When teaching etiquette to students, I always endeavour to introduce the old idea that etiquette is a genderless subject that is valuable because it shows that respect knows no bounds. I like to give students a background of the European origins of etiquette. However, I do get asked about Australian Etiquette. Is there such a thing? Yes, there is.
Etiquette has changed in Australia over the years. It was introduced when English gentry settled here in the country’s colonial infancy. Essentially, etiquette, like new laws, relationships, and services that underwrote the changes to its environment, economy and society, was re-written from the birth of Australia.
After teaching a student etiquette in the Melbourne CBD, I decided to take a walk to the State Library of Victoria, where I found an interesting read, A Guide to Australian Etiquette by Lillian M Pyke (Lillian Maxwell), published in Melbourne at the turn of the century and re-published through to the war years. Her use of archaic English wording was replaced with modern English for the newer generations. Her book entailed subjects as how to perform introductions and topics of conversation to how to dress and manage matters of hygiene.
Polite society did value the worth of the usage of etiquette and adjusted its mindset towards that. Emphasis was put on social graces, dining behaviour and being well dressed was a must. The Victorian-based television series Ms Fisher Murder Mysteries and Dr Blake Mysteries use forms of British etiquette in speech and comportment.
In 1985 Ita Buttrose published A Guide to Australian Etiquette detailing what she perceived to be correct comportment for modern Australia. Ms Buttrose discusses subjects such as de-escalating ‘trolley-rage’ at a store to what to expect and experience in a mosque. In a nod to our outdoors lifestyle, she showed great concern about bare feet and having armpits on display.
During an ABC radio interview with Richard Aedy, Ms Buttrose, herself described Australian society as having changed over time to become “an informal society,” However, the “fundamentals of how we treat each other, really, have never changed over the years.” Ms Buttrose went onto say that manners “are a sign of a civilised society” that “make the world a much nicer place to be.” I agree with Ms Buttrose wholeheartedly.
Etiquette almost became a lost art form from the 1960s. In the last few years, it has been making a comeback. New schools Australia-wide are being established to teach subjects such as dining, afternoon tea and social etiquette in the form of workshops and courses. Parents are enrolling their children during school holidays in group classes to learn how to introduce themselves, use the correct cutlery, and how to navigate social media.
Etiquette is genderless, timeless and elegant. May you use etiquette.
Other Books on Australian Etiquette: