The Outdated “Australian Dream” In A Multicultural Australia

The “Australian dream” is a longstanding marker that has always been used to describe the so-called successful Australian person.

An Australian is said to live the “Australian dream” or the “Great Australian Dream” if they own a house with a backyard in the suburbs. Such a person who lives this dream is deemed a respected person. A respected person who most likely speaks with the Australian accent. A respected person who most likely grew up in a predominantly Anglo suburb and went to public school. A respected person who is a middle-aged Caucasian adult holding a stable job in a company run by high-paying Caucasian executives so as to support the family and pay off the mortgage.

Some living the Australian dream like to model their houses after traditional architectural styles. A miniature house in 'Tudor Village' in Melbourne's Fitzroy Gardens. Photo: Mabel Kwong

Some living the Australian dream like to model their houses after traditional architectural styles. A miniature house in ‘Tudor Village’ in Melbourne’s Fitzroy Gardens. Photo: Mabel Kwong

There’s seems to be an air of “whiteness” associated with the “Australian dream” and that’s why I don’t favour the phrase too much.

My family lived this dream many years back. I grew up in the suburbs of Melbourne, a happy Asian Australian kid playing with my stuffed B1 Banana In Pyjamas plushy in a big one-story brick house that had a large garden and a big backyard. On hot summer days, from the cool confines of our living room, I would peep out of the window and see my dad mowing the lawn out the front in a sweat soaked shirt – which our Caucasian neighbours across the street did as well.

My mum would say, “Daddy is getting burnt cutting grass. Don’t you go out (under the sun) and get all black”. Clearly, for a silly little reason, she disliked that we had to cut grass during the summer in our “Australian dream”. She scorned the fact that my dad was being “Caucasian”, taming grass in the backyard like a redneck Aussie, and scorning the “Australian dream” in some sense. After all, it is rare for Asians in South East Asia to have gardens and lawns to mow. And many aren’t fans of sunshine. When we returned to Melbourne after a decade-long stint in Asia, my family and I were adamant we lived in a flat this time.

No offence to those living or are fans of the “Australian dream”, but this term is very much exclusive: we often don’t hear Asian Australians talking about – mentioning – living the “Australian dream” themselves. Or hear Caucasian Australians refer to non-white Australians living this dream.

More and more migrants make up the fabric of Australian society today. Many of these migrants drive taxis, work at 7-11s and wait tables here, holding non-white collar jobs in industries where more than a handful of their colleagues are non-Caucasians. They make modest livings supporting themselves and their families and live in ethnically populated suburbs. So in line with the longstanding literal meaning of the phrase, these migrants aren’t exactly living the “Australian dream”.

But who’s to say migrants can’t claim to live the “Australian dream”? The term connotes a life of relative comfort. Financial and accommodation security. Happiness. I’m sure many educated migrants who have steady jobs, earn enough to support their families and have a place to live are fairly contented with permanent life in Australia – living the “Australian dream”.

On a tangent, why must the “Australian dream” refer to just one specific admirable way of life tucked away in suburbia? Is this a desired way of life anymore for Australians? Many of us have itchy feet and yearn to be on the move around the world. Many migrants might not be attracted to suburban lifestyle, like my mum. Residential apartments have sprung up all over Melbourne’s inner suburbs and are becoming increasingly popular with Asians in Australia.

Is it an attainable dream anymore? The volatile economy has made it increasingly difficult to build a house over the last ten years. Renting has become more common. But if we save enough for a number of years, I’m sure we can afford a house.

Owning a place and raising a family are two things most of us, most of us all over the world, dream of doing one day. So attaching the moniker “Australian dream” to family-home ownership in Australia seems, well, odd and redundant as this dream is a universal dream.

Maybe it’s time we re-defined the “Australian dream” to encapsulate a modern reflection of a fair-go, multicultural nation south of the globe and its relaxed people . To me, the “Australian dream” can be anything each of us wants it to be. To me, on an individual level, living the “Australian dream” is living with a solid roof over my head, harmoniously living side-by-side with my fellow Australians and sharing good food with them. On a national level, to me it is about an Australia that denounces racism and respects every citizen regardless of race.

What does the “Australian dream” – or maybe even the “American dream” – mean to you?

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9 thoughts on “The Outdated “Australian Dream” In A Multicultural Australia

  1. I’d say the American dream is that America is a country where everybody can achieve what they set out to do. I’d say Barrack Obama helps affirm that dream as do many of American migrant millionaires.

    In Australia, the dream is not really about achieving because if you achieve you tend to get criticized. Instead, Id say that it is a country where egalitarian rules so that someone like Kerry Packer can have a beer with a tradesman in a spirit of equality. I’d say that one of the reasons why journos seem to like politicians like Rudd swearing like a whafie is that it helps affirm the idea that Rudd is equal to a wharfie. Basically, they seem to admire him more for egalitarian sentiments that anything he achieved in international business or diplomacy.

    The racial associations with the Australian dream can be partly attributed to recruiting for media organisations like the ABC and SBS. The ABC’s charter is to reflect the Australian identity and it does it with predominately white faces and lots of British shows. The SBS’s charter is to reflect that Australia is a multicultural society and it recruits non-white and non-anglo presenters (even if they have Australian accents.) Ironically, senior management is white. and I don’t think they identify as multicultural.

    Perhaps another reason for the white bias in the Australian dream is that Australians of British descent might be more likely to see themselves as Australian rather than British due to sporting competition between the two nations. If we had more sport between Australia and China in which Australians of Chinese heritage were pitted against Chinese, then they would perhaps result in more non-British faces being associated with Australia and more Australians of Chinese heritage seeing themselves as Australians.

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    • Very well said RedEarthBlueSky. Totally agree when you mention that if Australians achieve, they tend to be looked down upon. An egalitarian society might be what many Australians want or Australia wants to be, but as your political and media examples show, this might never be possible. If Australia were to call itself and aspire to be a multicultural society, then I suppose all Australians have to identify themselves as multicultural and recognise that others are multicultural in a non-condescending way. I’ve come across many here in Australia who are of Anglo European descent, acknowledge this, but don’t see themselves as “ethnic” or “multicultural” – but just white Australian. It’s quite common here.

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  2. I dont like the way you address Anglo Australians as “Caucasians”.

    I think we prefer the term “Germanic Australians” due to the fact we descend from the Mighty Nordic race. You should welcome your Nordic Overlords 🙂

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