Cry me a river

Steven_Smith_speaks_to_the_media

‘Cry me a river: tears of the clowns grate like sandpaper’, Patrick Smith, The Weekend Australian, March 31-April 1, 2018

‘Watch the so-called leaders of this nation and you will see only this: a group of gluttonous men and women who flip and flop, not on principles but the search for power. Vanity and self-importance. Two days in the news.

All this is creating a very ordinary nation. Timid, without vision but prepared to get what they want with no consideration of the ramifications. That is the Australian cricket team; perfectly shaded representatives of modern Australia.’

***

A.A. Phillips, The Cultural Cringe, Melbourne University Press, 2006

2 ‘a disease of the Australian mind…the Cringe Direct or the Cringe Inverted.’

61 ‘The swing between submission and assertiveness has lost its extremism, but the final conquest of the colonial problem has not yet been achieved…We are still not quite sure whether to be proud or ashamed of ourselves.’

62 ‘The Australian temperament is essentially pragmatic – a quality which is sometimes mistaken for materialism. In truth the Australian does not ignore spiritual values provided they are plain, direct and assessable. His limitation lies in an obstinate bondage to the positive, a preference for the sum with an answer verifiable in the back pages of the book. He turns aside, scornfully and yet timidly, from the glories and terrors of the incertitudes, from the exaltations of the mysteries. Such a conception as Andre Gide’s Return of the Prodigal is scarcely imaginable as the product of an Australian mind. Consequently we escape that cooling and thinning of humanity which afflicts the Gide type, but we cannot achieve Gide’s kind of depth and reverberation. Yet the incertitudes and the mysteries, the excitement of the sum which never comes out, are the food and wine of the artist, whatever his country…Only when the contour-smoothing erosions of time have reconciled us to the acceptance of mystery will the colonial dilemma be finally solved.’

From the Notes

1 ‘It is perhaps relevant to quote here the opinion of Professor A.G. Mitchell of the Sydney University that Australians are the only Anglo-Saxon community which is ashamed of having its own way of pronouncing the English language.’

***

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

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.

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

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.

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’

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

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 Against the justification 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.

I_love_Australia

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The country impatient for its future and the fearful lucky country

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Ross Gittins, ‘China thinks big, while Australia waits for luck to strike’The Sydney Morning Herald, 03.08.16

Sorry if I sound wide-eyed, but I was mightily impressed when I visited China as a guest of the Australia-China Relations Institute. Obviously, we were directed to the best rather than the worst but, even allowing for that, it was still impressive. Those guys are going places.

In a hurry. I was struck by how fast-moving the place is – in several senses. We argue interminably about getting a high-speed rail link, while the Chinese just get on with it.

We took the bullet train from Beijing to its nearest port, Tianjin, 140 kilometres away. So smooth you didn’t really notice how fast it was going.

The government-run China Daily announced while we were there the plan to have 30,000 kilometres of high-speed track built by 2020. You could be sceptical – except they already have 19,000 kilometres installed. …

Of course, we tell ourselves, any technology they use has come from foreigners, sometimes without proper recompense.

Don’t be so sure. We visited Shenzhen which, until 36 years ago, was a fishing village just across the water from Hong Kong, before someone made it a special economic zone. …

Today it’s a city of 10 million, with income per person of about $29,000 a year. It has maintained 45 per cent of its area as parks and forest by the simple expedient of having housing go up rather than out. …

China is big; we think of ourselves as small. China is confident, impatiently pushing towards a better future; we are fearful, waiting for more luck to turn up.

***

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

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…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.’

27 ‘What (Australians) 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.’

32 ‘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.’

56 Horne paraphrased the diary entry of Mrs. Marcel Dekyvere, chairperson 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)

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”.’

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

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’

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.’

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.’

The Big Merino, Goulburn

The Big Merino, Goulburn

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.’

190 Against the justification 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.

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How bleak is our valley

The_Lucky_Country

Graeme Philipson

May 15, 2007

I write this column from Santa Clara, in the heart of Silicon Valley. That term describes the collection of small cities straddling the San Andreas fault, south of San Francisco.

The name was coined by US journalist Don Hoefler in 1971. Locals call it “The Valley”. When I first came here nearly 30 years ago, I was very excited. I had visions of some sort of technological utopia, a land where computer dreams came true and you could pick up microchips off the street.

Somehow I thought it would be something special. I was sadly disappointed. Special things do happen in Silicon Valley, but the place itself looks like anywhere else in urban America.

That means it’s a collection of shopping malls, corporate parks, warehouses, fast-food joints and the like, all criss-crossed with freeways.

Lots of people live in the Valley, although you won’t ever see their houses while driving around. They are hidden by high walls.

At the southern end of Silicon Valley is the city of San Jose, some way down Highway 101 from San Francisco’s dreary southern suburbs. That is one of the most congested and least attractive stretches of freeway in North America, which is saying something.

Silicon Valley is a boring-looking and overcrowded place. Its appearance hardly measures up to its worldwide reputation as the birthplace of the computer revolution.

So much for the complaining. Never let it be said that I’m anti-American. I married an American, and my son carries a US passport. My real complaint is not with Silicon Valley’s ugly appearance and unattractive highways, but with my own country.

Why is there no Silicon Valley in Australia? It’s not just the scale of the US. There are other factors.

Nondescript though they may be, the cities and towns that form Silicon Valley house many of the most interesting and innovative companies in the IT industry. The area has lost none of its allure, and it remains the Mecca of tech hopefuls around the world.

They are drawn by companies such as Yahoo and Google. They are drawn by Hewlett-Packard and Oracle and Apple and Sun, and by small hardware and software start-ups in their hundreds.

They are drawn by the world class research facilities, such as Xerox’s famous Palo Alto Research Centre, and IBM’s Santa Theresa labs, and by Stanford University. They are drawn by the analysts and consultancies and PR and market research companies that thrive on all this stuff.

If you want to get into films, you go to Hollywood. Advertising: New York. If you want to get into computers, you go to Silicon Valley.

The Valley has made millionaires of thousands of people. The first were Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, who gave their names to what has become the world’s largest IT company. (Did you know HP is now bigger than IBM?)

Silicon Valley spawned Apple Computer, through which Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak rewrote the American dream. It spawned Sun Microsystems, which continues to prove that “the network is the computer”. (Sun, by the way, was originally an acronym for Stanford University Network).

We only hear about the successes, and some of the more spectacular failures. For every winner, there are a dozen losers. Small companies we have never heard of regularly disappear into oblivion, taking with them the hopes and dreams of thousands of intelligent individuals.

At least for a while. People in Silicon Valley know that not every good idea will translate into money. The philosophy is to keep trying until one does. And those who do succeed tend not to stop there; they get up and do it all again.

One of the driving forces behind Silicon Valley has been the willingness of these people to have a go, and the willingness of others to give them a go. There is no shortage of angel investors and venture capitalists who will take a punt on a good idea.

Try to do that in Australia: the clever country, the land of the fair go. Bankers and financiers here want to see bricks and mortar, or a warehouse full of stock, before they’ll lend you money.

They simply don’t understand, as the Americans have for years, that assets in the information age are very different from those of the previous era. Australian banks are still coming to terms with the industrial revolution, which ended some time ago.

That is why there is no Silicon Valley in Australia. Our country is littered with the corpses of companies that tried and failed to do what hundreds of companies in Mountain View and Sunnyvale and Menlo Park have done.

Some Australian companies have succeeded, such as Mincom and NetComm and Software Developments. But many more have failed, sometimes through bad management or bad luck, but more often because of a troglodytic investment climate, small-minded bankers who are happy to gamble on the promise of real estate development but who lack the foresight and intelligence to understand how the centre of balance in the economy has moved from physical objects to information.

Information is an asset, as we all know. But it is a very different type of asset than coal or buildings or iron ore or wheat. The difference is that information can be infinitely reproduced, which means its value lies not in its generation but in its propagation.

They’ve known that for two generations in Silicon Valley. But governments in Australia, and the gnomes of Collins Street and Martin Place, are still stuck in an industrial era, antediluvian mindset.

And now it’s too late.

***

Dear Graeme,

Your well titled and refreshing, important, more – necessary – article ‘How bleak is our valley’ in yesterday’s Herald lays the responsibility for what you wrote about at the feet of troglodytes who run the banks.

In The Lucky Country Horne, delicately positioning his argument between the denial of the existence of a capitalist class and the avoidance of the depth and extent of ugliness in his subject, referred to Australia’s ‘troglodyte past’. Like you, he held responsible ‘men in power’.

Peter Conrad, in his Boyer lectures a few years ago, most academic and weak, while acknowledging a provincial past, argued that Australian culture has, as it were, ‘moved into the modern era’.

Shelley Gare’s ‘the Triumph of the Airheads’ details the impact of consumerism and capitalist ‘movers and shakers’ on primarily urban Australian society.

But these men in power, these ‘small-minded’ bankers of whom you write also exist in other cultures. And Howard himself is not an aberration, an excrescence. As Judith Brett correctly argued, he not only understands this culture at a gut level, he has risen from and plays the ‘middle’ – like a Paganini.

Short of socialist revolution, it is Australian culture itself that needs to be taken by the throat and exposed, analysed and acted on for Australians to begin systematically addressing the failure you deplore.

The dominant Anglo-Saxon based culture in this country has at its heart the poison of shame – and therefore the need to shame. It has at its heart a feeling of inferiority, reflected in an astonishingly subtle servility to the dominant world power (the shifts in the pronunciation of ‘Iraq’ by Australians since the first Gulf War – notably those in the media – replicating that of Bush, not as Iraqis or Arabs pronounce it – and as all Australians used to pronounce it, is a study in how servile this culture is) while displaying a bullying arrogance in the region.

The clearest manifestation of this disease, ‘for all the world to see’, was during the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games when the packed stadium sang as a hymn, by ‘candlelight’, and repeatedly, Australia’s de facto national anthem (with its reference to prostitution – ‘waltzing Matilda’ – and possibly the first example of product placement – for Billy Tea), ‘celebrating’ (?!) the suicide of a failed petty thief as he ran from authority.

Compare this song with ‘John Brown’s Body’ and the events on which it was based. Or with another de facto national anthem – ‘Flower of Scotland’ – which, even though it refers to an eventual military defeat, is about a people who stood, and won, against a far stronger power. And of those Australians who know or sense this ‘cringe’ in ‘Waltzing Matilda’ – it fuels their meanness.

This culture that prides itself on its capacity to ‘celebrate’ has at its heart the celebration of loss, failure and defeat – from that of Leichhardt to Burke and Wills to Ned Kelly to Breaker Morant to Waltzing Matilda to Dad and Dave, to the letters in the first capitalist world war over the re-division of areas of exploitation from Private Jones at Gallipoli to his mother, to Lasseter to Les Darcy to Phar Lap to Whitlam on the steps of Parliament House to Australian Story… Noble all, in the face of loss, failure and defeat.

And of the ‘tall poppy’ syndrome: it is not that one thinks one stands above another, that one ‘looks down’ on them, it is that that other and at some level knowingly, perceiving any degree of the potential or vision of which you write, on their knees inevitably reacts – as they look up. It was not merely the Minister for Public Works who drove Utzon from these shores, it was the clash of an authoritarian culture which profoundly values ‘the ordinary,’ with a man who lived for intellectual vision.

This country continues to be, overall, an intellectually sleepy ‘paradise’, riding on the broad back of assorted resources as it clings to the coat-tails of Uncle Sam, while still clutching at the skirts of Mother Britannia – rather than, as Horne pointed out, showing responsibility and independence  – with all that those concepts entail.

When Moses strode down from Kosciuszko, he bore two weighty tablets on his hips. On one were the words which are the underbelly of Australian egalitarianism: ‘Thus Far and No Further’ – ‘sympathy for the underdog’, until the second the underdog shows even a hint of rising (during the Sydney Olympics, in the superbly titled and watched by record audiences ‘The Dream’ of H.G. Nelson and Roy Slaven, Doyle said ‘If it rises above a blade of grass, cut it down.’).

This divine rule was riveted in place by the other cultural imperative on the second tablet: ‘(As Ye Worketh Record Hours Per Week, to Consume) Thou Shalt be Laid Back’ – implicitly, ‘Thou shalt not dream’, ‘Thou shalt not be passionate for intellectual vision’, which passion is clear in your article.

Passion for dreams not motivated by consumption, for intellectual excellence that goes beyond dotted ‘i’s, crossed ‘t’s and referencing to the hilt, that truly takes one’s society forward, has at the least the same effect in Australian culture, far more often than not, as do the headlights of a ute bearing down on a rabbit in the middle of a dusty road, and at worst, the triggering of a retributive antipathy.

Fools see it, correctly, as a threat, a disturbance to their paradise, to their myopia, to their littleness – ‘If I even acknowledge let alone praise you for your dreams, for your commitment to vision – particularly intellectual – the pressure is immediately on me to face my shame, my ‘inferiority’, my spiritual apathy, and to dream and aspire beyond my narrow bounds of consumption and certainty. Too much.’

Art colleges are filled with ambitious young, eager to produce something ‘edgy.’ They should sit in any mall on the week-end and watch and learn as the couples pass, pushing their trolleys. In those trolleys, packed full of consumables, sits their child or sit their children, clinging to the bars and looking out at the world. Now that’s edgy, and without the parents even aware of it…

Culture is not the sum total of a people’s achievements, it is the attitude in a society to what is not known, to what has not been achieved. It is a basis in the present not of the past but for the future.

Congratulations on your article. May it stimulate responses and may there be many more such on this and other areas.

Philip Stanfield

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This is the Australia I know – a racist, authoritarian culture gagging on its ‘decency’

Video of the tear-gassing of a child in prison

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Australian culture: servile and shame-based

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The Sydney Morning Herald 18.02.15

‘Gallipoli’s ratings fail highlights Australia’s inferiority complex’ Craig Mathieson

The concluding paragraphs of an article about an eight-part television series ‘Gallipoli’:

‘Australians have been eager adopters of the prestigious American cable drama series, with laudatory debates about whether The Sopranos is better than Breaking Bad and aficionados proudly boasting about being an early adopter of The Wire. But while those shows are among the medium’s very best, there’s also a part of us that bow down to imported acclaim and refuses to believe that we can make truly great television drama in this country. Presented with a worthy Australian program some television consumers prefer to wait online in case a new Game of Thrones trailer drops.

One of Gallipoli‘s story strands is how the Australian military was a misused tool of wasteful British generals, and while we bowed down to the British a century ago our empire of choice now is American. Gallipoli‘s falling ratings tells us that Australia’s sense of cultural inferiority is as strong as ever.’

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Australia: Shame-based, Conformist and Servile

Look for the sickness beneath sunny skies and the walrus fat of affluence

Australian Defence Force personnel will be walking unprepared into a volatile situation at the MH17 crash site in Ukraine, a senior defence figure has warned.

Abbott’s mission to Ukraine branded ‘nuts’

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s announcement of Australia’s intention to send 190 armed Australian Federal Police and an unknown number of ADF personnel to help recover bodies and evidence from the site has been met with incredulity in some parts of Europe, with one analyst branding it ”nuts”.

The senior defence figure, who did not wish to be named, said it was a poor idea for Australia.

”They can’t secure the site,” he said. ”It’s kilometres long and wide. They could escort Australian officials and provide close protection, but this is a civil task rather than a military task and it’s a terribly volatile area.

”We don’t have the language skills or knowledge of the area.

”For any military deployment, you have to look at a status of forces agreement with the government and, given the area the aircraft is in, I don’t think there is anyone to make that agreement with. What I’ve heard is the rebels don’t want more than 30 investigators there.”

Mr Abbott confirmed on Saturday that 230 Australian officials would be sent to help with the recovery. This, he said, would include a small number of defence personnel. …

Mr Abbott said that, despite the dangers, armed personnel are needed to secure the site.

”The last thing we want to do is to place anyone in danger,” he said. …

The Sun-Herald 27.07.14

Some international historical context:

List of airliner shoot down incidents

The Lucky Country – Part Eight: A Servile Culture – What Can be Changed and What Can’t

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://www.antarctic-anare.info/Sydney.pdf
‘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 Lucky Country – Part Seven: the sickness at the heart of Australian culture

‘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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Recommended: Robert Poposki, ‘Why Australians Aren’t as Friendly as You Think’

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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