8 NOVEMBER 2003, Page 36

Why do the Aussies hate us? Can it be because they feel inferior?

ii. wonder if there is anything we might do to help the Australians? They seem to be suffering from both an identity crisis and an inferiority complex. It must be terribly debilitating for them, and confusing too. Most of us went through much the same thing, as individuals, when we were 15 years old. Perhaps we can lend them our experience in such matters.

What the Australians seem to want more than anything else, these days, is to be 'Asian'. Australian politicians regularly pretend to be Asian and cringe before any real Asian politician who will offer succour to such an aspiration — even to the extent of inviting utter nonentities to address the Australian Parliament in Canberra.

Very few Asian politicians, though, are prepared to offer such succour. And certainly not the big, important ones. The truth is, the more Australia yearns to be Asian, the more Asia turns its back in derision. Asia, by and large, does not like Australia one bit.

Mr Goh Chok Tong, the Prime Minister of Singapore, recently made the real Asian position very clear. Australia is not 'Asian', he said, stating what the rest of the world, north of Darwin, understands as being blindingly obvious. 'It is not an indigenous member of the region.' he added, helpfully. Goh offered a tip, though: when Australia has lots of Asian people living in it, rather than displaced Europeans, then the rest of Asia might let it join the gang.

At the same meeting, Dr Mohamad Mahathir — until last week the Prime Minister of Malaysia and still the most influential and successful (real) Asian politician of the past 20 years — agreed with his colleague. 'Of course it's not Asian,' he said, smirking. 'Australia is some sort of transplant from a foreign region.'

The Australians, like any humiliated adolescent, were simultaneously livid and tearful. We are Asian, they shrieked from behind the bedroom door. We are, we are, we are! They found Mr Goh's and Dr Mahathir's disdain difficult to understand, or take. But then, a few months ago, in another spurt of teenage angst. Australia's Prime Minister, John Howard, announced that his country would invade any Asian country which it suspected of harbouring terrorists. The resulting guffaws could be heard from Seoul to Islamabad. Yeah, right, John: you and whose army?

Of course this only served to strengthen the Asian perception of Australia as a European incomer, a white sheriff given licence by George W. Bush to throw its weight around in the best colonialist fashion. It did not, as a stratagem, convince the people of Indonesia and Malaysia and Thailand that Australians were just like them, a people with a common purpose and shared aspirations.

I suppose we have all, at some time, wished that we were Asian, although rarely to the point of actually pretending that we really are. And it is certainly easy to see why Australians might wish to be Asian. Asians have a reputation for being diligent and cultured; two qualities which, one might argue, are rather lacking in the Australian psyche. But the real reason for this weird and compulsive pretence is probably more straightforward. What the Australians wish to do, one suspects, is rid themselves of any connection with Great Britain.

So much has been evident from the current Rugby World Cup. The hatred and vitriol directed at the England team from the Aussie press and Aussie pundits and Aussie players and — even more — the Aussie public has been quite remarkable in its level of vituperation. We are used to being jeered at by the Australians over our lack of sporting prowess: every time the England cricket team arrives in Sydney to get stuffed out of sight, the barrage of invective begins. And, with cricket — and, previously, rugby too — we sort of smile along a little wearily because we think well, hell, they've got a point, haven't they — and it's all good-natured really, isn't it?

No, it isn't. There is real loathing behind the headlines. And now it's got even worse because the Australians are scared to death that we might well win the World Cup because England, this time around, is a palpably better team than the host nation and arguably the best in the world.

This is too much for them to take. When, recently, England committed a minor infringe

ment of the rules in the last 30 seconds of a group game against Samoa, the hatred reached full pitch. England should be thrown out of the tournament, the press, as one. insisted. Cheating Poms! The former Australian international player Toutai Kefu summed it up in the Brisbane Courier-Mail: they should be sent home, he said. 'The English have always been an arrogant race. Who would send soldiers to war in red coats?' he asked, mysteriously.

Every nuance of the English game has been questioned and complained about in a veritable epidemic of whingeing and whining. And it's easy to see why. Being good at sport is about the only thing which alleviates Australia's enormous inferiority complex; take that away and there's nothing left. We think fondly of the Australians as a nation of informally attired Spring-heeled Jacks, bounding across their strange, arid, orange landscape with a can of lager in one hand and a cricket bat in the other; a people excelling at drinking and all manner of organised sports but not necessarily capable of following a line of print without slowly and painfully mouthing the words to themselves. The clever Aussies, those few, get the hell out of the country as soon as they can and set up base in London or Paris or New York. What remains is a nation of people for whom being good at sport represents the only criterion worth bothering about.

Somewhere at the back of their hatred of the English lurks the real and imagined iniquities of Gallipoli and Breaker Morant — but, as with another Brit-hating country rather closer to home, these historical semi-myths are an excuse and self-justification, rather than a reason. The real reason is an infantile rejection of the powerful, benign, parent state.

I was in a bar a week or so ago and saw a chap watching one of the Rugby World Cup games on television. Who's playing? I asked him.

'It's Ireland versus Australia,' he replied. 'Oh,' I replied, without thinking, 'if only it were possible for both sides to lose.'

And what followed was a torrent of abuse and whingeing about England and how they should be kicked out of the tournament because of their arrogance. My companion wasn't an Aussie — he was, of course, Irish. Ireland versus Australia — two countries English people would tend to cheer on if they were playing anyone other than England. Two countries which would cheer on the opposition no matter whom England were playing. Maybe the Irish should try to become Asian as well.