The ‘not-so-lucky’ country

‘The lucky country,’ by the consummate social commentator Donald Horne, was published in 1964, when Australia was struggling to grow out of its self-chosen superior white status. Since I had been in Australia since 1948 (except for one year), I could safely say that neither the people nor the government wanted to accept coloured people as their equals at that time. The new Asian nations, however, had an opposing view, having got rid of their never-wanted superior white rulers at last (with the assistance of Japan).

Horne coined a sardonic term which has been intentionally or ignorantly misrepresented. Penguin Books Australia offers the following commentary by another great social commentator, Hugh Mackay.

‘Australia is a lucky country, run mainly by second-rate people who share its luck.’

“The phrase ‘the lucky country’ has become part of our lexicon; it’s forever being invoked in debates about the Australian way of life, but is all too often misused by those blind to Horne’s irony.

When it was first published in 1964 The Lucky Country caused a sensation. Horne took Australian society to task for its philistinism, provincialism and dependence. The book was a wake-up call to an unimaginative nation, an indictment of a country mired in mediocrity and manacled to its past. Although it’s a study of the confident Australia of the 1960s, the book still remains illuminating and insightful decades later. The Lucky Country is valuable not only as a source of continuing truths and revealing snapshots of the past, but above all as a key to understanding the anxieties and discontents of Australian society today.”

A media release titled ‘The Lucky Country’ by the Australian Government said:

“He was thinking about things like Australia’s cultural cringe, its foreign policy and the White Australia Policy. He was, to paraphrase those words, talking about a ‘not too clever country’.

I had in mind in particular the lack of innovation in Australian manufacturing and some other forms of Australian business, banking for example. In these, as a colonial carry-over, Australia showed less enterprise than almost any other prosperous industrial society.

Australia, Horne argued, developed as a nation at a time when we could reap the benefits of technological, economic, social and political innovations that were developed in other countries. Those countries were clever: Australia was simply lucky.”

What can one say about Australia today?

I offer extracts from the Preface of my 2012 book ‘Musings at Death’s Door: an ancient bicultural Asian-Australian ponders about Australian society.’

“Today’s Australia is not the nation I entered in 1948. Then, it was (ridiculously) officially racist; today, any intended racism is likely to be subterranean (the yobbo excepted). Then, it was mono-cultural, mono-lingual, and mono-coloured, and very British (the ‘wogs’ of white Europe had not arrived yet); today, it is multi-ethnic and thereby multicultural, multi-lingual, multi-coloured …  and traditionally egalitarian.

That is, while the nation has evolved into a modern cos­mopolitan, generally integrated people, the ‘fair-go’ ethos of the ‘old’ Anglo-Australian underpins … official policies …  As a communitarian small-l liberal, metaphysical Hindu, and a card-carrying Christian, I applaud this. I believe that Australia could become a beacon for our neighbouring nations were we to deal with them with our feet on this platform.

Yet, because of the ‘Asian values’ which formed me in colo­nial British Malaya, I do not accept, as an all-embracing ethos, the individualism which underpins Western nations, especially those created by immigrants, viz. the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Their human rights record is deplorable.

These very nations seek to shove a ‘one-size-fits-all’ Western view of human rights onto those nations of interest to us. The intent of this approach is the destruction of trib­alism and communitarian values.

In the meanwhile, exaggerated and often self-nominated individual rights have led to the breakdown of family, which has traditionally been the backbone of society everywhere. Excepting those few involved in civil society (I am one of them), there is a rising tide of ‘takers.’ These are found at all levels – from foreign investors, corporate leaders and politicians, down to the many professionally work-shy welfare recipients.

Pockets of well-meaning individuals, seemingly unable or unwilling to consider seriously relevant policy issues, form glee clubs supporting the takers or those who seek to take, e.g. asylum seekers. Communal responsibility and per­sonal respect are thinning out like an outgoing tide at the beach. Since our politicians are pre-occupied with short-term politics rather than long-term policies – the current batch presenting themselves as the worst I have experienced – the community, by and large, reminds me of the movement of an empty stoppered bottle floating on rough seas.”

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