8 Common Stereotypes And Misconceptions About Australians

As someone who was born in Australia and has lived here for most of my life, some stereotypes, myths and perceptions about Australians ring true. And some don’t.

Australia is a diverse country, with the outback and city side by side as I wrote in this blog post about the geographic land of Oz itself. Naturally, Australians are a pretty diverse bunch in general, diverse in terms of what they like, the way they choose to live their lives and who they chose to be.

Australia, a land where Australians are all shapes, sizes and personalities | Weekly Photo Challenge: Ambience.

Australia, a land where Australians are all shapes, sizes and personalities | Weekly Photo Challenge: Ambience.

There is the tendency to think of the average, person-next-door Australian like this:

1. Australians love the beaches and are good swimmers

Not all Australians live by the beach since beachside homes all over the country are in the multi-million dollar price-range. Also some Australian beaches are more popular than others – think Bondi Beach and Byron Bay Beach in NSW, always packing a crowd.

Not all of us are keen on swimming in the sea or know how to surf the waves. When there’s a great white shark circling the waters around the coasts of Bondi or Byron Bay, we get out of the water pretty much straight away – because these sharks are literally impossible to outswim. I myself do not like swimming one bit and avoid beaches because I get lobster-red sunburnt too easily. There’s also only so much to do at the beach (walk, sitting on the sand) before I feel bored.

2. Australians wear flip flops, singlets and shorts all day

This might be true if you live in northern Australia where it’s tropical weather all year round. The other summer day here in Melbourne, it was 19’C/66’F and it annoyingly left me with no choice but to wear my winter jacket outside.

3. Drinking is our national pastime

True to an extent given after-work drinks is part of the culture at many workplaces in Australia. Going to the pub for a beer or two is also something Australians like to do on a lazy weekend, or right before a meal out on the town or when watching sport. Also, South Australia boasts some of the world’s finest wine regions such as the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale. Commonly there’s the misconception that Fosters beer is a popular drink here in Oz, though – it’s not and rather, it’s brewed in the UK today.

A million Australians consume on average eight drinks a day. Still, compared to the rest of the world, Australians are not among the top 10 countries of heavy drinkers. But drinking or not drinking is a choice and no shame in not drinking really. I have no shame in turning down drinks offered to me whenever, wherever, and no shame in asking for a free water.

4. Watching sport is also our national pastime

Each year, Australia hosts the Australian Open tennis. The F1 Grand Prix, motor racing. Test Cricket matches. The Australian Masters, golf. The Melbourne Cup, horse racing. World Rugby Sevens. The Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. And local sport such as Australian Footy / AFL. Australian Rugby League. A-league soccer.

Some say sport is a religion in Australia. But of course, some will disagree. There’s only so much sport we can follow. And like.

Australians are a bunch that love the sunshine and great outdoors.

Australians are a bunch that love the sunshine and great outdoors.

5. All Australians are bogans and not that smart

According to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘bogan’ refers to a lower socio-economic Aussie who is uncouth and unsophisticated. More generally speaking, it’s someone who likes flannel shirts, abbreviates their sentences with Aussie-slang, hooning, tattoos, drinking and a love for classic Aussie rock music. Certainly not everyone is a bogan in Australia; different classes of people speak differently, dress differently and have different  interests.

And certainly not all who are classed as bogans are not smart. For all you know they have the sharpest street smarts ever.

6. Australians like to wear black and nudes, unconservative

Walk down the streets of Melbourne and it’s actually quite common to see person after person wearing black from head to toe, especially in winter – a style that is always seen here as minimalistic and gives off cool vibes. If not black, then grey or beige. But the more cosmopolitan Sydneysiders are not shy about wearing colours be it in a bikini or short shorts or a plunging dress to spring carnivals.

Personally, I’m not a fan of wearing black as light colours make me feel more positive. In the summer, I like wearing light-coloured singlets without anything else on underneath. At home.

7. All Australians are white. Westerners

Australia was colonised by the British in the 1700s and 1800s and during this time convicts were resettled in Australia. British colonisation undoubtedly left its mark on Australia – Victorian architecture, fish and chips and monarch rule are (Western) markers of Australian society today. British colonisation also displaced Indigenous Australians and their way of life; Aboriginal land was taken over by the colonists on the basis the land belonged to no-one (‘terra nillius’).

Since then, slowly but surely Aboriginal communities and histories are being rediscovered. Various prehistoric Aboriginal sites and languages unearthed over the last few decades, and there is no one single Aboriginal culture. Also today, migration contributes to Australia’s social and economic fabric and a quarter of Australians are born overseas. I am Chinese, born in Australia. I am Australian. I am Australia.

8. Racist

Where there is cultural difference, chances are there’ll be cultural misunderstandings. From the Cronulla riots over a decade ago to repeated derogatory slurs on public transport to senator Pauline Hanson attempting to ‘normalise discrimination and anti-immigration’ from the vantage of Oz parliament, some Australians come across as racist both to those at home and on the world stage.

Maybe some of us are racist and we don’t know it.  After all, casual racism is common in Australia, especially in the media where certain ethnicities are cast in certain roles and poked fun at. Then again, some of us do fit the stereotype and sometimes poke fun at our own race all in good humour for a good laugh.

***

There are also many other stereotypes about Australians: like how we are friendly, relaxed, all about a fair-go – yes when we don’t feel threatened. We like to throw a shrimp on the barbie – yes when the weather is nice enough for a BBQ. Australians are New Zealanders/kiwis and vice-versa – not true at all since New Zealand is a whole other country. That if you look anything but Caucasian then you’re not Australian – not true as well.

Australians also like turning on each other sometimes, arguing til no end in sight.

Australians also like turning on each other sometimes, arguing til no end in sight.

Over the last couple of decades, notable Australian icons and moments include outback bogan characters in the iconic Aussie film Crocodile Dundee starring Paul Hogan, the beach saturated tourism ad Where The Bloody Hell Are You and daredevil nature expert Steve Irwin. More recently, notable Australian personalities and moments include the acclaimed LGBT-themed comedy film The Adventures of Priscila Queen of the Desert and the TV show The Family Law starring an Asian-Australian family. Australia has come some way in redefining, or rather accepting, Aussie stereotypes, and identity.

Not surprisingly, when it comes to talk about Aussie stereotypes, there comes the question of what really is Australian or at the very least being as Australian as we possibly can. As per the Australian Citizenship Act 2007, there are a number of ways to be Australian – for instance by birth, adoptive parents, doing away with whether or not one fits stereotypical moulds. But if by law we aren’t defined as Aussie, no reason why we can’t share in the Aussie values and be a part of this country that is Oz. You don’t have to fit the stereotype in order to belong to a certain place – that feeling of belonging lies within you, because you feel it and believe in it.

Each of us change as we gain lessons and experiences, changes in terms of identity and personalities. In a country like Australia where multiculturalism is alive and cultural tolerance is coming around, slowly but surely, we are learning to get along a bit more better and see past typical stereotypes. Politics change, people change. And as people change, politics change. Maybe Pauline Hanson isn’t so bad after all, a reality check for us and reminding us of what we don’t want to be today and tomorrow. Or maybe she really is. As Indigenous leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu said on a new day:

 “It is a different world today from what it was then. It will be a different world tomorrow from what it is today.”

Australians. We are multicultural. But no one of us will agree like how the sky and sea always see eye to eye.

Australians. We are multicultural. But no one of us will agree like how the sky and sea always see eye to eye.

On Australia Day last year, me and my friend checked out some celebrations out in the western suburbs. As we queued up for a horse carriage ride, a Caucasian dad flanked by two kids in front of us asked us, “Where are you from?”. After a slight pause both me and my Chinese-Australian friend said Australia. Lifting one of his kids in his arms and without a pause, the dad nodded in reverence and then jovially launched into a story about how he was born and grew up in Bright, London, and how he and the wife decided to move to Australia and now they live here and are Australian. As I watched them get on the horse ride, I thought about how similar and dissimilar we are as Australians.

Sometimes we fit the stereotype. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes both. At least in Australia. And also…perhaps everywhere else.

What stereotypes have you heard about Australians?

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256 thoughts on “8 Common Stereotypes And Misconceptions About Australians

  1. I’ve to agree with you, Mabel! The winter attire’s forever in black, if not grey. =( Another stereotype I’ve heard is that Australians tend to bully (?) of their foreign colleagues. I don’t mean it in the literal sense of being a bully, but more like along the lines of alienating the said colleague. I wouldn’t know if this is true or a hearsay until I enter the workplace, but every trade/place has its bad apples anyways.

    Oh yeah. That sensitive issue of racism, sigh. I’d love to chalk it to their level of maturity and exposure but there’s no justifying racism at all. I mean, I’ve had the terrible experience of being asked to ‘leave me alone’ by a shopper at Coles. My only crime? Innocently queuing behind him at the cashier. =.=” I thought that Australians and Kiwis have a different – although faint – accent, which allows people to distinguish them from each other?

    Now, I almost threw out my chrysanthemum tea when I read that “[i]n the summer, I like wearing light-coloured singlets without anything else on underneath”. I thought you’d head out without a bra or something until I saw the accompanying sentence, lol. Plus, I’m sure you’ve heard about the Malaysian misconception that we live in a treehouse?

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    • I think I know what you mean. That Australian colleagues talk down their colleagues from another country, and it looks and sounds intimidating. A few times in my old workplaces I’ve tried to speak up at meetings only to be talked over by my white colleagues. Not pleasant at all. But mostly I’ve found my Australian colleagues to be very supportive. Maybe I’ve been lucky to have a good team at most places where I’ve worked.

      Yeah. Australians and Kiwis have different accents, and I think the Kiwi one is more sharp. As for racism, that is terrible to hear what happened to you in Coles. Maybe the man mistook you for an annoying kid. Or maybe he was really just being plain discriminatory D: You never know.

      Haha. I really do like wearing less at home :”D Yes, I heard that stereotype Malaysians climb trees and live in treehouses. That couldn’t be further from the truth, lol. Now. You are making me want to go get some chrysanthemum tea which I’ve hadn’t had in probably about ten years.

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  2. Very informative feature, Mabel, on Australia with some great pics of sandy beaches lining endless stretches of blue waters. It provides a backdrop to the impression that I have of the rather laid-back Aussie lifestyle embracing the sunny, expansive outdoors with ‘spirited’ eating. The other impression is of a high-stamina sporting people manifesting in track and field events and games such as cricket, hockey and tennis. It has its resonance in the exciting beginning of the year with tennis balls getting whacked with all ferocity at the Australian Open. As for isolated instances of racial tensions, these need to be taken in the stride, resolved and dissolved in the delightful Aussie cocktail that obtains in the happy intermingling of people of different cultures.

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    • Thank you so much for the spirited comment, Raj. Many Australians are indeed laid-back, and certainly love outdoor lifestyle. And sport too. The Australian Open is now in full swing and there are a lot of tennis promotional events around the city too.

      We do have a lot of work when it comes to tackling racism head on. It’s not something that can be overcome overnight, but it will forever be a continuous process that requires all of our participation.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Interesting – as always, Mabel! I think I do not have that many misconceptions or stereotypes about your country. Not more than about any other country. In fact I have some dear blogging friends and a collegue over there 😀 One of my husband’s sisters lived and worked there for some years. Only good things to say, really. What you are telling us I cannot say I have ever thought about! I enjoyed the Crocodile Dundee movies very much though. He was very entertaining – and I adore the accent!
    19 degrees C and you in a winter jacket…that was great fun! In two weeks we will be visiting our daughter in Umeå – about 30 degrees C below zero. I will need my winter jacket…
    I know, I know…for all of you people living in hotspots anything below 25 is cold…
    Thank you for enlightening me again – this time with some things I was totally unaware of!

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  4. Just a comment to the following:
    8. Racist
    “Where there is cultural difference, chances are there’ll be cultural misunderstandings.”

    When someone says, “I don’t like black people” that person should definitely be labeled a racist.
    However if a person says, “I hate the Chinese but I like Lucy Liu” wouldn’t it be better to refer to that person as a “culturalist”? It seems rather obvious the person is saying that he hates the Chinese because of their culture and not specifically because of their race. Most people are not racist but many might be considered “culturalists” from their inability to understand other people’s culture and way of thinking.

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  5. Travelling around Australia I’ve always been struck by how the same and yet different each city is. Melbourne is a bit different because you have four seasons in one day there and the beaches around Melbourne really aren’t worth going to. I felt Melbournians seemed to take much more time with fashion than other places and they seemed really into big sunglasses and white shoes. As for the commonalities, there was still that laid back egalitarian ethic and you could see plenty of people wearing thongs in roof top bars. Yes, it is not everyone, but that informality being acceptable and even celebrated in public is relatively unique.

    Racism is a hard one to define. I find that there is a strong intent not to be racist but other cultures are much more inquisitive and open to cultures outside of Europe. Food is an obvious exception but that outside, you aren’t going to hear politicians winning many votes by saying we need to learn from Asian values or African restorative practices.

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    • “the beaches around Melbourne really aren’t worth going to.” Such an honest perspective. Apart from the photos (in this post) of this beach in Melbourne I went to, I feel the same way. A lot of the beaches around Melbourne I’ve been to look and feel the same, but drive a bit further our (a few hours) and the beach views are more unique.

      Racism, multiculturalism, ethnicity and diversity are all hard to define. Different people from different cultures will have different perceptions of approaching each other. Eating another culture’s food doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t racist. You can eat another culture’s food and you can still be ignorant of their values.

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  6. There are new things that I did not know about the stereotypes of Australians. #5 and #8 are familiar to me. Especially #8 – but again, racism could be found everywhere, so it’s not fair to generalize all Australians as racists. Great post, Mabel!

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    • So true that racism can be anywhere. It will probably never be erased, and all Australians and everyone around the world have to work to respect each other for a better world. Thanks so much, Indah!

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  7. I think sport is a religion here in the States those – with our temples of worship (NFL stadiums) getting bigger each year…. and very good points and the ending story was perfect to drive home points and get us thinking,…

    “As I watched them get on the horse ride, I thought about how similar and dissimilar we are as Australians”

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    • Haha, I didn’t know stadiums are getting bigger and bigger in the States. More room for everyone, and the louder the cheers for those on field.

      Ending a blog post or any piece that I write, bringing it all back home and back to the heart, is a challenge. It takes a good dose of believing in your work to do that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • yes – and you do it well.
        and the stadium thing – well teams get moved from cities for a few reasons, and I was told that a big one of them has to do with whether or not their owner or current city can build the right stadium…
        but they are true works of art -and ginormous – and they sit empty so much….

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        • Maybe those big stadiums in the States are open to public on off-season and they have tours. This is the case with stadiums here in Melbourne. For a fee, the public can get a tour and learn a bit about the history of Australian sport through guided stadium tours.

          Liked by 1 person

          • well that is a good idea – and glad Melbourne does that…
            I think they do have other events at many of the newer stadiums.
            the training camp near us (for the washington redskins) was an expensive complex built with the idea that it would be multi-purposed for many events and tasks.
            and the Dallas Cowboy Stadium, which I think had the largest screen ever and it cost some crazy amount….
            well they had a very cool idea.
            they offered cheaper tickets for folks that wanted to watch the game in the lobby of the stadium
            – so for a much lesser fee – folks could hang out – eat – and be in the stadium – but view the screens – which often give great action and are easier to follow.
            not sure how it all turned out – but sounded like a win win move….

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  8. Yes, everything I know about Australia I learned from “Crocodile Dundee”.
    : )
    … also “Men at Work” … don’t forget the Mad Max movies.

    I remember this one college film about Australian Outback elementary school students who had to “go to school” over ham radio. The distances between ranches was so vast, that there was no way the children could commute to a single location. So the teacher would ask a question, and the student would answer giving their name, ranch location, “over”.

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    • Yes! Men At Work’s Down Under song became quite a hit. So were the Mad Max films, though set in the future. Aussie classics.

      That sounds like a cool way of communicating between teacher and classes. I’m curious. If you remember the film, let me know…

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      • I think it was just called “Australia” by Coronet films. It might have been called “Geography of Australia.” They are a big supplier of educational films.

        I do remember it had a 1986 copyright on it. These days kids on the isolated sheep stations would have class via Skype I assume.

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  9. Another wonderfully written article Mabel. I often talk about these topics to with my students at the language school where I teach. One comment from a Brazilian was how many Asians there are in Sydney. I said there are people from many countries not just Asia.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Charles. You are correct. There are so many people from all over the world converging in Australia. Just that maybe certain cultures favour a certain part of a state more than others for one reason or another.

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  10. My favorite line from this post is ‘I am Australian. I am Australia.’ Your stunning coastal images make me long to return there. Pauline Hanson is a twat but who am I to point fingers given my newly elected government. Hugs to the Wobbles clan 🐵✌️❤

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  11. Oh Mabel,I don’t know where to start! I always find your blogging extends my thought in a most positive way. I am Australian of Anglo/Celtic /Germanic roots: having had forebears in the country since the early 1840s. I grew up in a predominantly Anglo/Celtic community, but as I matured I met and befriended people from European states, Sicily,Malta, Greece, Sri Lanka (Ceylon) HongKong. Malay(sia) and Singapore.(to mention a few) and we have all become Australians, whilst still paying homage to our bloodlines.

    Unfortunately there are still ,dare I say “rednecks” or bogans who will not assimilate with our newer citizens. Theirs is the loss….. Hopefully one day soon, they will learn that skin colour and culture can mix to make us One. I am. You are. We are Australian! (from one old lady)

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    • It sounds like you learn a lot from those you have met with over the years , Maureen. I think a lot of us will be proud of where we have been and what we were brought up with, or at least have an appreciation to the past in our lives. And that is what makes life so rich and interesting. Diversity.

      It will take time for all of us to learn how to get together. And with time, I think that will get better. You may be much older than me, but you certainly are wise.

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  12. I will forever remember the Crocodile Dundee movie with the corks around his hat. 😀 I’ve not heard the term “Bogan” before, but your definition made me smile. I’m sure that every country has its Bogans.;) I’ve only been to Australia once and enjoyed every minute of our trip. There’s so much to see and the weather was stunning whilst we were there. The people seemed really friendly too. Wishing you a happy Australia Day. xx

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  13. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an article about Australians and thinking about my perceptions I know my ideas are influenced by movies. I’d love to see a list of common American stereotypes about now…probably not very flattering. Good post Mabel.

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  14. Liebe Mabel danke dir ja es ist sehr kalt geworden da trinkt man eine leckere Tasse Kakao mit Sahne und so kann man die Kälte ertragen hab ein schönes Wochenende mit vielen lieben Grüßen Klaus in Freundschaft

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  15. Growing up in Hong Kong, I’d say the stereotypes are mainly positive – I’ve tended to view Australians as being outdoorsy, outgoing, informal, approachable, and easygoing. I also associate hearing an Aussie accent with being on holiday. One of the first Australians who first made an impression on me was my English teacher in Grade 6: her name was Ms. Drew, and she made English classes so much fun. Oh and you guys have the best food channels on TV… Masterchef Australia is super as are many of the other cooking shows/documentaries I’ve seen.

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    • Haha, the Aussie accent associated with being on holiday. That is the first I’ve heard of it! Ms Drew sounds like an entertaining English teacher and I hope she had a few jokes to keep your class entertained 🙂 Masterchef Australia is still popular here after so many years, but I have a feeling it has an even bigger following in Asia.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I just now viewed this post of yours, Mabel. Your photography is OUTSTANDING! And I have to thank you for giving me glimpses of sunshine and beautiful scenery. It has been so grey here and drab. My Heart is smiling just thinking of your images. 🙂 ❤

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  17. Very common stereotypes indeed! I definitely have no trouble saying no to drinks and more often than not I just have water. But then again I’m not Australian.

    A recent incident really brought that home to me. My fiancé and I went to see our celebrant the other day to register our notice of intended marriage. Obviously the form asked for our first and last names. When the celebrant cross checked that against my passport she commented that it wasn’t how my name was written on the form and I would have to switch my first name and last name around (I have a Chinese name) to comply with Australian law. I had to insist that there was no way I was changing my name but it took half an hour to resolve that issue. Ah fun and games.

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    • Lol. Thankfully you got the name issue resolved. Growing up I had my first and last name “backwards” too. But these days in the professional world, work will have nothing of it. But I am okay with having my name the normal way, with my Chinese name in the middle.

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  18. My sister moved to live in Brisbane in 2001. Her partner is Austrailian and had been working in the UK for many years. They have two children. My niece (who is now 17) wants to stay in Austrailia and calls herself Australian. My nephew, who is 15, tells me he is very much British and wants to come and live in London. They were both born in the UK, but how they have grown differently since moving to Brisbane.

    When I talk to them on the phone, my niece tells me how she loves many of the stereotypes you’ve mentioned, Mabel. Yet my nephew doesn’t like the heat, BBQ’s, the beach, etc. It makes me wonder if some of us always keep our stereotypes even after moving away from the country where we were born? He left the UK at the age of 2, yet he seems to pine the different ways of life he hardly experienced.

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    • Thanks for sharing, Hugh. It is interesting to see how each of us adapts to a place over time, and how close we feel to it. Your nieces and nephews are very lucky to have experienced living both in the UK (a little bit) and Australia 🙂

      Such an interesting question you posed there. I think some stereotypes speak to us, and some don’t – it depends on our personality and what we believe in. Maybe your nephew finds a stronger connection with the culture in the UK. All the best to the two of them 🙂

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  19. In America we are diverse, and yet we aren’t quite aware of just how diverse we are, there is our power structure at the top of society and a strong history of stories we tell ourselves about who we are…and yet we cannot see who we really are and how diverse we are.

    I feel your pain.

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    • Sometimes it is a sad world we live in. But more and more these days we are seeing people standing up for equality all over the world. May this continue. Stories of the past have lessons, but so do stories and events in the modern day today.

      Liked by 1 person

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