I like Australia. I like certain Australians. This is not a dig, just an account of what it feels like to be constantly ‘Pom bashed’ during my first five months in this fascinating country. I will be posting far more positive articles about my experiences here.
Before coming to Australia, years of cricket against touring Australians and various hostel interactions had suggested to me that many Australians could be a touch haughty (‘arrogantly superior and disdainful’ – thank you, dictionary), looking down upon passport holders of the United Kingdom, probably the closest country in the world to themselves. Of course, geographically, they stand very far apart, but Queen Elizabeth II is head of state of both countries, appearing on the currency of each, the Commonwealth of Australia was formed in 1901 as a dominion of the British Empire, and the two nations shared a common nationality code until as recently as 1986 when the Australia Act was passed, essentially severing the ties of power that the UK had held over Australia.
This is a horrible generalisation, but since arriving in Australia (on a Working Holiday Visa), I grossly underestimated the haughtiness I would encounter. Each new interaction is a constant reminder that I am a Pom, that it rains all the time in England, and that I will probably burn like a forest fire with my sun-starved skin. For those that haven’t heard it before, the term ‘pom’ is defined (by the Oxford dictionary) in the following way:
Pom (noun) Australian / NZ informal, often derogatory:
A British person
In 2006, after complaints about multiple adverts poking fun at Poms, the Australian Advertising Standards Board ruled that the word Pom was not derogatory because it is ‘largely used in playful or affectionate terms.’ This to me, is nonsense. I call Australians ‘Aussies,’ a shortened version of the word, rather than ‘convicts,’ a work more akin to use of Pom. In fact, we don’t really have a derogatory word for Aussies, but this is probably the closest I can think of and instead, I would liken the usage of the word Pom to that of the English referring to the French as ‘frogs’ – which is intentionally disrespectful. The use of the term convict (or prisoner) to describe an Australian, originates from the fact that between 1788 and 1868, approximately 162,000 convicts were transported to Australian penal colonies by the British government. It is estimated that today, nearly 20% of Australians are directly descended from transported convicts. It’s not a nice term, I don’t use it, except with good friends who genuinely know that I am using it ‘in playful or affectionate terms’ as we jibe back and forth. Strangers calling me a Pom on a daily basis irks me – maybe it’s the way they say it, the smug grin that accompanies a word that can be perceived in so many ways. Not everyone uses the word – many people have been entirely lovely – but it is used excessively (in my opinion).
The origins of the word Pom are more elusive. In fact, the word itself has no clear origins and searching the internet for the origins will turn up hundreds of possibilities. A modern definition of POM(E) that I have been told many times since arriving here, is that it is an acronym for Prisoner of Mother England. The most documented origin of Pom is that Pommy is a contraction of pomegranate, the convict – sorry, I mean Aussie – rhyming slang for immigrant. This was further strengthened by the fact that many of the immigrants, or Poms, turned the colour of a pomegranate in the Australian sun.
I was walking through Darwin’s Botanical Gardens a few days ago when an Australian man overheard my conversation. ‘What part of Pommyland are you two from then?’ he called to us. ‘Actually, she’s American. I’m from the east.’ He then proceeded to tell us about his 5,000 km road trip around the UK which, when you consider the fact that Edinburgh and London lie 666 km apart, indicates that he has travelled rather extensively in my small country. His conclusion? Nice for two weeks, then he realised it was ‘all rain and damp.’ Thank you for your input.
The weather is nothing to be proud of in England. It is often overcast and in Australia, it has been truly beautiful, with the exception of the cyclone that passed through and several tropical storms that followed. But you know what? It actually rains more in Sydney than it does in London – 601.7 mm per annum of precipitation in London compared to between 686.3 mm and 1,400 mm in Sydney, dependent upon where in the city you measure the rainfall. [The Aussie weather is a lot better than the English weather, I just find it uninteresting to be reminded of this continually.]
Another gripe is cricket. The Aussies are fabulous cricketers and I have grown up admiring many of their players, hailing them as the greatest talents in the world. Even upon the brink of retirement, players such as Warne and McGrath have terrified the English batsmen and watching public. This however, might be representative of our cultural differences and something I resent about growing up in England – Australia try to win, we try to avoid defeat, with the exception of Kevin Pietersen who was aptly removed from the English cricket team after being the strongest performer while losing to Australia in 2013-2014. In school in England, we are taught to take part, that it doesn’t matter if we don’t win. We are commended for mediocrity and as a result, we finish school and get slapped in the face by the real world. The real world is not so forgiving. By comparison, the Aussies (as I understand it) compete from a young age, forcing kids to better themselves. Not everybody will win, but everybody can become better by striving hard. We should all try our hardest in life. I feel lucky to have four brothers as everything was a competition growing up. I terrorised my little brothers in the cricket net, bowling full pace to twelve year olds when I was sixteen, already playing adult cricket and capable of inflicting damage upon full grown men. What happened? They got better – much better than me. They terrorised players of their own age and right now, it would be dangerous for me to bat against them. Indeed, one of my brothers is the captain of his university team and an absolute pleasure to watch. Sadly, university sport is not nearly as well funded or scouted as it is in America, but he is playing at a high level and he is a talented player.
Right now the Ashes are occurring, a fierce rivalry of cricket between England and Australia stretching back to 1882 when an English newspaper published a satirical obituary, commemorating the death of English cricket. They said that the body would be cremated and the ashes would be taken to Australia. Ivo Bligh, the then captain of England vowed to ‘regain those ashes,’ and thus, the Ashes were born. [For those who care, despite having a career batting average of 10.33, he did indeed reclaim the Ashes at the first attempt and the contest has continued ever since.]
The Ashes are occurring right now, and for an Englishman who doesn’t like the constant Pom bashing, it has been an unexpected relief. England lead the series two to one, despite being ranked very far below Australia. I sat up until the early hours of the morning, watching every ball of the last test, something I haven’t done for many, many years – possibly a decade or so. That the Australian team hasn’t steamrollered England into submission has been a matter of shock for Aussies and English alike – last Ashes, they destroyed us, five games to zero. Most importantly, it is one little thing I can’t be berated about as an Englishman – until they win the remaining two games, winning the series 3-2. Every Aussie I have spoken to truly believes this and here I sit, as my team leads the series, expecting defeat. Curse my non-winning British upbringing. Silly Pom.