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Be proud of your tall poppies

Posted By on April 7, 2018 @ 10:00

As a migrant who has lived and worked with Australians for over 25 years, I’ve mused for quite some time over the fuss Aussies make about the ‘tall poppy’. I fully appreciate that even among Australians the term is sometimes misunderstood, and that success is not the offence—the affront occurs when one puts on airs because of accomplishment.

Nonetheless, from the perspective of many foreigners, Australia is a nation of tall poppies. Would Australians want their swimmers to bring home bronze or silver medals from the Olympic or Commonwealth games? Do they want the Ashes to remain in England? And how we all wish our beloved Wallabies would blossom into a tall poppy against the All Blacks!

More than ever, the world and this region needs Australia to be a tall poppy—in sport, diplomacy, economics, security matters and humanitarian efforts. The tall poppy syndrome some Australians tend to chide is seen by other nations for what it is—Australia standing out as a country because of its citizens’ strength of character, candour, plain speaking, tenacity and willingness to be a mate to all.

It’s been a little over a year since that infamous telephone exchange between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and President Donald Trump. However, the reality is that since that episode we’ve gotten a good glimpse of the genuine regard these two leaders have for each other—be it at the commemoration of the Battle of the Coral Sea, at the East Asia summit and most recently while the prime minister was in the US.

I’m confident from speaking with mates serving in the US government and the White House that the respect shown to the prime minister is sincere and reflects the positive regard and esteem in which Australia is held in the US. Countless dignitaries from Senator John McCain to former President Barack Obama have echoed these same sentiments while visiting Australia.

And, to further illustrate the respect Americans have for Aussies, the US recently named its newest littoral combat ship after the city of Canberra—a significant acknowledgement since it’ll be the only ship in the US fleet that’s named after a foreign city.

The US relationship with Australia is much warmer, at present, than it is with other key regions. The president appears more boorish when he’s attending NATO, NAFTA or G20 summits. Why is it different? Because Australia’s strength of character and resolve to be brutally honest with the US about a myriad of topics is the foundation that the relationship was built on. That continues to this day, regardless of who is prime minister or president.

Americans, from the commander-in-chief to the bloke-on-the-street, have never felt that Australia is attempting to take advantage of them. It’s an understanding of trust that has been earned—not by politicians, but by the Australian people.

Get fair and equal treatment—be a mate—that’s the Aussie way. Australians don’t manipulate or scheme to get the upper hand. Many Americans, myself included, have lived, sweated and bled with Aussies all over this globe. I believe this forthrightness and strength of being defines Australia and its people.

Dust-ups like occurred over China’s lease on the Port of Darwin, climate change and its effects on the Great Barrier Reef, and inaccurate depictions of telephone exchanges are good and display to the rest of the world the resolve and character of Australia in its dealings with the US.

In my opinion, former Defence Secretary Dennis Richardson exemplified more than any other public servant the refreshing bluntness of the Aussie. He was a worthy and discerning pugilist when it came to dealing with the US. Be it defining Australia’s intentions or standing firm in the country’s principles, Richardson always spoke truth to power.

So Australia, as I wait for my citizenship application to be approved and continue to assimilate into my new homeland, it pleases me beyond words to know I’ll soon be a tall poppy too. Many nations and peoples are going through a great deal of hand-wringing these days.

And although it may appear there’s strife in the Aussie political system and discontent in the electorate, and that economic forecasts aren’t as stellar as one would hope—AND the cricket has put us on the front page globally for all the wrong reasons—Australia and its citizens remain relentless in their character and their principles.

When many nations are struggling with identity, and appear to be shrinking violets in the face of chaos and uncertainty, Australians should take great solace in knowing they’re a nation of tall poppies standing tall as leaders in the region and the world.

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