Climate change, arson, mischief and recklessness

Bushfire

Paul Read, ‘Arson, mischief and recklessness: 87 per cent of fires are man-made’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 18.11.19

There are, on average, 62,000 fires in Australia every year. Only a very small number strike far from populated areas and satellite studies tell us that lightning is responsible for only 13 per cent. Not so the current fires threatening to engulf Queensland and NSW. There were no lightning strikes on most of the days when the fires first started in September. Although there have been since, these fires – joining up to create a new form of mega-fire – are almost all man-made.

A 2015 satellite analysis of 113,000 fires from 1997-2009 confirmed what we had known for some time – 40 per cent of fires are deliberately lit, another 47 per cent accidental. This generally matches previous data published a decade earlier that about half of all fires were suspected or deliberate arson, and 37 per cent accidental. Combined, they reach the same conclusion: 87 per cent are man-made.

The cycles of the seasons are changing beyond that which can be explained by known forces, both ancient and modern. Every lethal wildfire since 1857 has happened at the height of summer. Until now. The size of these fires has never been seen in Australia’s history this side of summer, and certainly not starting as early as September.

Seasonal changes, in part due to climate change on top of natural oscillations causing the drought and westerly winds, have some origins in man-made emissions. More directly, however, the source of ignition is human.

It’s not lost on police, emergency services and firefighters at the front line that most of these fires were lit deliberately, or accidentally through recklessness, nor that they are unprecedented in their timing and ferocity. Since September, it has been a constant pattern that a few days after the fires roar through we have the first police reports that arson or recklessness was involved.

The mix of people lighting fires always follow the same age and gender profiles: whether accidental or deliberate, half are children, a minority elderly, and the most dangerous are those aged between 30 and 60. Ninety per cent are male.

The psychosexual pyromaniac has long been relegated to dusty tomes from 1904 to the1950s. At least among those caught, the profile emerges of an odd, unintelligent person from a chaotic family, marginalised at the fringes of society and deeply involved in many types of crime, not only fire.

If I had to guess, I’d say about 10,000 arsonists lurk from the top of Queensland to the southern-most tip of Victoria, but not all are active and some light fires during winter. The most dangerous light fires on the hottest days, generally closer to communities and during other blazes, suggesting more malicious motives. Only a tiny minority will gaze with wonder at the destruction they have wrought, deeply fascinated and empowered. Others get caught up with the excitement of chaos and behave like impulsive idiots.

As for children, they are not always malicious. Children and youths follow the age-crime curve where delinquency peaks in their late teens. Fire is just one of many misbehaviours. The great majority grow out of it. Four overlapping subgroups include: accidental fire-play getting out of control; victims of child abuse – including sexual abuse – and neglect; children with autism and developmental disorders; and conduct disorder from a younger age, which can be genuinely dangerous.

Whereas the first three groups can be helped and stopped, the last is more problematic. These children are more likely to continue lighting fires for a lifetime, emerging as psychopaths in adulthood. This tends to match the finding that only 10 per cent of convicted arsonists will go on to light fires again after prison. They are the recidivists, more fascinated by fire, more prone to giving in to dangerous urges when in crisis, more impulsive, less empathic – the hallmarks of a psychopath.

Some research suggests only a very small percentage of arsonists are ever caught, which has several implications.

One is that we have a biased profile of who they really are. Whereas the children and the dopey get caught, the more cunning would be less represented in our samples. More ominous, many more than 10,000 arsonists might be active.

One of the few prospective studies of almost 3000 fire lighters in South Australia alone found as many as 14 per cent of people in a community sample lit fires. This level is much higher than actual convictions would suggest. Further to this, community sampling suggests females represent 20 per cent of those fire lighters, even though convictions of females are only half this figure. If this trend continues into adulthood, it suggests we have a biased view of the typical arsonist to begin with.

Those we haven’t caught yet are still hiding, but we know enough to recognise them and, one day, maybe stop them.

In the thick of a deadly crisis, it beggars belief that some people would seek to make it worse. But we should be careful who we demonise. Not all children mean to do harm. Careful handling of them will reduce, not exacerbate, their problems and allow caregivers to refer them before the first match is struck.

Emergency services and communities on the front line will shine a light on the very best of humanity; others will disgrace themselves through idiocy or malice. Amid the chaos of confronting fires, the psychopath forever looms – not only the criminals who light fires in the forests and grasslands but perhaps also, figuratively, the people who profit from planetary destruction and ignore the urgent warnings of 23 emergency commissioners to prepare.

When the flames abate, we can have a sensible national dialogue about the prevention of wildfires, handling arson, and maybe even climate change.

Paul Read is an ecological criminologist and sustainability scientist at Monash University.

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The Lucky Country – part eight: a servile culture – what can be changed and what can’t

A 1908 postcard welcoming the ‘Great White Fleet’ to Australia

From the skirts of Mother Britannia to the coat-tails of Uncle Sam, from ‘I did but see her passing by…’ to ‘All the way with LBJ.’

In 1908 when Roosevelt’s ‘Great White Fleet’ came to Sydney, Pitt Street was renamed ‘America Avenue’ and the American sailors and marines marched along it.

From http://greatwhitefleet.us/sydney_australia/
‘Friday morning the 28th was planned for the parade. Initially the authorities expected the bluejackets and marines to parade without arms. When Admiral Sperry found out, he interceded letting it be known that it would be something of a clownish charter to have 2,500 men march through the city without arms. They would probably end up throwing kisses to pretty girls and raising high jinks despite the efforts of their officers. He won the day and sailors got their arms. Landing a naval brigade at Farm Cove and Woolloomooloo Bay the next day, sailors were mustered at the public domain, a short distance from the Government House and waited for the public reception to end. Upon which they were marched up Pitt Street, which had been renamed America Avenue during fleet week, and the leading thoroughfares of the city in the presence of a madly cheering crowd. No such enthusiasm had been witnessed by Americans in any parade since the day George Dewey came back and marched down 5th Avenue in New York City.’


In 1942, during the ‘desperate and vicious’ fighting of the Kokoda Track campaign in Papua New Guinea ‘approximately 625 Australians were killed…and over 1,600 were wounded. Casualties due to sickness exceeded 4,000.’
http://www.awm.gov.au/units/event_291.asp

In 1957, the American title ‘Kokoda Trail’ ‘was adopted by the Battles Nomenclature Committee as the official British Commonwealth battle honour’. ‘Trail’ is the word used in article headings on the War Memorial website. http://www.awm.gov.au/units/event_247.asp.

Yet, in the article ‘The Kokoda “Track” or “Trail”?’ http://www.awm.gov.au/blog/2009/07/27/the-kokoda-track-or-trail/?query=kokoda+track it states ‘This use of “track” is reflected in the new maps that were produced by army survey units in September and October; on these maps, all routes across the Owen Stanley Range were referred to as “tracks”. The terrain study Main routes across New Guinea, printed by the Allied Geographic Section in October 1942, similarly describes the route from Port Moresby via Kokoda to Buna as a “track”.

The overwhelming majority of soldiers who fought the campaign also used “track”. In a survey of unit war diaries, letters and personal diaries written during the campaign, Peter Provis, a Memorial summer scholar, found that the word “trail” was used only once in a war diary, in the 2/31st Battalion on 11 September 1942. There were, however, also references to “track”.’

*   *   *

From http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/theatre/dobber-brings-down-curtain-on-belvoirs-take-on-miller-20121016-27p4w.html
The Sydney Morning Herald, 17.10.12
‘Dobber brings down curtain on Belvoir’s take on Miller’
‘Popular theatre company Belvoir raises the ire of one of the biggest holders of theatrical rights in the world with ‘cavalier’ change.

Sydney’s Belvoir theatre company has been forced to reinstate the final scene of Arthur Miller’s famed Death of a Salesman after an anonymous tip-off to the US agent that handles the rights about changes made to the local production.’

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The state is under threat! Bushfires and state sponsored fear

What causes bushfires?

The warning is out for tomorrow, at least right across NSW – we will be facing the ‘catastrophic’ threat of fire. Many schools will close! Keep to the cities! Keep out of national parks! etc. etc.

I have never read and heard the word ‘catastrophic’ so often as I have over the last couple of days – the media is full of it – and the only cause referred to is climate change.

The message appears to be totally rational. But that it is not is indicated by what is totally absent from this relentless fear-mongering – the least mention, questioning or discussion of fire/these fires being caused by human action, particularly deliberate.

From the Australian govt./Australian Institute of Criminology website: ‘It is estimated that 50 percent of fires are either deliberately lit or suspicious in origin as shown in Figure 1.’ Figure 1 itself (above) is even more interesting – it shows that at least 85% of the causes of fires in Australia are human related – 13% deliberately, with another 37% ‘suspicious’ and 35% ‘accidental’.

Why the urgent drum-beat of this co-ordinated fear campaign, and why now?

Is this a trial run for something much bigger, later?

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The Lucky Country – part seven: the sickness at the heart of Australian culture

Albert Tucker, The Lucky Country, 1964

‘Bruce Ruxton is right: we should embrace the legends of defeat,’ Richard Glover, The Sydney Morning Herald, 20.04.90

I arrived home to find my partner ashen-faced. The cat was wailing in the kitchen and the kid was clearly upset. The words came gushing out as soon as she saw me: “I don’t know what to do. I just found myself agreeing with Bruce Ruxton.”

Since she had confessed, I thought I could too. A healthy marriage, after all, is based on sharing such dark secrets. “Yep,” I said, “I agree with him too.”

The issue, you understand, wasn’t Asian immigration, gay rights, or whether environmentalists are all dole-bludging hippies. It was Anzac Day.

Ruxton, the Victorian president of the RSL, is currently doing battle with the journalist Phillip Knightley, who has expressed the view that next Wednesday should be Australia’s last Anzac Day.

It is absurd, argues Knightley, that the battle at Gallipoli should provide our key national image of war. Gallipoli, he says, was a defeat; and a defeat in a battle waged for British interests.

Better to celebrate, he says, the taking of Damascus by the Australian Light Horse, or the victorious battle by General Sir John Monash’s troops on the Western Front in the last months of war.

“Monash’s scientific breakthrough tactics,” he says, “were a powerful factor in the German decision to ask for an armistice and  thus a real turning point in history. Yet the Australians who fought on the Western Front appear doomed to live forever in the shadow of Gallipoli”.

But Mr Ruxton replies that these triumphs, along with others, are already marked by Anzac Day, and that traditions, once established, carry their own weight and importance.

But we can take the argument further. Knightley is right: Anzac Day does mark a defeat. But as such it is in keeping with one of the most consistent themes in the Australian legend: the celebration (or at least worldly-wise acknowledgement) of failure.

Any country can make hoopla about its victories. What makes Australia unique is the way it has always preferred to remember the brave-but-defeated, the underdog and the loser.

Consider, for example, some of the subjects of Australia’s successful historical films: Phar Lap, the story of a horse with  international promise who was poisoned; Les Darcy, the story of a boxer with promise who was killed; Breaker Morant, the story of soldier with promise who was shot.

And, of course, Peter Weir’s Gallipoli, the story of fighters of promise who were misled and misused.

Dad and Dave never expanded and made it rich, they just battled on against flood and rain – two steps forward, three steps back. The heroes of Lawson and Paterson were triers more than they were doers; just as the great national bards were humourists rather than battle-balladeers.

Waltzing Matilda, the real national song, is about a tramp who can only find freedom through suicide. The Dog on the Tucker Box comes from a poem reciting the multiple disasters of an accident-prone bullocky.

Oh, to live in a country that makes a national icon of a dog that relieved himself in a bullocky’s food hamper.

But not, it seems, for Knightley.

He wants Australia to follow every other nation: to edit the defeats out of history and concentrate on the victories; to puff itself up and worship the tall poppies.

His Dog on the Tucker Box would be straight from Walt Disney – a heroic pup who saved the bullocky’s life rather than spoilt his dinner.

But I rather like Australia’s curious traditions: I like being part of the land of the rising inflection, where every statement is turned into a question; I like a tradition that sees the grim absurdity of life and embraces legends of defeat with a wry smile.

There are many who have argued against Australia’s traditions: arguing our lack of self confidence has held us back; that we have driven away our talented by rejecting a culture of success.

There  may be some truth in this, and certainly we face continuing battles to wean ourselves from cultural and economic cringes of various kinds.

Of course, we do need to wave the flag and be proud. But my problem remains: how can you be flag-wavingly proud when what you’re proudest of is the lack of a pompous, flag-waving pride?

All in all, it seems to me a perfect symbol. And that’s why Bruce Ruxton –  just this once – is right.

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The Lucky Country – part six: the shame of Australians and its variants

 

‘The Cringe – new variants of the virus’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 28.09.95

This is the edited text of a speech Frank Moorhouse gave at a Herald-Dymocks Literary Lunch, which he abandoned after interjections from the floor.

As most of you know, until recently, I lived in France for four years and my new book, Loose Living, is a humorous expression of that experience. Fun and games with the French and the Australian identity.

Until my period in France, I spent most of my life living in Australia and I live here now.

It was then something of a perplexing shock that my last book, Grand Days, was rejected from the most Australian of prizes, the Miles Franklin Prize last year.

The poor old Miles Franklin Prize has been having a rough time of it, with the Demidenko affair and all.

But I believe that the actions of the judges have exposed a sad turmoil in Australian thinking in the wider population. Because the judges will not enter into public discourse about their decisions, we can only surmise and speculate about the nature of their reasoning.

This is what I surmise from their actions.

In rejecting Grand Days and the other two books last year, the judges were struggling with a mutation of the cultural cringe.

I wish to discuss this mutation later in this talk. But it is a desire to promote a narrow form of Australianness and to spurn anything which has the whiff of cosmopolitanism which is seen as an author turning his or her back on [his or] her native country.

With Grand Days we have a character, Edith Campbell Berry, who goes to Geneva to join the League of Nations in the 1920s and is consciously trying to be an “internationalist” in both the political and cultural sense.

She is self-consciously striving to be cosmopolitan. She is an Australian refashioning herself in many ways.

But Edith also represented Australia and its attempts to come to terms diplomatically with being a nation state.

The deeper irony is that the book is also about borders and the crossing of borders and the meaning of borders, national and other, and identity.

The judges of the Miles Franklin recoiled from this and disqualified the book.

Again I think the authorial context influenced them in my case, as it did with the Demidenko affair.

When the book was published I was still living in France, preparing to return to Australia and I was widely reported as living there at the time of publication of the book.

The most common question I had from people when I did come back was “are you going to live here or go back to France?”

Naturally, the Miles Franklin judges had this picture of me living in a chateau and eating my way through fine dinners, enjoying the finer things of life.

Not only was the book to be damned for its un-Australianness but the author was suspected of cultural treason as well.

The judges, I speculate, decided that this was not only a book about cosmopolitanism and not about Australia, but that the author was committing cultural treason.

The judges this year had learned something of a lesson from this media debate about what it meant, now, to be an Australian writer. Times had changed.

This year they must have decided that they had learned their lesson and that Australia was a multicultural and sophisticated nation and that they would show their own cosmopolitan tastes in selecting Helen Demidenko’s book, The Hand that Signed the Paper, because it was written from the viewpoint of a Ukrainian family living in Australia.

It was about this family’s history before them came to Australia in the Ukraine during World War II.

Only one judge has spoken out and she praised the book for its “authenticity” among other things.

Then of course, it turns out not to be by someone of Ukrainian descent but, in fact, a literary hoax.

The judges of the Miles Franklin were in even deeper trouble. With Grand Days they were tripped up by a variant of the cultural cringe that is the urge to spurn the cosmopolitan.

With the Demidenko affair they went in the opposite direction and were caught by what I would call multicultural cringe – they were transfixed by the exotic and foreign, held like rabbits in the headlights of a car; their aesthetics and their perception were blinded.

Some commentators raise the question of the possibility that multicultural art had become something of a fashion preferred above that of the older mainstream Anglo culture.

Whatever else was illustrated by this double disaster for the judges of Miles Franklin, it certainly showed that their judgement was seriously limited in the first case, then destabilised and erratic in the following year.

But the double controversy might tell us something about ourselves at present.

Since returning to Australia, I have come across an intellectual virus hitherto thought to have been eradicated in all but the most remote parts of Australia.

I have come across an unacknowledged resentment and suspicion of what might be described as cultural “treason” by Australians in the arts who leave Australia for significant periods and who write about matters technically outside the national border or who write about unacceptable themes.

As I have said, what we are witnessing is the reappearance of the dreaded cultural cringe, a virus thought to have been eradicated from the anatomy of the nation, together with the multicultural cringe.

The examples I have found are gruesome mutations of the original virus.

For those too young to have heard the term “cultural cringe”, it is attributed to critic A.A. Phillips, who said in 1950 that, “Above our writers – and other artists – looms the intimidating mass of Anglo-Saxon culture. Such a situation almost inevitably produces the characteristic Australian Cultural Cringe”.

We no longer admit to being awed into silence by the greater cultures and our English language heritage but there are other mutations of the same parent virus.

I have been approached by some writers of the younger generation asking whether the virus still existed, and what should they do with their lives if they think they have it.

A significant group of young Australian writers and thinkers now live in the US. People such as Joanna Murray Smith, writer Catherine Lumby, Fiona Giles, Susan Johnston, Peter Carey, and Lily Brett.

As some of these have expressed it to me, there is still an uneasiness which lies within those Australians who have global aspirations.

I have identified it as Virus Variant A,  Agitated Expatriate.

The symptoms are as follows: the person who is contemplating living and working elsewhere (especially in the arts) experiences an immobilising dizziness accompanied by the recurring incertitude, What-dreadful-things-will-happen-to-me-if-I-don’t-come-back-to-Australia?

Will my creative well dry up if I stay away? Or will it, conversely, dry up if I don’t stay away? Or will it be contaminated?

This is not the pure cultural cringe but a new variant of it.

Phillips himself pronounced the term cultural cringe dead in 1983. “It is time,” he said, “to accord the phrase decent burial before the smell of the corpse gets too high…”

This new variant does not say we are not good enough. It says Australia may not be right for me (or not good enough for me) and if I say this, or even think it, I will be severely punished.

That Phillips should be alive today, to smell the corpse now as we stand in the graveyard of ideas, in the light rain, while gumbooted cemetery workers dig in the clay to exhume the stinking, twitching body, prematurely buried, still alive and thumping in its coffin, fuelled by rancid nutrients of a unidentifiable foul kind.

It is tissue taken from a recent study of Peter Goldsworthy by Andrew Riemer.

“The sense is inescapable,” says Andrew, “…that they (Australian writers) are dissatisfied by the limited scope the society (Australia) which they must reflect in their writings offers for the contemplation of the larger questions of existence and of the manifestations of good and evil…”

That is, Australian society is deficient in its capacity to supply good and evil in sufficient quality. Existentially lacking.

I am saddened to say that, on the surface, this is an example of the cultural cringe of the older parent strain identified by Phillips in 1950.

But, on further examination, it may be trickier than that and I will come back to it later.

Another recent specimen was from The Sydney Morning Herald where a columnist commented on the absence of David Malouf from a literary award presentation.

She says, “…the author is currently sojourning at his Tuscan home.”

The use of the words “currently” and “sojourning” are wink words used to suggest a leisurely occupation in foreign parts free of any considerations about what might be happening back here in Australia.

The use of the words “Tuscan home” also implicates David. The word Tuscan is redolent with exotic superiority. And isn’t “Australia” the only “home” an Australian can have?

The next specimen was from The Australian in a review of the book of Contemporary South Pacific Stories edited by C.K. Stead.

One Pacific writer, Ihimaera, had evidently withdrawn from the book, complaining about the integrity or whatever of the selection for the book.

In turn, Stead, the editor of the book, attacked Ihimaera for creating the “spectacle of…protecting Pacific values by fax from the south of France”.

Elizabeth Webby, in reviewing this book, comments that the implication is that Ihimaera is “an expatriate enjoying the good life in France”.

However, Elizabeth goes on to “excuse” Ihimaera from this charge with the defence that he is, in fact, in Menton as the Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellow, living that is, holed up in a little piece of New Zealand in France, so to speak.

Another specimen from Daniel Dasey in The Sydney Morning Herald. “Artist Arthur Boyd says while he may spend much of his time overseas, there should be no doubting where his heart lies. The Australian of the Year defended (sic) his long stays in Britain… ‘I do live here, I just like to go away from time to time,’ he said.”

The headline of the piece says “Boyd’s art is in the right place”.

This and the Ihimaera and Malouf specimens were identified by our laboratory as Virus Variant B, The Unhappy Ones Who Are Stuck Here.

The symptoms of this virus are as follows. The sufferer experiences a profound sense of disease on reading about expatriate fellow nationals.

Are they having a better life? Are they meeting famous and wonderful people who will advance their career and enrich their life while I am back here working away in the blazing Australian sun?

Further, the sufferer is then gripped by an uncontrollable rage that the absent fellow national, by living in a desirable foreign environment, is committing a cultural treason; the expatriate has escaped from the limitations of Australian life; that the fellow national, that is, is not back here putting up with the hell of it all on the frontier, is not helping to Build the Culture.

This rage I think shows up in my next specimen: an advertisement for the Australia Council’s Creative Arts Fellowships which has been changed to specify that the recipient “must spend most of their time in Australia”.

So now if you’re going to get any funding, there’s no way you’re going to go over and have the good life in France – so forget it.

Audience member: Excuse me Frank. I know this is a bit rude…I shared your disappointment of the Grand Days [being disqualified from the 1994 Miles Franklin Award]. I came to your last luncheon, I bought your book. I suffered as you did when you didn’t win [the Miles Franklin]. But I feel we don’t want to hear what’s going on. If you’re not happy to be in Australia…

(Applause from some members of the audience.)

Moorhouse:

Well, I think I would read this as touching a nerve…first of all, I’d like to say I live here and I’ve lived here 50 years; that I have to say this is just ridiculous.

What I was doing was teasing out and analysing some interesting examples of things that are going on in Australian cultural life which reflect in such things as the Miles Franklin.

But I accept the complaints from this table at least, and some of the others, that I have somehow lost your interest.

It’s certainly not a whinge, its a piece of analysis, which, as I think this rough interruption shows, I think has touched a nerve.

At this point, Moorhouse took questions from the audience. That part of his speech which remained undelivered is as follows:

This is Virus Variant C, You will Remain Seated: Do Not Attempt To Leave.

The sufferer experiences these symptoms: the dread that one by one anyone who is any good is leaving the country and that those who are left will be seen as second-rate, poor cousins in the cultural world.

In their head the sufferers hear someone saying, Will-the-last-to-leave-please-turn-off-the-lights.

In the Australia Council and other arts funding bodies there arises the possibility that policies can be developed to stop anyone leaving. “If we have our way, no-one will get out.”

These variants of the virus have created an atmosphere where those Australians who have chosen to live abroad and make their careers there, are, upon returning to Australia on a visit, made to swear loyalty oaths before they are received, applauded or rewarded.

As with the parent virus, all the mutations are spawned by the simple fact of being born in Australia, a country which, on the maps, is Stuck Down Here.

I want to sum up and return to the Riemer Case – that writers in Australia have to look elsewhere because the quality of good and evil is insufficient in Australia.

It could very well be an example of a benign strain. What could be teased out of what Andrew is saying is that Australian culture is historically deficient by being Stuck Down Here but that we can, without resentment or despair, and with objective cultural sophistication, now acknowledge our deficiencies and still get on with living a good enough cultural life.

That the cultivated life lies in the grace, art and entertainment we deploy so as to incorporate our deficiencies into our national personality.

Whether we would have been better if we had lived elsewhere, can never be tested.

This brings us next to the cases of Boyd, Ihimaera and Malouf. In this I see, obliquely, some faint hope of a cure.

More often these days, in interviews and at dinner parties, I hear people remark that ideally they would like to be able to say, “I share my time between my apartment in Manhattan and a humpy in the Flinders Ranges.”

That seems increasingly to be an acceptable sort of thing to say.

I have a warning. It is still not acceptable to say that as soon as I can arrange it I am getting the hell out of here for good.

While the parent virus may not be endemic, an assortment of strains are (many more than identified in this talk!) and that even being frequently conscious of the existence of these matters is a type of infection.

We must give those entering the arts the chance to develop either here or where they feel they need to go. Australia is enriched by their work wherever it is made.

The aim may be to turn the wound to a thing of beauty. But for as long as it is asked, it remains a serious question.

I can only advise that, as a general rule, all those in the arts practise Unsafe Art until further notice.

And remember that all successful expatriates are, in the end, possessively reclaimed by their mother country.

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The Lucky Country – part five: the luck of a laid-back, happy people is getting squeezed

 

Peter Hartcher, ‘China vents its anger at Australia’s stand on airspace rights’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 03.12.13

China is angry at Australia, and when the doors closed on the meeting room in Canberra on Friday, its delegates let the anger show. The third annual Australia-China Forum was designed to strengthen the relationship. Instead, the Chinese used it to pressure Australia.

They had a specific grievance: the government’s rejection of Beijing’s announcement that it was asserting new rights over airspace in the East China Sea.

But they quickly turned the specific into the general, a full-court fusillade of complaints and urgings.

It was an illustration, a case study and a premonition of the difficulty at the heart of Australia’s relationship with its biggest trading partner.

What started the ructions was Beijing’s abrupt announcement on November 23 that all aircraft flying over the islands subject to its dispute with Japan needed to give prior notice to authorities or risk “emergency defensive measures”.

The new air defence identification zone not only covered the disputed islands that the Japanese call the Senkaku and the Chinese call the Diaoyu, it also overlapped the existing air defence identification zones of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

These three last week rejected Beijing’s authority to make such a declaration without consultation.

So did the US. Flouting China’s claim, it immediately flew two B-52 bombers unhindered through the zone without notifying Beijing.

China had committed a “destabilising attempt to alter the status quo in the region,” US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said.

It was now in an invidious position – it was taking criticism from the rest of world for being provocative, and from its citizens at home for being impotent.

Australia objected to China’s declaration of the zone too, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said, because Canberra was opposed to “any coercive or unilateral actions to change the status quo in the East China Sea”.

China’s foreign affairs ministry countered by urging “the Australian side to immediately correct its mistakes so as to avoid hurting the co-operative relationship between China and Australia”.

Rather than correct its position, Australia reaffirmed it. Asked for his view by a reporter, Tony Abbott said: “We are a strong ally of the US, we are a strong ally of Japan, we have a very strong view that international disputes should be settled peacefully.”

Chinese officials believed the Prime Minister had escalated the disagreement merely by restating the government’s position.

The opening session of the Australia-China Forum took place the next morning at the Australian National University.

Ostensibly, it was devoted to “advancing the strategic partnership” struck between Julia Gillard and Chinese President Xi Jinping in April. Instead, the Chinese delegates used it to challenge the value of the partnership.

The forum is a so-called “one-and-a-half track” initiative. This means it’s a meeting between the two governments – the one track – but broadened to include non-officials such as business people, retired officials, academics and journalists, comprising the half-track.

China sent 19 delegates; four were serving or former ambassadors, one of whom was also a retiree at the vice-premier level. They wield little direct power in Beijing, yet all are influential.

Australia’s 31 delegates included two serving cabinet ministers, three former cabinet ministers, and three serving senior officials.

Six of the Chinese spoke in the first session; of these, five challenged Australia’s strategic stance. The sixth emphasised the strength of the trade link: the two economies were “cut out for each other”.

As a participant, I’m permitted to report what was said but not to identify who said it, the Chatham House rule.

The first Chinese strike was directed at Australia’s alliance with the US: “The Sino-American relationship has many high and lows but you may not be clear on just how good it is.

“The Americans sometimes want to put pressure on us so they ask their friends to put pressure on us. When they do, you should sit down and think about it.” The US, the Chinese speaker said, frequently changed its approach to Asia policy, and “Australians need to realise the Americans change what they say without thinking about other people’s interests.”

In other words, if it were merely an American lapdog, Australia could end up alienating China only to be abandoned by its US master.

The second Chinese speaker said the relationship with Australia hinged on strategic trust; with it, there would be a cinematic ending of the Crocodile Dundee type, with two loving partners living happily ever after. Without it, there would be a Thorn Birds-style outcome, ending in tears.

The third said the conception of America as the strategic ally and China as the primary economic partner was wrong-headed; China and the US were both important to regional security. If Australia wanted a strategic partnership with China, it had to include both security and economic aspects.

The fourth called on Australia to beware a growing bellicosity in Japan, and urged Canberra to persuade Tokyo to change its position.

The fifth sought to relegate Australia’s US alliance to history. It was “a product of the Cold War,” he said. And although China would not normally offer its view on Australia’s alliances, it now was affecting China’s “core interests, its sovereignty and its territorial interests”.

This is a tough critique, claiming that Australia’s US alliance infringes on China’s sovereignty.

This speaker went on to hold out a “dream” of China’s relations with Australia, with trade trebling, tourism booming, young people moving freely between the two countries. But he said the dream had a long way to go.

And the responses? The Australians were on the defensive. Some firmly defended the US alliance. Some assured that Australia acted in its own interests, not America’s. One challenged the Chinese to explain what they were doing to ease the tensions. Some tried to change the subject.

But the Chinese were single-minded. And their plans to ease the escalations in their border disputes? They had nothing to say.

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The lucky country: part four

 

Donald Horne, The Lucky Country – Australia in the Sixties, Angus and Robertson, 1965 (first published in 1964)

p. 194 ‘It is of interest that intellectuals – who almost universally oppose censorship of the kind of books that they themselves want to read – hardly ever deplore the censorship of ordinary people’s reading matter, and sometimes even support it.’

‘Although Australia is one of the most prosperous countries in the world it runs only fifteenth in percentage of G.N.P. spent on education.’

209 ‘in Australia, as a strong and publicly influential type of person. “intellectuals” do not exist…People who might be described as intellectuals are assuming enormous importance almost everywhere in the world except in Australia. It seems unlikely that such a situation will last in Australia. In fact it is now changing.’

210 Horne wrote of ‘creative intelligences’ with ‘new visions’ who have been frustrated in a society whose structure does not allow for the concept of originality’

Horne wrote that where Australia has been weak in matters of intellect has been in a lack of serious consideration of human destiny and in prolonged consideration of the Australian condition.

213 ‘What is lacking among Australians is a real feel for the history of the human race, and a sense of belonging to a long-lasting intellectual community that reaches its great moments when it seeks out in wonder towards the mysteries of its environment, that has concerned itself with more momentous problems than the nature of Australia but whose present members could well take this question up in the light of the history of human knowledge.’

‘it is Australians’ failure to understand the tragic (or the comic) in life that may place them at a disadvantage in a world in which happiness is largely still hard to achieve. It is as if a ‘cultured’ Australian rejects the Australian concept of happiness because it is not in the culture he has ‘learned’; at the same time he is still sufficiently a ‘happy’ Australian not to absorb the reality of horror and tragedy in the culture he has ‘learned’. He is declasse, unable to talk to other Australians of the culture he has ‘learned’ because he lacks a real feel for both it and his own society.’
Australians know how fragile their concept of ‘happiness’ is, how easily it could be lost, as it has been before (in the Depressions of the 1890s and 1930s and the two world wars). This knowledge gives their ‘innocence’ a mean and determined edge (e.g. in their response to asylum seekers and particularly to the sinking of SIEV X – 353 people drowned on the fluctuating borders of Australia. If you arrive here, quietly and without ‘drama’, as a refugee on a plane – as do the great majority – that won’t be noticed, but if you arrive desperate and dishevelled on an open, sinking boat, that is too clearly a reminder of the suffering in the world and to be opposed, rejected. The outcry in Australia over inhumane behaviour in the immediate region has been greater regarding the manner of slaughtering ‘our’ cattle in Indonesia – a nation both Asian and predominantly Islamic). Horne is correct when he wrote that ‘happiness’ is an addiction – one is addicted to it because one refuses to deal with the relentless challenges of global reality and change and because one lives in an isolated nation with the overall affluence to do so. Intellectual vision is another threat to this affluent, ‘innocent’ happiness – structured on authoritarian, unquestioning conformism. 

214 Horne writes of the Australian intellectual’s ‘addiction to happiness’

The Lucky Country: living on our luck
‘Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second-rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people’s ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise. A nation more concerned with styles of life than with achievement has managed to achieve what may be the most evenly prosperous society in the world. It has done this in a social climate largely inimical to originality and the desire for excellence (except in sport) and in which there is less and less acclamation of hard work. According to the rules Australia has not deserved its good fortune.’

219 The two fields where reliance on luck are not going to work:
– Australia’s strategic environment
– the demands of technology (Australia must profoundly change its life patterns – if this does not happen, ‘the present kind of Australia will go under’)

220 ‘Will (Australia) rid itself of the belief that…nothing happens to it, that it is safe from the unpleasantness of history? Perhaps Australians are…too concerned with happiness to understand the possibilities of tragedy, projecting their illusions onto others. The possibility haunts one like a bad dream that Australians may go on being silly…’

222 ‘In most industrialised countries cleverness and skill are part of the national ethos, even if they share it with contradictory elements. In Australia they play no part in it…When most Australians think of their economic growth they think that people should work harder…a revolutionary change in attitudes towards life is needed’

‘the obsessive desire to define Australian characteristics in terms of the upsurge of the 1890’s instead of as a dynamic process…(To admit that generations can change would be to admit that a static concept of an ‘Australian’, based on the writings of the 1890’s, is false.) And the continuing dominance of old ideas..’
Excellent point – the obsessive desire to define Australia against the (loss, failure and defeats of the) past rather than as a dynamic process continues – not only with regard to Gallipoli but also the military victory of Kokoda. Australians continue to define themselves against the past instead of dynamically, in relation to the future.

224 ‘the pretence of sameness’

228 ‘the shock (when it comes) of declaring Australia a republic’

230 ‘Australia’s population problem will be solved in what may be the only way it can finally be solved – by large-scale Asian migration.’

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The lucky country: part three

Donald Horne, The Lucky Country – Australia in the Sixties, Angus and Robertson, 1965 (first published in 1964)

pp. 32-33 ‘What often perishes altogether – in the bureaucracies of business or of government or in the universities and in such intellectual communities as exist – are originality, insight and sensitivity, the creative sources of human activity. In an imitative country no one has to be creative; the creative person is likely to be confronted with distrust – not perhaps in science or the arts, but almost everywhere else…With their distrust for Australian originality and their ignorance of the world the men who run Australia often have a peculiarly narrow view of ranges of the possible…It is not the people who are stupid but their masters, who cling to power but fail to lead.’

46 ‘The official beliefs of Australians are essentially humanist’

47 ‘Anzac Day (the Australian folk festival)…The beliefs associated with Anzac are more Stoic than Christian.’

56 Horne paraphrased the diary entry of Mrs. Marcel Dekyvere, chairman of the Black and White Ball Committee (in 1964) in response to a sermon titled ‘I Have a Dream’ – ‘We must all keep our dreams, even if sometimes they don’t come true. Don’t you agree?’

Martin Luther King gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech on 28.08.1963

61 ‘discussion on Australian literature is sometimes better informed in the American universities that have taken it up than in some of the Australian universities.’

76 ‘On 27 December 1941, John Curtin made the single most significant statement ever made by an Australian Prime Minister: “Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America”.’

81 ‘Menzies was more British than the British, always running several years behind London, expressing dreams of Commonwealth that had something of the flavour of progressive discussion in 1908.’

On Australia’s relations with the U.S. Horne wrote ‘Australians are used to being insignificant and relying on the power of others.’

83 ‘it seems likely that Australia could enter into a quite massive relationship with America without generating any politically effective anti-Americanism among ordinary Australians’

Australians are suspicious of all idealism: ‘What’s in it for him?’

I would add that Australians pride themselves on their cynicism, failing to distinguish between what it is – a corrosive poison – and a healthy skepticism.

88 ‘In the past Australia has also displayed the other side of provincialism: the boastfulness and arrogance of the liberated province, parading its very provincialism as if it were homegrown.’

101 ‘Despite its internal democracy, Australia plays an aristocratic role in the society of Asia – rich, self-centred, frivolous, blind…Given the huge area it has to defend, Australia is defenceless against a major power.’

‘There is not very much real feel for Asia (in Australia).’

107 The words ‘White Australia Policy’ were removed from the Labor Party platform in 1965.

112 ‘if Australia is to play a more forceful role in Asia the change must be dramatic enough to impress Asians that it is a change. It would seem a comparatively simple method to enter into migration agreements with Asian countries that might meet any of their own fears and that would set up clear public standards of assimilability – of language, education and working capacity…My own view is that the future holds dramatic possibilities for Australia which may necessarily include racial change, that this is Australia’s ‘destiny’. It is going to happen one way or the other. It is a task that will be undertaken either by Australians, or by someone else.’

120 ‘Of the top hundred Australian firms at least two thirds are overseas controlled.’

121 ‘Not that Australia has ever spent much on research and development anyway…This indifference to research and development goes beyond the question of foreign ownership.’

122 ‘The very idea of clever, expert men thinking up new things to do is one that is repulsive to many Australian businessmen…in such matters Australian businessmen often treat their own countrymen with the scorn that the colonialists used to treat those they exploited: you can’t expect the natives to have ideas.’

125 Horne on the suspicion of Australians to original Australian ideas

130 ‘Several generations of Australians were taught to venerate not lions or eagles or other aggressive symbols of nationalism; they were taught to venerate sheep.’

136 ‘the things modern Australians are really interested in – getting homes, raising their children, going on holidays.’

Horne went on to add: ‘What one does witness in Australia is…”the institutionalisation of mediocrity”…established rhetoricians and ideology makers’

145 Australia took its federal structure from the U.S. – with a House of Representatives, a Senate and a federal court that interpreted a written constitution.

146 In certain senses, Australia is a province of two external powers (the UK and the US).

Still clutching at the skirts of Mother Britannia, Australians, in an Asian sphere, cling to the coat-tails of Uncle Sam – the latter two nations generated from the first. The pervasive shame associated with this Australian servility is the source of the projection known as ‘tall poppy syndrome’ – ‘Because I am on my knees, I will ensure that you are on yours!’

177 ‘if intellectuals wish to walk down the corridors of power in Australia they must leave their intellectuality at home. As in business, to pretend to some stupidity is safest.’

190 Exposing the often repeated excuse – that ‘we are only a small nation’:

Horne, quoting Irving Kristol’s review of the first edition of The Lucky Country, emphasised the importance of leadership that could enable a people to create ‘better than they know’ and of appreciating their creation, without which that people would not only be far poorer in their self-definition but would be blissfully unaware of their poverty. Leadership enables the discernment of a promise and a potentiality that becomes integral to their way of life.

Part three/to be continued…

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On the need for impractical people

 

From ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of culture,’ Katharine Brisbane, The Sydney Morning Herald, 04.01.92

We have been asked to stop thinking of ourselves as the Lucky Country and become the Clever country. Years ago, a Cambridge don commented, of a promising student: “His problem is he doesn’t know a clever idea from a good one.” To be clever is for politicians and practical men. I want to see us a Good Country, a country that thinks widely, acts resolutely and sees beyond passing fashions in economic theory or brutal solutions to financial crises. A creative country, in fact.

Our artists and thinkers have a leading role to play in this. For a start we should give up the language of business and bureaucracy, of profit margins and achievable goals, and return to the language of the mind and the heart. The pursuit of perfection, for a start. To be a writer or an actor or a dancer is hard, and the work is not done without thought, or pain, or wisdom. And it is work that depends on trust, a teamwork, and respect of every part of human life, imagination and experience. So I beg you, stand up and say what you believe, without fear or favour, so we can be the good country, a creative country, in which all our creative qualities can find a respected place and we can believe in ourselves again.

Louis Esson said all this in his play The Time is Not Yet Ripe back in 1910, in Sydney Barrett’s election speech. Sydney is a Fabian Socialist standing for the blue-ribbon seat of Wombat, and he is trying to tell the crowd what he believes. “Talk practical politics” yells a heckler.

Barrett replies: “Haven’t you had enough of practical politics? What does your practical man do? He establishes a jam factory or opens a coalmine. What is the good of that? We can do without coal, and nobody wants jam. Or he irrigates a splendid desert for the production of lucerne and dried apricots. And you applaud him for it – fools! Why, the curse of this country, and every other country, is the plain practical commonsense man with his low standards and narrow outlook. We want poets, dreamers, builders of ideals. The national need is a thoroughly unpractical man.”

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The lucky country: part two

Donald Horne, The Lucky Country – Australia in the Sixties, Angus and Robertson, 1965 (first published in 1964)

p.1 ‘The Australian Dream: Innocent happiness’

2 ‘Life assumes meaning in the weekends and on holidays.’

4 ‘Australians are too easy-going to become fanatics and they do not crave great men.’

5 ‘A cult of informality derived from a deep belief in the essential sameness and ordinariness of mankind’

‘Anzac Day is the Festival of the Ordinary Man; Christmas the Festival of Family; New Year the Festival of the Good Time.’

‘the appeal of Anzac Day is as an expression of the commonness of man (even death is a leveller).’

‘Australia is not a country of great political dialogue or intense searching after problems (or recognition of problems that exist).’

6 In 1886, J.A. Froude said of Australians: ‘It is hard to quarrel with men who only wish to be innocently happy.’

Horne wrote that Australia is strongly inimical to ideas.

7 ‘Throughout the world the basis of material prosperity in the future is likely to lie, for the first time in history, with clever, educated people.’ Horne added that in Australia cleverness can be considered un-Australian.

14 ‘Australians love a “battler”, an underdog who is fighting the top dog, although their veneration for him is likely to pass if he comes out from under. At work – among the unambitious – the feeling for underdogs runs very strong.’

18 ‘Australians like people to be ordinary…To be different is considered an affectation.’

18-19 Horne believes that Australians embody ‘a complex of resentments against difference…It is only when a difference stares them in the face that ordinary Australians become truculent; and then only in a personal way.’

26-27 ‘This cynicism beneath purpose feeds our notorious philistinism…the Australian is cynical and self-denigratory towards himself as well as towards the world he sees around him…This deeply inlaid scepticism is a genuine philosophy of life, a national style determining individual and group actions. Its influence can be detected throughout Australian society. It may be the most pervasive single influence operating on Australians.’

‘What they find it difficult to do is to imagine the new for themselves.’

32 ‘The passion for egalitarianism may combine with the passion for scepticism to hide and often frustrate talent.’

‘Much energy is wasted in pretending to be stupid. To appear ordinary, just like everybody else, is sometimes a necessary condition for success in Australia.’

Part two/to be continued…

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