Australian Stereotypes in Media

When non-Australians think of the country, what is the first thing that comes to mind? It may be that Australians are rugged outdoorsmen who love wrestling with crocodiles and other dangerous animals. Maybe they're stuck in the past and living an under-developed rural lifestyle, or that they're criminals, basically, things that range from shrimp on the barbie and riding kangaroos everywhere like horses. So just how is it that non-Australians, particularly Americans came to expect these attributes from Australians in the first place? The easiest answer could be media and how people are portrayed in popular shows, movies, and cartoons. There are a variety of stereotypes portrayed, both positive and negative.

Starting with the Australian outdoorsman stereotype, one movie that really opened the eyes of Americans about the existence of Australia in the first place is the classic Crocodile Dundee. It was a charming movie, and I can understand how popular it was back then; the main character Mick Dundee was a memorable character, not to mention smooth and sturdy. The main premise was fun, and it provided good entertainment overall. However, despite the positive characteristics of the character, this was also the beginning of the Australian outdoorsman stereotype to the average American. In the movie, Dundee was known for wrestling with crocodiles, and he possessed all other sorts of knowledge on wildlife and outdoor survival. These characteristics influenced the stereotype that all Australians are buff, strong people who fight for their lives against dangerous animals every day, and that they have vast knowledge about the wild and can survive in the outback. Dundee also carried around a giant knife which further cemented the idea that because Australians carried massive blades with them, they pretty much knew how to defend themselves.


One prime example of an Australian person who exhibits these stereotypes is none other than the Crocodile Hunter himself: Steve Irwin. However, unlike most media usage of the outdoorsman stereotype to make fun of Australians, Mr. Irwin was, in fact, a more positive and influential man. He exhibited the Australian outdoorsman stereotype with his way of speech and his huge passion for animals, especially crocodiles. What makes him a positive portrayal of said stereotype is that he uses his knowledge of animals and comes in close contact with them to educate other people about their beauty and need for protection. He spent his whole life dedicated to the conservation of animals around the world instead of just wrestling with them just for the sake of entertainment like most portrayals of the typical TV Australian.


Another stereotype of Australians is that they live in a rural under-developed lifestyle comparable to that of a 2nd world, maybe even a 3rd world country. Going back to Crocodile Dundee, when the female lead character goes over to Australia, the country itself is portrayed as a barren Africa-esque desert with only a few wooden buildings akin to that of 1800's Old West architecture. The people all live a simple 3rd world lifestyle, drinking beer, engaging in physical activity, and of course, living that outdoorsman life. Even Dundee himself is not familiar with modern technology and the 1st world lifestyle when he steps into New York City.


One funny scene I remember from that movie was when Dundee saw someone snorting cocaine through his nose, but he didn't even know what cocaine was and thought it was medicine. He took the "medicine" and dumped it into a pot of boiling water and offered it to the other man saying it would help with his "illness." This was yet another example of how that movie created the stereotype that Australians are behind the times and don't know about modern life outside the wilderness.


Speaking of modern life, let's take a look at the classic Nicktoon "Rocko's Modern Life." The show is about an Australian immigrant wallaby named Rocko who lives in the fictional city of O-town USA with his friends and dog. Just by the title alone, it makes the viewer assume that Rocko is not familiar with modern life in America. The fact that he's from Australia also reinforces the stereotype that Australians are not used to the modern world. Even the Super Mario Bros. Super Show made an episode where the setting was in a land clearly based on Australia. The buildings in that land looked exactly like those in Crocodile Dundee and are portrayed as a barren Old-West looking environment with crocodiles everywhere. Many other shows, such as the Simpsons, also made attempts to make fun of Australians and their lifestyle, but in the end, it's just entertainment, whether it is offensive or not.


One final stereotype that I want to talk about is the Australian criminal stereotype. It's no mystery that Australian characters in popular media are also primarily portrayed as a villain or one of the bad guys. In comics, Marvel had Pyro from the X-Men and DC had Captain Boomerang. In video games, Mortal Kombat had Kano, who initially wasn't an Australian but was changed to one due to the movie portrayal of him being very popular. Capcom had Alexander the Grater, a heel (villain) wrestler from Saturday Night Slam Masters, and Lord Raptor, a crazy power-hungry zombie from Darkstalkers. Blizzard had Junkrat and Roadhog, two criminals from Overwatch. This stereotype comes from the fact that Australia was infamous as a penal colony for British convicts during the 18th century. The fact that using this time in history to stereotype all Australians as criminals is a bunch of rubbish. That doesn't mean that all 24 million Australian citizens have a criminal heritage. However, over 70% of Australians are of English and Irish origin. Australia is also very multicultural today and is home to 6 million migrants from other parts of Europe and Asia.


Overall, like any other foreign country, Australia has no exception of having an endless sea of stereotypes that many Americans expect to see from its people. Most of the stereotypes come from the 80s and 90s, with movies like Crocodile Dundee and that one Simpsons episode featuring Australia. Even though there are actual Australians who have these stereotypes as a personality, they can still have a positive influence.