According to Joe Hildebrand, the rest of the world thinks Australians are a bunch of beer-chugging, racist bogans.
But are they right?
That’s the question Joe and ABC2 are asking in a new show that premieres tonight. And it’s got us thinking that, similarly to ‘Go Back To Where You Came From’, which aired on SBS last year, this has the potential to be BIG.
When you’re dealing with a country as large and as diverse as Australia, there are bound to be split opinions when we’re asked to take a look at ourselves from an outsider’s perspective. And the sad reality is, sometimes a little bit of self reflection can reveal things you don’t want to see.
Incidents like the Cronulla Riots in 2005 and the violent attacks on Indian students in Melbourne, have not done much for the Australian reputation internationally. And those events had their greatest impact just across the pond that they call the Indian Ocean – in the globe’s largest democracy – India.
So that is exactly where Joe Hildebrand chose to start his investigation. He is chaperoning four Indian tourists – law student Amer, call center worker Mahima, education adviser Radhika and journalist Gurmeet – around Australia, testing their preconceptions and stereotypes of what we are really like.
His aim? To either prove or disprove (through an entirely non-scientific approach!) the hypotheses that Australians are actually dumb, drunk and racist.
Mamamia chatted with Joe earlier this week about making the show and what he learned along the way:
1. Where did the idea come from?
About a year ago there was an article written for a US magazine that said Australians are dumb, drunk and racist. It said that Indian call center workers were told Australians were dumb, drunk and racist and The Sunday Telegraph ran an article about that and it caused a bit of a stir here, so we thought ‘alright let’s test the theory’. We’ll go to India, we’ll find out if they really do think we’re all dumb drunk and racist and then we’ll bring some Indians to Australia and find out if we really are…
We thought ‘we want to show them the full spectrum.’ We want to show the good bits, the bad bits, the ugly bits, the full catastrophe. We thought we’d be able to disprove the theory, we thought we’d be able to show that we’re not as bad as they thought we are and well… one thing led to another and a few things happened along the way and it turns out – we saw a lot of dumb, drunk racists.
2. You brought four Indians to Australia, to show them what we’re really like. How did they feel after the show was filmed?
We generally saw plenty of stuff that was just out-and-out disturbing, out-and-out ugly and nasty. We had people throwing out the most outrageous racist abuse in the street, completely unprovoked and it came out of nowhere. But we also met some of the most amazing and inspirational, intelligent, thoughtful, compassionate people as well.
3. Before you started filming, were you under the impression that Australians are dumb, drunk and racist?
I’ve been dumb, drunk and racist myself. Hasn’t everyone? What did amaze me was that I thought it would be a bit more understated. I thought there would have been a bit of “I’m not a racist but…” I wanted to expose some of the myths that absolutely everything is racist or prejudice or ageist or whatever and I have to say I was genuinely shocked when I saw just how fierce and nasty and not funny at all, a lot of the racism we saw was.
I thought people would be embarrassed to be seen as that, I thought people wouldn’t want to say things even if they actually thought them. But instead what we saw was a lot of yobbos who thought it was fun to yell out “go back to where you came from”. A bloke in Melbourne who took it upon himself to put his fist in the air and say “white pride, mother f***ker.” Seriously.
4. Were you ashamed to be Australian during filming?
Look I was ashamed of parts of it. I suppose what we’re trying to say – and this is what we’re trying to get out there with the show – is that a country shouldn’t be defined by its worst elements. A country shouldn’t shy away from its worst elements and pretend that they’re just not there.
There are shocking elements in Australia. I think the vast majority of Australians, even if some of them do have a funny feeling about race related issues and immigration related issues or whatever, I think are in no way racist in the way we saw. I think by highlighting that and exposing the extreme elements, that people might think twice.
5. Where is the line between being making a joke and being outright racist?
In many ways you never know, it’s in the eye of the beholder – or the eye of the beholdee. It’s about how the person feels. Anything that’s intended to intimidate or make the person feel lesser or inferior. It’s like with anything else when the joke goes too far. I get a bit worried about people being offended on other people’s behalf.
And I think when people ark up and make an overblown view – if you do that, it kind of devalues the complaint about what is really, really offensive in-your-face racism and extreme racism. When we ark up about something and overreact and get hysterical about something that’s not a kind of black and white case of racism and try and find racism everywhere, you take away the power of something really offensive happening.
6. In the series, you talk about the Cronulla riots and attacks on Indians in Melbourne. Both of of those incidents happened a few years ago. Are the issues just as relevant today?
We know these things are there. They were there when Pauline Hanson rode this massive groundswell of support in ’98, we know they were there and they flared up in Cronulla. There’s obviously also been attacks on taxi drivers and students in Melbourne. You could say ‘at least there haven’t been many attacks on taxi drivers in the last few years or since 2010’ and then low and behold a couple of days ago, bang there is another one. So I think these issues are always there and it requires a certain kind of alignment of the planets to flare up.
7. Finally, what do you think about the word ‘bogan’ being included in the Oxford English dictionary?
I think it’s the finest thing that I’ve ever heard of and it’s long overdue recognition of the greatest human species known to our great race.
So, will you be watching? Do you subscribe to the view that Australians are dumb, drunk and racist? Does the suggestion offend you? How do you think Australians are perceived overseas?