Class in Australia 

You can have no idea of the class of persons here who consider themselves gentlemen.

Governor William Bligh, 1808 in a letter to the "Honourable" Charles Greville in London

In the [Japanese POW] camps the Australians discarded their differences and became a tribe, a tribe which was always the most successful group. The core of this success was an ethos of mateship and egalitarianism which not only survived the ultimate dehumanising duress of the death camps, but shone through as the dominant Australian characteristic. 

Paul Sheehan, Among the Barbarians, 1998

[In the Japanese POW camps] The British hung on to their class structure the point of death. The Americans were the capitalists, the gangsters, even charging interest on borrowed rice. The Australians kept trying to create tiny welfare states. 'Within little tribes of Australian enlisted men, rice went back and forth all the time, but this was not trading in commodity futures (like the Americans); it was sharing, it was Australian tribalism.' 

Phillip Knightley, Australia: A Biography of a Nation, 2000

The unified nature of Australian speech was emphazised from the beginning by the peculiar social conditions of the colony.  Beneath the governor and the overseers, everyone was equal.  It was, perforce, a one-class society, united in a mixture of hostility and nostalgia towards Mother England, united especially in the isolation and rigour of Australian life. 

The Story of English, Robert McCrum, 1992

So I sat there, lips to the cold mouth of a Castlemaine stubby, thinking: Isn't this great, that here, in good old egalitarian Oz, the following people can sit around a table together: the son of a large landowner, a carpenter, a civil servant, a woman who works for a road construction company and a lawyer; and there isn't even a smidgeon of that class tiresomeness that would, inevitably, despite the best efforts of everyone, be present at home [ie England].

No Worries, A Journey through Australia, Mark McCrum, 1997

Australia is riddled with class differences

Johnathan King, Walzing Materalism, 1978

Indeed, in place of the old mateship of Australian society we see the steady growth of an underclass with grave dangers for social stability and traditional egalitarianism. 

Justice Kirby of the High Court of Australia, Billable Hours a Noble Calling?, ALJ, 21(6), 1996

Our research confirms that at the heart of discontent is the shatting of the myths of the class society, the egalitarian society, the fair go society.  These perceptions may have always been myths but they powerful and central to our sense of identity. They were tied into our view of ourselves as the classless society - long a comfortable myth but entriely unsustainable now.

Weekend Australian Editorial, June 17-18, 2000

If there is one enduring truth about Australia, it is the notion of deep-seated and genuine egalitarianism. We are a nation that despises pretension. We are a society that happily mocks those who seek high office and honours. 

No manners at all, Sydney Morning Herald, March 23, 2002

"I called him an arse-licker, which I think is a fine Australian term, and it accurately describes the Prime Minister's behaviour in Washington where he rolled over for the Americans," Mr Latham told Radio 2GB. "Well, I do share the language of my electorate, and if I find a term like that is an accurate description of the Prime Minister's behaviour in Washington, why shouldn't I use it."  Mr Latham accused his critics of creating an English upper class.

Latham Defiant on 'Aussie Term',, 26 June 2002

The widening gap between rich and poor is the worst thing that has happened to Australia in the last 20 years. One of the terrific things is that we prided ourselves on being a classless society. You can't say that anymore because class is built on economic wellbeing.

John Howard, 1995

Australia should never be a nation defined by class or envy, but rather a nation united by mateship and achievement

John Howard, Prime Minister, Brisbane, 2004

In Australia, while there is always an element of class politics, the reality is that we're a very egalitarian society in spirit. We may not be in outcomes or experience, but in spirit, we all see ourselves as much the same. If you're a political leader, you have to relate to that fact. In fact, you want to relate to that fact, because it's a good thing about being Australian.

ALP Leader, Kim Beazley, Now to bury the Latham obsession with class warfare, SMH, 3/2/05

"If I go to another country and I'm asked to go through an X-ray machine, I'm only too happy to do so. I frankly believe that these are things that if it's good enough for the rest of the community, it's good enough for the Prime Minister."

PM John Howard, Indian MP cancels Aussie visit, SMH, 9 April 2005

The Australian soldier of legend was enterprising and independent, loyal, bold, egalitarian, cheerfully undisciplined and contemptuous of the class of British officers.

Blood, guts and the stuff of legend, SMH, 24 June 2005

Australia has long been touted as the classless society.  One only has to walk down the tired streets of Sydney and hear people shamelessly crying 'mate, mate - could you spare a dollar?' to know that this is no longer the case.  Yet having said that, it does not mean that we are the same as everyone else.

The difference lies, not in the fact we all share equal wealth, or that there is no difference between a CEO on two millions dollars a year and the dunny scrubber on 12 grand a year, but in our attitude, generally speaking, to the swarming masses. As discussed elsewhere on this site, one of the great things about being Australian is that generally speaking it is the common traits that are considered to be Australian.  Hence, if someone drinks, swears, says g'day, loves his footy, dislikes bludgers and bignoters and speaks all sorts of slang, then he is a fair dinkum Aussie.  And, generally speaking, we like fair dinkum Aussies, and would all like to think that we are one ourselves, and we can certainly all share a beer together.  Hence, in some important ways, we are all the same. 

Just as an English friend of mine last week had his day clouded by a taxi driver who told him he was arrogant for sitting in the back seat. "You're in Australia and you should behave like an Australian," the driver raged. Is his belligerent egalitarianism the Aussie way, Bruce?

Excuse me, but etiquette stops us turning into yobbos, Sydney Morning Herald, 10 April 2002

They were proud of their mateship and egalitarianism. Manning Clark writes in his A History of Australia of a British staff captain who ticked off an Australian private for failing to salute him [in WW1]. 'The Australian patted him on the shoulder and said, "Young man, when you go home, you tell your mother that today you've seen a real bloody soldier"'.

Phillip Knightley, Australia: A Biography of a Nation, 2000

The myth of the classless society lives on: a lot of busy Australians refuse to hire a house cleaner even though they could afford to do so - and need one. "Australians don't want to employ domestic help. It's partly to do with the idea that in Australian society it's not appropriate," said Janeen Baxter, Professor of Sociology at the University of Queensland. Professor Baxter said women were more likely to mention financial constraints as the reason they did not have a cleaner. Men were more likely to say that people should do their own domestic work. "They believe it's work you should do yourself, but they don't mean men should do it," she said.

Too proud to pay - a nation's grubby secret, SMH, Feb 11 2005

"One of the characteristics of Australian culture is that we are fiercely egalitarian, one the characteristics of Papua New Guinean and Melanesian culture more generally is that they have notion of what they call `The Big Man'," [Foreign Minister Alexander Downer] said. "(Their) leaders, chief, so on, fall into that category and they expect special treatment for people who fall into that category. "(But here) our prime minister goes through these security checks. It's a cultural difference. "Whether people like it or not in this country we're very happy to have people visit and we're delighted to have them pass through but we have our laws and our laws are applied ... on a pretty egalitarian basis."

Cultural differences blamed for incident, SMH, April 10 2005

That you Jim? Paul Keating here. Just because you swallowed a f***ing dictionary when you were about 15 doesn't give you the right to pour a bucket of shit over the rest of us.

Prime Minister Paul Keating expressing his thoughts on flash language

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