From the sunburnt centre scarred by the walk of time to pristine beaches that embrace the coastal fringes, Australia seems like a ‘bloody’ great place to live. While our country may lack documented relics of ancient civilisations, the unique and varied natural beauty of Australia is consistently employed by tourism campaigns in a beckoning call to foreigners.
Such stereotypical advertisements demonstrate how we identify ourselves on an international front. And not just as a country, but also as a people. From an outsider’s perspective, this ad suggests that the typical ‘Ostrayan’ is a surfing, beer drinking, camel-riding, laid back larrikin, unfazed by the casual kangaroo in the backyard or a sneaky shark in the pool. We are an open, friendly and accepting people. It is little wonder that many international students are attracted by the idea of an education in Australia in exchange for the promise of permanent residency in the land of the fair dinkum.
And yet, a recent SBS documentary, A Convenient Education, reveals that life in Australia for international students is a “far cry from the perceived wonderland” promoted in tourism campaigns. Exploitation in the workplace and housing sectors, safety and security concerns and visa issues are highlighted as common difficulties faced by foreign students. As if the language barrier wasn’t enough. Furthermore, findings from a transnational project designed to enhance the Australian experience for international students demonstrated that despite “images of the bushman and Crocodile Dundee…dominating impressions of who Australians are”, many students felt as if Australians did not want to know them and made little effort to understand their culture and countries of origin (Kell, Vogl 2007).
Exacerbated by the racial controversy following a series of attacks on Indian students in 2009, the image of Australia as the ‘lucky country’ is no longer in sync with reality, at least not in relation to international education. Resounding consequences of such crises continue to affect tourism, education and trade, and have cost Australia billions of dollars and thousands of jobs, according to the Beyond the Lost Decade report.
For a country which endeavours to present a picturesque view of diversity and multiculturalism coupled with a relaxed lifestyle, it seems as if the way in which we are perceived by the rest of the world has strayed from the true ‘Straya. In a world of interconnectedness and interdependence promoted by globalisation, we need to seriously consider how we both identify and present ourselves as a country and a people. We are, after all, pitching to a global audience. We need to ensure that our promises align with reality, and that international students and in fact any foreigners, feel as if they are getting a fair shake of the sauce bottle.