National Myth Busters: The Most Important British and Australians, Living or Dead

Monday, 16 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Bruce TRANTER, University of Tasmania, Australia
Jed DONOGHUE, TSA / UTAS, Australia
National identity in Western nations has been claimed to be founded on the myths of a ‘golden age’, personified through heroes, saints or sages. If this is the case, contemporary citizens may be expected to identify historical and mythical characters as important national figures. Using national survey data from the United Kingdom and Australia, we asked who are the most important British or Australians, living or dead. By far the most frequently selected important British people were Queen Elizabeth II, and the former Prime Minister and WWII leader, Sir Winston Churchill. Like the British, Australians also selected former prime ministers, but also surgeons, a saint, and a cricketer in their top 10, although Australian responses were far more evenly distributed among several important individuals. The most important people identified in both countries tended not to be mythical heroes from an earlier ‘golden age’, nor contemporary sportspeople, but for the most part, those who have had a direct influence upon the lives of the citizens of each nation. Our findings suggest that the ‘myths’ associated with a ‘golden age’ of nationhood are to a large extent ‘busted’.