IT SEEMS at a time of the year when we like to look back, the rear view of my divergent blog topics highlight many issues, but not all are unique to the sector.
Depression, utilising refugees and homophobia - just to name a few - are issues rife throughout all of Australia.
There are some rather large, cultural concerns Australia has that ripple through all subcultures and industries like agriculture. They cause a plethora of challenges. And insecurity is a huge offender.
This month, Andrew Marshall wrote a piece on Craig Davis who spoke at the Australian Farm Institute's Agriculture Roundtable Conference.
Davis, a NSW country-raised global advertising executive who’s worked with brands like Coca Cola, Unilever and Kraft, commented that on a global scale, Australia was seen to suffer from "supermodel syndrome".
"Wherever she goes she expects the world's attention, people to come to her - she's self-absorbed, complacent, a poor listener and prone to fickle relationships," he said.
He also stated Australia needs to focus on developing a strong global brand. “Building Australia's market strength as a recognised premium-quality brand could represent a relationship-focused agribusiness sector.” He also said: “Branding Australia for export success in the global agribusiness boom is not about developing new logos, taglines or promotion campaigns”.
I’ve mentioned this before: brands are like icebergs. The bits you can see are the flashy signs and catchy jingles, but under the surface is culture, and that’s what Davis was getting at. The brand culture of Australian agriculture isn’t healthy.
A culture is a group of people with a similar set of values or beliefs and I think this decrepit brand culture stems from greater insecurities in Australian culture.
There’s been several popular books over the years, including Donald Horne's The Lucky Country in 1964 and more recently, Hugh Mackay’s Advance Australia Where?, that have sought to “understand the truths, anxieties and discontents of Australian society today”.
Gregory Copley, Australian-born author, philosopher and president of the International Strategic Studies Association in Washington DC, developed the concept of “identity security”. A sense of identity is critical to individuals and consequently the stability of societies. He states: “It is a fundamental reality that if people lose their sense of identity and historic points of reference, then they lose much of their ability to act collectively for their own survival. Disorientation, following identity loss leads to panic and chaos".
This familiar-sounding insecurity sees some Australians scramble around with parochial views, a perfect example being the strong presence of “nativism”, that is the resentment and rejection of newer immigrant groups by earlier immigrant groups - all of which are cancerous to a greater culture.
One of our biggest cultural shifts spawned from the disastrous invasion of Gallipoli in the First World War. Along with the Kiwis, Australia turned one of the bloodiest defeats into the ANZAC legend. The Australian public identified with the ANZACS and shaped a young culture newly known for “mateship”, “the bush” and “overcoming hardship”.
This was a substantial step away from our former identity, so closely affiliated with the British. And despite Australia now being an essentially urbanised society, the “Aussie battler” legend still stands. This is hardly a cultural icon or fable that will give our brand and culture the edge it needs in the globalised world, however it may be the building blocks of the grunt required to achieve that - along with some leadership and open minds.
In my experience, Australians, although mainly urban based, are interested in agriculture. There is no doubt, the connection that many city-based Australians have with our natural landscape is an “artistic “one, but one that may be joined to values deep in historical understandings of farming and bush life.
I’m not saying urban Aussies don’t understand the importance agriculture plays in our nation's prosperity. But it’s worth noting, restructuring agriculture and its brand culture adds another layer of complexity when compared to other industrial restructuring, mostly likely represented by these elements of national identity.
Future Directions International, an independent not-for-profit in Western Australia, conduct comprehensive research into issues facing Australia. It has stated: “In many respects, an Australian sense of itself is critical to Australian success going forward, not merely to the national self confidence, but also to the world in which Australia must function.”
In my opinion, that also goes for agriculture.
In the wake of this epic struggle for cultural density and strength, agriculture is also dealing with similar challenges. The result is an industry full of tension and uncertainty. We have a brand culture that’s partly defined by disagreeing parties, little faith in the reportedly broken models of farmer representational bodies and overall, disjointed.
Unity will combat insecurity, but that takes more than people “agreeing”. It takes people believing. And that means an open mind to understand, accept, respect and trust.
Some light food for thought if you’re kicking back on a Christmas break.