Words || Phillip Leason
I’m devoutly un-patriotic, but I haven’t always been. When I was in primary school I wanted nothing more than a pair of Australian flag board shorts and I distinctly remember thinking how cool it was that one of my brother’s friends got a Southern Cross tattoo when I was 13.
Then one day at the beach, a friend of mine said something to the effect of, ‘Fuck off, we’re full,’ about an Asian family on Terrigal Beach, and everything flipped. Over the ensuing years I realised more and more that patriotism in Australia isn’t about pride. It’s grounded in fear, xenophobia, and hatred. From then, the chant of, ‘Oi! Oi! Oi!’ turned to ash in my mouth, and I soon gave up on patriotism entirely. I stopped being proud of my Australian identity, and started being a little bit embarrassed.
No great revelation, really, but with that in mind, I enter the ‘True Blue Aussie’ challenge with an apologetic demeanour, and explanations prepared. The task: spend five days dressed as iconic ocker bogan, and put Vegemite on everything I eat. Everything.
So on Day One I whip up a Vegemite sanga for breakfast, and make my way to the shops. First obstacle: where do you actually find clothes with an Australian flag on them? Where do bogans keep getting this shit? For fear of seeming classist, I start simple and go for a hi-vis shirt. Frankly, ever since the fluoro phase of 2008, I’ve always wanted one, and the guy at the Target counter nods and says, ‘Ahh, new work shirt’. I’m pleasantly surprised that I can pass for somebody with the capability to perform hard physical labour.
After two full hours, I finally find the place to get flag clothes – ironically enough, it’s Hot Dollar. I grab a tee and a cap. With these, some footy shorts, $3.50 thongs, a flanno, and a navy wife-beater (or, as they’ve been recently renamed, ‘respecter’) singlet, I head home to kit up. I don’t have much on for the day, so I tear the sleeves off the flag tee, turning it into a muscle singlet (sans the muscles), and head back out.
The guy at the bottle-o gives me a raised eyebrow, and makes comment on the patriotic efforts of my flag hat+singlet combo. ‘Strewth,’ I say, and I waggle my brown-bagged VB longneck at him, before clopping off to a public park to drink it. I am all about this.
Dinner is ribs, slathered in Vegemite, with a side of wedges (or, rather, ‘wedge-mites’). The Vegemite didn’t entirely ruin the meal. Realistically, it’s going to match okay with most savoury foods, and just make them hella salty. The only issue is working out the appropriate ratio when you’re not spreading it on bread, and I tend to go a bit hard. Dessert is particularly challenging. If we learned anything from Cadbury’s peculiar Vegemite chocolate experiment last year, it’s that there definitely are some things yeast extract should never be combined with – fruit salad is also one of them. I finish the bowl out of a sense of duty, and vow, ‘never again’. People keep warning me about my sodium intake, but a quick Google of RDIs and nutrition values quells any fears that I’ll start getting angina, plus, all of that riboflavin must be working wonders.
I’m sticking to hot breakfasts, so I don’t have to mix it in with yoghurt or cereal, but three days in I decide that I’ve been letting the challenge down, and I stir Vegemite into my coffee. If you’ve never tried slipping a slather of the black stuff into your morning brew, and you’re curious – don’t. Never ever.
As for the attire though, outside of the people who are aware of the challenge, and the bottle shop guy, nobody’s even questioning it. I’m even starting to dig it – not aesthetically, certainly not culturally, but just for convenience’s sake. It’s great to get up in the morning and not have to worry about what I’ll wear today, how I look, or whether people will notice I’ve worn it this week already – the Australian flag is fuckin’ timeless, cunts.
Come the end of the challenge the clothes do start to smell. To top this off, I’m too lazy to do my washing, and I’m out of clean underwear. Instead of giving apologies for my dress, I’m apologising for the fact that I keep flashing scrote. That’s not so bad.
I’ll be totally honest, I missed a meal. I forgot to take any Veg out with me on day five, so I ate my lunch without it. But all up I got through 27 single-serve sachets of the stuff – that’s 135 grams, close to half a standard jar. It’s no surprise that it’s difficult to live solely off Vegemite meals, and I may have ruined a friend’s birthday when I smeared it on her cake, and softly sobbed through each mouthful.
What is surprising is how incredibly easy it is to be a white dude in thongs, flaunting the flag and speaking ocker, even in a largely multicultural area like North Ryde – if anything I feel like I got fewer sideways glances. Privilege affirmed. An actual challenge would have been trying to experience the other side.