A uniform approach? Designing Australian national identity at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


The Sydney 2000 Olympics were perceived as an opportunity for Australia to rebrand itself to an international audience as a dynamic, cosmopolitan and culturally diverse society. In particular, the opening ceremony attempted to convey a narrative of multiculturalism and reconciliation, in the hope of alleviating concerns that had been prominent in the lead up to the Games regarding Australia's race relations. While this event was generally seen to have successfully contributed to an enhanced image of Australian culture and society, stereotypical images of the 'larrikin' character of 'white male' identity prevailed, in particular through the design of uniforms for the Australian Olympic team. This article focuses specifically on the uniforms designed by Mambo and Woolmark as the key signifiers of this laconic character. This narrative was in many ways adverse to the themes of multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism promoted by the Australian Tourist Board in its repackaging of 'Brand Australia'. This article addresses the resultant competing representations of national identity that emerged at this event. In developing this argument, the article considers how national identity is constructed through sporting uniforms. It identifies historic controversies surrounding the Australian Olympic team uniform and the tensions that have emerged regarding how the nation is perceived on the international stage, arguing that criticism of this uniform has often reflected broader cultural fears of inferiority. The Sydney Olympic Games Opening Ceremony is established as a critical component of the country's re-branding through the narratives of reconciliation and multiculturalism. Within this context, the paper provides an analysis of the Australian team uniform worn at the opening and closing ceremonies to investigate the larrikin character portrayed as a counter-narrative of 'white male' cultural hegemony, adverse to the Sydney Olympic brand's central themes. This article considers a range of texts, garments and images in order to reflect on the broader proposition, which concerns how national identity is reflected through dress and why salient characteristics endure when national identity is called into question.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)86-103
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Design History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2013
Externally publishedYes

Cite this