Just Plain Aussie ‘ockerism’ On Display
Aussies seemingly take pride in their bawdy language, unbecoming behaviour
During the fiercely contested 1974-75 ‘Ashes’ series, The Sunday Telegraph ran a photo of the terrifying Aussie speedsters, Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, with a caption ‘Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust, if Thomson don't get ya, Lillee must’. The Aussies had just brutally and unceremoniously wrenched the famous ‘Ashes’ urn, 4-1.
Legend has it that ‘Thommo’ had hit an English opening batsman in the head with a bouncer, knocking him out. Later when the batsman gained consciousness, the intimidating frame of Thommo was looming over him and smiling menacingly, with patent Aussie humour, “G’day, welcome to Stralia”.
Later, in the 1977 series the stiff-upper lip of the English got more of the ‘down-under’ humour when the laidback Dennis Lillee greeted the Queen with a “G'day, how ya goin?” As part of the common monarchy, the formalities of the ‘Crown’ would not have been lost on Dennis Lillee, but like all Aussies, there was a bit of stereotypical ‘ockerism’ (ocker is an uncouth Aussie!) at display – a national badge of honour!
It took a certain character in Ian ‘Beefy’ Botham (who was really more Aussie in spirit than a ‘prim and propah’ English) to take the mickey out of rival Aussies, “What would be better than to beat the Aussies at Melbourne in front of 100,000 convicts”!
Oddly enough, the irreverent Aussies were only amused at the ‘convict’ barb as they themselves celebrate such dry, self-deprecating, and even sarcastic humour. Propriety, correctness, and sense of formalities are oxymoronic to the identity of Aussies.
Unsurprisingly, the Aussies pioneered the art and science of ‘sledging’ in the Gentleman’s Game of cricket. They see it as old-fashioned, and good-humoured banter, but the purists of yore, decry it as poor sportsmanship or boorishness.
As the English player Harold Larwood (himself no gentleman of the bodyline infamy) famously complained, “A cricket tour in Australia would be the most delightful period in your life… if you were deaf”!
The win-at-any-cost culture had also led to the ‘underarm bowling’ incident between the Aussies and Kiwis, when Greg Chappell told his brother Trevor to roll the final delivery on the ground in order to deny the hapless Kiwis any possible chance of hitting the ball for a six and tying the match. Platitudes of the ‘spirit’ of the game be damned, the Aussies simply want to win, each time.
It is this patented ‘Crocodile Dundee’ culture that they carry in almost all sports, be it in the case of premature burn-out genius, Pat Cash, or an equally mercurial, entertaining, and temperamental Nick Kyrgios who wears his devil-may-care attitude and emotions on his tattooed sleeves.
Like the imagery of the proverbial bushman, gold-digger, digger at war, bullock drivers, (all archetypical Aussies renowned for their swearing and profanities), the Aussies seemingly take pride in their beer-guzzling, bawdy language, rhyming slangs and unbecoming behaviour as an integral part of their rough-and-tough cultural identity.
Not for them, the imagined boredom of pompous traditions, stodgy protocols or social niceties as it was Pat Cash who started the wild tradition of climbing onto spectator stands (into the player’s box) and hugging his folks in unbridled ‘mateship’, in the hallowed whiteness of Wimbledon – something that eased the way for subsequent winners to let their hair down, as they wished.
‘Down Under’ may be supremely diverse as a populace, but there is only one religion that unites the big Island, and that is sports. It is for this reason that Australians invariably top the charts to be the world’s sportiest nation.
Just from a population of about 27 million people, it returned from the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 with 46 medals, of which 17 were Gold. India with 1.3 billion had returned with its highest medal tally ever: 7 medals including 1 Gold.
With little else to talk about in terms of past glories or culture to ground its sovereign underpinnings, sports are a means of expression and sovereign assertion.
And so even in a sport, taken from the much teased ‘Poms’ (nickname for British people) i.e., cricket, Australia has had unmatched success. Of the 13 ICC World Cup editions so far, the Aussies have won an unprecedented six trophies, most recently, last week itself.
In a sign of times, England became the first team in the tournament’s history to lose to all test-playing teams, including the no-longer minnows with the willow, Afghanistan, who scripted a reverse ‘Great Game’ in the latest Anglo-Afghan war, albeit on the cricket pitch.
So, with yet another sporting feather via the Cricket World Cup in their already feather-bursting hat, it was left to the undoubtedly inelegant and frankly avoidable dereliction of Australian player, Mitchell Marsh resting his foot on the World Cup trophy that got many rightfully riled. Beyond the outraged punditry and hosannas of ‘hallowed trophy’ et al, it was plain stupidity by the brash Aussie.
Just what was Mitchell Marsh (who is Cricket royalty, considering he is former Aussie player, ‘Swampy’ Geoff Marsh’s son) thinking? It takes only a boneheaded Aussie to not think that there anything wrong to put feet on something that they fought tooth and nail for – but then only a Aussie could have done so, not necessarily out of disrespect but perhaps getting carried away in a moment of ‘brain-fade’ (a term popularised by yet another Aussie, Steve Smith for yet another unsavoriness) after having “hit the red off the ball”!
In fact, just before the final match itself, Mitchell Marsh had cheekily and provocatively predicted that the Aussies would “win by 385 runs” after limiting the Indians to only 65 runs – while that didn’t happen, but the Aussies had won fair and square.
It's not the first time that the Aussies have been found wanting in the decorous department as they had crossed the fine line between aggression and coarseness when in 2006 after having won the Champions Trophy, they had unabashedly pushed the then BCCI President, Sharad Pawar, from the stage. Prior to the shameful push, Ricky Ponting had gesticulated crudely with his finger at Sharad Pawar to quickly handover the trophy. Their subsequent apologies notwithstanding, the Aussie behaviour and mannerism, both on-field and off-field, can be slammed as downright impertinent and rowdy.
They would like to believe that they work hard and party harder, and while that is indeed true given their unmatched success in sporting fields, there is a good case for them to not get carried away with ‘ockerism’. They are arguably the least complicated and straight speaking folks but that cannot justify unwarranted impoliteness, discourteous and even politically incorrect expressions, always.
Coming back to Mitchell Marsh and his inexplicably crude usage of the World Cup trophy as a footrest, it is one of those ‘brain fade’ moments that he will hopefully regret and move on with the sort of spirit that only an Aussie player can.
Just days earlier Sunil Gavaskar had playfully teased Mitchell Marsh by gesticulating a defensive shot and asked “Didn’t your father ever teach you to play like this? Because all you’re doing is Bang, Bang, Bang?” – to which Marsh had replied lightheartedly, “I’m just making up for his poor strike-rates”!
And so the Aussie juggernaut rolls on. To end the piece on an equally incorrect, uncouth and impolite note (but one, that perhaps the Aussies themselves would have a laugh at) :
What’s the difference between a Yoghurt and an Aussie?
Answer: If you leave a Yogurt out in the sun for 200 years, it will develop a culture!
Lt. General Bhopinder Singh (PVSM) is the former Lieutenant Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Pondicherry. Views expressed are the writer’s own.