Thursday, July 29, 2010

On Being Vertically Australian

"She had long, swinging black hair and Hector guessed she was Vietnamese." - From "The Slap", Christos Tsiolkas

"'It's alright, Ecttora,' his mother answerd in Greek, kissing him on both cheeks, two large bowls of salad in her hands. 'We are not barbarians or English to bring nothing to a barbecue.'" - From "The Slap", Christos Tsiolkas

"The combination of a model's body and a wog woman's style - the teased dyed hair, the long painted nails, the too bright make-up - made people think she was a bimbo." - From "The Slap", Christos Tsiolkas

I don't understand. Patrick White could do it. Tim Winton does it. Helen Garner does it. And in the visual arts, Paul Cox did it. And Nolan and Drysdale ... That is, produce a work of art that anyone could enjoy and which was, as it happened to be, Australian.

And it seems today - from FOX advertisements to literature, that the Australian "cultural cringe" is alive and well. But now the 'Cringe' taking on a new form, and instead of being apologetically Australian, it is "oi oi oi we are AUSTRALIAN." In bold print. Accompanied by shouting.

At the bottom of the heap are the Fosters ads. "Australian for board meeting" is the caption for a photo of a few surfers at Bells Beach. Very funny I don't think. There's a whole series of "Australian for" something. Australians for sex, Australians for backpacking. A man is shown passed out in a bar with several dozen empty cans. "Australian for designated driver." A woman is shown at the beach, wearing only bikinii bottoms - "Australian for prude." And so on.

Up a rung. Steve and Bindi Irwin. So Australian it is coming out their ears. But what sort of Australians? Cartoon Australians in a cartoon Australia. A glib advertisement Australia. Crikey!!!

One level up from Steve Irwin are movies such as Ben Luhrman's "Australia". Best summed up by a true Australian, writer and raconteur,  Barry Dickens. "Each scene possesses its secret gaucheness and unmeant hilarity. The story is rubbish. The meaning is beyond analysis.

When Jack Thompson is run over by bulls and makes a tragic incomprehensible speech, he speaks really for all of us. Australia is our stupidity made vaudeville and our history slapstick."

But let's move up yet another notch. To "the top of the heap. 'A'-number one". To the novel "Slapped" by Australian writer Christos Tsiolkas.

"Slap" portrays social and sexual relations in present-day Melbourne. It is long-listed for the 2010 Man Booker prize. I just had to buy it, especially as it was available in the Kindle edition. I hate the smell of dead-tree books in the morning.

Well, what can I say? I have not finished it, but it starts off with a barbeque in the Melbourne suburb of Northcote. Northcote was once populated by working class Australians and immigrant Greeks. In the 1980's it started to become "gentrified", to use an American term. I've forgotten the Australian one.

And who comes to the barbecue - which is held by the second generation Greek Australian protagonist Hector, and his Indian-Australian wife, Aisha? First to arrive are Hector's parents, with heaps of food - "eat, eat ...". Then Bilol an aborigine recently convertd to Islam.

No sooner has Biliol has refused a beer, than Dedj and Leanna turn up. Dedj hugs Manolis - Hector's dad - "in the Balkan way". Anouk and Rhys arrive. I'm not sure where they are from but one of them is gay. Aisha brings out samosas. There is plenty of moussaka. And then along comes Gary, a working class ocker who is intent upon arguing with the trendies about the virtues of state-run schools.

Guest Rhys is familiar to a number of the other guests as he currently has a part in a local soap opera. Gary, the philistine working class ocker, is riled by Rhys's very existance and notes that he's wearing a casual but expensive fine cotton cowboy shirt, and black jeans with a confederate buckle belt.

"You shot a man in Vermont, eh? Just to watch him die," says Gary.

Possibly the best line in the book. And yes maybe, just maybe, for this alone Tsiolkas deserves to be long-listed for the Booker.

But the plethora of references to multi-culturalism - Greeks, Slavs, Indians and the obligatory aborigine - and what's more, an  aborigine converted to Islam ...

Come off it. I've lived in Northcote.

But now I come to think of it ...

7 comments:

Jaded NYer said...

What is an ocker?

Australian for Rocker?

Grahame said...

An ocker is like a bogan.

Kate, I heard of that book on the Diane Rheam show. They interviewed the author. It sounds like a good read.

Jaded NYer said...

Great that helps. NOT.

what is a bogan?

Kathleeenwng said...

An ocker.

Jaded NYer said...

The term "Bogan" is Australian and New Zealand English slang, usually pejorative or self-deprecating, for a person who is perceived to be from a lower class background or someone whose limited education, speech, clothing, attitude and behaviour exemplifies such a background.


The term "Ocker" is used both as a noun and adjective for an Australian who speaks and acts in an uncultured manner, using a broad Australian accent (or Strine).[1] The typical ocker is "usually found in a blue singlet and rubber thongs (foot wear) with a tinnie in his hand propping up a bar."[2] Richard Neville defined ockerism as being "about conviviality: comradeship with a touch of good-hearted sexism


Yes folks, It takes a NEW YORKER to spell it out, clear it up and make it make sense for everyone else.

Kathleeenwng said...

I was wondering when you'd get around to looking up a dictionary!

Jaded NYer said...

tee hee

At least I don't make sandwiches with one.

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