Australians associate themselves and their country with vast open spaces; the great outdoors. It dates back to colonial times when the contrast with countries in Europe would have been even greater. It is still a strong meme, an idea that has spread within the Australian culture and become part of the collective consciousness, incorporated into the national identity. And it has a profound influence on the desires, aspirations and behaviour of individuals in the society and a major impact on society as a whole.
This meme was the basis of the great Australian dream; that of everyone with their own fresh new home builder on a quarter acre block. Although the average sized block is significantly smaller than this now, it has still resulted in an urban sprawl out of all proportion to the population, placing pressure on infrastructure and public transport services. The population of Melbourne is now about 4 million, the population of London is nearing 10 million; yet Melbourne covers an area of about 2,000 km2 compared to London’s 1,700 km2. The blocks may be smaller but home ownership is still part of the dream with almost 70% of Australians owning their own home. It is the dream not only of those born in the country, but one readily adopted by most immigrants; a key feature of the Australian lifestyle incorporated into their aspirations for the future.
In changing times open space remains part of what defines the national identity, and Australians hold onto the dream: if not outside then in. The great outdoors has become the great indoors. The meme has adapted and changed from the idea of a large block of land to the desire for a large house. The role of digital technology in promoting activities increasingly centred inside the home rather than out, has acted to further reinforce the desire for more spacious houses until now the size of the average Australian house is amongst the largest in the world.
Space needs to be seen and experienced, not counted, so it is not the number of rooms that provides the perception, rather the size of one large area. The trend has been to combine rooms; the kitchen, the dining room the living room and the family room into one large multi functional living area. By linking this to what remains of the garden area, the sense of space is further enhanced. This large living area figures prominently in the plans of all new home builders, and those who own older houses with smaller rooms are knocking out walls and building perfect home extensions to provide it. Trends in interior design have also followed this meme: clean lines, light colours, low backed chairs, austere furniture, less clutter; all enhance the illusion of space.
Australians in the inner suburbs of Melbourne may rarely experience the vast open spaces outside the city and their great outdoors may be barely large enough for a barbeque, but as they look up from their television or computer screen and gaze across their open living area they are still living the dream.