When I moved to Australia from South Africa in 2002, I too had been conned by the Australian marketing machine. Of course there's the genuine stuff: the Anzac legend, Gallipoli, exploits in the world wars, and so on. But there’s also the latter-day myth: the bronzed Aussie crocodile wrestler, the nation that can take on any sporting code you can imagine and many you can’t and win, the nation that punches above its weight in wars. It’s that later bit that turns out just to be so much marketing spin.
The harsh reality is that the modern Australia is a nation of crybaby wieners.
Let’s take a couple of examples.
Australia is pretty low on the list of refugee destinations. Countries that really do it tough host millions of refugees (some of the worst as a consequence of bungled wars Australia took part in: Iraq, Afghanistan), and tens of thousands of boat people arrive on the Mediterranean shores of Europe every year. A few thousand people arrive by leaky boat at most in a bad year, and politicians of all stripes are falling over themselves to score points by thinking up new ways of being cruel to people who’ve lost everything. Never mind that seeking asylum is not illegal and Australia is a signatory to a convention that makes it explicitly illegal to punish asylum seekers.
The biggest wiener of all is leader of the federal parliamentary opposition, Tony Abbot, who portrays himself as tough, but he is constantly whining. Tony, here's a hint. Looking buff in a speedo doesn't make you tough. Taking on hard issues fearlessly does.
That takes me to another of Abbott’s can’t do issues, climate change.
Aussie politicians are constantly pushing the line that no problem is too easy, that we can’t rush out and be the first, that we can only punch below our weight. What was that again? Weren’t we supposed to punch above our weight? And in any case, this is all bolstered by a campaign of cowardly lies. The claim that Australia would be a world leader in carbon taxes for example is at least 20 years out of date, and about 15 countries have already put such a tax in place or have plans to do so by the end of 2011.
If it was only Tony Abbott, it wouldn’t be a problem, but the rest of his “Liberal” Party is just about as bad, except a small minority who are largely ignored by the media. And the ruling Labor Party is even more terrified of these issues: they bend to the wind whenever it emanates from Abbott’s rear end.
And far from the physicality portrayed in the movies and on TV, Australia a few years back reportedly overtook the US as the most obese country in the world (to be fair, WHO stats show that neither country is really the fattest in the world, but the numbers are scary nonetheless ... a newspaper got the facts wrong: who would have guessed?).
So there you have it. Australia today is not a nation of all-conquering warlike athletic crocodile hunters. It’s a nation of obese slugs who use their cars to move from the food court to the adjacent supermarket, that punches below its weight and is terrified of taking on hard issues.
I’m moving back to South Africa where the problems are tough but so are the people.
A bit strong?
I wrote this on the back of several days of back to back whining on talkback radio about asylum seekers, and letters in The Australian invoking the Anzac legend as a reason to be cruel to people who are desperate because they’ve fled danger only to be treated worse than criminals (who are entitled to an expeditious trial, not indefinite detention). The Australia of the Anzac legend, the real one, not the version of the whiners, is still there. I saw it in the Brisbane floods when so many people pitched in to help without prompting. There are genuine politicians here who have principles. It’s the constructed national psyche of the Hanson-Howard era that I find objectionable. There are plenty of real people who don’t share that view of Australianness. I just wish the mass media would give them the air time they give the whiners.