Last week I put up a Facebook post:
“Australia, stop being a dick.”
It was as much an inquiry as it was a statement of assertion. Things had felt amiss with the national vibe of late, and I wanted to see if anyone else agreed. The response was considerable, attracting more ‘likes’ than the Bon Jovi “goat edition” clip I put up last June. Sure, this was just my network of acquaintances responding, and I am but a macchiato-sipping Carlton-dwelling Monthly reader who wishes Keating was back. But it was clear that I wasn’t alone in the sentiment, something that Elliot Giakalis touched on at SBS online yesterday—“one can’t help but sense an increasing number of Australians scratching their heads and wondering ‘what on earth?’, or perhaps ‘wtf?”
This “WTF” stems mostly from the spate of awkward policy decisions tumbling out of our leaders over the past few weeks. It began with the Western Australian premier, Colin Barnett’s decision to start killing sharks after a minor spike in attacks on its coast, showing the mentality of a rowdy mob on The Simpsons who solve social problems with pieces of two-by-four with nails in them. Then Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt, a man who runs 10km each day to “feel clean,” took the mantle with a proposal to de-list 74,000 hectares of World Heritage protected forest in Tasmania. Add to this Hunt’s push to dredge three million tonnes of soil in the Great Barrier Reef marine park (150,000 truckloads, lined bumper to bumper from Melbourne to Brisbane), clearing way for Gina Rinehart’s new Galilee basin coalmine, and Clive Palmer’s spruce new coal railway.
Stupidity reigned. I read about the Victorian state government hopes to remove protection for peaceful assembly, threatening anyone returning to a designated “banned protest” with up to two years imprisonment; there was Prime Minster Tony Abbott’s “feelpinion” that the ABC was too anti-Australian for it’s own good, scalding language from our Murdoch-appointed shill. Then, to tip things over the edge, I watched an Australian Open tennis presenter ask 19 year-old tennis player Emily Bouchard—the first Canadian to reach a Grand Slam semi final in 30 years—if she was keen to go out with Justin Bieber. It was all getting a bit much; too much dickery on the dancefloor.
I grew up in an Australia that was not being a dick. It was a clever country with a sense of justice and a bright future.
The year was 1988. “I’ve had the time of my life” was the number 1 single on the ARIA charts. Hawke and Keating were overhauling the national economy, and a troubled former chess champion named Paul Charles Dozsa was enjoying his last succulent Chinese meal, before being whisked away by the constabulary and getting his penis groped in the process (see video).
At the time, I was in grade prep, learning about tall ships, celebrating the 200-year anniversary of the arrival of the British with a shiny silver bicentennial coin. Things were generally positive. We were an underdog nation with a respected international reputation. We were still the Great Southern Land.
As Guru Josh heralded the futuristic 1990s from afar, a new decade focused Australia’s national attention to its Asian neighbours, with Indigenous reconciliation becoming a priority item on the political agenda. The vibe literally was “Mabo.” But progress was a bit too radical for a deeply conservative and xenophobic young country who preferred lowest-common denominator politics. Border control became an obsession; we started fearing a destitute menace called “boat people.” Compassion waned as we grew in affluence and, visionless, we ceased to care as much about important things.
During Australia Day last week, I spent the afternoon on stage busting out horn at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl with the Melbourne Ska Orchestra to a crowd of sweaty thousands. Grooving on danceable ditties under the hot sun, our crowd swooned, boogying with uncoordinated vigour. Halfway through, our performance was halted briefly for speeches from the organisers of the gig. A man in a tan suit offered pleasantries and predictable declarations of national pride, before shouting a trio of “Ozzie Ozzie Ozzies” in an attempt to curry favour with the crowd. A woman followed, recanting the lyrics of a familiar song:
“Folks, we are one. But we are many. We share a dream, and sing with one voice.”
As the chorus to that song involuntarily latched itself to my brain, threatening to remain (the only remedy for removal, Angry Anderson’s “Bound for Glory,” which never leaves), I wondered if those words were actually true. Do we share a dream? Did we ever? If so, what is it? The dream of rich magnates like Rinehart and Palmer? Of politicians like Abbott, megalomaniacs like Murdoch? I waxed for a while afterwards, remembering old dreams of inclusion, respect and decency – for each other, for our environment, and for those who have no home and need one. I wondered if we’d forgotten how to dream.
As Giaklis reminds us, in the face of dickery, we need to be more vocal – and not just online – or the stupidity may continue to reign supreme. Our elected leaders are showing potentially irreparable contempt for our most cherished resources, and contempt for us. I shake my head with a large sector of the disheartened populace, fending off articles about the return of Schapelle Corby, seeking solace in a Firefox add-on that turns images of Tony Abbott into adorable kittens; Angry Anderson’s Bound For Glory rings uncontrollably in my head, and Paul Charles Dozsa’s final words linger on:
“(Ladies and) gentlemen, this is Democracy manifest.”