The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australian office. This week's edition was written by Michelle Elias, an intern at the Australian office.
When the art collective Wowser Nation posted a poster saying "Bondi joggers must wear a helmet" in 2017, some Australians smiled at the joke while others wondered if a new law had been passed.
The group confused some of us last month when they attached a large LED sign to Bondi Beach that warned: "No alcohol, no smoking, no music, no dancing, random cavity search – Happy Australia Day."
Now they're using Crocodile Dundee posters. Dundee exchanges his trademark hunting knife for a butter knife and is depicted in a safety vest with the label "Protecting Australian citizens from themselves".
What's the point of all this?
Three Australians are trying to increase the volume of laws and police work that they believe are tacitly creating a "nanny state". They say Sydney is the worst offender.
A drink on the beach and cycling without a helmet are some of the prohibitions (and fines) that Wowser Nation wants to see relaxed.
The cheeky name of the group comes from the past. Browserism was largely an Australian term and was originally used to criticize a Protestant social reform campaign to tighten the 1900's alcohol and gambling laws in Melbourne. Today, a browser is usually someone who tries to fight pleasure.
Clary Akon, 42, a part-time sculptor, founded Wowser Nation in 2016 with the psychologist writer Francis Merson. The couple started designing and selling t-shirts, but took to the streets in 2017 in hopes of starting a discussion.
"Nobody can really live in creating this utopia, in which nobody could ever accidentally die," said 40-year-old Merson, who moved to Paris to escape the "nanny state".
With Mr. Merson behind the covert graphic design, her first street campaign in 2017 against Bondi joggers has sparked enough conversations to keep her going.
"People took it seriously and that speaks for something," said Akon.
The third member of the group, Christie Aucamp-Schutte (23), joined last year and focused on increasing the search for random streaks across NSW.
Sydney has become a global capital of police overreach and citizen seriousness.
Even the Sydney Opera House has been the victim of repeated noise complaints from neighbors complaining of sleep disorders. The opera house was finally fined $ 15,000 ($ 9,800) after a concert in Florence and the machine was too loud.
According to Wowser Nation, Australia has always zigzagged between relaxed and regulated, but now the pendulum has swung too far towards the restriction.
Mr. Akon, who grew up in the 1990s, says that the gradual creep in governance over the past two decades has left cultural change unnoticed: “People who didn't think that way 10 years ago are thinking that way now. "
Others are not so sure whether Australia has ever been so rebellious.
"" Anti-authoritarian Australia "is a cultural myth written in our national identity," said David Rowe, emeritus professor of cultural research at the University of Western Sydney. He adds that the record shows that Australians actually prefer "a fairly high level of government participation in their daily lives".
Mr. Rowe, a Briton, believes that Australia is never really too far from its British heritage. As examples of Australia trying to be "right", he cites "subjugating the indigenous people" and "lasting ties to the British monarchy".
Wowser Nation appears to have a lot of revolt, and the trio plans to continue their efforts.
"We recently received our first hate mail and are overjoyed," said Merson. "It means we have an impact."
Is Australia's relaxed culture a myth? Did you feel the anger of the so-called nanny state? Let us know at email@example.com.