Election time in Australia: that triennial-ish epoch when the politicians start to get particularly heavy about their family credentials, hiding the empty fruit bowls and trotting out the toddlers; presenting that weird equivalence between kissing a baby and balancing a national ledger.
Kevin Rudd went into overdrive on it as soon as he was reinstated, posing for shots with his new granddaughter. The gleaming faces of Kevin, Thérèse, Jessica and the sprog were positioned as the family at the helm, heading off all unsavoury threats to Working Families in the name of Folks everywhere.
But even if this kind of frontier family is something people aspire to, it is far from representative of families and homes in this country. In 2003 the Institute of Family Studies noted the rapid “diversification of family types” in Australia. Ten years later diverse families are stabilising as a proportion of the community.
One-parent households and step-families form high percentages of the population, as do families with at least one parent born in another country, as do one-person households. The households of Indigeous families are growing. Households composed of same-sex couples and their children are becoming more common, and more commonly reported.
Perhaps this is why Channel Ten's Offspring has been such a success. Now into its fourth season, in Offspring family is single mums, gay couples and their kids, and, in at least one case, people who are genetically not actually “family”. Offspring canvasses infertility, IVF, sperm donation, infidelity, stillbirth, miscarriage, unmarriage, queer marriage, unemployment, domestic violence, business failure, getting counselling, open relationships, surrogacy, co-parenting without being a couple, and having a baby conceived in a fling “on your own”.
Women have healthy sex drives and cunning lovers. Men stay home with the baby. Latte belt Brunswick trendies the characters may be, but the show is also a nation-wide “ratings hit”. Mobilising biology, panic, anxiety and fantasy for humour and heartwarming stories, Offspring paints a picture of Australian society as pretty generous about who can be a part of it – because let's face it, all families are a bit unhinged anyway.
Australians may be obsessed with home and family (to be sure, every house in the show is a beige-and-white IKEA fabulation), but in reality these attachments don't look anything like the proper homes onto which politicians project themselves and claim to be defending on our behalf.
Diversity is perpetually being streamlined into deserving and non-deserving (celebrating Penny Wong's family while rending apart Ranjini's), but it never quite works – there's always someone asking a question, like Nina of her blood type and biological father, to keep the category open and the drama of life flowing.
Family and nation never quite overlap, always inviting strange claims of birthrights and native-ness that exclude those deemed biologically improper. But if we declaw the two from each other a bit, we see there are so many different possibilities for living our lives. Why would we want to fix the scene on two wealthy old white people and their issue? It's not as though we actually can.
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