By JR on Saturday, December 17, 2016
A Lucky country?
The late Donald Horne wrote a book about Australia called "The Lucky Country" in 1964. He was acclaimed for it despite almost nobody reading his book. Australians took the title as justified praise of their country and felt no need to read the details. But it was not praise. That's how I know that few ever read it. I have read it. It is a miserable, carping book which claims that Australia has done well purely out of luck. He calls Australians second rate and unworthy of their good fortune to live in one of the world's most peaceful, advanced and prosperous countries. It's not so peaceful now with the advent of Muslim and African "refugees" but it was very peaceful, calm, and orderly when Donald wrote.
And Donald committed the common Leftist error of thinking and writing about a country while somehow not realizing that he was not thinking about a country at all but rather about the people of that country. Leftists tend to talk about the evils of "America", "Australia" etc. as if those evils were an aspect of a geographical location rather than the evil deeds of of people. They deal in abstractions. It seems to be comforting to them to do that.
So why was Donald so jaundiced about his native land? Why did he loathe his fellow citizens? I knew him slightly and he seemed to me to be a clever but rather mixed-up person. He was a conservative in his early years but later gravitated to various Leftist positions. That is of course unusual. The more usual movement with age is to greater conservatism.
So why that movement? It could have had something to do with his education. He never completed a degree and I detected some insecurity in him about that. And that lack would have been a handicap in the highly educated elite he wished to be part of.
But once he turned Left, everything fell into place. His Leftism earned him all the acceptance he could have wanted. He was a smart man so once his unacceptable ideology was out of the way he gained admittance to the gods. He became one of the great and the good. And benefactions and honours showered down on him. I noted in 1974 that conservatism was already a heresy in Australia by that time so Donald had to ditch it if he wanted to be heard.
And his book would have been an important part of his "rehabilitation". It was the sort of haughty thing that any Leftist anywhere would say about their own society. Australian Leftists would agree with much of it to this day.
But I don't think the book was just for show. It is so relentlessly negative that it does seem heartfelt. I suspect that Donald was always an unhappy man.
But unhappy or not, was he right? Is the relaxed, civil and prosperous Australian population, the product of many generations of lazy dolts?
Hardly. I am a 5th generation Australian who has taken an interest in family history and the early days generally. And I know how hard our forebears worked and what they took on. Most of the land was cleared with axes and crosscut saws. There were no chainsaws. Land in Europe was cleared for human use over centuries. Our men cleared it in a few generations. And the only supplement to human muscle up until about a century ago was the bullock team. My grandfather was a "bullocky" and I have pictures of his team and what he accomplished with it.
And the construction of a prosperous society started from surprisingly early on. Even while Australia was a military dictatorship in the early 1800s much was achieved. I have read a lot of old newspapers over the years and one account of the early days is instructive. The account is in a report of 1828 in "The Australian" newspaper of the day.
We read that the Indiaman (ship) "Margaret" arrived from England with smallpox on board, which was immediately notified to the appropriate authorities. The ship was sent to Neutral Bay in quarantine and the Sydney population warned. Thousands of people had cowpox vaccinations as a result. After official investigations, the ship was allowed to disembark on August 5th. So Sydney was a pretty sophisticated place already by that time.
A "visiting English gentleman" also writing in "The Australian" around that time was surprised to find Sydney comprised of substantial brick and stone buildings instead of the mud huts and log cabins he had expected. He found it "a bustling, elegant and extensive city" with shops as good as London's but with much cleaner air. So the early settlers (many of whom were convicts) had built well in just 40 years. More details here. I personally am descended from a convict who arrived on the ship just mentioned
An important thing to realize is that England at that time was undoubtedly the most advanced society in the world. So when they came to Australia, they brought all that was modern with them. Australia had a flying start into the modern age. And they built well on that. By the year 1900, Australia was, in many accounts, the richest country in the world.
But probably most important of all was the character of the early settlers. Only 3% of our ancestors were convicts. The rest were brave and enterprising men who risked the long and dangerous sea voyage from England in search of economic opportunity. Very few were from smart London society. They were people from the regions: Quiet tough people with an instinctive moderation in their behaviour and a belief that you had to work for what you got. Nothing was handed to you on a plate.
And if you blasphemed against Jesus and their God, they wouldn't want to kill you for it. They probably did a fair bit of blaspheming themselves at times.
So the plain truth is that Australian society was created by many generations of Australians and what it is today reflects what they were. Australia is indeed lucky -- with the sort of luck you get when you work hard and resourcefully.
Henry Lawson knew what the Australian pioneers were like so I will close with his poem about a class of men from whom I am descended and whom I remember. My grandfather was very like the men described below. Strong quiet men:
THE TEAMS by Henry Lawson (1867 - 1922)
A cloud of dust on the long white road,
And the teams go creeping on
Inch by inch with the weary load;
And by the power of the greenhide goad
The distant goal is won.
With eyes half-shut to the blinding dust,
And necks to the yokes bent low,
The beasts are pulling as bullocks must;
And the shining tires might almost rust
While the spokes are turning slow.
With face half-hid 'neath a broad-brimmed hat
That shades from the heat's white waves,
And shouldered whip with its greenhide plait,
The driver plods with a gait like that
Of his weary, patient slaves.
He wipes his brow, for the day is hot,
And spits to the left with spite;
He shouts at "Bally", and flicks at "Scot",
And raises dust from the back of "Spot",
And spits to the dusty right.
He'll sometimes pause as a thing of form
In front of a settler's door,
And ask for a drink, and remark, "It's warm,"
Or say, "There's signs of a thunderstorm;"
But he seldom utters more.
But the rains are heavy on roads like these;
And, fronting his lonely home,
For weeks together the settler sees
The teams bogged down to the axletrees,
Or ploughing the sodden loam.
And then when the roads are at their worst,
The bushman's children hear
The cruel blows of the whips reversed
While bullocks pull as their hearts would burst,
And bellow with pain and fear.
And thus with little joy or rest
Are the long, long journeys done;
And thus - 'tis a cruel war at best -
Is distance fought in the mighty West,
And the lonely battles won.