The aging of the bronzed Aussie bloke

| February 16, 2012

The bronzed Aussie look of past decades doesn’t represent the modern Australian male in 2012, says Cancer Council NSW CEO, Dr Andrew Penman.

As a male growing up in 1950’s and 60’s Australia, I was surrounded by images of the bronzed athletic Aussie male. Popular culture gave us glowing surfers performing death defying feats on angry looking surf and in later years, a tanned Man from Snowy River successfully descending that epic steep slope. And don’t get me started on the positively glowing Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee!

These personas were something to aspire to and, more importantly, this look was held in high esteem by the opposite sex.

While we couldn’t all become heroes or athletes, we could achieve the bronzed look quicker than you could say ‘Chico roll and chips’. Slap on some oil, lie on the beach, and rotate at regular intervals.

Now with a greater understanding of skin cancer and the Slip Slop Slap message, we know that roasting ourselves like a chook in the great Aussie outdoors isn’t wise.

But knowledge doesn’t always translate to action! Fact is seventy-five per cent of men are failing to wear broad brimmed hats, 70 per cent aren’t using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15+, and almost half aren’t wearing sunglasses when out in the sun.*

So old habits die hard and protecting yourself against a harsh Australian sun still isn’t priority, especially for older blokes like me. In fact middle aged men in NSW are three times more likely to die from melanoma than women of the same age.**

Why is this? Well we baked ourselves when we were young and sunburn gained over the years has an accumulative effect. But that doesn’t mean our health future is set in stone as it’s never too late to reduce your skin cancer risk.

Interestingly enough, the most iconic of Aussie males, the Australian farmer tends to wear broad brimmed hats and sensible protective clothes.  Of course we city slickers want to emulate their ruggedness so we do it in the most risky way – intermittent overexposure – the very best way to get a melanoma.  And guess what? Farmers get less melanoma.

So why aren’t the rest of us changing our behaviour? Are we still secretly subscribing to the bronze Aussie image? Is it not priority in our busy lives or is it the old ‘it’ll never happen to me’ belief? Or are we simply set in our ways?

Either way, in the words of another Australian icon Gough Whitlam, ‘it’s time” (for change that is).  Why? I’ll give you three reasons:

  1. Cancer tends to put a dampener on your retirement plans. Your life goal of trekking the Himalayas / trout fishing in Tassie or even the local golf tournament can be a tad incompatible with chemotherapy.
  2. You want to live long enough to see your children have kids of their own. Trust me, it’s payback for all the angst they caused you.
  3. Women or partners don’t necessarily go for the pruned look – which is what a lifetime of tanning converts to. 

Seriously though, simple actions like wearing a broad brimmed hat, putting on SPF30+ and wearing a pair of sunglasses can save your life. And we’re not talking just at the beach or cricket, either! Do these things when you’re gardening, walking the dog or mowing the lawn. It’s never too late to start.

Also early detection is crucial in surviving skin cancer so seek medical advice if you notice any change in your skin. Make a concerted effort with these actions in the beginning and it’ll become habit soon enough.

Finally, the last thing we ask is that you talk to your mates who may need a timely reminder to check their skin. Feel free to share this blog with them. After all, talking about our health is the first step towards changing it and together we can start to transform those alarming statistics and save more men.

Let’s prove to everyone, especially the people we love, that it’s not too late to teach old dogs new tricks.


*Cancer Council NSW research figures come from Unpublished data prepared by Cancer Council Victoria for CCNSW. Dobbinson S, Volkov A. 2006-07 National Sun Protection Survey: Report 1. Skin cancer prevention knowledge, attitudes and beliefs among Australians in summer 2010–11and comparison with 2003–04 and 2006-07. An unpublished report prepared for National Skin Cancer Committee, Cancer Council Australia. Final Report August 2011.

**Tracey E et al. Cancer in NSW: Incidence and Mortality Report 2008. Sydney, NSW: Cancer Institute NSW; 2010.


As CEO of Cancer Council NSW since 1998, Dr Andrew Penman is determined to not only  improve the lives of cancer patients, but to work towards a goal that sees cancer defeated. When he’s not thinking or talking health, you’ll find him practicing Hindi and cooking feasts for family and friends.