June 30, 2007
The Canberra Times

Nothing ordinary about the diverse blend of average Australia

Daniel Bowen you are so dumped. We are like so over. I’m not even going to send you a text or an email. You can just work it out for yourself. You’re finished.

I never really liked you anyway. Your diatribe is dull. Your long web posts about your trip to the supermarket, your dislike of a certain brand of chicken sauce, your conversion to green energy and CFL globes, your love of Dr Who – it’s all tedious. Boring. Juvenile even. I only hung in there because I felt I had to. I felt a sort of moral journalistic obligation to try to understand you.

But now, thanks to this week’s release of the 2006 census data, I’m free of you. I don’t need you anymore. Now I never have to read your tedious web blog diary again.

Bowen, I always thought you were sus. Now I know it for a fact. You are not who you say you are and I’ve got the census data to prove it.

You profess to be the ”average Australian”. Well, Daniel Bowen, I have news for you. You are not! So you can pull down your boring website proclaiming your ”averageness”. Either that, or come up with a new marketing moniker. Because ”average Australian” you ain’t.

Look, sorry Daniel if I’m sounding a bit shrill. It’s just that I hung in there with you for so long, pouring over your daily musings, trying to get inside your head and work you out. And now I find it was all a useless waste of time. You and I were always worlds apart. But because you claimed top billing on the ”average Australian” Google search, I felt compelled to get to know you.

In fact, Daniel, you’re probably not that bad a guy. In truth, your daily rants occasionally made me smile, especially your recent excitement about stocking up on recycled tissues. I even got into your long discussion about what you eat for lunch at work. And you’re probably right about the food court near your office having by far the best ”rolls with roast chicken”. It’s just that none of that is very interesting. And now that I know you are not the ”average Australian”, I’m relieved that I don’t have to feign an interest in you ever again.

That said, Daniel, it’s not as if you are being replaced by a 37-year-old mother of two, who lives in a ”couple family”. Certainly the census has told us that such a person is of ”median” age, and reflects the biggest – albeit declining – demographic. But she is nevertheless not your ”average Australian” either. And that’s the point.

Australia has finally come of age. Thankfully, we don’t have an ”average Australian” any more. And that’s just as well, because on that score, Daniel, sorry but you were an embarrassment.

Thanks to the census data we now know that the ”mainstream” of Australia has moved on. The bulk of Australians are no longer white, Anglo, English-speaking Christians who are married-with-kids. The white picket fence has toppled down.

Consequently, the time has well and truly come for politicians across the board to reconsider their tired old policy pitch to the ”Australian family” or ”ordinary Australians”, as if the ”family” and ”ordinariness” is the sum of us. It’s not.

Australia is now a nation of stunning diversity. In fact ”diversity” is the new norm.

We come from a range of different backgrounds, with one in five households speaking a language other than English. In fact, 3.2million Australians speak another language on a daily basis. Italian and Greek are still the most dominant, but Cantonese and Mandarin are very close behind. Arabic is also on the rise.

But it’s not just what we speak or eat that makes us diverse. What we believe in, how we structure our households and our choices about fertility and partnership all factor in our growing diversity as a nation.

Thanks to Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Andrew Denton and the team at The Chaser, atheism is now the ”new black”. These days nearly one in five Australians lay claim to ”no religion”. Generation Y is the strongest group of non-believers, with godlessness peaking at age 25. But then, as demographer Bernard Salt quipped this week, ”you are never as healthy and as immortal as you are in your mid-20s.”

Despite a rise in the Pentecostal song and dance style of worship, Christianity as a whole is on the decline. Buddhism continues to be Australia’s fastest growing religion, along with Hinduism now. And despite the Muslim population growing by two-thirds, Buddhists still outnumber that growth largely due to increased immigration from China, Korea, Thailand and other Asian nations.

But perhaps the biggest nail in the coffin of the ”average Australian” is to do with the more intimate aspects of our lives – our partnerships. Or lack there of. There are now more than 4.5million Australians over 20-years-old who have no current partner. For the first time ever, the majority of Australian adults are unmarried: one million more than 10 years ago. There are also nearly half a million more divorced or separated Australians. While the Australian fertility rate has climbed back to a relatively healthy 1.8 babies per woman (although well below the replacement rate of 2.1), childless couples are nevertheless the fastest growing family group. Couples with children still form the biggest sector, but have experienced the sharpest decline. Whereas the single person or ”lone” household is dramatically increasing.

And on top of all that, we’re richer than ever, but hocked to the eyeballs in debt, yet much more willing to splurge on ourselves.

Now – trying mixing up all those census tid-bits to come up with an ”average Australian”. You can’t.

And Daniel no offence. You were just never my type.

Virginia Haussegger is a Canberra journalist and director of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation at the University of Canberra.

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