“What makes Australians true blue?” was the question pasted across the front-page photo of a child waving an Australian flag in the Sydney Morning Herald recently. (Thursday 2/2/17) The answer was on page eight with the report on an international study from America’s Pew Research Centre. (What it takes to be truly ‘one of us’, http://www.pewglobal.org/2017/02/01/what-it-takes-to-truly-be-one-of-us/)
The study was conducted in 14 countries across 14,514 people during April-May 2016. 1000 Australians, aged 18 and over, were surveyed by phone, 50% on mobiles, 50% on landlines. The study reported on four factors that might be seen to contribute to identifying someone as “truly Australian”: speaking English, sharing national customs and traditions, being a Christian and being born in Australia.
According to the survey results, more than nine-in-ten Australians (94%) say speaking English is either very important or at least somewhat important to being truly Australian. Of these, 69% rated speaking English as very important.
Half of Australians believe it is very important to share national customs and traditions if one is to be truly Australian. Older Australians were reported as being likely to see customs and traditions as more important than younger respondents. A similar divergence exists between respondents who placed themselves on the right of the ideological spectrum and those on the left. Those with tertiary education are less likely to make a strong link between culture and national identity.
Only 13% of Australians believe that it is very important for a person to be a Christian to be truly Australian and only a further 16% consider being Christian is somewhat important. Roughly half (48%) think it is not important at all. Once again, there is a large gap between the perceptions of young and old Australians on this with 8% of 18-34 year olds and 6% of 35-49 year olds rating being Christian as important. Less educated Australians (19%) are also more likely than those with more education (9%) to rate being a Christian as important to national identity.
Finally, and not surprisingly, given the nature of Australia’s population with 27.7% of Australians born overseas, only 13% reported being born in Australia as being very important for someone to be “truly Australian”.
None of the responses is particularly surprising. What does this mean for us in the context of a discussion of identity within a multicultural society?
Firstly, language, which was reported as seen to be the strongest factor in being “truly Australian”. To state the obvious, there are many people who have lived in Australia, paid taxes, observed the law and contributed to community who would probably “fail” the language test. Does this mean they are less Australian? Of course not. It would be interesting to pose this question in a multi-lingual nation, such as India. Which language, which languages, would determine “truly Indian”? It is, I understand, and has been over many years, a vexed question.
The second factor of “national customs and traditions” is a little problematic, precisely because Australia is such a multicultural nation. In February 2017, which customs and traditions can accurately be defined as the national ones? It is one of the problems of the original entry test for immigrants. Surely, in February 2017, the celebration of Lunar New Year is as Australian as the Blessing of the Fishing Fleet, or Ramadan or Diwali. So the fact that only half the survey respondents marked sharing of “national customs and traditions” as important is probably quite healthy.
The same positive message can be deduced from the last two factors: being a Christian and being born in Australia. The low ratings given both these factors seems to point to a growing awareness of who we are as a multicultural country. True, the low rating given “being a Christian” might also be affected by a shift away from formal religious practice in Australia, but it could also point to a recognition that there are people of many faiths, and no religious faith in Australia.
These positive recognitions are to be celebrated.
20th February 2017