The positive heritage of British culture in Australia

I’m a first generation Australian; my father is English, from Nottinghamshire and he came to Australia as a post-war (WW2) 10 pound POM. I lived in the U.K. for a few years as a young adult exploring the world, before returning to Australia.

When I think of the positive heritage of British Culture, I think of the less tangible, but all important cultural traits that I, and many others whose cultural roots are British, share in common. These are age-old customs, traditions and character strengths, traits you can count on when you meet a Britisher, and it’s instantly recognisable: strong and comforting.

When you meet someone for the first time, and you get a solid, strong handshake, looking someone in the eye, it’s a sign of respect, the start of a social bond. Hand-shakes, as a cultural act, are an inherently British form of expression, hailing from our Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Norse forebears. The Norse sealed bargains with a hand shake, as we still do. When we shake hands, we “shake-on-it”, seal a bargain, give our word as our bond. Amongst the Scots, the expression of genuine friendship is to clasp the hand and embrace the friend, saying, ‘There’s my heart, there’s my hand’. It’s an expression of mutual respect, loyalty, steadfastness. It’s an instant mutual recognition that you can trust this person, you know where you stand.

An increasingly disappearing, but nonetheless important, legacy of our British heritage, is the pub. When you’re in such a place, you are among friends. It’s an extension of the lounge room at home; it harks back to the Anglo-Saxon hall. It’s a place of community, where the social fabric is unpicked and rewoven. Where news, views, stories are exchanged, and one of the few strongest places where British culture can thrive.

Pubs have been polluted by gambling, pokies, keno, big screens and artificial, rip-off commercialism and ugly paraphernalia. A good pub relies on the quality of its food, music, and ale, to bring the community into a safe place. This is the village pub; you see it still in rural Australia, and in some out of the way corners of our cities. It’s the communal trophy cabinet, where grandad’s name is on a darts trophy, where games hailing from Anglo-Saxon times, like skittles, and bait-the-bull, chess and draughts are still played. It’s a repository of local culture, where everyone can tell you who caught the fish mounted on the wall, or who won the quiz last week. It’s a place where the age old British hospitality to strangers and travellers is still offered and gratefully received.

In the short space I have left to spare, I also want to write about the positive heritage of the British in Australia, when it comes to mend-and-make do, and to carry on with a stiff upper lip.

The hipsters of 10 minutes ago try to tell us to recycle, as if it’s a new idea. Every generation of working English families has inherited the skills and ideas and practices of ‘re-use, re-purpose, recycle’, from the generation before. From the experience of living through lean times, through many ‘home fronts’, of depressions and world wars, back to before the industrial revolution, before mass production and cheap imports, the English are past-masters at the art of looking after what you have, and making, re-using, re-recycling everything else. There is a continuity here that I experience every day. My veggie garden and chook pen is no different from the ‘Dig for Victory’ garden of my grandparents and great grandparents. (My great grandfather lost his fore-arm fighting at the Somme in WW1, and had a wooden hand and a mechanical jaw so he could still dig his garden with a spade!) I’d go even further, and say that tradition of Australian men having a shed in the backyard, where things are mended, made and fixed, comes from our British heritage, from the tenacity and ingenuity of the English to make, it, mend it, get on with the job and do it well. The things we make and do are a reflection of our people. We are decent, good quality, purposeful, inventive, reliable, honest, resilient and made to last. May the heritage of the English continue in Australia for generations to come.

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