Does Australia have a class system?

I saw the King’s Speech last weekend. What a movie! It really made me proud to be an Aussie. Only an Aussie would insist on calling a king by his pet name – Bertie!

In the film (for all of you who haven’t seen it) the speech therapist, Lionel Logue, insists the king and treat him as an equal, forgetting the class system which was prevalent in those days. It made me think about the class system in Australia, or lack of it.

One of my favourite things about Australia is that you could be a tradesman or a doctor and yet you can still mix in the same crowds. No one would look down on you if you earned more than the other person and it’s hard to define exactly what middle class is.

In England it’s very different. One of the first questions someone will ask you when you meet is what you do for a living and then put you in a box according to your answer. Well that’s what I’ve found anyway.

There’s a major class system. Just look at the supermarkets! The middle class and the rich shop at Waitrose and Marks and Spencers and the rest of us use the cheaper supermarkets.

It’s bizarre.

In the UK your class can also be determined by the kind of accent you have. The middle class have a ‘proper’ English accent whilst other classes might speak with an Essex accent or a south London accent. It’s weird. You go to different parts of the city and people speak differently. That’s something you don’t really get in Australian cities.

Maybe it’s because Australian history comes from the convicts, where we all spoke the lingo of the poor English, banished to Australia for our crimes. Even the rich who moved to our land were forced to adapt to harsh conditions, living in remote towns and often farming the land for their food. It didn’t matter how much money you had, the country was new and so you had to adapt. There were no roads to use a horse and carriage on and you could forget about those beautiful gowns if you were a rich girl.

Maybe Australia is changing. The class thing is probably becoming more obvious – I’m not sure? However, with the mining culture that we have, especially in WA, many can strike it rich if they’re willing to take on a fly-in-fly-out job. So who gives a crap about class? You can be a bogan and live in a mansion, and to me that’s what being an Australian is all about. Not having to worry about being ‘proper’ or what your status in society is – you can just be yourself.


7 Responses to “Does Australia have a class system?”

  1. Annabel Says:

    Hi Carmen,

    I disagree, there is a definite class system in Australia – bogan and non-bogan =D


  2. Marcel de Groot Says:

    Hi Carmen,
    Is it not perhaps that Australia does not have a British style class system?
    Here in South Africa we would probably have a small residue of the British class system amongst the English speaking white poulation. These may be so called “old money” families related to British nobility or gentry or established families who settled here during the 18th and 19th century and became wealthy and powerful, often involved in politics etc, thus becoming “gentry”. Some of them also had hereditary titles such as Baronet granted by the British monarch for various rerasons.

    THere is still somewhat of an “old boy” network in the corporate world linked to the better schools and universities etc.

    Then there are a number of black royal families and traditional leaders such as chiefc etc. Some of them enjoy more social standing than others but other than in social gossip colums with writers trying to emulate The Tattler, have no real meaning to boader society.

    The real class demoninators are wealth and education and people tend to mix with those they’re comfortale with. There is quite a bit of snobbery involved with academic status. This still seems more prevalent amongst the Afrikaners, especially in smaller towns. Many of them also erroneosuly believe themselves to be decended from 17th century Dutch or French Nobility but they don’t have much knowledge about the origon of those surnames or class systems. They they are easily duped by folks selling Coats of Arms & family histories etc. This is mostly limited to middle aged and older folks.

    English accents vary from English upper class (often acquired at Catholic schools) to more flat accents. It really depends very much on the school you attended or the suburb you grew up in and is not necessarily linked to class as such.

    So really, the dollar (rand in SA) is king! Does this sound a bit like Australia (accents excepted)?


    Marcel de Groot
    PS. My late father was a proper Dutchman born in the Netherlands & my mother is an English speaking 3rd generation South African.

    • carmentheaussie Says:

      Hi Marcel,

      Sorry for the late reply. My parents are actually from Rhodesia (born and raised), and although this is a completely different nation to South Africa, I certainly can identify with what you are saying in your email, in terms of you classification of ‘gentry’.

      From what I understand of southern African history, and correct me if I am wrong, it was often the wealthy explorers who colanised the land. I think this is vastly different to Australia’s background because Britain was looking for a way to create more space in its prisons and get rid of the ‘riff-raff’ of society and saw Australia as an opportunity to do so.

      Therefore, when these convicts first arrived in Australia, they were thrown into ‘camps’ where they were forced to help build the country. For good behaviour, they were allowed to leave these camps early and in some cases were even given a plot of land to settle on. It was only as Australia was becoming more established, richer men – although in today’s society they would probably be classified as entrepreneurs – made the long voyage and tried to make money from this new world.

      I think it was because of this – the fact that a lot of Australia’s first settlers were from the lower end of the class system, and indeed there were many more than the upper class in Australia – is why Australia does not seem to have much of a class system.


  3. Martin Says:

    Hello Carmen. I’m English and really pissed off at the way some of my countrymen and women think they are above anybody else!
    I love the aussies,, they are down to earth and Australia is a massive country with a class of its own. Yet some of us English, just love to bring down other cultures. eg: the convict past, although more than 200 years has gone by!

    The aussie class in my opinion is the “fairness”.

    Maybe Australia should have broken away the way USA did by force long ago!
    this is coming from me, an Englishman,, your country is beautiful and so are you.

    sorry for sounding a bit out of line.

    Regards, Martin, Essex

    • carmentheaussie Says:

      Hi Martin,

      Good to get some feedback from an English perspective!

      Yes, sometimes I think that it might have been better for Australia to have broken away from the UK but perhaps not, because Australia isn’t a very populous country and this could have possibly posed a problem in terms of allies… like when the Japs bombed north Australia in WWII it was probably good to have the British on our side then, especially considering our isolation!

      I think Australia might not become a republic when the Queen dies for this very reason, considering the growth in terrorism.

      However, the patriotic side of me, although perhaps not the most practical, would love to see Australia as an independent country. 🙂

      At the end of the day… they might have sent us to the convict wilderness but I can’t say we complain too loudly about being thrown into paradise!


      • Martin Says:

        I agree Carmen. Australia is a paradise and I’m happy that through years and years of struggle, it has become such a beauty.

        One more thing, The crown does not represent the people in reality. My late grandfather used to tell me than in 1920’s, at the peak of our empire, there were many homeless children and families in London alone!

        The shared history between Britain and Australia, New Zealand, Canada and even the US is because of the people to people, and family relations and ancestry, and I for one love it. 🙂

  4. carmentheaussie Says:

    Yes, certainly, and if there wasn’t that shared history I probably wouldn’t be living in London right now – a city that I love 😀

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