Are you up yourself? Why that matters in the bush

If you were new to Regional Australian culture you’d be easily forgiven for thinking that ‘up yourself’ was a profanity. In fact, I bet a great percentage of readers cringed at the mere title of this post “you can’t say that”. Apologies in advance… this is an important community warning.

Fact is. Someone has to point it out. Just like the salad stuck in your teeth (did you check?) this is one of those conversations that we need to have before you unleash yourself upon a waiting community. Waiting for what? Waiting to hold out your score cards on relative up yourself-edness of course.

And why will that matter to you?

Your ‘up yourself’ score is very closely related to your ability to influence and/or get things done in community. It may even impact on your general social standing.

It is, if you will akin to your social licence. Only the thing about this score is the higher you rank, the less influence you’re going to have.

Because people in the bush have a keen radar for visitors and newbies ‘Johnny come lately‘ and whether you’ve relocated or you are visiting for work you have a very narrow window of time in which to earn your score.

‘Up yourself’ may be mistaken for being conceited or vane and in part that is what the saying is referring to. But it’s not quite that simple. ‘Up yourself’ (don’t worry, eventually you’ll stop cringing as I repeat it, it’s not so bad when you truly consider what it means) is an unspoken measure of your similarity to the people ranking you, it’s about your relatability, your trustability and your ability to ‘get’ who they are.

‘Up yourself’ implies that you think you are better than the people you are with – when really it’s actually about the people you’re with thinking you are somehow better than them, but we pretend it’s the first option as it makes us all feel better… doesn’t it.

And why does that matter? Because nobody likes a tall poppy. (Well, I have opinions on that but let’s go with it for now).

The ‘up yourself’ crown is bestowed in numerous ways. Speak up at a public meeting – up yourself, say nothing at the same meeting – up yourself as well. Flaunt a brand new car/phone/piece of bling – definitely up yourself. Speak in whole words – totally up yourself. Wear something newly pressed (particularly jeans) – you’re on shaky ground.

But then there’s the other side of the coin, get a try at footy, crush it in netball or catch a killer wave and you’re not actually up yourself, you’re a hero – unless of course you keep going on about it, there will be problems then.

Growing up in the regions embeds a keen sense of avoiding being known as ‘up yourself’. When I was awarded a state wide award for my fundraising abilities in Grade 11 I still remember being horrified when my name was called out in a school assembly. My business studies teacher sealed the experience with his comment;

“Miss RSL – what’s that make ya, queen of the pokies.”

And that was the last time I shared an achievement publicly for twenty years, until Facebook came along and enabled me to tell people I’d actually graduated university – DEFIANTLY up myself.

Actually, I’ve made quite a lifestyle of being ‘up myself’ but as a friend told me recently as she recalled a conversation she was having with some colleagues about me (no, that doesn’t bother me any more either) – Ah that’s just Kerry, she has some funny ways but she’s alright. I’ve earned my stripes.

I think we have a long way to go in embodying a culture that’s as embracing of success as we are to point and laugh at failure. Does it matter at the end of the day? Well I suppose it depends on the end you intend to serve.

And if it matters, how to avoid being dubbed up yourself? My best advice… keep the yack about yourself to a minimum, ask lots of questions and remain humble.

Or, you know you could just swan into a town, call (or imply) everyone is a bunch of hicks and do things your way. That choice remains yours.

The views in this article are the author’s own and in no way related to any organisation nor contract she may represent.

Kerry Grace is a community engagement practitioner currently leading a regional development organisation in NSW Australia and managing her own company Evolve Group Network (est 2003).

Kerry’s work focuses on enabling economic sustainability in small regional communities. With a strong consultancy background she has worked with all levels of government, not for profits and Aboriginal corporations. She is often called upon for her facilitation skills to moderate pathways forward for contentious and complex issues.

Kerry regularly blurts words about accidental leadership, being a mum in business, self-care and adapting for an uncertain future.

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