See the funny side this Australia Day

Date: 23/01/2009

In spite of fears that our nation is sinking into a recession, an academic from the University of Western Sydney says Australians will still find much to laugh about this Australia Day.

Fran De Groen, an Adjunct Professor with the School of Humanities and Languages at UWS, says Australians have always had the capacity to rally together in tough times and find humour in the worst situations.

"Australia Day is a time to celebrate all things that are Australian, and one of our most defining qualities is our ability to laugh at ourselves and find the funny side," says Professor De Groen.

Professor De Groen is the editor, along with a fellow university colleague Peter Kirkpatrick, of 'Serious Frolic: Essays on Australian Humour.'

The book examines the many aspects of what Australians find funny - from Henry Lawson's 'The Loaded Dog' and Dame Edna to 'Kath and Kim'.

Professor De Groen authored the essay 'Risus sardonicus' - an account of the humour of Australian prisoners of the Japanese during the Pacific War - which clearly conveys the Australian capacity to find humour in even the most dire of circumstances.

"Humour had long been considered an effective moderator of stress and trauma but, under the captivity of the Japanese, the Australians took the phrase 'grin and bear it' to a whole new level," says Professor De Groen.

"As prisoners of war, the soldiers were subjected to a life of misery, mud, toil, bashings and starvation, yet they were known for maintaining a level of humour that allowed them to share a joke and a wry smile. Ultimately, it was this humour that helped them to endure the unendurable."

Although the experiences of the Australian prisoners of war are incomparable to financial woes of today, Professor De Groen says their stories do help to characterise our distinctive Australian humour.

We all know that Australians have a unique way of being funny -within 'Serious Frolic', Australian humour is at times described as sardonic, characteristically offensive, often in poor taste and sometimes cruelly ironic - but it is still difficult to pin-point what makes a joke 'Australian'.

According to Professor De Groen, it is not so much the content of a joke that makes it Australian or even the 'style' - the defining quality of our humour is that it is compulsory.

"As an Aussie, it is customary to 'let others have a go at you' and to 'have a go at yourself before they do,'" says Professor De Groen.

"Joking offers a way of, if not overcoming our problems, at least learning to live with them and you cannot truly be considered Australian unless you have 'taken the mickey' out of your friends or work colleagues.

"Which is why, despite the economic turmoil which is threatening our families, businesses and friends, humour will still be very much a part of this year's Australia Day celebrations."

'Serious Frolic: Essays on Australian Humour' is published by the University of Queensland Press.



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