Females “Living Together” in an Australian Daze

How many different female types did the documentary Australia Daze portray? How did it contrast the masculine Oz types in the documentary?

Australia Daze (Pat Fiske 1988) is a television documentary about the 1988 Australia day which was the bicentennial anniversary of Australia’s European settlement. The event’s theme, “living together,” sought to promote the co-existence of Australia’s multicultural nation since the first settlers (Stratton 108). The documentary, however, reveals the disharmony between the reality of multicultural Australians “Living Together.” The film revealed the controversy over whether or not Australia Day should be a day of celebrating the the coming of white settlers or a day of mourning for the survival of Australia’s Indigenous population. The juxtaposition of these parties reflect Australia Day’s ambivalence to the Australia’s nation.  Academic discourses on this documentary argue that Australia’s national identity struggles to be united due to Australia’s history on politics of race and multiculturalism (Stratton 20). Within these discourses, however, the issue of gender in relation to national identity is always ignored. Australia’s national identity has often been associated with imaginary masculine terms, such as the “outback,” “the bush,” “the BBQs” and the true blue Aussie “bloke.” In this journal, I will look at the ways in which Australia Daze perpetuates Australia’s masculine discourse by placing the women in private and recessive spaces.  There were five main female types on Australian Daze: (1) the wealthy white wife, (2) the hard-working white suburban wife, (3) Australian activists (3) “bogan” women, and (4) indigenous  women.  I argue that these contradictory female types produce an ambivalent female nationality that makes the bicentennial theme, “living together,” more controversial.

The re-enactment of the arrival of the ships in the Sydney Harbour in Australia Daze celebrates a “masculine” triumph. The visual presence of ships in Sydney Harbour underscores the masculine australian legend of “taming the bush.”  In the midst of this masculine celebration,  upper-class women sit and passively watch the arrival with admiration. During the re-enactment, an upper-class Aussie “bloke” pulls two women under his arms as if to “show them off” to the camera.  The two females then proceed to lean their heads on each side of the bloke and smile. The question is, where do the women fit in this re-enactment of the arrival of the ships?Furthermore, the rich women on the boat are all the women are wearing white. One woman commented, “We are all wearing white, to have something in common I guess” (Australia Daze). This “white” camouflage amongst the harbour underscores their lack of agency in the event.  By showing these women in white, Australia Daze reduces the female upper class as unintelligible and indistinguishable women.  In other words, Australian female national identity is defined by conformity- conforming to a historical event that they are not recognized for.

Other upper-class women that were not at the Sydney harbour celebration, spent their Australia Day at Bondi Beach with their husbands. These women were portrayed as being ignorant to the greater racial tensions during Australia day.  A tan elderly woman walking on Bondi Beach with her husband claimed, “If you want to work, you can work…If you want to buy a house, you buy a house.” This woman ignores and denies the fact that people of colour have a harder time finding a job than a white middle class male. Furthermore, she ignores the fact that women earn, on average, lower salary than men. She goes on to state that Australians must “enjoy where we are now” and forget the past. In this statement, she represses Australia’s controversial history and her place in society. Another white woman, attending a local catholic, said she saw Australia Day as a way to celebrate the introduction of the gospel to Australia two hundred years ago. Her position at the church juxtaposed with the Aboriginal protests on the street structures her role as ambivalent and ignorant. In this way, the white upper class women are seen a contributing to Australia’s national “daze.”

Australia Daze also depicted middle-class women in domestic suburbs away from the masculine display at the harbour.  An elderly woman, while preparing food in her kitchen said, “We are all getting along. We all care for one another. I love Australia day and I love this neighborhood.” This shows that Australian women are content in the domestic space and unaware of the deeper issues of identity at work in the city during Australia Day. Moreover, this segment of the film perpetuates the stereotype of the Australian suburbs as a “feminine” space and the city (where the colonial ship re-enactment was taking place) as a masculine space.

In contrast to the wealthy women and suburban woman, the women in support for Aboriginal causes are in protest on the street. A female activist said, “Being here with the original Australians is what being Australian means to me, makes more sense then all the events happening in the harbour” (Australia Daze). In this sense, the women are constructed as the caretakers and supporters for the Indigenous mourning. Ironically, no men are interviewed about supporting the Aboriginal mourning. Therefore, Australia Daze depicts the females in support of Aboriginal mourning as serious “mother” figures and the males as the celebrators.

In contrast to the female activists, there are the bogan females types. Australia Daze structures women in Alice Springs as unruly, erotic, and ignorant. In one scene, several women lift up their shirts  and “scull” beers. Australia Daze’s depiction of this “drunken” female celebration represents the females’ unawareness of the larger implications of Australia day and their ambivalent place within Australia’s national identity.

Furthermore, Pat Fiske chose to use the voice of two male radio broadcasters, who narrated the events at the Sydney Harbour, to weave the filmic events together. The male’s narration of the Sydney Harbour event proceeds the scene where the female aboriginal  radio broadcaster narrates the Aboriginal mourning in Sydney park. In comparison to the male’s bombastic radio broadcast, the Aboriginal woman’s voice appears to be timid and recessive. The filmmaker could have chosen to use the Aboriginal broadcast throughout the film, but instead chose to let the male voices the structure of the film. Thus, the film “tunes out” female voices. In other words, by giving the female Aboriginal radio broadcast limited space in the film, Australia Daze constructs female identity as insignificant within a dominant masculine text.

Australia Daze perpetuates Australia’s masculine dominance by placing the women in private and recessive spaces. The female types depicted on Australia Daze, from the ignorant rebellious  female bogans to the caring Aboriginal protestors, reveal that female identity on Australia day is in a constant state of struggle. Graeme turner reminds us, that “definitions of national identity are sites of struggle; the definitions are never static or “fixed” (Stratton 107). Although, Australia Daze, provided many points of view on the controversial event, the filmic spaces and sounds of the documentary perpetuated the dominance of Australian masculine national identity.

Works Cited:

Australia Daze, Dir. Pat Fiske. Australian Film Corporation, ABC,1988.

Stratton, John, Race daze: Australia in identity crisis. Annandale, NSW: Pluto Press, 1998.


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