What is a hyphenated Australian meant to do?

Tonight is census night in Australia. One question asks about our ancestry. There is a default list of the most common answers from the last census and a text box to type in any other answer. In the list are English, Irish, Scottish and Australian. Yes, my ancestry is Australian for 4-6 generations, but I think selecting that tells an incomplete story. Fine, I’ll select English, Irish and Scottish and type in ‘Cornish’. Except … I’m only allowed to choose two. So, either I tell an incomplete story by selecting ‘Australian’, or I tell an incomplete story by selecting and/or writing any two of those four. But which two? Numerically, my ancestry is more English and Scottish, but I identify less as English and more as any or all of those other four, to the extent that it matters 140 years after my last ancestors arrived in Australia (from England, as it happens). Maybe I should have tried typing in Anglo-Saxon-Celtic-Australian or Normo-Dano-Anglo-Saxo-Juto-Romano-Celto-Australian and seen if it would have accepted it.

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6 thoughts on “What is a hyphenated Australian meant to do?

  1. And I thought America had a problem with multi-racial identities. Always objected to the box on forms where you had to check off which race you were, and until recently there was no option for multiracials (like my daughter). But Australians are required to identify by a particular European national origin? And what is the purpose of that? At least in the USA there is the implication of benefiting from programs that confer advantage upon minorities that have historically been the targets of discrimination — and there is considerable political blowback against that these days in any case. (For example, US senator Elizabeth Warren supposedly declared herself a Native American when she applied to Harvard University in order to avail herself of such programs, though her Native American ancestry was minimal or questionable at best.)

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    • The only requirement was that provide *an* answer, which could be ‘Australian’, which I could have done. We are not required to identify by a particular ancestry (though many people do). Possibly the only reason I didn’t simply select ‘Australian’ is that I’ve been doing a lot of family history research lately.

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  2. I suppose you’ve heard the joke where an American (well, non-Australian) tourist is arriving at the airport in Australia and the agent asks if the tourist has a criminal record. The tourist replies “I didn’t know you still needed one to get in.”

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    • Ha ha. In some versions it’s a Brit, which is particularly unfunny given that the transportation of convicts was a British policy.

      Australia has no visa-free entry, so everyone has already answered that on their visa application (and probably provided a police check as well).

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  3. The latest US Census results have been reported and there is a sharp increase in the number of people self-reporting as multiracial. This is largely because the ability to report oneself as multiracial is fairly new (the ability to check multiple boxes was instituted only since the previous 2010 census, or maybe the 2000 census), but it also reflects a fundamental reality.

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    • In the US (and Canada), various combinations of British Isles, French, Spanish, African and native have been cohabiting (in one way or another) for 400+ years, as well as various others later. Until 1788 Australia only had the indigenous peoples and until about the 1930s, only British Isles (and a few marginalised groups like Chinese gold-seekers and Islander indentured labourers (in effect, slaves). Even now, I suspect more marriages happen within country/ethnic/social groups than between them.
      PS Several days later I thought of the Germans, who were Australia’s first ‘other’ group. Some communities were large enough to be self-sustaining (with further immigration adding to the numbers), while others intermarried very quickly. One of my great-great-uncles married a German woman, and there’s no sign of German given names in the next generations.

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