Enough with the old country


This guy rang up last week and said that he was sick and tired of people referring to England as “the old country” or “the mother country”.

It’s insulting, he said.  I’m 5th generation.  Australia has been it’s own entity for over 100 years.  

Isn’t it time, he wondered, that we stopped referring to England, that we cut those aged and fraying apron strings?

He has a point.

I imagine England doesn’t feel like a mother to Australia’s Indigenous population.

And the old country could be any number of countries from Europe, Asia, Africa or the Americas.

Sure a few hangovers of England’s colonisation remain.

We share a queen.

We are part of the Commonwealth – although I’m not too sure how common that wealth is.

We play cricket.

We get three months long service leave (well… if you’re a public servant.  The time was to allow you to go home “to the old country” by boat and spend two weeks with your family)


Do you ever hear citizens of the United States referring to the old country?


I agree.  It’s time to move on peeps.

12 Replies to “Enough with the old country”

  1. interesting … i’ve booked a ticket to europe and for many years i had thought i’d like to see the “old country” – my grandparents were from England. but something’s happened and i’m not so interested now … ..

  2. So that’s where the “long service leave” originated. All this time I’d thought it was the company’s way of showing gratitude for workers busting their guts getting quotas filled.

    I don’t like the old country/mother country either. That phrase was outdated as soon as immigrants from countries other than England began arriving here.

  3. Interesting post. I would like to share an English perspective. Firstly, I am surprised that the terms you mention refer to England as opposed to Great Britain as a whole. I am sure that many Scots and Welsh travelled to the antipodes, whether of their own volition or not.

    Secondly, I don’t think that my fellow Britons think of Australia as being a ‘child country’ (son or daughter?) Similarly I have never heard of Aus referred to as ‘the new country.’ This rather suggests there is a certain class of Australians who hark back to some sort of golden age of colonialism that never was.

    Besides, we all know that it is the Kiwis who are ‘more English than the English.’

  4. As if this country isn’t old enough for us in the first place anyways – sheesh! lol

    I’m in Tom Price now – soon to be going home via Paraburdoo – and I’m wandering through Karajini and thinking to myself – WOW!
    This county is OLD old… it’s so old it’s forgotten where the ‘old’ rock ended and the ‘new’ rock began! Stories and songlines cover this country of ours, and very little is known of the way in which it bounds all of us fellas (Yep – said US – cos this is something available and open to ALL Aussies) to each other.

    Maybe there’s something to this letting go of the ‘Mother’ country business after all C, until you cut those ties (in our society perhaps) we’ll never come to know that we already have ourselves a Mother Country right here – where we live. This country can’t be your home ‘proper way’ until you can actually give ‘Country’ it’s rightful place, inside yourself.

    This seems to be a difficulty here for many people – and I just don’t understand why… any thoughts on this one???

    Cheers 😉

  5. Hey Belongum,
    I have lots of thoughts! 🙂 One of which is watch out in the floodways – a lot of water coming your way…

    I totally agree with you.

    It’s like when you are stuck in a job which you don’t really like but you don’t really know what else you want to do and you’re waiting for that opportunity that you know is the right one, so you stay there, and that opportunity never presents itself because you haven’t made space in your life for it to happen.

    Or when you have broken up with a boyfriend and you’re still “friends” and you see each other and you never find another boyfriend because you’re still hanging on to the old one.

    You have to let go of the old to embrace the new and allow the new to embrace you.

    I think also, that there is a feeling among some white fellas that they don’t want to take what isn’t their’s and repeat the wrongs of the past…

    But I also think that loving country is a bit like when you love anything – you just want other people to love what you love because you love it!

    I think there are a lot of displaced people in Australia – both Indigenous and non-Indigenous – and that in many ways we have lost the art of “belonging” to place and letting place into our hearts.

    Almost as if we are frightened to do so in case it is taken away from us.

    Am I making sense at all??

  6. Certainly… it’s almost a catch 22 type situation! Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t I guess. I had to give a talk to a group of artists at Atwell Gallery not too long ago… and it was around the topic of Connection to Country. I’ve never really accepted the notion that in this day and age this country (all of ’em) ‘belongs’ to only one group of people! One group of people(s) in this country have an inert sense of place and connection to this country mainly because they were never raised to be separate from it (traditionally for want of another way to put it).

    A group of people came to this country (these countries) without that connection or sense of place – a lot of those people originally, were brought here without choice and dumped here. All they had to hold onto was their little piece of country inside themselves. I guess given this view point, it’s no wonder that a phantom of this need is still ‘trapped’ inside a bundle of our own peoples here.

    Since that mess was introduced here, we furthered this silly bugger business – wedging both groups further and further apart – and mixing it all up by playing one off against the other. The nature of how this has happened has changed some – but the inevitable result seems to stay the same. It helps none of us, and we feel helplessly lost in it all.

    So yes – I sorta get where your taking me… and yes – I feel for those who are stuck in the boggy ground – in-between. I also understand how easy it is to be lost in this place… what with all the ‘propaganda’ thrown out there by all sorts on all sides, not to mention the red herrings, and the pollies in positions seem happy to see the confusion sown – and maintain the status quo.

    Almost sounds like the Disc World (please forgive me Terry Pratchett) now doesn’t it – except there they know it’s coming.

    *sighhhhhhh* I think FARRR too much… and it’s no wonder I have no hair left! lol 😉

    You’ll be happy to know that the flash floods may have upset Rio Tinto some – but left us well alone! Cheers…

  7. Ahhh so what’s the solution wise grasshopper?

    I think we all need to let go of “owning” the land.

    The land is the land.

    You can’t own it… or maybe it is that we ALL own it.

    I guess we need to separate land ownership with custodianship.

    And if we think globally it is the custodianship of the Earth, a responsibility to pass it on as best we can to the future.

    Perhaps with custodianship comes connection?

    (And I didn’t mean that rain but the rain that is coming with this new tropical low. Looks like some might fall over Karajini.)

  8. Ummm – find another grasshopper??? lol

    Okay – I”m going to be cheeky and continue this – without buying you a beer and a bowl of chips! It looks like I’ll owe ya 😉

    It seems to be a reoccurring theme at the moment – keeps popping up all around me. It came up in today’s Perth’s Writers Festival Meanjin discussion with Jane Gleeson-White – where Jane yarned about the power of literature (story-telling) and the way in which it can move past the ‘life or culture’ to which it was originally anchored in (my take on her yarn – sorry Jane).

    What I took away is that a powerfully good yarn can transcend these limitations if you like – they can move and live a life all their own, and almost ‘re-invent’ themselves, thanks to the people (influenced by these yarns in their own literary past) who take them and breath new life into them in their own story-tellings.

    Songlines and the yarns of this country came up towards the end (and I have to say, I was quite pleasantly surprised), and in my head the hope that these stories stay alive is paramount. These stories don’t care whose head they live in – they need to be shared to be alive – they can only ‘live on’ in others – like cutlure, if this doesn’t happen, these stories will die. OUR old country will cease to be if we don’t share this with each other.

    I can only see us overcoming this, by sharing, but how do you encourage a bundle of Aussies to put aside their sense of distrust enough, to actually share these notions?

    Buggered if I know C – I’ve been trying to figure that one out for years, and all I know is to keep taking as many small steps forward that I personally can. Eventually (and I see this happening already) I’ll see more and more of us taking these small steps together – and who knows – maybe the next time some of us will bring a mate along.

    Do I owe you two beverages after that C? 🙂

  9. Maybe I owe you one!

    Okay interesting… I agree with you – I think sharing is the only way to go AND I think the arts – through story telling in all forms is the way to do it.

    I went to a party once – and the hostess had organised for a couple of Indigenous artists to work with the guests to create a large dot painting – it would have been the length of a trestle table – just canvas laid out on top of it with plates of different acrylic paint (I think… it was a long time ago).

    The guests would come up and the artists would teach them (me) how to use the sticks to paint on the canvas.

    They also talked about the various symbols and what they meant.

    At the end of the party the canvas looked beautiful. Most of us felt we’d learned a lot about Indigenous Art. I guess a lot of us learn by doing.

    Before the artists left though they covered a lot of the painting with white circles.

    I’m not sure why.

    Perhaps to say this is not a traditional artwork or something. (although they could have just written that on the back)

    Anyway I thought it ruined the painting.

    The hostess who had been planning on framing it – felt she had done the wrong thing and instead folded the canvas and kept it hidden away.

    She felt guilty about the event for a long while afterwards.

    I’m wondering what you think about that?

    Are non-Indigenous people “allowed” to paint in Indigenous styles?

    Does that somehow take something away from the Indigenous artists?

    If they ever establish that institute of Indigenous Art in Perth (as Alan Dodge would like to see) should all be welcome to learn the artform?

    What would happen to the traditional artists who make a living from their art? Especially in areas where there are few alternative employment opportunities?

  10. Hmmm – how interesting…

    Personally – I wouldn’t organise such a party. Not because I think it’d be transgressing some unseen boundary or such, just that I couldn’t promise an outcome that I could control – I couldn’t guarantee that all the people taking part would want to share in the whole experience in exactly the same way.

    Maybe that’s a bit arrogant of me to say – I don’t mean for this to be the case though, it’s just that my experience in this ‘cultural business’ have shown me that our cultural ‘exchanges’ are completely beyond our ability to control. Every individual has their own cultural base from which to step themselves off from – good or not so good – and there’s buggerall you can do to about controlling this. Then our expectations come along for the ride – and how in hell we don’t get ourselves in more strife over such things I’ll never know, because our own expectations take us off in all sorts of different directions all over again.

    Some Indigenous artists ‘hide’ other images of their law etc in their paintings – covering it up or mixing it up in such a way that unless you know that particular aspect of the ‘yarn’ – you’ll miss it entirely.

    It could be that you were made privy to private women’s business – and this couldn’t be seen by the wider public eye – it was something that only belonged to the moment, much like other traditional ceremonies that only include the relevant people in it.

    I feel for your friend though – because if there’s one thing that causes the most misunderstandings between us fellas, it’s all our different cultures, and there’s simply no knowing where you can go ‘wrong’ – even if you’re a seasoned operator – you can’t always make it happen the way you want too. God (or insert appropriate deity here) knows I’ve tried… and I all I aim to do is make it some sort of shared experience – and if this happens – I’ve done the best I can do.

    This is a huge ‘topic’ – sorry C… I was going to delete this – I don’t mean to take up your blogspace like this – it’s just that this yarn is a happening thing around me at the moment, and it seems like it’s been coming for quite some time – I feel completely immersed in it! it’s a bit overwhelming actually… I live in a world between our cultures and it demands a hell of a lot from me. I can’t even step away from it – because I have two boys who need to be guided through this now – and this quite frankly frightens the beejeebus out of me!

  11. Oh – yeah – your questions:

    One day the time will come when there will be those who share Indigenous and Non-indigenous styles. When this will happen I don’t know. But there will always be things that will belong more to one group of people than the other – simply because one group of people are immersed in it more than the other.

    But what of those whitefellas who are made privy to this world – is their experience any less than that of others simply because of the colour of their skin? Me personally I think not. This country doesn’t know – nor care – what the colour of your skin is… we leave that business to ourselves – people.

    It may take away this business from those who care about it yes – especially if we have people who do this for all the wrong reasons (or just some of them) – looking for the wrong kind of gain.

    Never knew this was being sought here in Perth. Might need to find out more.

    I feel that once the ‘fad’ wear off – people will still want the genuine article from the people who know. What will need to happen is the education of ALL people involved, because this will bring change, and change is a frightening thing… I think I’ll still have a job if this change comes about – what do you think? lol 😉

  12. Excellent post. I totally agree. I wonder how many people still refer to the UK that way. I’ve not heard it in ages and then it was from a very elderly man. I’d be suprised to discover any one over fifty still felt that way about the UK unless their parents were British.

    I have never felt any affinity for any part of Europe. I was born here in Australia. I am Australian. My grandparents are from Eastern Europe but I’ve never felt that was the “old country”. Seems a very odd way to think about the world.

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