The idiosyncratic Australian character

Nearly five decades ago iconic Australian author and social critic, Donald Horne, characterised Australia as The Lucky Country. We are such a funny bunch of misfits and so in love with this vast continent we call home that we thought it was the best name anyone had ever invented for the place. We clutched it to our collective bosom and damn-near hugged it to death.

It is an extraordinary insight into our national character to realise that Horne was actually taking the piss: he was giving us a metaphorical clip under the ear but we never even felt it.

In fact, Horne’s quote was: “Australia is a lucky country run by second-rate people who share its luck”. But, as always, we never take ourselves seriously and even most of those who read the book figured there was no point getting hung up about a minor insult.

Poor Horne. For the next several decades he has had to suffer the frustration of millions of Aussies running around telling the world: “Hey, we’re the lucky country. Eat your hearts out!”

It’s not even so much that we’re boastful but, rather, we have a habit of telling it like it is without regard for how others might interpret our comments. We don’t take ourselves seriously, so we cannot imagine why anyone else would. It is fertile ground for misunderstandings! Anyway . . .

Horne’s lament was as valid today as it was back then. His point was that we are privileged to have vast natural resources in this land which generate remarkable wealth for us. So lucky are we that we tend to overlook the necessity and benefits of working hard to generate even more luck.

Even in the ‘60s, Horne was alerting us to the contrast with Asian nations, in particular, whose peoples had to strive mightily – and constantly – to overcome natural disadvantage.  Consequently, they had a far stronger work ethic, valued education much more than us and, of necessity, had to inculcate innovation to maintain any kind of pace with the developed world.

They have stormed ahead and have effectively neutered any “white supremacists” who were stupid enough to think Asian races were somehow lesser than the rest of us. Fools.

We Aussies, as a far-flung bastion of a once-great British empire, are left to sit amid the Asian go-getters like some overweight couch potato venturing onto a nudist colony beach. We wonder what they are on about while they peer at us and wonder why we don’t shape up.

Interestingly enough, Australia has come a very long way in those intervening decades, even if our national character has more foibles than an autistic savant. Our economy has become the twelfth largest in the world despite our comparatively miniscule population. Our voice is heard in the major councils of the globe and we give generously in many ways to help make the world a better place.

But, still, we view it all with a laconic shrug of the shoulders as if to say: well, of course, why would that not be the case?

Yet, events of recent months should give us a stark reminder that luck which is not built on determined effort can evaporate faster than Usain Bolt running 100 metres. Prices of several of our major sources of mineral wealth have plummeted and our national “luck” has been exposed.

Perhaps because we seemingly hang off the bottom of the globe, we Aussies enjoy being on top of the world through our sporting, military, humanitarian, artistic and economic  prowess. But maybe it is well past time that we accepted collective responsibility for our fame to rest on the achievements of the many rather than the few.

That would be a maturity of which we could all be legitimately proud.