Midweek Media: Australian History by White Men

So, Australia’s Commonwealth Bank just celebrated its centenary, so it created this ad. The commentary goes:

I was born a hundred years ago.

I helped bring the world closer to home.

I saw men search for dreams at Broken Hill.

And watched my best mates leave.

It was like the world caught fire.

And then Victoria did.

But come what may, Australians always stood strong.

Like Don Bradman carrying an entire country on his shoulders.

Or Lance Hill’s great leap forward.

And me? I taught children to save.

And helped build homes. Millions of them.

I can’t believe how often I saw the impossible become possible.

Or hope become history.

I am Australian.

And I am your bank.

Let me know what you think.


  1. Clay Mechanic says

    It makes me think of two other media, both superior. First, the song, ‘I am Australian’.
    Interesting note about this song: I’m sure I don’t remember one verse when we sang it in primary school: “I’m the daughter of a digger who saw the mother lode, The girl became a woman on the long and dusty road, I’m a child of the depression, I saw the good times come, I’m a bushy, I’m a battler, I am Australian.” Was this censored because of the response of filthy-minded children to the “girl became a woman” part, or because of the “child of the depression part”?

    Then there’s this British bread commercial. It’s much smarter in its choice and portrayal of historical events and changing fashions, and it assumes the audience is smart enough to figure it out without narration. Yes, it’s trying to sell things, but it’s well-executed. Trouble is, I had to watch it twice to see any people of colour (they’re about 1:05.) I think it also means that the bread you buy today was made 100 years ago.

    As an Australian, there’s so much weird about the Commonwealth Bank ad that I find it hard to see past them to the gender issues.
    – Fashion: I’m no expert, but that costume looks too modern. It’s like a costume party attempt at 1911, especially the shoes. Also, I’ve never seen photographs of First World War soldiers in shirts. Most pictures show them dressed like this. Do these details matter? When you’re trying to represent real history, it does – getting it wrong indicates disrespect for your subject.
    – “I saw men search for dreams at Broken Hill.” Broken Hill is a mining town, where the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited grew into BHP Billiton. However it’s an odd choice – the definitive Australian mining town is Ballarat, due to the Eureka Stockade. That happened in 1854, so wasn’t within the bank’s 100 year existence.
    – “It was like the world caught fire… and then Victoria did.” Did nothing happen in the decades between the two world wars and the 2009 Victorian Bushfires? Did the casting call for the burnt-out house include the phrase “adorable waif”? Why are they dressed like the chorus from “Oliver!”?
    – “Or Lance Hill’s great leap forward.” Now I’m sure that no professional historian worked on the script, because they wouldn’t associate the Hills Hoist with the Great Leap Forward. This is the only Australian achievement in science or engineering they think worth mentioning; is that misogynistic or not?
    – Who is that miserable person at 0:50? Is it meant to be Cathy Freeman? If it is, why isn’t she showing winning something, like everyone else is?

  2. Gabriella says

    Clay Mechanic,

    I figure that if they can include Broken Hill as ‘1911-2011’, they should include Caroline Chisolm, too. I’m still store that they took her off the five dollar note… for the Queen. Because the Queen doesn’t get enough recognition?

    I’m not sure if the reference to Victoria was the ’09 fires. Doesn’t Victoria have quite a history of bushfires, even for an Australian state? If it WAS, then even suckier hisrotoical narrative on their part.

    Yes, I think that is Cathy Freeman. I have a feeling the pic is as she was crossing the finishing line, but I’m not sure. Still, now that you said it, their lone non-white-man doesn’t have the same ‘yay! victorious Australians!’ feel that what I assume were references to Don Bradman and the American’s Cup did. And now that I think of it – given the embarrasment that Alan Bond became, perhaps they could have chosen a better ‘feat’?

    So THAT’S who Lance Hill was. He deserves a mention for his contribution to Australia more than Edith Cowan and Fiona Stanley, apparantly. And Nancy Wake, what did SHE do? (Just googled ‘Australian engineering feats’. The Hills Hoist isn’t mentioned.)

    Aboriginals went to war (both of them), and there were none pictured in the war scene? Or ANY crowd scenes?

    Incidentally, I was looking at the pictures on our notes today – every note has two images, a man on one side and a woman on the other (Monash on one side of the $100, Melba on the other), except for the $5, which only has the Queen. So, at least by the notes in my cash drawer, that was six men and seven women. If the Reserve Bank can manage a mix like that, why can’t the Commonwealth?

    OK, that’s quite a rant. I reckon you could get an essay out based on the suckiness of this ad. The thing is, I WANTED to like it. I love historical reflectives. But this was insulting.
    Clay Mechanic,

  3. Gabriella says

    Clay Mechanic,

    Heh. I just know that every other year, according to the media, it seems Victoria has been levelled by bushfires. But then, I’m from WA, I have a WHOLE lot of issues against more populus/less revenue-generating states that take all our money :p

    On the mate thing: You’re totally right! I didn’t think of it because I refer to my friends as ‘mates’, regardless of sex/gender/anything else, but I think the idea of mateship being something that transcends everything else is an idea that’s only been around 10-20 years. Certainly, there are still women that feel that ‘mateship’ only applies to two (straight) men.

    I remember loving the long version of ‘I Am Australian’ when I first heard it. The cynic in me says that they ommited it because it’s such a female-centric verse. As this ad demonstrates, who needs women and non-whites when you can bang on about how great white men are? Incidentally, I thought it was ‘BORE the mother load’ not ‘SAW the mother load’.

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