Listen carefully. Hear that low hum in the distance? It’s the sound of a thousand jet-skis revving their engines in unison as they dart across pristine waterways. It’s the sound of ‘Highway to Hell’ being blasted on state-of-the-art speakers. It’s thousands of power tools, construction vehicles and mining machines playing to the beat of a decades-long Australian boom – drill, baby, drill!
This is the rise of the cashed up bogan.
Australians pride ourselves on living in the land of the ‘fair go’, free of Britain’s strangulating class system. Towards the other end of the spectrum, we also tell ourselves we’re not seized by America’s overzealous commitment to capitalism. We’re the land of opportunity, just with more well-serviced welfare and healthcare systems. We are not ‘classed’ in any traditional sense because social pretensions and financial delusions don’t run through our veins like they do for the Poms and the Yanks.
If we happen to have a working class that’s a little rough around the edges, then what exactly is the problem? Britain has its chavs, America has its rednecks.
The ‘problem’ is that, unlike chavs and rednecks, the people called bogans actually have money. And lots of it. Think Gina Rinehart or Clive Palmer as extreme examples – people who started out with humble means and spun gold from a combination of hard work and favourable economic climes.
The cashed up bogan doesn’t live in a drab cinderblock housing estate, or a rural outpost honing their hand fishing skills. They’re living in McMansions with home-entertainment systems, having long ago replaced their Commodores with Bimmers. Who are they to complain if they’ve now got something to show for years of physically challenging work on the construction site, under the sink or down in the mines?
I suspect that much of the time our mumbling about cashed up bogans has more than a little to do with envy. We begrudge them their newfound wealth because we see it as somehow having cheated the system, of having leapfrogged income brackets through sheer luck.
Everyone can laugh along when we see the girls of Fountain Lakes reflect our less refined points in Kath & Kim. But who has the last laugh? Jaidyn in Perth, who earns $500 a day in the mining industry? Or Jaymz in inner-city Melbourne, supplementing his creative masterpiece-in-progress with work as a barista to pay his stratospheric rent? (‘Unique’ spellings are something Australians of all stripes can, unfortunately, agree upon.)
Who do you think sleeps easier at night?
The Bogan Bogey
If the label ‘bogan’ no longer merely denotes a demonisation of the working class, it must still mean something to us. The idea of ‘new money’ is probably a knee-jerk defensive mechanism reflecting many of our worst prejudices.
Of course, pejoratives are never a clear window on the society that uses them. The term ‘bogan’ was never an easy idea to start with, as David Nichols outlines in his 2011 book The Bogan Delusion. Nichols argues that the bogan was never clearly defined according to classic sociological markers of race, class or gender. Think about what might define a non-white bogan. Or a female bogan. Or a bogan living in the inner-city.
In fact, it’s the smug intellectuals of the inner-city that Nichols reserves much of his argument for. He claims that it is the people who write blogs like ‘Things Bogans Like’ often hail from the most demographically homogenous places in the country. Those in the inner-city claim that the bogans of Western Sydney are the blatant xenophobes driving our asylum seeker policy to the gutter. But they’re not the ones sharing supermarkets, schools and cinema complexes with many of Australia’s new arrivals.
What becomes clear from reading The Bogan Delusion is how ‘bogan’ has become just another battleground for our more subtle forms of culture wars. Contemporary Australia is mostly a peaceful and stable place, but every so often we like to wrestle with what exactly it means to be an Australian. And, inevitably, fears emerge that ‘our’ identity is being co-opted by ‘them’. The great big bad Other.
We do know this – the bogan won’t be going away any time soon (especially if the producers of The Shire have anything to say about it.) Even though it may be an imaginary construct, it’s important that we understand what it means before deploying it in casual conversation. As per usual, using the term says a lot more about the user than it does about the recipient.
Whether as a term of insult or pride, the bogan is a monster we’ve all created. Let’s settle the why and how of its existence before we decide to let it off the leash.