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Why do Aussies feel obliged to share in the success of home-grown talent?

Bathing in the pure enjoyment of the perfect first episode of the superb second season of Big Little Lies, I couldn’t resist reminding my viewing companions, mostly American, of a crucial fact: Nicole Kidman is Australian. That’s why, in a show filled with distinctly Californian accents, Our Nic pronounces “road” with at least three syllables. Pointing this out – which happens a lot in a show where most characters spend their days driving across scenic bridges – renders some portion of the Kidman stardust mine to claim. That’s just how it works.

Illustration: Simon Letch

Illustration: Simon LetchCredit:

Why do we do this, Australians abroad? Keep a mental list of famous countrymen and women, ready to proffer their nationality in even the most tangential of circumstances, and to a largely uninterested audience? An entire Spanish holiday in the summer of 2012 was spent miming over plates of ham whenever Somebody That I Used to Know came on the radio that Gotye was one of Ours. On the occasion that an Australian song makes it big internationally, I prepare for six months of such concerted campaigning as a civic duty, like democracy sausage or ignoring Cory Bernardi.

Yet it’s not as though we all know each other. I barely know my neighbours. One caveat: travelling in Greece a few years ago was like playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Never has the phrase “Do you know my cousin in Marrickville?” received so much of a workout, nor received so many surprised responses in the affirmative. As for Notable Aussies, the list in my head is always growing. Sia! Duckie Thot! Everyone on Instant Hotel, the Netflix reality show from which it’s impossible to look away!

The obligation to share in the success of exemplary Australians extends even to incongruous situations. Penicillin is never mentioned around me without a shout out to Howard Florey. This comes up more than you’d think for someone who was very bad at high school science, because there’s an excellent scotch-based cocktail named after it. When receiving the HPV vaccine in New York, I made sure to tell my doctor that we had Ian Frazer to thank. She told me to stay still.

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