Heroes, Mates and Family: How Tragedy Teaches Us About Being Australian

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Sarah Gillman


In his 2006 Australia Day address to the National Press Club in Canberra, the then prime minister, John Howard, told journalists that ‘people come to this country because they want to be Australians’. However, as Howard himself admitted, ‘The irony is that no institution or code lays down a test of Australianness’. So how can we know what it is to be Australian? One way is to look at the public statements the Howard made in the wake of tragedy and disaster during his decade as prime minister. These statements reinforce the key values of the Howard government: the role of family, the place of heroes and the importance of mateship. This article analyses the public reaction of the Howard during media coverage of events such as the Port Arthur shootings, the Bali bombings, the 2004 tsunami and the Beaconsfield mine rescue. It argues that Howard’s public responses to these tragedies reflect a move on hi part to recapture the cultural debate and define what it is to be an ‘Australian’.

Article Details

Articles (Peer Reviewed)
Author Biography

Sarah Gillman, University of South Australia

Sarah Gillman is a PhD Candidate in the School of Communication at the University of South Australia. Her thesis explores the impact of celebrity on news coverage of traumatic events. Her previous published work researched talkback radio, and changes to news values and reporting. She is currently working in mainstream media after teaching in tertiary media and journalism programs.