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White tribe: echoes of the Anzac myth in Cronulla

journal contribution
posted on 2008-02-01, 00:00 authored by Amelia Johns
Since the publication of Fiske, Hodge and Turner’s Myths of Oz: Reading Australian Popular Culture (1987), Australian Cultural Studies has turned to the beach as a primary site for examining national identity and the myths of Australian culture. In the text the beach is read as a liminal site between ‘culture’ and ‘nature’, represented respectively by lifesaver and surfer. The meanings of anti-authoritarianism attached to the surfer are significant to the reading. And yet Fiske, Hodge and Turner also locate a heritage of authoritarianism, discipline and civic duty in the figure of the lifesaver: 

'Lifesavers have drills, march-pasts and patrol squads, while exercising a conservative pastoral interest in their members’ moral health. They are agents of social control. Further, they see themselves as servants of the community, sacrificing their weekends for others—a tradition of sacrifice dear to a nation which twice voted no to conscription in the Great War.' (Fiske et al. 1987, 64–65) 

The last sentence distils the bifocal meanings not only of the ‘culture’ of the beach but of Australian cultural identity more broadly, framed by contested norms of civic participation and moral values. This binary frame has been a productive starting point for analyses of national identity in Australian Cultural Studies since the 1980s. These have dropped off the radar in recent years owing to a shift away from the national field and the privileging of a transnational cultural agenda. And yet recent events in Australian politics and culture have unexpectedly re-centred national identity as an urgent issue for Cultural Studies, particularly in its use as a form of exclusion to targeted populations within the national community.

In light of these developments this article revisits Myths of Oz and its construction of surfer and lifesaver c.1987 to focus on the reordering and re-assemblage of these figures on Sydney’s beaches 20 years on. It also acknowledges that this is a process which cannot be understood in isolation from broader shifts in Australian political culture, and particularly the current obsession with national ‘values’ hinging on a strategic shift away from multicultural policies and the redefinition of the ‘fringe’ as an ethnic position.

Reflecting on these issues, this article locates a slippage between the binary framing of the surfer and lifesaver in Myths of Oz and their complex ‘relationality’ on the beach today. Specifically, it examines how the surfer has recently become co-opted into the Australian mainstream and imbued with a form of ‘governmental belonging’ (Hage 1998) once attributed to the lifesaver alone. This slippage has been enabled by the overlap betweenlocal surfie cultures and exclusivist national cultures assembled by State and federal governments; particularly as both draw upon a normative frame that opposes the meanings of white belonging to Muslim groupings within the nation.



Continuum: journal of media and cultural studies






3 - 16


Routledge Taylor & Francis Group


Abingdon, England





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Publication classification

C1.1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2008, Taylor & Francis