June 17, 2014

Horse 1695 - Australia Has No National Personification Like Marianne

Some time last week, I was given in change; in place of a Two Dollar Coin, a Five Eurocent coin from France. RF in this case stands for République Française. The lady on the back of the coin is Marianne, the embodiment of the French motto Liberté, égalité, fraternité, and of France itself.
Marianne probably dates from about 1792 after the First French Republic was declared and was usually portrayed with a Phrygian cap which stood for liberty and freedom but in most cases, just makes the wearer look like a giant Smurf.

This got me thinking, the United States is embodied by Lady Liberty, Uncle Sam and even Columbia. The United Kingdom has Britannia and John Bull. Greece or more specifically Athens has Athena; Iceland had The Lady of The Mountain, Ireland is personified with Kathleen Ni Houlihan and Germany has Deutscher Michel and Germania.
This is going to sound really strange but even New Zealand has as their national personification, the lady Zealandia, who is the daughter of Britannia standing on the left hand side of their coat of arms.
No, I am serious:

In contrast, who does Australia have? No-one.

It's interesting how in 2014, in the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of possibly the most idiotic ever fought upon the earth, in which "lions were led by donkeys" and where men's lives were describer as the "coin of the realm on the battlefield", that Australia which was prior to this a tin pot little post of empire, on the other side of the world, is supposed to have forged its national identity.

Yet even with a casualty rate of 65% of Australian soldiers who served in World War One, that still wasn't enough to give either Australians or the nation a sense of its nationhood, that it would become personified.
British solidiers would become known as Tommies and Germany would gain the name of The Hun, whilst its soldiers would become known as either Fritz or Jerry. Granted there are uses of the terms Digger and ANZAC but really, they aren't the same sort of concept as a national personification.

I've had a go at trying to picture what the personification of Australia might look like but sadly, I can't come up with anything constructive. The only images which really stick are either the slouch hat or possibly a hat with corks on. Mostly all the other stereotypical images of Australia are all of things which have long passed.
We might think of the stockman and the concept that Australia rides on the sheep's back but when it comes to actual exports, mining overtook agriculture in the 1960s. We might even try and think of some sporting hero but the problem then is that you actually think of the sporting hero rather than the nation as a whole.
You could try and think of something more contemporary like a family in surburbia; with a house on a quarter acre block but that dream is very quickly fading indeed with the beginning of generations to be locked out of affordable housing forever and being forced to rent. Even the idea of far to many summers on the beach, burning their way into the national psyche are outdated for the same reason. No-one can afford to park all day near the beach anymore, have you been to Bondi or Coogee lately? I don't know if the idea of someone having to put coins into parking meters all day long is exactly the sort of image that we'd like to have as our nation personified; though given the amount of toll roads which we have to drive down just to get anywhere, maybe we should?

Thinking about this logically, it would be fitting if our national personification was four people named Wong, Smith, Santarelli and Jagamurra, driving down the street in a Mazda 3. The car is imported (because Australia soon won't build cars anymore) and apart from Jagamurra who is indigenous, the other three are migrants because everyone except the First Australians are either migrants or descended from migrants at some point.
Maybe they'd have green and gold scarves flapping out of the windows in this sport obsessed nation, for we watch plenty of it but not as many of us actually play as we used to. There'd probably be a kebab, a curry and a pie in the car, and Smith would probably be trying to convince everyone that cous-cous is really special. One of them would be checking out the latest talent competition TV show on an iDevice and they'd all be worrying about housing or rental prices.

The problem with a national personification is that in principle, everyone sort of needs to agree on how they're going to present themselves. The local council area in which I live in has people who came from 205 countries in the world out of 206 and the only reason that we didn't get number 206 is because that's the Vatican City and that'd mean asking curious questions.
If Australia were to become a republic, it couldn't really put anyone like Marianne, Lady Liberty or Athena on the back of the coins because Australia doesn't really have a national personification and I suspect that it couldn't really ever expect to have one either...
...except the lady on the box of Redheads matches.

1 comment:

Das said...

We did have one, well he was more endemic to NSw. The Little Boy from Manly but he seemed to have died out, and thank goodness for that!