Culture quiz even has dinky-di Australians stumped

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 August, 2007, 12:00am


Here's a question - who was the first prime minister of Australia? No idea? Anybody?

You're in good company. Most Australians would also struggle to name the rather forgettable Edmund Barton as the nation's first leader.

But this is just one of 200 questions which immigrants hoping to become Australian citizens will soon have to face.

The government wants to promote tolerance, religious freedom, 'mateship' and 'a fair go' in a country in which one in four of the population of 21 million was born overseas.

Last week it unveiled 20 sample questions to give a flavour of the sort of thing aspiring citizens will be expected to know.

While some were straightforward, others would have even the most fair dinkum, dinky-di Australian reaching for the encyclopedia.

To the question, 'What is the floral emblem of Australia?', for instance, I suspect many people would mix up their state floral emblem (waratahs, desert peas) instead of giving the correct answer (the wattle).

And for new arrivals with a shaky grip on Australian history, culture and politics, a sample multiple choice test on a federal government website gives even more cause for alarm.

It requires people to know the date of the Gallipoli landings (April 25, 1915), both animals which appear on the Australian coat of arms (emu and kangaroo) and the name of Captain James Cook's ship (the Endeavour).

Even trickier: What is the derivation of the name for Australia's capital city, Canberra (Answer: it's an Aboriginal word for 'meeting place'). Oh, and what year was the city established? (Answer: 1911).

There had been speculation that cricket-mad prime minister John Howard might try to sneak in questions about Don Bradman's batting average or the definition of a googly.

Sport was absent from the 20 sample questions but in a country as games-mad as Australia, it will almost certainly be included in the 200 real ones.

Of course the columnists and cartoonists have had a field day. There were suggestions that the test might reach into the heart of contemporary Australian society - asking the definition of the phrase 'budgie smugglers', for instance (Answer: Speedo-type men's swimming trunks).

Spoof tests have cropped up on the internet comprising questions such as, 'How many slabs (of beer) can you fit in the back of a Falcon ute while also allowing room for your cattle dog?' and, 'Which animal appears on the Bundaberg Rum bottle?' (Answer: polar bear).

Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews says the test - and the extensive background reading it will require - will help new citizens integrate into Australian society.

'We value the diversity that people come from - the rich tapestry of Australia today is partly a reflection of that diversity,' he said.

'But at the same time we have managed to be a socially cohesive community in Australia, and we wish to continue that balance.'

Not everyone agrees. Many Australians point out that immigrants with little grasp of Australian history - or even the English language - have made worthy contributions to the nation's development.

'I don't give a rat's a*** who the first prime minister of this country was - why should immigrants?' said Michael Taylor, a graphic designer enjoying the winter sunshine outside a Sydney cafe.

His friend Gill Haviland agreed. 'Can't they just Google stuff like that?'

Respect for democracy, sexual equality, freedom of religion and the rule of law is one thing; familiarity with the achievements of Edmund Barton, quite another.

Nick Squires

The immigration minister says the culture test will help new citizens integrate into Australian society