The legacy of the British Empire is felt across the globe. English-style city planning, a glorification of armed forces, and the English language itself can be found from the slopes of the Rocky Mountains to the arid plains of Australia. Both are prosperous westernized nations with a history of direct British colonial rule. To many it may seem that the two are nearly the same.
Enter the Australia Panel.
Three members of the Wesley Institute staff who have been hand selected to represent Australian culture to the ASC students, each with a unique area of expertise and background. Prompted by questions pulled from students’ readings the three weighed in on important aspects of Australia’s cultural myths, convict history, engagement with Aboriginal Australians, and modern issues in Australian culture.
Beginning with the quirks of Australian language, Jo Kenny, coordinator and lecturer for the drama department, describes, “Irreverence is very Australian, but we do it with a sense of humor, so we have a charm about it.”
Mark Stevens, lecturer for the theology department, adds, “I identify with that sense of humor, I think it keeps you grounded in a way that doesn’t bring you down.”
The three encourage the American students that, “if your host families or Australian friends seem to be cutting you down, that’s a sign of acceptance.”
Julie Matthews, head of the department of education, brings in an historical perspective explaining the connection between the convict beginnings and modern Australian society. Ideas like the “tall poppy syndrome,” distrust and irreverence for authority, fatalism, and mateship, she says, come from a legacy of people who were thrown into a fierce land against their will.
“That ‘mateship’ that Australians became known for is something to be proud of,” says Julie. She mentions the storming of Gallipoli by Australian and New Zealand troops, an important moment in the formation of Australia during the First World War.
At one point Jo begins reading from a book called 800 Horsemen, an account of a gallant moment in Australian history abroad. It tells the story of the 4th and 12th Australian Light Horse units that successfully performed an incredibly risky charge upon well-entrenched Turkish artillery. The American students were surprised to see her so overcome with emotion for a moment that happened even before her parents were born. Such is the deep feeling of mateship between Australians.
Mark explains further, “No one would ever say, ‘I’ll die for you’ but when the situation gets really tough there’s no question, we would die for each other.”
Questions also prompted a look at some of the challenges Australia faces today. Struggling with a younger generation taking to binge drinking and a viciously post-Christian society is no simple feat. But Mark brought it home, “I don’t just weep for my culture but for the world,” as he explained the challenges here reflect those of the globe.
“Australians are best when they live for others,” he says, “I suspect that’s true of human beings.”
Listening to the students debrief the panel it became apparent that learning about another nation provides the ability to think critically about one’s own.