Brits' guide to working with Aussies
In 2001, British travel writer Max Anderson left the Mother Country and headed south to live like an old-time prospector in the goldfields of Western Australia. Truth be told he didn't have a clue what he was doing - but he did write a cracking book called Digger and meet his future wife (MiningFM co-founder Lainie Anderson). He also learnt a thing or two about the fascinating beast we know as the Aussie male. For British expats now increasingly following in Max's footsteps to the mining towns of Oz, here's his advice on working with Australian men.
Two things: (1) Your average Aussie bloke is pretty easy to get along with. (2) The average Aussie bloke is not who you think he is – at least not if you're thinking he's Paul Hogan. Yes, you can still find the odd larrikin white Aussie with a blue singlet and a joke for every occasion (just like it's still possible to find the odd Brit in a bowler hat with a rolled up copy of The Times under his arm).
But like Britain, Australia's recent history is one of migration. The men you'll be working with will be descendants of migrants from all corners of the globe – some of them recent arrivals, most of them second or third-generation migrants who arrived from the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific Islands.
As for the Australians you’re probably picturing, well, their ancestors will have arrived as either convicts or colonists from the British Isles (and for the record, convict ancestry is a point of pride). Of course there are also the native Australian peoples – the Aboriginal Aussies – who have an increasing role in the mining industry; you’ll very likely have the opportunity to get to know people who most urban Australians never meet.
But in spite of all this difference and all these backgrounds your workmates will be discernibly 'Australian', exhibiting the 'true blue' characteristics that somehow make them different from you. Here are a few guidelines that might help you become part of your new crew Down Under...
1. You're a Pom, get used to it. Scotsmen and Welshmen – you'll be Poms until you can prove otherwise. This is a term of endearment born of the colonial ties between UK and Australia and it doesn't come with too much baggage – though any Englishman who wear socks under his sandals will do so at his absolute peril. A surprising number of Aussies have been to the UK (often when backpacking) so don't be surprised to have them demonstrating a reasonable knowledge of your home country. For that matter, a lot of Brits have recently made the country their home: you'll be amazed how quickly they've become 'Aussie-fied'.
2. The 'fair go' (fairness) is good, but 'tall poppies' (snobs) are bad. 'Class' does not exist in Australia. Yes, there are rich and poor, educated and less educated, but you're all supposed to be mates first and foremost, so class consciousness just doesn't happen. Your boss probably went to a private school and has several university degrees under his belt, but don't expect him to be making it public.
4. The great equaliser in Australia is sport. Sport is everything. Sport is God. "Which team do you barrack for" is a question you'll be asked very early in the piece. Answer anything you like – England in the cricket, Derby County in the soccer, Jocky Wilson in the darts – just answer something. Find out what code is played locally (it might be Aussie Rules or Rugby League) and get into it: this will pay HUGE dividends and quickly open circles of friends.
5. Be curious. It's not an Australian trait, but it is a trait of the British and they quite like us for it. It's fair to say that Australians expect Brits to be a bit eccentric. We say things they don't expect, ask questions they don't anticipate (actually, we ask questions!) and we seem to chuck ourselves into things with an almost naive enthusiasm – which is NOT very Australian. After they get over the surprise, they find it endearing.
5. Humour. The Aussies love a laugh. Make them laugh and you're in like Flynn (who by the way, was an Australian – Errol Flynn was born in Tasmania). This leads to the subject of 'paying out'. When your work mates are 'paying you out' it means they're teasing or tormenting you mercilessly about something they've latched onto (you're the last one to buy a round of drinks, the English have bombed out in the cricket, you were recently spotted wearing socks under their sandals etc etc). It must be done with flair and creativity. When it happens to you, congratulations, you're part of the scenery – and it's now your turn to return fire.
6. Fishing, boats and the great outdoors. Aussie working men have done much better than their counterparts in the UK. They've been better paid, and have harvested the fruits of their labour, including fishing boats and 4WDs. Of course, they've also got the great outdoors in which to put these toys to proper use. Men working in the Australian mines are doing VERY well indeed, so don't be surprised to hear all about off-mine adventures using some amazing bits of kit. The point? If you get invited on a fishing expedition or an off-road adventure, get into it and enjoy. You'll soon be talking their language.
7. Beer. The drinking culture is as alive as it is in the UK, but the stereotype of the Fosters-swilling beer hound is overplayed. Many mine sites are dry and even those that are not are models of moderation – most mine workers have too much to lose to break bounds set by their companies. Away from the mine site, you'll find most socialising is not done in the bar or the pub but at barbecues, usually surrounded by families. This may sound like a cliche, but it really will help if you know one end of a barbecue from another: real kudos is to be had when you can cook a good steak over an open grill!
8. Politics. Approach with caution, at least in the early days. Like any workplace, you'll encounter every shade of political colour but generally speaking, Australians are a little less likely to 'enjoy' political debate of the sort you might have enjoyed at home. Do yourself a favour, stay off refugee politics as it will not end happily (although, the most rabid opinions tend to come from Brits who left their home country in the Seventies). Black/white Australian politics is a hornet's nest: leave well alone.
9. If you've got the time and inclination, two terrific backgrounder books can give you some sound insights on Australia: A Secret Country by John Pilger; and The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes.