What It Means To Be Un-Australian

There is a phrase that’s bandied around from time to time that really gets on my goat.

That’s un-Australian.

It was coined decades ago but slipped into usage again in the 1990s over the way asylum seekers were detained in Australia. It was a term of chastisement used mostly in the political arena.

I was uncomfortable with the term then because it suggests that Australians won’t tolerate inhumane, unfair, unjust, unreasonable treatment of others. The truth is that like people the world over, Aussies are subject to moments of deplorable behaviour. We have as much trouble occupying the moral high ground as anyone else.

What bothers me is that un-Australian very quickly became part of the general vernacular. I have heard it used at sporting matches when the referee makes a decision the crowd doesn’t agree with. I have heard it used to dress down men who regard themselves as metrosexuals or when people are caught criticising anything made in Australia, in particular, cars. I have even heard it used at barbecues where vegetarian sausages and low-alcohol beer are served. Apparently, Aussies only eat full meat sausages and drink full strength beer.

Even though I am uncomfortable with the term I think the widespread usage has cheapened its original meaning that Australians support a fair go for all. That is an Aussie characteristic I really like.

I have never used the phrase un-Australian. Hand on heart.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday I saw something that was un-Australian. Actually, it was more than that but calling it un-Australian is a good place to start.

I went to the fish markets after work. There is a big park there which is always full of people. I park the car there because the fish markets car park is an absolute nightmare. The drivers have lost their minds after consuming too much sashimi and fresh oysters.

After getting out of the car I noticed a lady lying on the footpath. There was a little boy in a stroller next to her, crying. She had bags of shopping on the back of the stroller. Some of them had burst and their contents had spilled onto the road. It looked like one of the wheels had come off her stroller. The whole thing was in a state of collapse.

In trying to save the little boy and the stroller from falling she had fallen herself. One side of her face was scraped and bleeding. She was leaning against a low wall that runs around the perimeter of the park.

I always carry a first aid kit and a small tool kit in the car. So I attended to her wounds. As I was handing her bandages to hold on her face to stem the bleeding a group of young men who’d been playing football nearby came over.

I asked them if they had seen her fall. They hedged around the question but finally admitted they had seen her fall nearly twenty minutes before. I asked them why they hadn’t done anything to help her and they said it was because she was one of them and they weren’t sure if they should.

By one of them they meant Muslim. The lady who had fallen was Muslim. She was wearing a hajib.

Since when did offering someone your help become conditional?

Couldn’t you even have asked her if she was OK? I asked. She’s a lady with a little boy and she fell over in the street. What’s wrong with you?

After drinking some water and sitting for a bit, the lady whose name turned out to be Afrah, said she felt better. I asked her if I could drive her anywhere or call someone for her. She asked me to call her husband. Her husband came within ten minutes and thanked me profusely before driving off. Afrah and her son waved at me through the window.

The young men had left. I hope they were sorry for what they had done. Or hadn’t done.

When are we going to stop doing this? When are going to stop letting our prejudices dictate how we behave towards one another?

What if Afrah had been seriously injured and every minute that passed was crucial to her recovery? What then?

Afrah’s name means happiness. I looked it up.

I would like to use the phrase that gets on my goat in the original spirit with which it was intended.

Not helping a woman named happiness who has fallen in the street.

Now that’s un-Australian.

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25 thoughts on “What It Means To Be Un-Australian

  1. I thought that only happened here. I’m so glad you were there to help her, and I’m glad you told those young men that they had been callous boors to just ignore her. Maybe they hear too much in the news about Muslim women who are beaten for even looking at another man.

    Still, they could have called someone…

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  2. I agree with Karen … a lot of people are uncomfortable around Muslims due to ignorance of their religion. Still, it would cost nothing to ask ‘Can I help you?’.

    I’ll bet if she’d been a ‘dinkum sheila’ somebody would have been killed in the rush!

    (PS: My friend Josh’s father reckons he’s un-Australian because he’s married to a Muslim, doesn’t drink and doesn’t drive a Holden!)

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  3. KAREN:
    I think it just goes to show the amount of misinformation out there. But surely, regardless of race or creed, it costs nothing to lend a helping hand. All they had to do was ask her if she needed some help. It’s pretty poor behaviour.

    PUNATIK:
    Couldn’t agree more. When you think about it we’re all in this together. We shouldn’t even hesitate to help other people. There should be no conditions attached.

    OLD GRIZZ:
    Some people do shy away from helping others. I think they want to but are frightened of doing the wrong thing. The way I look at it is how can offering someone a hand be the wrong thing to do? It’s great to hear from you, by the way. Hope you’ve been well!

    TRAVELRAT:
    Absolutely. I just hope that ignorance doesn’t mean a serious accident is ignored.

    That’s funny about Josh’s father. It’s good to know Aussies come in all shapes and sizes!

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  4. You know that I work with some Muslim women and have seen what they have to put up with from time to time. It shocks me. I cannot believe how ignorant some people are. Those boys should be ashamed. That could have been their own mother or sister who fell.

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  5. You are such a kind person Sel. It’s too bad that there aren’t more people like you in the world. I’ve never heard that un- term before but I can see why you could find it offensive. There are “bad apples” everywhere and cruel acts happen every day, often to very nice people. We need to remember and dwell on all the good things too. There’s lots of the positive out there even if some days it appears that the “bad guys” are winning. In the end, they don’t.

    Interesting post Sel, thanks.

    Hugs, G

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  6. Those boys’ behaviour was shameful. You, on the other hand, dear Selma, give us all renewed faith in humanity.
    (You carry a tool kit and and a first aid kit- I’m seriously impressed)

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  7. Talking about un-Australian … we know an Australian lady whose father hasn’t spoken to her for nearly 40 years, because he says her husband is a ‘bloody Wop’

    In fact, although Alessandro’s name is Italian, and he’s of Italian descent, he is actually third-generation Australian.

    His father won the DFC while serving with the RAAF

    Certainly, his grandfather was in the Italian army … but in the First World War, when Iraly was on our side!

    And, you couldn’t wish to meet a nicer bloke!

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  8. Those boys should be ashamed of themselves and I hope their mum or their sister never need help from a stranger. Maybe they should have thought of that while they were standing there leaving that poor woman on the ground.

    Thank goodness you were there Selma and well done for helping her and showing your customary kindness

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  9. Good on you Selma for helping. I am always shocked when people who witness injury do not rush to help. There should be no thinking. Only reacting to ensure people are safe. That what they were thinking were racist thoughts make it so much worse. Thanks for your example of how to be human, not just Australian.

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  10. CRAFTY GREEN;
    I just had to. And I think most people would. Those boys just didn’t think.

    JULES:
    I know. If you take the race issue out of this I think part of the problem is the loss of common courtesy. It’s a ‘ME ME ME’ world much of the time.

    GERALDINE:
    I don’t think the bad people win, either, but they do need to learn to think about people other than themselves. Just as well i’m roaming the streets telling them what’s what 😉

    ROSHAN:
    We should always help a mother and a child – no matter what. It’s just not right otherwise.

    LAURI:
    I have learned after many years of driving to be prepared. I am the Girl Scout of Sydney drivers 😀

    LISSA:
    As a toddler my son was extremely accident prone. At one stage he was going through a 100 pack of band-aids a week. That’s initially why I put the first aid kit in the car. It has come in very handy.

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  11. MAMA ZEN:
    I am too. She was a really nice lady. I was happy to help.

    TRAVELRAT:
    A friend of mine married a Chinese girl and for about ten years his family didn’t speak to him. They had wanted him to marry what they thought was an Aussie – the generic blonde-haired, blue eyed girl. However, now that there are children on the scene they have changed their tune. Funny, that!

    KAYDEE:
    I think they were ashamed because they cleared off pretty quickly. Maybe they’ll think twice about not helping someone else in the future. I hope so.

    POETWITHADAYJOB:
    That’s what I think. There should be no consideration at all. Just get in there, for goodness sake. We’re all in this together and we have to look out for one another!

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  12. The term UN-AMERICAN has been around for a long time…and people are too quick to apply it to thoughts and behavior THEY don’t agree with…
    Anyway, your response was totally human and compassionate.

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  13. TIMOTEO:
    Seems that those who think things are Un-Australian are the same as those who think things are Un-American. Good grief. I am a fan of compassion and kindness. If there was more of it the world would truly be changed!!!

    JASON:
    Aww. You’re not so bad yourself!

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  14. I’m so glad you were there to help her Sel. Maybe you made those boys stop and think and one day they will help someone unhesitatingly too.

    I’ve heard people called Un-Australian simply for expressing the wish that Lleyton Hewitt would tone down the “Come on!’s”. Because, you know, our sportsmen are perfect and we must support them no matter what…

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  15. Wow. I think you used the term un-Australian perfectly in this situation,

    UNFORTUNATELY, this sort of thing happens ALL THE TIME in America and it sickens me!

    Ive seen people STEP over injured parties instead of helping them. I always ALWAYS try to help no matter WHAT.

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  16. DAOINE:
    Our sportsmen are perfect, aren’t they? 😉
    I hope those boys do think twice the next time. That would be great!

    MELEAH:
    I think it does happen the world over. People seem to be afraid to help. I agree with you – we should at least try to help. I always feel so good afterwards.

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  17. This post broke my heart, and simultaneously lifted me up. Because even though the apathy of those young men is a very real thing in our lives, so was your kindness

    Jazakallahu Khayran, (May Allah reward you for the good that you have done), Selma.

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  18. FAIQA:
    Thanks so much, hon. I try to help wherever I can because if I ever get in trouble I would hope someone would help me. And you know what? Kindness doesn’t cost a thing!

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