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A Dismal Realisation

old man emu

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George Santayana was a philosopher, essayist, poet and novelist who first stated that, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". This is often paraphrased as, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it".


I've just finished reading Donald Horne's 1964 essay, "The Lucky Country", and have come away with the dismal realisation that during the past 55 years, nothing has changed in the Australian society, either politically or industrially. What was called the "colonial cringe" still exists, maybe with less reference to Great Britain, but cringe we still do in the presence of advancing Nations in Asia, the Sub-Continent, and even New Zealand across the Ditch.


Whenever has there been a sustained political agenda that wasn't torpedoed by State's factionalism from both Conservatives and Non-Conservatives? The Whitlam years were a flash in the pan during which some advances were made, but the agenda was soon reined in with a return to colonial subservience. The Conservatives made a return to the Squatocracy of the 19th Century by entering into trade deals that relied on digging up the country and shipping it off across the seas, only to bring it back as manufactured goods. They stifled investment in manufacturing here that could have taken advantage of the lower costs of transporting our own raw materials to processing plants. 


What happened to Australian intellectualism? Australia is the only "First World" country where the production and consumption of the many forms of literature ( and here I will include light drama made for TV broadcast, such as the drama series of the 1980's) is reduced to the triviality of "reality" shows based on imported concepts. Our newspapers and services generally continue this attention to triviality. What political content they have confines itself to attacks on politicians themselves, rather than promoting discussion of political ideas. 


Our education system is a failure. While it is necessary for pre-teens to be taught the 3-R's, once they reach their teens emphasis should be put in developing their innate skills, whether these be in the manual arts, the ability to think, or to engage in music, dance and the other "Arts". I'm not suggesting a return to 19th Century industrial conditions where the Elite took the cream and left the whey for the masses. There is as much need in society for the trolley boy as there is for the philosopher.


So much opportunity for creating wealth from processing our raw materials, be they animal, vegetable or mineral, has been lost because short-term thinking has lead to these assets being sold away to foreign industrial empires. Not even our faithful support of joint manufacturing agreements with foreign corporations has prevent those corporations from cutting the ties that bind when the corporations see a better bottom line from exploiting the economies of developing countries.


Australia has really taken on the features of a banana republic. We toil to produce raw materials for other Nations who add value to them. We promote the uniqueness of our flora, fauna and landscapes to the people of those Nations who profit from adding value to our raw materials, and in this promotion we make ourselves kowtowing servants, fulfilling their food and accommodation needs as they spend a week or two seeing the sights cocooned in their coaches and never meeting the Australian people they are moving through.


Horne's title for his book was meant to be ironic, but, as usual, lack of intelligence amongst the media of the day saw it to mean "recipients of unplanned good fortune". The title was a jab at the fact that "Luck" has nothing to do with the application of skill. You can be lucky and win the lottery. You can be lucky an pull off a jackpot. But it takes skill and intelligence to develop and idea into something from which you can profit, either socially or financially. 


For the past 55 years Australia has relied on luck to maintain itself. Innovation and development of ideas has been ignored. Now our luck is running out. COVID has killed everything associated with our promotion of the continent's uniqueness. China's development of its own natural resources has put our coal and iron ore market at risk. Australia's political alliances have resulted in China reducing some of its purchases of food stuffs. Perhaps our luck will turn with the effects of Brexit as the markets in Great Britain become open as they were before the Common Market closed them to us. But once again, we see Great Britain as a market for raw materials, and we must accept their manufactured goods as payment in return.


The time has come for Australia to throw off its acceptance of being a colonial outpost of the rest of the World. It's time to plant some genetically modified Tall Poppies who will make our financial institutions open up to risk capital for the construction of manufacturing facilities, and to support education and skills development in all their forms. It's time for us to tell those who seek political positions that they are employed by Society, and Society is well and truly fed up with their antics. It is unfortunate that the only way the people of Australia can sack the whole Parliament is by getting such a motion passed by Parliament. Now there's a Catch-22 for you. 




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