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.’


Reply to Moshe – 2

Jørn Utzon shows off his Opera House vision

Jørn Utzon shows off his Opera House vision

Hi Moshe,

Utzon suddenly left this country, and to the best of my knowledge regarding the true reason for why he left, and at such short notice, he did so in silence.

While he would never be drawn back here by provincial ‘movers and shakers’ – small-town toadies embarrassed by the departure of this architect who now had a world-wide reputation, he maintained, to my deep regret, a ‘dignified silence’ on the subject for the remainder of his life.

I process ‘deep regret’ because I am sure I and many others would have benefitted from hearing or reading ‘his side of the story.’

His justification – ‘health concerns’ – for not coming back played into the hands of the Australians who had driven him out. Narrowing the cause to the smallest point, they claimed he left because of his disputes with the NSW Minister for Public Works – ‘What a mean-spirited minister he was, but now he’s thankfully gone.’

Utzon left because of his dispute with Australian culture. I recall a video I saw of Utzon talking about his Opera House. He spoke of walking around the site and an Italian workman saying to him that it would be a beautiful building. He then repeated the words of an Aussie working on the site – ‘I’m only doing it for the money’. Utzon himself had noted the difference.

Australians have now, like the followers of Christ, taken the building ‘to their hearts.’ But not the lesson. It is still entirely lost on them.

In wanting (for me to make the best of it) to put their shame and anti-intellectual, anti-visionary, anti-cultural meanness behind them, they pretend these problems don’t exist.

I process ‘anti-cultural’ because ‘culture’ should be defined by an attitude to and an eagerness for what does not yet exist, it is not primarily the sum of what has been achieved.

The attitude to intellect, vision and culture indicates the orientation of a society – either to a craving for certainty (always backward-looking), or to the embrace of uncertainty (always looking to the future).

I am very aware that in making the criticisms I do of Australian culture, particularly in a wealthy nation dominated by the religion (and extremely powerful ideological tool) of niceness, I am immediately leaving myself open to the charge of ‘bitter and twisted’.

Firstly, I say (as do those who dominate this country), ‘Fuck niceness!’

Secondly I say ‘Look at the evidence’ (if you search for ‘Australian cringe’, ‘Australian shame’ and ‘Australian servility’ on my blog you can find a lot of references to and discussions of it), not only from my experience, but from that of many others and from Australian history.

And you will find the most powerful evidence particularly if you look at the dominant white culture’s continuing genocidal behaviour towards Australia’s indigenous. I highly recommend John Pilger’s documentary work exposing this.

Here is a ten minute interview from tonight’s ABC Radio National’s Late Night Live of Senator Nova Peris speaking passionately about the lives and experience of Australia’s indigenous people.

Sweeping problems ‘under the carpet’, hoping they will go away, is never the way for a country to develop.

Not only is that the ‘best’ way to ensure that the problems will never ‘go away’ (because there is something to be hidden, something to continue being ashamed of, whether justified or not), that a nation can look at its problems (obviously every nation has them) and deal fairly with them is a measure of its maturity.

The very denial, rejection, by Australians of the problems I point to (even as they ‘punch above their weight’ in the global arena [?!]) is evidence not only of the problems of which I process but of the degree of immaturity of this culture.

Best wishes,