastime is discussing exactly what it means to be an Australian.' Which makes sense.

Still, I get the feeling that James, Greer and Hughes reflect an Australian culture that hasn't really existed for 30 years, maybe longer. And perhaps they're valuable as expats precisely because of that, like animals taken from the wild. (Not that I'd expect them to be used for captive breeding purposes. Earls Court fulfils that role.) Not to say that they're an 'endangered species' -- that's Pauline Hanson territory -- but the urban Australia they came from is (from what I've seen and read) much less white, much less Anglo, and all the better for it.
posted by riviera at 6:41 AM on February 2, 2004

dg, my main point is that we're talking about a tiny minority of expatriate Australian opinion here, shaped by a very specific set of circumstances and by their own personal aspirations. My parents "fled" Australia to chase opportunities at roughly the same time as James and Greer; and two years later, they moved back. I "fled" Australia to chase opportunities three years ago (actual jobs on offer in Australia for me at that point in time: 0. Jobs on offer in UK: 1), but I was back to visit last year, and wherever life takes me I'll revisit it from time to time (and my attitudes towards it). Just as I have done with my home state over the past 13 years. It's 2004, not 1804; moving to the other side of the world isn't a life sentence.

I've taken Greer's comments to task in the past myself, right here at MeFi. She does show signs of being out-of-touch with modern Australia at times. But at least some of that may be down to a generation gap effect exacerbated by expatriatism, not caused by it. (Besides, she was always out of step with contemporary Australian opinion, if not out of touch, even when she was in her 20s. The Female Eunuch was ground-breaking because it was out-of-step.)

And she has revisited her views on Australia; and so has Clive James, and so has Robert Hughes. They've been back again and again since at least the '70s. I picked up a copy of Greer's essay on Australia and aboriginality when I was last there, and it definitely wasn't the work of someone who hadn't thought about Australia since 1964. But her assessment of the place is filtered through her own eyes and opinions, and those are shaped by more than Australia alone, because she's lived in more places than Australia alone. What else can she do? What can any of us do? She is who she is.

the belief that Australia is a place where "... nobody has ever been heard to discuss a book or a movie, let alone an international event ..." disgusts me

She didn't actually say that; she used those words to describe Ramsay Street, which she then reminded her British audience is "a fiction" (and some of them do need reminding). I agree that the wider insinuation was there, and that it was too harsh. But we're all of us prone to making over-sweeping generalizations from time to time (for example, "those who fled Australia to chase opportunities lock up their attitude towards the country and never revisit it from that time on").

Many of her other points are true enough. Greer says that "for the vast majority, life in Australia is neither urban nor rural but suburban"; "vast" is a rhetorical flourish, but it's essentially true. She says that "most Australians don't know their next-door neighbours"; I would say that's true, too. That riposte linked by bramoire above picks up on her rush hour comment, but compared to the nightmare of London the Sydney and Melbourne rush hours are pretty modest.

Her comments about wage differentials aren't well-founded, though: they're true enough for the white-collar middle classes and above - food and eating out are much cheaper in Oz than here, but a ticket to Melbourne costs far less of my take-home pay than a ticket to the UK would have in Oz - but for the working and lower-middle classes, the purchasing power of salaries and resulting standard of living are much better in Australia than they are here. That difference goes a long way to explaining why many white-collar Australians stay away, and why so many working-class Brits would like to emigrate to Oz.

Miguel, to (belatedly) answer your question - What sort of legitimacy do ex-pats' opinions on the "old country" have at home? - sweet fuck all from what I see and hear, if that helps.

Yeah, pretty much agree with you there.
posted by rory at 6:56 AM on February 2, 2004

You're probably right about Clive James, rory, but that doesn't mean I've forgiven him.

(In the following paragraph I use the word "hating" for brevity - I really mean "have a low opinion of") On the topic of Mercedes, and tall poppy syndrome - I reckon it's a fantastic thing and I revel in it, because it's not a case of hating success, it's a case of hating successful people who have forgotten their roots. It's about hating people who place possessions above comraderie - why spend all your money on a Mercedes when you could shout your mates a beer instead? If fact, you'll probably be fairly quickly forgiven for the Mercedes if you do head down to the pub to meet your mates. While American core values (whether they really exist or not) are "opportunity" and "anyone can make it rich", Australian core values (whether they really exist or not) are "mateship" and the "fair go" (sounds a bit socialist, doesn't it?). Arrogant ex-pats are considered people who have forrgotten their mates, have forgotten their roots, have forgotten the responsibility and debt they owe towards their motherland - doubly-so when their whole image is based on a slice of that motherland.
posted by Jimbob at 3:48 PM on February 2, 2004

rory, they may be a tiny minority, but they are a very visible minority, giving them more credibility (other than in Australia). On revisiting my comments above, I see that most of it is based on emotion rather than fact, so perhaps should have been written differently. Right or wrong, it annoys the crap out of me when Australians criticise their own country to the world for no reason other than because they can.

Basically, Jimbob sums up my feelings somewhat in his comment above - the perception of Mercedes drivers as being wankers is not because they drive a Mercedes, but because they are wankers and there seems to be a subset of Australian society who consider success being the attainment of that Mercedes itself, rather than seeing it as a symbol of their success. The "Mercedes-driving wanker" stereotype can be applied to many who don't drive a Mercedes, by the way, because many have forgotten their roots long before they leave them.
posted by dg at 4:51 PM on February 2, 2004

I've really enjoyed reading this thread but, if I can de-aussify things a bit, I recognized a lot of perceptions which are identical to what happens in Portugal with its own expats - down to the Mercedes/wanker and the "tall poppy syndrome". So I wouldn't be so hard on Australia(ns)!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:20 PM on February 2, 2004

For instance, with Australian friends of mine I've always rocked with laughter with their comments on the famous ex-pats, which melded with their healthy contempt for limeys in general and their admirable "live and let live" philosophy. Here I noticed more bitterness and less ribbing. But perhaps the intricate symbiosis (oooh!) of humour, sociability and social criticism is uniquely Australian and I'm missing the nuances.

I find Australians very honest, but complex and fascinating too. Not at all straightforward, despite first impressions. They caricature themselves the better to put us off our guard and confound us, the bastards! ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:29 PM on February 2, 2004

Australians are meta-meta. And it's true, the best way to get some public funding for your pet creative project is to bill it as "a personal examination of Australian Identity".
posted by Jimbob at 7:17 PM on February 2, 2004

As a first gen Aussie of UK parents, living in USA for 3 years, here's my 2c. Clive James, Barry Humphries, Paul Hogan, Robert Hughes, Rolf Harris - all great entertainers in their own way. Good on them for their success, and I enjoyed them. Their time is largely past, it's now the new generation which (to my surprise) includes Kylie.

I find having a reputation as being Australian useful. The Yanks expect me to be blunt, cheeky and to expect to have fun at work. We're also "mostly harmless" (RIP Douglas Adams) so non-threatening, which is comforting to the citizens of this justifiably paranoid country.

I think you can carry your early cultural affiliations with you, just like you never forget how to ride a bike. It helps to re-immerse at times. Praise be for the internet these days, much easier to appear to keep in touch.

We'll be going back. Apart from anything else it's so damn cold here! Though I could live in New Mexico - a great place :-)
posted by ozjohn at 7:26 PM on February 2, 2004

Here's Germaine Greer back in top form, from today's Guardian.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 11:26 PM on February 2, 2004

Nice supplementary link, Miguel.

Right or wrong, it annoys the crap out of me when Australians criticise their own country to the world for no reason other than because they can.

The trouble is, nowadays any kind of criticism aired in any kind of press is made to the world, thanks to the web and to eagle-eyed MeFites and so on. If someone writes 'John Howard is a tool, and so are the Australians who voted for him', does it matter whether they do it in Melbourne or Manchester? What if they say it in Melbourne, then move to Manchester, and say it again? Six weeks later? Six months later? Six years later?

But, you might say, things change - six years is too long to hold the same opinions unrevised. Well, what's changed? John Howard's toolosity has been a constant feature of his thirty-year career on the Liberal front bench, however much people wanted to believe he'd reformed in 1996. And there are certain persistent features of the Australian character (God knows, we hear all about them every Anzac Day), and any expat knows what they are as much as a current resident. Yes, some things do change, and it's those details that leap out glaringly when we read the quaint criticisms of the long-time expats. But that will be less of an issue in this age of mass travel and better communications.

I'm just concerned - I guess because I'm in the expat boat at the moment - that the kind of disgust that greets every pronouncement from the high profile expats like Germaine Greer or Robert Hughes has a chilling effect on the rest of us; if they're dismissed out of hand, what hope do we have, writing our occasional letters to The Australian or wherever? Note bright cold Matt's quote: "Many Australians surveyed on why they live abroad appear at pains to avoid criticising their homeland". Do we really want a million of our best and brightest refraining from any criticism or analysis of Godzone? A population the size of Adelaide removing itself from the national debate? And if they feel that way, is it any wonder it gets harder and harder for many of them to see themselves going home? I know it's not the only factor involved in that decision, or even the most important, but it can't be helping.
posted by rory at 2:10 AM on February 3, 2004

(Please now refrain from any jokes regarding "the population of Adelaide removing itself"... let me tell you, we got the lifestyle down here!)

Anyway, I guess it's just disconcerting in the way that anyone critisizing anyone elses country is. I know it's kind of wrong for me to make certain criticisms against the United States (and its population as a whole) and I try to avoid it and move in other debating directions. I guess the fact that Greer et. al. appear to have abandoned Australia, just makes it feel like we are being criticized by foreigners.
posted by Jimbob at 2:28 AM on February 3, 2004

Yeah, but... that's what's so sad. Expats aren't foreigners. Australia will never be foreign to us in the way it is to a visitor or new immigrant. It might be foreign in The Go-Between sense (the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there) but only if we never go back to visit, which most of us now can and do. For that matter, today's Australia might feel almost as foreign to a 70-year-old who never left as it does to someone who left twenty years ago.
posted by rory at 3:26 AM on February 3, 2004

Well, that link has changed my mind to some extent about Germaine Greer at least. Now, if she would write like that all the time, she could undo some of the damage that has been caused by Australia being portrayed as a trackless wasteland inhabited only by fierce creatures that spit poison at you before swallowing you whole, mainly by so-called "ambassadors" of the country like Steve Irwin and Paul Hogan.

I had no idea that this idiotic TV show was being filmed a few kilometres from my home and echo Greer's comments about not only the fatuousness of the show and its "contestants", but about how far removed from a real rainforest the area is that they are using. I too feel sorry for the poor creatures that are forced to share their home with these idiots.

So, rory, I guess you are saying that if you are born in Australia, you remain an Australian no matter what? If so, does the same principle apply to those who migrate to Australia? Are they Kiwis/Italians/Poms/whatever for life? Can you be an Australian and a Kiwi at the same time (cricket and football excluded, of course)?

OK, Jimbob, I won't mention that the population of Adelaide removing itself would be a good thing for Australia ;-)
posted by dg at 4:31 AM on February 3, 2004

In the legal sense, obviously, if you're born there you remain Australian, especially now that we can hold dual citizenship (I almost wrote 'here' - ha. The crazy expat refusing to accept that he's no longer part of his own nation...). But in the emotional sense, I'd say that what matters is whether you're raised in Australia, i.e. spend a substantial period of your childhood there, whether you're born there or not. In that sense, yes, others can remain Kiwis/Italians/Poms/whatever for life; and yes, one can be Australian and Kiwi at the same time. Basically, it depends how you feel about it, and who you feel you are. No one else has the right to tell you what country(-ies) to feel an emotional attachment to, or an identification with.

But then, I always found that line about Rupert Murdoch not being Australian because he's now American to be pretty weak. He became a US citizen for obvious pragmatic reasons. The world still knows where he's from.

I accept that it's hypothetically possible for a born-and-raised Australian to reject the place completely, and to refuse to have anything further to do with it. But they're not the kinds of expats (if such people do actually exist) that we're talking about here. Greer and James haven't rejected their Australian-ness; If they had, they wouldn't be talking about the place, and this debate never would have happened.
posted by rory at 6:35 AM on February 3, 2004

To clarify - "No one else has the right to tell you what country(-ies) to feel an emotional attachment to, or an identification with" - obviously your emotional attachment might not match the legal situation. But the legalities of citizenship are increasingly, for some members of the global workforce, being treated as a bureaucratic obstacle, not as an exact reflection of who they really are. Murdoch gave up his Australian citizenship because he had to, at that point in history, to become a US citizen and even more insanely rich. Nowadays he wouldn't have to, so why would he?

Another possibility occurred to me - that of people who identify so strongly with another country and culture that they consider themselves part of it, even if they weren't born or raised there and aren't legally its citizens. Could we consider such people to 'be Australians' (or whatever their adopted land is)? I'd say we often do. There are examples of those sorts of people everywhere, and throughout history: the early explorers 'going native'; the backpackers who overstay their visas and get found out twenty years later, only to be fiercely defended by their (new) countrymen against bureaucratic attempts to kick them out.

We can even consider someone who has never been to Australia as Australian - children born overseas to Australian parents legally are, and depending on their upbringing might even have an Aussie accent. It's hard to imagine someone with no connection to the country whatsoever thinking of themselves as Australian, but if there was ever a real-life example of such a person, it would be interesting to see how they were received. I can imagine them doing pretty well on the talk-show circuit.
posted by rory at 6:56 AM on February 3, 2004

(Children born overseas to Australian parents legally are can be... they have to be registered.)
posted by rory at 7:00 AM on February 3, 2004

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