Am I a bogan? Some thoughts on class in Australia.

Last night, I read one of those blog posts that made me think. Liz_beths wrote a post entitled “Maliciousness in memes: #boganmovies and #tightsarenotpants”, broadly about jokes the progressive community make at the expense of the working class community. My reaction was similar to last year, when Shiny wrote a post with a similar theme. The reason these posts both made me think is that they talk about bogans and class in a way that I usually don’t think about them. To my mind, bogans are people who like utes, metal music and wearing black jeans with flannies. In my head, they aren’t defined by their income or their political views. However, other people see the ‘bogan’ label as meaning something different: to @OsheaGreen, it’s ppl w/ jobs (usually) who celebrate everything ignorant & nasty & racist in Aus ‘culture’, who are proudly ignorant.” Since bogan seems to mean something different to everyone, I’m going to talk my perceptions of class rather than bogans in particular.

I don’t come from a background with a lot of money. My paternal grandfather was a mechanic, and my maternal grandfather was a farmer. My dad left school at 15 to work full-time because his parents couldn’t afford to keep him home as a student any longer. He has managed to build a successful career in the public service (now in the senior executive service) in part thanks to his dedication to education: he studied for 7 years part time to qualify as an accountant, and followed that with another 7 years of part time study to get his postgrad qualification (all while continuing to work full-time).

Despite Dad having a secure income, we never had a lot of money to spare when I was growing up. Mum didn’t work, and although we never had to go without eating, we didn’t have a lot of money to spare on luxuries. The six of us lived in a house with one bathroom, which meant that I would get up at about 5:45 and shower before going back to bed for half an hour before school. Most of my clothes were hand-me-downs or else bought from stores like Kmart or Target. We didn’t own a tv with a remote control until the late 90s. I saved all my income from a year of working 3 or 4 shifts a week at Pizza Hut so I could go on exchange when I was in Year 11.

This is not a whinge about my circumstances while growing up, but just a bit of background so you can understand where I sat on the wealth scale as I grew up. I’m hesitant to place myself in a ‘class’ because I honestly don’t know what the rules are and where the line sits. What I do know is that I wouldn’t trade my upbringing for anything. I have a close-knit family who I love a lot, and therefore I consider myself very fortunate.

The thing that strikes me is that a lot of the time, I would say I’m pretty ignorant of the apparent class divide in Australia. I almost never thought about it when I was at school. My brothers and I were all educated at government schools, so I suppose most of our friends were from similar socioeconomic backgrounds. I did have one friend whose parents were relatively well off, but their fancy art in display cases didn’t prevent us from sharing a love of Buffy.

The first time I began to notice some differences was when I reached university, and began a relationship with a private school boy. His family wasn’t especially wealthy, but by my standards some of his friends were. I would turn up to a party and be amazed at the size of the house. Their cars were new and shiny, not like the $400 Laser I drove. Nevertheless, I never had any problem getting along with them. Even now, although that relationship is long over, I am able to have a friendly chat if I run into one of his friends.

I feel the same way about movies or television shows. Again, I don’t know what it means on the class scale, but I used to quite enjoy watching Kath and Kim. I didn’t enjoy it because I would look down on Kath and Kim, rather, I enjoyed it because there is so much Kath and Kim in my life. I have family members who say pacific when they mean specific. I happily shop at Target and IKEA (how can a hot dog be bad if it only costs $1?). To this day, I happily wear trakkydaks to Coles (right now I’m wearing trakkydaks, a singlet from kmart and a hoodie). I’ve touched on some of this before when I wrote about not being cool.

Which brings me to this question: am I a bogan? I’d rather spend a day at the cricket than an evening at a musical. I’d rather shop at Target than David Jones. I suspect that the answer depends on the definition of bogan, which, as I mentioned earlier, depends on who you ask. What I can say is that I’ve never been embarrassed of my background or who I am. I don’t know whether this is because I’ve been fortunate in my interactions with others, or whether I’m too unaware of the subtlety of others to realise that I’m being mocked. If my knowledge of caffeinated beverage protocol is anything to go by, I’d say probably a bit of both.

So maybe I am just ignorant to much of what goes on around me, but while I wouldn’t say Australia is classless, I don’t necessarily agree that there is a big class divide in Australia. For sure, there’s a wealth spectrum, but I don’t think there are as many “hard barriers” here as there may be elsewhere. I’m the granddaughter of a mechanic and a farmer, but last March I graduated from UWA with a PhD in Physics, and I now live a fairly comfortable life while working for the public service. My older brother is an Associate Director at his mid-sized engineering firm, and he’s not yet 30 years old. I agree that it can be unpleasant when people in a position of privilege look down on those who are worse off, but for me, the most important battles are to maintain the opportunities that allowed me to be where I am today.

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3 Responses to Am I a bogan? Some thoughts on class in Australia.

  1. Captain Old says:

    I agree with Bogurk that Australia doesn’t have a class structure such as you might find in UK, for example, but there does seem to be a tendency to form groups, and at least some of these groups like to look down on other groups. We see it with sporting clubs, with political parties (particularly at the fringes!), and with a range of other social groupings based on some common theme.
    In many cases the self-appointed superiority over other groups is pretty harmless, and is a nutural side-effect of group dynamics. In other cases, however, it can colour judgements about these ‘other’ groups (be they bogans or anything else) and the value of their members in an egalitarian society. In its most extreme forms – for example shock-jocks of the Alan Jones variety – these attitudes can be toxic to the functioning of an open society.
    To summarise: let’s enjoy our membership of whatever groups we inhabit, and even have a bit of fun commenting on other groups. But let’s also keep this good-humoured, and recognise that in an open society people have a right (within reasonable limits of course) to behave differently to us and still be an integral part of Australian culture.

    • bogurk says:

      I think you make an excellent point about the nature of group dynamics and the separation of the ‘other’ – not just of bogans but of many groups across society. I suppose, like you say, the best thing is to remain open-minded as we encounter others.
      As a slight aside, I’ve continued to think about this, and I’m wondering whether I notice some of this behaviour less than others because I’m a physicist. My training was technical, so I spent a lot of time thinking about the workings of the universe, and not so much time thinking about the workings of society. Even now, conversations where privilege has a central focus can be difficult for me to keep up with, because I just don’t have the same vocabulary.

  2. durutticolumn says:

    Boganism is a state of mind and u don’t have it. It’s like sexual harassment hard to explain but you know when it happens. Bogans have none of the openness you have. they have a sense of entitlement and would not see as you do that having a wonderful close knit family full of love is the most important thing anyone can have. For them a flash car and a big screen tv is what they need and they don’t understand why they still feel hollow when they get them or as a woman said in the paper recently. I know we earn $180,000 a year but I don’t feel well off….she doesn’t understand that she never will.

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