Why I’m Australian


March 27, 2011 by jessperriam

(and why it will probably confuse a computer)

Today is Census Day in sunny England. It’s also the beginning of daylight saving for the year. Sleep deprived people filling in important forms is a recipe for odd answers.

The English census is conducted every 10 years and the last census in 2001 saw ten of thousands of English people identify themselves as being from the Jedi religion.

This year the main issues surrounding the census are the voluntary religion question (people against the question say it justifies the government funding of faith based education) and the fact that Lockheed Martin UK (an arms manufacturer) is processing the census data.

But when it came to filling out the purple booklet it wasn’t the religion question that caused me to have a minor identity crisis, nor was is the embarrassingly detailed questions about jobs (only embarrassing because I don’t have one). It was question 16: What is your ethnic group?

Under the white category it has four options:

  • English/Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish/British
  • Irish
  • Gypsy or Irish Traveller
  • Any other White background

I could have ticked the first box because that’s my ethnic origins and descent, but then all these questions ran through my head.

Do I feel particularly English et al.?

Not really. I speak with a different accent, I have a different vocabulary. I have my own story, my own culture.

Football, to my mind, is played on an oval with an oval ball.

When it comes to points of history (such as Gallipoli, the cause of ANZAC Day), I take the fiercely parochial Australian view that some silly British Army General from yesteryear lead some poor young Australians to the slaughter on the 25th of April 1915. Wow. No wonder I haven’t brought up World War One history since I’ve been here.

Am I ancestrally British?

Yes. But I’m (at least) fourth generation Australian on both sides of my family. I can’t tell you which of my ancestors in my lineage were the first to arrive in Australia. I can tell you that some of my ancestors were sent on Her Majesty’s expense to the Colonies for doing certain misdemeanors in the 1800s. So I’m fairly certain part of my family were rejected by Britain rather than the other way around.

While I’m genetically a hodge-podge of English and Scottish blood, there’s some Irish and Italian in the mix. But I don’t identify with any of those nations’ stories or struggles.

Can I get a British passport?

Nope, my British lineage goes too far back to qualify on ancestral grounds. So I can’t identify with a group that doesn’t identify me as one of their own. Nope, I’m stuck in the Non-EU passport line.

Has modern Australia been around long enough to have formed its own ethnic group?

To that I shrug my shoulders. I don’t know. Is there a criteria for that?


After debate and thorough research, I ticked the last box and wrote ‘Australian.’ as my ethnic group. And while I’m not going to start singing I Still Call Australia Home, I am an Australian in citizenship (that was the nationality question) and an Australian by birth, by roots and by cultural mores. I don’t know myself to be any different.

What do you do when faced with those questions on forms? How do you identify yourself?



11 thoughts on “Why I’m Australian

  1. Carol Perriam says:

    Ah census time we have ours in August, you’ve got to wonder who makes up the questions on these forms. You are fifth generation Australian and Mr Irish and Mrs Italian came first followed by Mr English (a con) Mr Scottish and then another Mr English ( a Con) there were also two other Mr English’s came out and they were free, and that is just on my side on dad’s side you have more English and an Irish man and they were all free as well.

  2. Jenni says:

    Great post. I had a similar debate when filling in my Census form though about the nationality question rather than ethnic group. Given the option of English or British I had to stop and think. I was born in England but have recently made my long desired move across the border into Wales. Family history research has thrown up more and more Welsh family on my mother’s side of the family, my Welsh proportion has grown from 1/16 to 1/8 and looks now like it may be 1/4. I identify very strongly with the Welsh and so ticked the British box – it seemed only right as I now don’t really feel entirely English.

    • jessperriam says:

      I’m glad the Census has been surprisingly thought provoking for you too. That’s the tricky bit – how much of your genetics contributes to who you are or who you feel you are. Having said that, I looked through the list of possible ethnic groups and some people clearly have more of an identity crisis than we do.

  3. Jacob Black says:

    Great post! Interesting, this is the first time I’ve read a patriotic/Aus-identity post which didn’t stink of nationalism, and it’s made me less anti-patriotism.

    On the identity point, try having a grandparent from India, another from Ireland, one unknown and one pom!
    Add to that, my father was actually born in Malaysia, as were his brothers and sister.

    I think I just call myself Aussie.
    I do get indignant when people are racist, especially towards asians and Indians, but I never feel comfortable wearing a ‘kiss me I’m Irish’ t-shirt on St Pat’s day. If you don’t get kissed on St Pat’s your not Irish right? 😛

    • jessperriam says:

      While I’m not sure about the rules surrounding kisses at St Patrick’s Day (I have a whole year to ponder that one), I find it intriguing that you have an unknown grandparent.

      Racist people are ugly. The end.

  4. I agree, great post Jess! Miss 3 amd I met some new friends from Canada at the park the other day. The mother found it interesting that after I had told her that I was Australian I then went into a whole “spiel” about my heritage, whereas this lady just says that she was Canadian. It was obvious that she and her husband had some Indian heritage, but she didn’t go into that, and she didn’t need to. I guess that during our travels recently people would look at me quizzically when I said that I was Australian.

  5. Laney says:

    I am a banana… yellow on the outside, white on the inside.

    I am of Asian background but I reckon I’m Aussie through and through.

    The kids are a bit confused especially when I say some words awkwardly. I tell them I just wanted to get their attention cos they weren’t paying me any! 🙂

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