Skip to content

Australian National Identity Essay Topics

Features of Australia's Cultural Identity

"What does it mean to be Australian?

‘There is no “real” Australia waiting to be uncovered. A national identity is an invention.’ Richard White (1981) Inventing Australia Each one of us could describe ourselves with a multitude of different identities. These identities can be seen as defining us as people and may be cultural, ethnic, religious, gendered, class-oriented or ideological. They are as varied as our imagination. In Australia, the religious, cultural and ethnic complexity of our society is particularly diverse.

In the midst of this diversity, is there an elusive quality, a ‘national identity’, which binds us all as Australians? There are certainly national cultural stereotypes and national symbols that we all recognise as Australian, but do these really reflect the everyday reality of living as an Australian today?

Do national identities ever have anything to do with cultural experience or are they more to do with a constructed image of a ‘nation’? What is it about our cultural stereotypes, if anything, that continues to resonate with Australians? Who is excluded? Does our national identity still depend upon a white Anglo-Celtic male viewpoint?

(CONTEMPORARY AUSTRALIA 2. National Identity Sara Cousins From the Monash University National Centre for Australian Studies’ course, developed with Open Learning Australia.)



"I wrote this essay a couple of years ago whilst studying Australian History in a Vocational Course."

"Brotherhood was never like it; friendship is not the word; but deep in that body of marching men the soul of a nation stirred" so wrote Banjo Paterson in his poem "Australia Today 1916". Australia had only been settled by white Australian's for one hundred and twenty eight years, yet already a strong nationalism had emerged. An Identity. The words larrikin, mateship, courage, egalitatarism, resourcefulness and independence come to mind. Why did Australia develop such a strong image so quickly?

For the first one third of Australia's history the majority of white Australians were either convicts or the off-spring of one. These people held a strong dislike for authority, which is still present in elements of today's society. There were a couple of reasons for this. Firstly they possibly felt hard done by and also the authoritative figures such as the "Rum Corps" had not really gained their respect as they sometimes corrupt.

With the offspring of the transported convicts, known as currency lads and lasses, the national identity first emerged. They were not as amoral as most thought they would be, given that their parents were in the eyes of the British Government, hardened criminals. Visitors to Australia as early as 1830-50 noticed some pecularities to these Australians. "Tall, slender, strong and with a distinctive accent". It was also reported that swearing coloured our conversations. But a feature that struck most visitors was the egalitaranism, the belief that each man was equal. "Jack was as good as his master". This was very unlike Britian.

With the gold rushes of the 1850's the emerging national identity was stiffled. A flood of new immigrants arrived, from places as diverse as USA and China, but they were mostly British and still considered Britain as home. But on the gold fields the belief that all men were equal was strengthened. On the gold fields your chances of finding gold was not determined on who you were, on the gold fields many poor people became rich.

In the 1860's and 1870's the national feeling was associated mainly with the Bushrangers. Most bushrangers were native born or of Irish descent. Again the strong dislike of authority emerges. The bushrangers were admired because they defied authorities and at times made them look stupid. They were held up as symbols against Britain and the government. They were also thought to be courageous and patriotic. Bushrangers were as romantised then as they are today.

By the 1880's three quarters of Australia's population had been born in Australia. This is an important cause of nationalism, you feel Australian because you were born here, unlike previous generations, where the majority were born in other countries. In the 1890's the increase in nationalism continued. Australian artists such as Tom Roberts, Charles Condor, Hans Heysen and Arthur Streeton began to paint Australian images. They helped create the Australian Bush Legend, as a resourceful, independent man who trusted only his mates. This image appealed. Poets and writers too, such as Banjo Patterson's The Man from Snowy River, helped further fuel this image of Australians.

During the 1880's people begain to push for an United Australia, believing that they were Australian, not Victorian's, Queenslanders etc. The Irish too were keen to establish a United Australia out of hate of the British. The media soon joined in. "The Bulletin" believed in "A republican form of Government with no ties whatsoever with Great Britain "(we are still waiting for that). On January 1st, 1901 the Commonwealth of Australia was formed.

In 1914 Britian declared war on Germany, Australia for the first time fought as a nation, not states. This evoked a sense of pride in all Australians. On the battlefelds in Turkey and in France too the Australian identity further emerged. Courage on the fields at Gallipoli, resourcefulness, mateship, independence and egalitarianism, the Australian soldiers were noted for not showing the British Officers the respect that the officers felt they should be treated with, this was in part due to the belief that "jack was as good as his master". The Australian soldier served Australia proudly and with their return to Australian shores came the recognition that Australian was at last a nation.

The Soul of a Nation, The Australian Identity had evolved. This dislike of authority, the belief in egalitarianism, independence, resourcefulness, courage and mateship all are traits of the Australian Identity, all necessary for Australia to emerge from the shadows of a gaol to become a nation.

culture [n.]

1. the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively. 2. the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society. 3. Biology, the cultivation of bacteria, tissue cells, etc. in an artificial medium containing nutrients. 4. the cultivation of plants.
- ORIGIN Middle English [denoting a cultivated piece of land] : the noun from French culture or directly from Latin cultura ‘growing, cultivation’; the verb from obsolete French culturer or medieval Latin culturare, both based on Latin colere ‘tend, cultivate’ [see Cultivate]. In late Middle English the sense was ‘cultivation of the soil’ and from this [early 16th century], arose ‘cultivation [of the mind, faculties, or manners’]; CULTURE [Sense 1 of the noun] dates from the early 19th century.
Oxford Dictionaries

Australia has many things in common with the rest of the world, though there are several parts of our national identity and culture which are peculiar to us. These are detailed in the sections below. They include emphasis on physical as opposed to mental achievement, the concept of mateship, Australian idiom, language and humour. The embracing of the concept of multiculturalism is also included. Be aware culture and national identity are always changing.

This page covers topics M to Z including areas such as Mateship, Myths & Stereotypes, Multiculturalism, Social & Cultural Features and Sport.

The First Page covers topics A to L including areas such as Art & Culture, Australian Identity, Humour, Educational Activities, Australian Values, Language, … .

There are also journals, databases, primary documents, reference material and other information where these are seen as relevant.

M - R


From the earliest European settlement, this was seen as a defining characteristic of Australian culture.

  • A Sketch of Mateship
    A sketch demonstrative of the concept of mateship, Henry Lawson. Scroll down to this.
  • Gallipoli, Mateship, …
    “And the Construction of Australian National Identity”. Links on the role and depiction of mateship, especially in film.
  • Is Mateship a Virtue ?
    Essay by James S Page that takes a critical look at what mateship is and effects this might have - are these virtues ? PDF file.
  • Mateship
    Listing of quotes and statements relating to mateship from Prime Ministers, writers, everyday people. Interesting.
  • Mateship [2]
    Origins, military context, use in other situations, references, links, more. Wikipedia.
  • Mateship - A Very Australian History
    Review of a book of the same title which was recently published.
  • Updated ! Mateship, Diggers and Wartime
    Article, Information, links.

Media Presentation

Includes media presentations with several from the ABC.

  • Australian History
    La Trobe University. 50 item podcast covering many topics including a range related to Australian culture. iTunes.
  • Australia’s Place in the World
    ‘Today in we look at the forces that have shaped foreign policy-making since the Second World War’.
  • Remaking Australia, Part 4 : Miriam Lyons
    ‘A look at remaking Australian culture, for want of a smaller topic’. One of a series of responses after the Federal election of 2007. Crikey.
  • Suburbia
    ‘While Australians like to think that the bush is at the heart of the country, roughly 80 per cent of Australians live in the suburbs’
    Part of a series from Radio National, available as a broadcast or in transcript format.
  • Tales of Two Hemispheres
    2004 Boyer Lectures. In audio and transcript formats. ‘Peter Conrad and his side of the story of being an expatriate Australian writer and intellectual, returning to his birthplace to rediscover and appreciate anew the qualities that make Australia unique and now an object of desire in this increasingly globalised world’. 6 broadcasts.
  • The Australian People
    ‘When Australia commemorated diverse in the world’.
    Part of a series from Radio National, available as a broadcast or in transcript format.
  • The Local and the Global in Australian Culture
    ‘There are often two conflicting points of view about Australian culture : one that such a young country can hardly be seen to have a national culture at all, and another more positive view that Australia’s no longer a British outpost nor is it a branch office of the United States and it can build something new and different, “Down Under” !’
    Part of a series from Radio National, available as a broadcast or in transcript format.

Myths, Beliefs & Stereotypes

Information about beliefs integral to Australian culture. Check the Mateship section above.

  • Australian Dream
    ‘The Australian Dream or Great Australian Dream is a belief that in Australia, home ownership can lead to a better life and is an expression of success and security’.History, cultural presentations, references, links. Wikipedia.
  • Updated !Australian Folklore
    ‘Based on traditional beliefs, legends and customs of a group, handed down through generations’. Looks at these from many sources. Links to further information.
  • Australian Myths - Fact or Fable ?
    ‘Australian myths have very little to do with realising one’s ambition. Instead, myths based around mateship, egalitarianism and a belief in a fair go aim to achieve a peaceful society where people don’t feel either superior or inferior and where the underdogs are supported’.
  • Australian Stereotypes
    ‘Not only do stereotypes provide the behavioural model that individuals seek to emulate, they also provide a sense of commonality that makes people feel that they are part of a community’.
  • Egalitarianism
    Presentation with emphasis on mateship, egalitarianism, a fair go. Looks at responses to these concepts.
  • Australian Stereotypes
    Article. Looks at stereotypes and people’s opposing views of them.
  • Class in Australia
    Quotes about class in Australia. Several points of view provided.
  • Oral History and Folklore
    National Library of Australia. ‘The Oral History and Folklore Collection dates back to the 1950s and includes a rich and diverse collection of interviews and recordings with Australians from all walks of life’.

Tall Poppies


General information, award information, illustrators, link listings, more.

  • Updated !A History of the Department of Immigration
    “Managing Migration to Australia. This publication is a brief history of the Department of Immigration and captures some of the key events, highlights and challenges relating to immigration to Australia”. Includes multicultural processes.
  • A Timeline History of Multicultural Australia
    Commentaries, speeches, documents, archival material, articles, reports, more. Multiple sections from before Australia became a nation to The Present Generation.
  • Australian Multiculturalism : the roots of its success
    ‘The paper starts with an examination of Australia’s history from early settlement and then the focus shifts to the unique Australian culture that has emerged today, combining the elements of past and present’. Linked to a 2012 conference on this topic. Online or as a Word download.
  • Fact Sheet - Australia’s Multicultural Policy
    Department of Social Services. Includes a Brief History and a ‘Parliamentary statement on racial tolerance’.
  • New !Immigration and Nation Building in Australia : Looking Back, Looking Forward
    Transcript of a speech given in 2015. Provides an overview of migration, attitudes and more from the earliest days, but especially from 1945 on.
  • Updated !Immigration Nation
    ‘Explore the stories and lives of dozens of remarkable immigrants - and their descendants - in this immersive interactive documentary about the building of multicultural Australia’. SBS.
  • Making Multicultural Australia
    Assisting young people, parents, teachers and the community to explore Australia’s cultural diversity, tolerance and anti-racism. Research Library [3 000+ pages], audio, video, hotwords, activities & quizzes, history topics, lesson ideas, e-learning topics, documents. Their What’s new page keeps you constantly up-to-date.
    Exceptional !
  • Updated !More than 65 Years of Post-war Migration
    Fact Sheet, Department of Immigration & Border Protection.
  • Updated ! Multicultural Australia
    ‘Find information on Australia’s cultural diversity, including key dates and activities’.
  • Updated !Multiculturalism : a review of …
    Australian policy statements and recent debates in Australia and overseas. ‘This paper provides an overview of Australia’s federal multicultural policies, briefly draws attention to state and territory multicultural policy frameworks, and reviews some key issues in recent public debates about multiculturalism in Australia and overseas, with a focus on post-immigration multiculturalism’. Parliamentary Library.
  • The Development of Australia’s Multicultural Policies
    “How much do you know ?” Online quiz. Access other quizzes from this page.
  • The People of Australia - Australia’s Multicultural Policy
    ‘This policy recognises the amazing breadth and diversity of Australian society, and reaffirms the Government’s unwavering support for a culturally diverse and socially cohesive nation’. 2013. Download or listen online.
  • New !The Success of Australia’s Multiculturalism
    An intersting speech given by the Race Discrimination Commissioner to the Sydney Institute in 2016.
  • The White Australia Policy
    Covers this and the changes which occurred leading up to a multicultural approach. Links to other documents. RacismNoWay.

S - Z

Social and Cultural Features

These links have been compiled by an online education group and cover the post-war decades. Access may be limited on any visit without a Fee-based registration at the site [cost is quite reasonable]. Registration includes access to audio summaries, images and examinations on the topic.
Note, some of these are previous versions from this site. You can access a Free Trial of the new site using this link. Other entries have replaced original ones.

  • New !British and American Influences 1950s
    Effect on music, cinema, television, food, sport, national identity, more.
  • Updated !American and British Cultural Influence 1960s
    Effect on music, cinema, television, food, sport, national identity, more.
  • New !American and British Cultural Influence in the 1970s
    Transcript of a presentation. Video presentation included.
  • Updated ! American and British Cultural Influence 1980sEffect on music, cinema, television, food, sport, national identity, more.
  • Updated ! Social and Cultural Features of the 1950s
    The Decade in Context, music & entertainment, fashion sport, international influences.
  • New !Social and Cultural Features of the 1960s
    Transcript of a presentation. Video presentation included.
  • New !Social and Cultural Features of the 1970s
    Transcript of a presentation. Video presentation included.
  • New !Popular culture in the 1980s
    Transcript of a presentation. Video presentation included.
  • New !Australia in the 1990s
    Decade Summary, History and Politics, Society and Culture, Science and Technology. Part of New !a larger site which covers decades from before the arrival of convicts and settlers and up until the 2 000s.


Sport and its influence has always played a significant role in Australian culture.

  • A Nation of “Good Sports” ?
    Cultural Citizenship and Sport in Contemporary Australia. A short article by David Rowe ‘exploring if it still can be assumed that sport plays a unifying role in this country’.
  • Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi : why do we love sport so much ?
    ‘Australians have a remarkable affection for their sport, an affection which has endured for well over 150 years’.
  • National Sports Museum
    Information on exhibitions, collections, excursions, links to other sources, resources, more.
  • Nick Bryant’s Australia
    Part of a blog from the BBC News in which the reporter looks at Melbourne’s Sport Prowess and how it reflects on Australian love of sport [and competition with Sydney !].
  • Sport
    ‘What it reveals about the values of Australian society are explored in the Sport : A National Obsession ? display in the Nation gallery’. National Museum of Australia.
  • Sport and Popular Culture
    Part of a larger Contemporary Australia presentation. Transcript of a specific episode.
  • Sport in Australia
    History, organisation, participation, amateurs, spectatorship, media, international competitions, references, bibliography, links. Wikipedia.
  • Sporting Greats
    ‘Australia reveres and treasures its sporting heroes. Sporting greats have inspired and united Australians, who have shared, celebrated and rewarded their successes’. Now archived.
  • Updated !Sport : Touchstone of Australian Life
    Martin Flanagan. From the Alfred Deakin Lectures.
  • This Sporting Life
    One person’s response to those who see sport as the most important factor, when he doesn’t. Article in The Age.