About Australia

Don't mention cricket just now.  Apart from that, Australia is unarguably the second-best country in the world in which to lead the good life, and Australians are the best people, second to none, to have around when you're in a tight spot (in either sense).  Matthew Engel, writing in Adelaide, says many good and sensible things about Australia and Australians in his column in this weekend's Financial Times: well worth a mouse-click. 

J and I spent seven years living and working (and travelling around) in Australia during our working lives, four of them in the mid-1970s when among other things we were transfixed by the country's only coup d'état, and three-and-a-half of them in the early 1990s when Australia was transfixed by the controversy, still unresolved, over who should be Australia's head of state (most Australians wanted an Australian President, but they couldn't agree on how the President should be chosen, so the London- and Balmoral-based Queen of Australia reigned on, and still does).

The only thing to disagree with, I think, in Engel's column is his closing quotation:

Thirty years ago the philosopher David Stove put it like this: "At cricket the Australian is a Pom-beating animal. The margin of superiority is slight, but it is consistent…My own belief is that it is due to a difference in attitude towards the opponent: that whereas the Australians hate the Poms, the Poms only despise the Australians."

Perhaps that was valid thirty years ago, and it's still valid on the compulsive Pom-beating at cricket — and any other sport when the opportunity arises.  But for many years now I don't think it's been true that many Australians 'hate' the Poms, any more than these days any significant number of Poms 'despise' the Australians.  There's still an interesting edge to the relationship, but I like to think that when the chips are down, rather than on Aussie or Pommy shoulders, we're mates. 


1 Response

  1. Tim Weakley says:

    The coup d'etat in the seventies must have been low-keyed and bloodless, because I can't remember reading about it.  Could you remind us? 

    My niece and her husband emigrated to Brisbane nearly thirty years ago and took to Oz at once.   So did my late bro-in-law when he joined them several years ago.   I've never visited the country but have liked all the Aussies that get this far – the younger generation all seem so adventurous and self-reliant, like my great-nephew and his girlfriend who have spent several winters in the Colorado Rockies teaching Americans to snowboard.  I gather that the real Outback ocker makes even the Mississippi redneck seem urbane and sophisticated, but this may simply reflect the fact that life on a cattle-station in the semi-desert at 122 F is necessarily pretty basic.

    Brian replies:  In November 1975 the then Governor-General, Sir John Kerr (an Australian former judge appointed on the advice of the Australian Labor Party prime minister Gough Whitlam), used an obsolete power in the constitution to dismiss the Whitlam government, even though it still had a majority in the lower House of the parliament, and installed Malcolm Fraser (leader of the Liberal [Conservative] Party) as prime minister.  Whitlam's government, although controversial in many ways, was welcome to many Australians as a breath of fresh air after decades of Liberal rule, and was introducing overdue reforms, so its demise by governor-general's fiat without benefit of election came as a crushing blow to reformers.  In the election following The Dismissal (as it came to be called) Fraser and the Liberals won a handsome majority, taken by some as validating the Governor-General's judgement and action, but ascribed by others to the disgrace of Whitlam thought to have been implied by his dismissal.  The power used by Kerr belonged under the constitution to him, not to the Queen whom he represented, and who was not consulted about the dismissal either before or after it.  There's a comprehensive account of the whole sorry episode and its complex background in Wikipedia here

    As for rednecks, as between the country outback Ockers and the Mississipi (or indeed New York!) rednecks or the inner city gangs of almost any UK city, give me the Ockers any day.