Australia: rough talk

Did origins so strongly influence society that in Australia today people almost expect to be mistreated?

I was watching a 2011 Australian cooking contest on TV.  And in the same week, the UK's own version. It soon became apparent that the two styles were distinctly different.  

In the Australian version contestants were not really encouraged; it seemed more like they were bullied. They were spoken to harshly, in a rather authoritarian way. By contrast, in the UK version the food judges spoke kindly, encouragingly and enthusiastically to the nervous wannabe chefs.  

I thought, why? Why would the Aussies be receptive to being spoken to in this apparently rough  fashion? Was this familiar territory, were they actually used to it? Were they raised to only respect authority only if it treated them with near-disdain? And why did the British contestants receive so much verbal help from the judges?

As the Australian wannabes were sent away after being told they had to step up to the mark tomorrow or they'd be kicked out of the competition, their British counterparts were told they were in the contest because they were great cooks and had it in them to be creative enough to meet the challenge of tomorrow. The Brits walked away with a spring in their step, a smile and enthusiasm, eagerly anticipating what lay ahead. Their Australian cousins were worried that their good luck would run out and that tomorrow they'd be 'out'. The contrast was stark. 

Then I thought it might be due to background and upbringing.  

Australia was founded as a penal colony. Convicts must have been treated harshly, their feelings never placated. Their aspirations playing second fiddle to the underlying agenda: order at all costs.  

Yet the Brits were brought up to express themselves, to rebel, to experiment and be praised, to attempt - even fail - briskly picking themselves up again to start over afresh.  

Perhaps the convict-derived culture has affected the Aussie way of life, right up to today.  Do Australians actually respond better to bullying than to enthusiastic encouragment? I doubt they'd be very keen to agree that that was the case. 

"Bagehot" wrote in The Economist this week: "For the English, there were many reasons why losing the American colonies was annoying. One was that America had been a handy place to exile convicts, some 40,000 of them over the years. George III took a personal interest in the hunt for new spots to resettle those (in his words) “unworthy to remain in this island”. Gibraltar was considered, as was west Africa, before ministers plumped for newly discovered Australia. By the time transportation ended (accused of lowering the tone of the Australian colonies), almost 200,000 men, women and children had been shipped Down Under, most never to return. Transportation was sorely missed: Parliament pondered new penal colonies in the Falkland Islands and even Antarctica, amid public panic at the idea of ex-prisoners roaming English streets."

Bill Bryson, an English-based American author and Chancellor of Durham University, wrote: "I can personally affirm that to stand before an audience of beaming Australians and make even the mildest quip about a convict past is to feel the air conditioning immediately elevated."

Yet, I put the notion of Australian rough talk to an Australian friend who thought it an interesting if disturbing take on the Australian psyche. Perhaps. If you've time, watch the programmes and you too might spot a difference in approach. 

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