Being British in Australia: No joking matter

Arthur or Martha? © Sara Campbell 2015
Arthur or Martha?
© Sara Campbell 2015

What happens when a planeload of Poms lands at Sydney airport? What I’ve always found intriguing about this Australian joke is that it only seems to have one punch line: When the engines stop, you can still hear the whining. It’s a model joke: Concise, based on a neat double meaning, and it delivers an ethnic slur with devastatingly effective understatement. Even better, it isn’t offensive. You can quickly test this proposition at your next dinner party: Replace ‘Pom’ with ‘ Chinese’ and watch the eyebrows shoot up in alarm and confusion.

I was prompted to think about this by a Guardian article[1] that proposes that British jokes about Australians are more to do with the Poms’ attitudes towards their own class system than about Australia itself. But back to my airport joke: The reason that this potentially productive joke stem only has one ending may be that British Australians (as opposed to British visitors) occupy an indistinct zone in the Australian ethnic spectrum, and putting aside the standard stereotypes about whinging and personal hygiene, aren’t particularly joke worthy.

I felt a twinge of doubt when I threw in the term ‘ethnic slur’ just now. I’ve lived permanently in Australia since 1977, or for more than half of my life, and I’ve never been described as belonging to an ethnic group in the way that Armenians, Thais and Somalis might be categorised. So, what kind of insult is it that the Poms are supposed to suffer if the airport joke isn’t an ethnic one? I’ll come back to that in a moment, but I’ll firstly make some remarks on the nature of being a British Australian … or is it an Australian Brit?

The essence of being British in Britain is the negotiation of social diversity along class and geographical lines. Like exotic beetles, the Brits develop – metaphorically speaking – huge antennae, which they wave around when they meet a new acquaintance, sniffing for clues about where this person was born, where they are in the pecking order, and what they are worth. To complicate things, the class signalling system has been subverted over the decades, so that the British are happy to accept the irony of concert pianists who sound like scrap metal dealers. Britain revels in all of this, egged on by a comedy industry that is supercharged by the exploitation of class differences.

Fresh Poms arrive in Australia with antennae flapping, but can’t tune into the signals. The huge things are as much use as an extra pair of nipples, and they soon shrivel. Adrift, the recent arrivals resort to crude judgments linked to their memories of Britain; when I arrived in 1977 I soon decided that Australians were very much like people from British council estates – just about the most damning class slur available to someone whose childhood was spent in such places. Homesick and disoriented, I immersed myself in the novels of Thomas Hardy for a few months, bathing my violated sensibilities in the bucolic balm of an invented rural England. I was saved by Australian literature; authors like David Ireland, Hal Porter and Patrick White helped me draw the social blueprint of my new home. At the same time I was writing the grammar of an Aboriginal language for a Masters thesis at the Australian National University, getting the first real clues about another way of seeing Australia. Like my fellow migrants I was gradually absorbed into the land of Arthur and Martha that is Australian Britishness.

So back to that joke. It’s obvious that a British ethnicity in Australia is difficult to pin down: A common language softens the definitional edges; millions of Australians have British forebears just a  generation or two away; the UK is still on the pilgrimage route for Australian travellers; and the ABC often seems to function as a southern branch office of the UK TV drama industry. There isn’t really a clear ethnic target at all, so there’s no incentive to make jokes.

I’m inclined to think that the airport joke survives simply because it’s very well-constructed and therefore worth retelling. I spent some time trying to create some alternative punch lines such as ‘The soap factory goes onto overtime’ and  ‘Australia’s average IQ goes down ten points’.

You’re right – they are lame, and you might also agree that they look much more like ethnic slurs than the original, because of course they could be applied to any ethnic group. There’s a fondness about the whining joke, a self-deprecating acceptance of British cultural roots, an irony in the joke’s lack of sting.

Now I wonder what colour socks go with these sandals?

[1] . Downloaded 29 May 2014.

Sydney author slams “Young Kipper War” gaffe

charcuterie monthy 002Sydney author Stuart Campbell says he is ‘disappointed and upset’ at Lesley Latte’s ambush interview with him in New Caledonia, in  which the roving correspondent said that Campbell’s new novel Cairo Mon Amour was set in the 1973 ‘Young Kipper’ War.  He has called on the new editor of Charcuterie Monthly, Gilbert Saucisson, to ‘send  Latte back to school to learn some history’.

In a brief statement, Saucisson said that Latte would be censured for h** error, adding that Charcuterie Monthly‘s editorial guidelines require that all articles include reference to meat, but not fish.


** Lesley Latte reserves the right not to disclose h** gender

Buy Stuart Campbell’s books in paperback and ebook on Amazon by clicking on these title links:

An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity

The Play’s the Thing

Stuart Campbell’s covers are designed by Rachel Ainge .


Stuart Campbell's student card. Cairo University 1973
Stuart Campbell’s student card. Cairo University 1973

I was browsing some tempting sausages at the charcuterie stall in Nouméa’s municipal market last week when to my astonishment I saw Sydney author Stuart Campbell at the coffee stand.

An appointment with the reclusive and publicity-shy Campbell is hard to get – an impromptu interview a virtual impossibility. I approached him and gave him my finely honed elevator pitch. My luck was in. Was it the sultry laid-back groove of New Caledonia? Or perhaps the large glass of Pernod on the counter?

“I’ve got ten minutes,” he said with that trademark suave elevation of the slightly grizzled but really incredibly sculpted masculine eyebrow

OM Freaking G, I thought! Two weeks out of on-line journalism school, and I’ve scored an exclusive with the author of An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity.

So tell me about your next book, I ventured.

Campbell nodded to the barman, who topped up the Pernod and brought another flask of water. Frankly, I don’t know how anybody can drink something that looks like what you spit out after you’ve cleaned your teeth, but old blokes seem to drink it all the time in France, or maybe they just look old because they drink so much of it and they’re, like, quite young really.

Anyway, I gather the new book is called Cairo Mon Amour. It’s set in Cairo in 1973 during a war, I think he said the Young Kipper? Not sure about that, but apparently he was a student in Cairo during that war and always meant to write a thriller about it. It’s coming out in July 2016.

At this point he asked me if I had an aspirin because he had an earache because he got some coral in his ears swimming and he’d gone deaf.

“Who do you say you write for?” he asked me.

“I’m an emerging social commentator and the roving correspondent for Charcuterie Monthly,” I responded.

“Didn’t you say The Guardian?”

“I might have done,” I confessed.

“Go back to your sausages,” he said.

Well, I don’t know about you, but his new book sounds like crap.


** Lesley Latte reserves the right not to disclose h** gender

Buy Stuart Campbell’s books in paperback and ebook on Amazon by clicking on these title links:

An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity

The Play’s the Thing

Stuart Campbell’s covers are designed by Rachel Ainge .

Whatever it takes – a short story

raymondMy friend Professor Stuart Campbell asked me to comment on this short story he has written. I regret to say that I think the story is in dubious taste, but as I often say, chacun à sa saucisse. Raymond Saucisson*, editor, Charcuterie Monthly

Whatever it takes by Stuart Campbell

When he angled one shoulder forward and narrowed his eyes, the figure in the mirror looked almost feminine. Dr Kim Pope experimented with several poses until he had the optimum configuration: Head turned slightly to the right and tilted a little downward; knees together and turned to the left; one arm resting on his lap, the other supporting the chin with the index finger placed against the side of the face. He repeated Peter’s mantra: I am relaxed but resolute. He fine tuned the facial expression: Less macho, Peter had said, widen the eyelids a fraction, sweeten the smile.

“The big moment’s almost here, Kim. Are you ready?” It was Peter. He hung a DO NOT DISTURB sign on the outside of the dressing room door and then pulled it shut.

“What about Millie?” Kim asked. He’d suggested – no, insisted – that she be with him today to take him through some of the tricky questions.

“She’ll give us a special knock on the door,” Peter said. “Let’s start with the unmentionables. Just pop behind the screen.”

“No need Pete. We’ve known each other long enough,” Kim said. He kicked off his shoes and socks, unknotted the tie, peeled off the business shirt and dropped his suit pants. He stepped out of his jocks.

“They’re on the dressing table Kim. Help yourself.”

Kim had kept his body depilated for the last few week, and the sheer material of the panties glided over his calves and thighs. The garment barely contained his wedding tackle, but the full skirt that Peter had chosen would mask the bulge. He hooked the padded bra at the front, then twisted it around his trunk so that the two little mounds perked up from his chest. He was lightly built, fair complexioned, a youthful fifty year old.

“Give us a twirl Kim.”

“Don’t take the piss Pete. We’re professionals. Let me get the pantihose on.”

Peter Donaldson, Oscar nominee for Best Makeup, waited while his friend smoothed the stockings, then handed him a silk wrap. They’d been pals at school, and later Kim had married Peter’s sister Chrissie. Kim sat in the salon chair and Peter started to apply foundation. Chrissie had tried making him up but despite his sandy hair she hadn’t worked out how to hide his shave. But she’d figured out the trick with the hair: They’d let it grow out gradually and swept it into a thicker version of his normal masculine quiff, reducing the bulk with wax. Chrissie had shaped and sculpted it so that once the wax was washed out, the hair could be whipped into a gamine bob with a feathery fringe dipping over the forehead.

But she’d taken some convincing when he’d put the whole idea to her six months before. “You want to become a woman?” she asked. “I’ve heard some mad ideas from you over the years, but a sex change? Can we be serious now?”

“I have to become a woman. I’ve always thought that I was a woman inside.” They sat up till the early hours while he told his story. At last she nodded and said, “Yes, yes. I’m with you Kim.” She was always with him. They’d told their teenaged children the next evening. Zachary listened and muttered, “Whatever,” while Pixie stared at them, from one to the other, and said, “I can’t say I’m surprised.” Well, Pixie was right; the family had had to cope with a good many U-turns during Kim’s career.

There was a coded knock and Peter let in Millie Ransom, biographer to billionaire grocers, divas, and celebrity criminals. They’d had six or seven meetings, Millie gently probing Kim’s memories, taking notes, nodding impassively. It was during the third meeting that he’d broached the issue of his transgender ‘journey’. He liked that word ‘journey’; it chimed with the dynamism and advancement that defined his career. Millie hadn’t blinked – just made notes. She never lost her cool demeanour, even that time when he’d contrived to squeeze her bottom as he ushered her out through the office door.

“How long till the press conference, Dr Pope?”

“We’ve got five minutes Millie. You’re going to witness history today.”

“I’ve got your questions,” Millie said as Kim rose from the chair, face meticulously made up. Peter unwound the wrap from his brother in law’s shoulders and unclipped a blouse and skirt from a clothes rack.

“Dr Pope, of all the factors that have brought you to this point, what stands out in your mind – at this very moment – as the one driving motivation for your decision to become a woman?” Millie looked down at her notebook as Kim stepped into the black skirt.

“Well Millie, my father taught me a vital lesson in life. He told me, ‘Be yourself, be authentic. If you’re a phoney, people will catch you out.’ And that lesson has served me well. I am being myself. I am projecting myself as the woman I’ve always known I am”.

“Cynics might say that your journey, as you call it, has more to do with expediency, even survival.”

“Millie, I’ve heard this opinion in the media. I think it’s a tragic indictment on the values of this country when a person – especially a person in public life – is exposed to ridicule or insult because of his or her sexuality.”

“Dr Pope, is your wife Chrissie apprehensive about the journey ahead?”

“Well, this is a very personal matter, but let me just say that my wife will face the challenges ahead with the courage she has shown throughout my career.”

“And is surgery on the near horizon?”

“That’s a hypothetical at this stage Millie, but it’s a matter that I will consider in full consultation with my wife.”

“Dr Pope, since the redrawing of your electoral boundary you are sitting on the slimmest of margins, and your constituents now include the highest proportion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender voters of any electorate in the country. Some people might ask to what extent your change of gender will increase your chances of retaining your seat?”

There was a knock on the door. A voice said, “One minute Prime Minister.” Kim put on the blouse and Peter buttoned it up. He squeezed his feet into the size 11 high heeled shoes that Chrissie had found at a special online store and strode out to meet the press.

©Stuart Campbell 2015

* Raymond Saucisson was kind enough to write the introduction to my anthology of essays On Becoming a Butcher in Paris.

Buy Stuart Campbell’s novels in paperback and ebook on Amazon by clicking on these title links: An Englishman’s Guide to Infidelity The Play’s the Thing

“Debate needed on return of slavery” says magazine editor

raymondMy attention was recently drawn to a news report claiming that an Australian government minister ‘has called for a “discussion” about the death penalty’. While the report suggests that the minister does not support the death penalty, the gentleman said that ‘many Australians supported capital punishment’.

If I may interpose my own thoughts on the subject, I am approached regularly by friends and professional colleagues who bemoan the difficulty of obtaining good domestic staff at affordable rates. Some have even suggested that they support the return of slavery. While I abhor such a barbaric notion, I do believe that a sensible government ought to call for a discussion about the matter.

Raymond Saucisson

Editor – Charcuterie Monthly