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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 October 2006, 13:47 GMT 14:47 UK
Australian blokes face up to change
By Nick Bryant
BBC News, Sydney

Bondi Beach
Bondi Beach is a great bastion of Australian masculinity

In Australia right now, it is tough to be a bloke.

"I turned on my television expecting to see the Haka," said a crestfallen middle-aged rugby fan, describing a recent night in Melbourne when the All Blacks faced off against the Wallabies.

"Instead, I got I am Sixteen Going on Seventeen," he said.

The man in question, a sports-loving Aussie, was bemoaning the decision from one of the country's leading television networks.

Instead of showing the Bledisloe Cup - the South Pacific's most eagerly anticipated international rugby fixture of the year - it broadcast a re-run of The Sound of Music.

It's good to see the demise of those attitudes which said women are expendable, and that you're no good unless you go down the pub every night and get smashed
John Ray
Retired stockbroker

That decision came as Australians tried to come to terms with the loss of two great male icons.

Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin - that great larrikin of larrikins - and the more quietly-spoken Peter Brock, a peerless racing driver known as the King of the Mountain, who was to Australian motor sport what Lance Armstrong was to international cycling.

Though less well known than the Croc Hunter outside of Australia, "Peter Perfect" - as he was also known - was arguably held in higher esteem within it.

Like Irwin, he was killed doing what he was famous for, in his case driving his race car.

'Nervous wrecks'

Mateship, bravery, a towering self-confidence and a fearsome determination to succeed - both men personified the spirit of Australian masculinity.

But Brock and Irwin were part of an endangered species, according to Mark Latham, the former leader of the Labor Party, whose latest musings on the "crisis in male identity" have sparked a rare moment of blokeish introspection.

Peter Brock in 2003
Peter Brock was revered by many in Australia

"One of the saddest things I have seen in my lifetime has been the decline in Australian male culture," Latham writes in a new book.

"Australian mates and good blokes have been replaced by nervous wrecks, metrosexual knobs and toss-bags."

Latham cited a number of factors: The rise of feminism (remember it was Germaine Greer, the Australian-born author of the Female Eunuch who launched a vicious assault on Steve Irwin in the immediate aftermath of his death); changes to the family and in the workplace; and what he considers the namby pamby neo-conservatism of the John Howard government.

The government's treasurer Peter Costello shot back immediately.

Only days after proving his own macho credentials by taking a supersonic ride in a Royal Australian Air Force fighter jet, Costello assailed those of Latham.

Since stepping down from frontline politics, he asked pointedly, had not the former Labour leader been a stay-at-home dad?

'Real change'

Of course, Costello could have levelled similar accusations against macho heroes Steve Irwin and Peter Brock.

Brock was a vegan, who had an intense interest in New Age-style spirituality.

And away from the cameras, Steve Irwin was a sensitive and profoundly emotional family man, who regularly told his father, Bob, that he loved him and how he cherished their time together.

Steve Irwin in March 2006
Steve Irwin's death profoundly shocked many Australians

Prime Minister John Howard would appear to be a staunch defender of a less complicated version of Australia masculinity.

When video tapes from Iraq surfaced recently, showing an Australian soldier pointing a pistol at the head of a man wearing Arab clothing [thought to be another Australian soldier], the prime minister played down the incident.

"Through the ages soldiers have let off a bit of steam, haven't they," he said. "The difference is that we now have videos and internets, we didn't 50 or 100 years ago."

Taking the temperature this morning at Bondi beach, that great bastion of Australian masculinity, there was a surprising degree of support for the transformation of Australian man.

"The death of the larrikin and bad manners is bloody wonderful," said retired stockbroker John Ray, as he stepped from the surf.

"It's good to see the demise of those attitudes which said women are expendable, and that you're no good unless you go down the pub every night and get smashed. Over the past 20 years or so, there's been a real change in blokes' attitudes."

But the female perspective was a little different.

"There's no demise of the macho male in my household," said Sue Shaw, the mother of a 19-year-old boy. "My boy loves rugby and cars. That said, he waxes his body, so he does display metrosexual tendencies."

Metrosexuality vying with retrosexuality. No wonder men are so confused, as they strive to achieve the thinking man's manhood.

Aussie great Brock dies in crash
08 Sep 06 |  Motorsport
Obituary: Steve Irwin
04 Sep 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Latham hits out at Australian MPs
29 Jun 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Australia
11 Jul 06 |  Country profiles

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