Why England and Oz hate each other Simon Barnes | July 11, 2009
Article from: The Australian
IF we don't hate them, why do we love to beat them? Why is it Australia, above all other nations, that we like to beat at sport? Why is it that defeat at the hands of Australia is one of the most painful sensations that sport can offer? Why is it that sporting encounters between England - or Great Britain - and Australia are fought with such extraordinary intensity?
Why was it that the farcical episodes - misfields, bad balls, no-balls, byes - during that snorting partnership between James Anderson and Graeme Swann on Thursday gave us such inordinate pleasure? Why did our laughter have such malicious delight, even though, on the whole, we bear Australians no malice?
And why was the giggling, gloating delight tempered with the truly horrible thought that it could all go badly wrong at any stage and that we may well be the ones squirming with pain and embarrassment before very long?
Our nations are friends, the British invariably love Australia when they visit and Australians in turn love England when they come here. (Probably love Wales as well.) True, there is a history of warfare shared by these nations, but they have always fought on the same side. It's not like the traditional footballing rivalries between England and Germany, England and Argentina, in which the countries have spent time killing each other. There is some genuine hatred involved then.
Nor is there a problem of conquest. When England plays Wales at rugby or Scotland at football, there is always a great stirring-up of the terrible resentments of centuries-old killings. Hating England is considered by some from the Celtic nations to be a reasonable and civilised emotion. But Australians really don't hate England. They just like to beat the crap out of them at sport.
Oh, there is the odd bigot, but you can find them in any society, not least our own. The fact is that when you go into a bar in Sydney and ask for a beer in an English voice, you are not going to feel threatened and ill at ease. You won't even be insulted, save jovially and often. Australia is a nice place to be English in.
But now England and Australia are playing cricket and I passionately want all the nice Australian people I have met and, even more passionately, my dear friend Al to feel miserable because our cricket team has defeated their cricket team. Odd: I wouldn't wish anything bad for Al for the world, except that I long for him to feel quite desperately sad about cricket. Oh, and that Britain won more medals at last year's Beijing Olympic Games than Australia. Even the Olympics, with 200-odd nations, can be reduced to an Ashes contest.
Let me not get carried away. Relations between Australia and England have not been uninterruptedly sunny. The British always viewed their colonies as mere resources rather than incipient nations. There are still unresolved feelings about the waste of Australian lives in war, notably at Gallipoli. In this, the Australians have the wrong end of the stick. It was not that the British ruling classes thought Australians were expendable; they believed that everybody outside their own social class was expendable.
There were (and are) legitimate resentments about the way Britain failed to support Australia during the Depression. Then there are mere sporting resentments, of which the Bodyline controversy represents one of the most extraordinary episodes in the history of sport. And over the years, there have been any number of snooty English cricketers who looked down on Australians.
There has always been this tendency to polarity: rough, tough, unshaven, down-to-earth Aussies; suave, cynical, elegant Englishmen. Many have embraced the allotted role with relish: Douglas Jardine played the English archetype to perfection, while Merv Hughes turned himself into a cartoon Ocker.
As Australia became an independent nation, and modern communications and transport gave - parts of it - a cosmopolitan swagger and self-confidence, so the polarities have shifted. You can still work the cultural cringe, but Australians will probably get there before you. At the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, Kylie Minogue was carried in on a giant thong by a party of Bondi Beach lifeguards - pick the post-modern ironies out of that.
But England can still offer Australians something hard to find at home; though understand that by Australians here, I mean primarily those of British and Irish extraction. England offers a past. A sense of rootedness. A feeling of continuity. We English have a sense of belonging and, with it, a sense of ancient certainty, something that Australians both envy and slightly despise.
But the Australians have plenty for us to envy, and it's not just climate and beaches and Kylie's bum. Australia has only just begun. Australia is still inventing itself. On Australian soil, you get a wild feeling that you could do anything, be anybody.
Australia represents a kind of alternative reality for an English person. It offers freedoms unreachable to us. If you think social snobberies are a thing of the past in Britain, then go to Australia and understand how class penetrates every aspect of English life. In Australia, you can be free, not from your social class, but from the feeling that it matters. In short, what Australia gives to the English is exactly what England gives to the Australians: a completion. We are tied to each other by something not too far from addiction. We are more fully ourselves because of our Australian antithesis: the reverse process applies. So much so, that at the Brit Oval Test four years ago, the Barmy Army hymned the arch-enemy, Shane Warne, with "Wish you were English". And Warne doffed his cap and looked genuinely touched.
Enemies? There really doesn't seem to be all that much hating going on. In fact, if you started to investigate closely and looked behind the gloating and the wincing, the pain and the delirious joy of (rare, rare) victory then you really wouldn't find any hate at all. You'd find it's opposite. You'd find something very close indeed to, er, love.
But that will never do. This is the Ashes. We hate the
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