Having spent much of the 19th century shipping their snaggle-toothed criminals and deviants Down Under, the great and good of Great Britain have always looked upon Oz as a land of ill-mannered, uncultured grunts of the worst possible breeding. Now, they plan to do something about it, to civilise you offspring of convicts. The most goodly portion of the great and good — none other than the Guardian newspaper, reading material of choice of right-thinking, latte-loving Britons — is venturing to Australia to give you all a good talking-to. Expect stern lectures about your racism, misogyny, daftness, drunkenness, and most of all your crazy, crazy climate change denial.
The news that the Guardian plans to launch a digital edition in Australia, funded by Graeme Wood, founder of the hotel-booking website Wotif, has been treated as just another media story. But it’s more than that. For the Guardian is no neutral observer of Australian affairs, no objective recorder of events Down Under; rather, as a browse of its commentary on Australia will confirm, it looks upon Oz as a seriously screwed-up outpost of archaic thinking which could do with a big, fat dose of political correction.
Virtually every comment about Australia published by the Guardian is shot through with an aristocratic angst about the Micks and Sheilas who inhabit this weird land. There is a ‘poisonous political climate’ in Australia, declared a Guardian editorial in 2011. Just consider daft Aussies’ attitude towards climate change: ‘Climate change denial is almost a national pastime in Australia,’ snorted one Guardian columnist, clearly bemused that some people have a different point of view to his. Apparently there’s a cult of ‘extreme anti-science’ in Oz (not surprising given you’re all descended from thickos), and it is time for it to be challenged, the Guardian says.
But it isn’t enough just to make Aussies a tad more green — no, according to the Guardian fixing climate change Down Under will require that you people ‘ditch the myth’ that yours is a ‘land of opportunity, in which progress is limited only by the rate at which natural resources can be extracted’. That is, your very ‘founding myths’, as the Guardian sniffily calls them, your belief that you inhabit a lucky country packed with natural resources there for the taking, will have to be consigned to the dustbin of history pronto or else there’ll be more floods, bushfires, and a ‘truly catastrophic outcome’, a Guardian writer warns. Let us hope and pray that Guardian-Australia assumes the role of Oz’s mythbuster-in-chief before science-ignoring Aussies are consumed by a doom of their own dumb making.
Of course, none of this climate change denial is surprising given what a 2009 Guardian editorial described as ‘the low standards of Australian politics’.
When the Guardian isn’t fretting about the lethal ignorance of eco-unfriendly Australians, it is slating your outdated machismo. Last year, when Julia Gillard delivered That Speech, the Guardian published op-ed after op-ed about what a Seventies-style, sexism-spouting country Oz remains. ‘Misogyny is an Australian blight,’ one writer told us. An editorial informed us that ‘sexism is more upfront’ Down Under, where ‘Neanderthal instincts’ are rife. It’s the ‘Ugly face of Oz’, said the headline to a long essay in the Guardian in 2008 — the fact that too often ‘the “Sheilas” are treated about as well as the prawns being slung on the barbie’.
It sometimes seems as if the Guardian spends more time teaching its writers how to chuck mud at backward Aussies than it does teaching them how to write — get a load of this tongue-torturing sentence from 2008: ‘Australian men do undoubtedly have a particular reputation for not being among the most reconstructed of their gender.’
Of course, not all Guardian writers think Aussies are the world’s worst sexist louts. As one says, ‘A friend of mine who worked in the Outback says that the sexism there was no better or worse than anywhere else she’s been — it was the racism that was really frightening.’ Ah yes, you’re racist too. Another favourite focus of the Guardian whenever it deigns to cast its glance Down Under is the xenophobic attitudes of you sunburnt whiteys. ‘Wake up Australia,’ said the headline of a Guardian editorial about the ‘unwitting racism that infuses… mainstream Australia’. Apparently you Australians don’t even have the wherewithal to be witting, conscious, properly ideological racists — you’re just unwitting ones, accidental ones, since according to the Guardian racism in Australia is ‘insidious, unadmitted’.
The problem is that Australia has not yet reached ‘cultural maturity’, says one Guardian writer, and therefore cannot properly address its unwitting prejudices. Who might help it attain cultural maturity, and give it the boot up the backside it so clearly needs? GuardianAustralia, of course, which will be arriving on Aussie shores very soon, in a PC rerun of the arrival of British colonialists 200-odd years ago, though armed with the Gospel According to Greenpeace rather than the Bible and organic tea rather than rum. (After all, as the Guardian delighted in informing its readers a few years back, boozing, not to mention meat-eating, has made enough of a mess of you Australians — the idea that Aussies are all ‘fit, bronzed surfers’ is one of your ‘most enduring self-deceptions’, the paper said; ‘the average Australian male is far more likely to be a flabby couch potato.’)
In the eyes and minds of Britain’s cultural elite, Australia looms large as a stubbornly swaggering place, the contumacious child of the Commonwealth, a disobedient, foul-mouthed brat who speaks our language yet refuses to imbibe our post-traditionalist, relativistic, right-on ways of thinking and behaving. Just as surely as BBC Radio 4 only ever mentions Australians as the butts of jokes about uncouthness or rubbish soap operas, so the Guardian only ever mentions them as the possessors of problematic attitudes who are in the grip of a scarily anti-scientific irrationalism. The Guardian’s coverage of Oz reeks of a kind of parental disappointment, sadness that these descendants of ours should have turned out so contrary. What other reason could the Oz-allergic Guardian have to venture to Australia if not to open the Australian people’s bleary eyes to the error of their ways?
But before setting off on its civilising mission, the Guardian might like to consider the words of another Brit who went Down Under, one D.H. Lawrence: ‘In Australia nobody is supposed to rule, and nobody does rule… The proletariat is all the time responsible, the only source of authority. The will of the people.’
Brendan O’Neill is an English-based writer.