Nick Bryant Is a BBC correspondent and author who often appears on Q&A and The Drum.
I made the dreadful mistake of reading some reviews of this book (that conflicted with my own analysis) before I sat down to write this. Now I don’t expect everyone to agree with me but in this case, I must say, they all had a clear misunderstanding of exactly what the author was on about.
That being an inability by some social commentators and critics to acknowledge that we have, to a large degree, thrown off our cultural cringe, our adolescence, and taken our place in the world.
We have come to realise the profound truth that we have gone through a period of becoming mature, knowing who we are, and feeling deeply about it. We have earned a national consciousness.
It seemed to me that the reviews I read resented the fact that we were being dissected by an outsider, and a bloody Pommy one at that.
But this is exactly what makes it such an enthralling read. He dares to go where our own self-consciousness about ourselves won’t, unrestrained by our provincial restrictions of self-analysis.
The directness and astuteness of his writing is impressive. His research impeccable and for a person of my vintage his writing gave understanding to my life’s Australian experience. From what we were to what we are. He exhaustively covers every cultural aspect of our society from sport, art, music, dance, theatre, science, medicine, government and our financial structures. He describes a full compilation of our assets and eccentricities.
In some chapters I felt positively enthused about how far we have come as a nation. How much we had achieved, often in spite of ourselves.
He states that today the characteristic that most defines modern Australia is “diversity”. In all its forms, together with multiculturalism it defines us as a nation. That is something I wholeheartedly agree with.
But the contradiction, as he points out is:
The great paradox of modern-day Australian life: of how the country has got richer at a time when its politics have become more impoverished.
It is in the chapters that deal with politics and our democracy that Bryant rightly portrays the sagacious ugliness of our system.
He abhors the fierce partisanship of our politics and the Abbott government’s currentattempts to take us back to an older Australia, a place that we no longer inhabit.
A place languid in the institutionalised comforts of post colonialism.
And this is the paradox the author speaks of. How is it that our politics has gone so backwards while at the same time we have progressed, in other areas, so much?
Might it be as the Prime Minister so sarcastically remarked when asked about the state of our democracy:
There is nothing wrong with it. It’s just the people who inhabit it from time to time.
Or might it be when he describes his cricketing skills.
I couldn’t bowl, field or bat, but I was a good sledger.
This is a refreshing look at this country with new eyes. Eyes that have taken, with simple exhaustive elegance and skill, the time to see us for what we truly are.
The most agreeable thing about, about this book, is the author’s confirmation of my own view. That being that we are being led by a moron.
Although I do concede that he doesn’t say it exactly in those terms. He in fact gives both sides of politics a decent serve. As Australians are so apt to say.