Thursday, June 25, 2009

Talking Australian: Fair Go

The cliché ‘fair go’ is a very powerful one and one which has enormous symbolic significance to the Australian national identity. Tracing its origins however really means understanding the history of struggle in the Big Brown land from the time of European settlers.

The ethic of ‘fair go’ can be traced to the mid-19th century with the commencement of the anti-transportation movement based upon acceptance free labour as intrinsically a fairer system of organising work than a master-servant relationship. Australia became a society based on the principle everybody should have the same opportunity to work wherever and however they wanted. This was witnessed in 1851 by the decision in New South Wales to partition the gold-bearing ground into equal lots so everybody could have the chance to dig for gold. This was combined with an end to corruption and high taxes and the right to vote during the Eureka rebellion of 1854.

A decade later the anti-squatter legislation emphasised the value of small-scale family farming over big squatter domination of the land. The principle of a fair go meant the new Australians enjoyed the same opportunity to get access to wealth and to make what they could of their lives irrespective of how they started out. Later the early rise of compulsory and free education in Australia was another example of the ‘fair go.’

During the Great Depression Surry Hills, Newtown, Redfern and Glebe were at the heart of the anti-eviction movement, in which residents fought to prevent their neighbours being thrown out onto the street. The Australian ‘fair go’ was largely based on the belief the opportunity to compete and thereby to improve status with competition open to all comers. Rewards accrue to those who make the most effort (by working hard and seizing available opportunities) and who display the most talent (as a result of undertaking education and training, as well as exploiting natural ability). One of the most redeeming features of the notion of a "fair go" is that we offer a helping hand when it's needed and that our birth alone does not determine our destiny. This has great relevance to the time we live in now.

Assistance graciously given to those in need at times of emergency such as fires and floods demonstrate the true blue mark of the new Australian and the fair go. So too is the intolerance of privilege all too often displayed by figures of authority long distanced from the proletariat they represent but determined to walk the tight rope of the tall poppy. History tells us the egalitarian nature of the Australian people will not tolerate it and the fair go will prevail.

The national anthem of Australia is Advance Australia Fair which became the official national anthem in 1984. The original version was composed by a Glaswegian called Peter Dodds McCormick (1834-1916) under the pen name "Amicus", meaning "friend". It was first performed on November 30th (St Andrew's Day) in Sydney in 1878. It took until 1973 after the Labor Government held a national competition to find a replacement for God Save the Queen. Judges had to choose between Advance Australia Fair, Banjo Patterson's Waltzing Matilda or Carl Linger's Song of Australia as the National Anthem. Opinion polls were unanimous and Advance Australia Fair won the day. Despite this the new anthem met with widespread opposition and obstruction and it was not until the Los Angeles Olympics that Advance Australia Fair finally became Australia's national anthem, under the Hawke (Labor) government (1983-1991).

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