Colonial and post-colonial aspects of Australian identity




Since the 1988 Bicentennial and the 2001 centenary of federation celebrations colonial images have flourished in Australia, highlighting the roles of convicts and free settlers during early colonization. Old sites, such as Port Arthur have been re-invigorated, and in 2004 Tasmanians celebrated the bicentenary of ‘white’ settlement. However, social scientists have given little attention to the role of colonial and post-colonial figures and myths as aspects of Australian national identity. We seek to address this issue by examining how convicts, free settlers, bushrangers and ANZACs are associated with contemporary identity in Australia.2

We examine evidence from the 2003 Australian Survey of Social Attitudes and find that historical figures such as the ANZACs and post-World War II immigrants comprise important aspects of national identity. A substantial majority of Australians judged ANZACs to be important, countering recent claims of the ‘demise of the digger’. Sporting heroes are also at the core of Australian identity. Colonial figures appear to be far less important, although views on national identity vary according to social location. In particular, left-wing, university educated, younger, postmaterialist Australians view convicts and bushrangers as relatively important, indicating the salience of the larrikin in Australian identity.