There are several intertwined threads to my thinking and every time I think about how to write them down I get myself in a tangle, but I’m determined to try.
So, here goes… The UK is a country that privileges the middle classes. When the political discourse talks about ‘hard-working families’ it means families where mum and dad are white collar workers, small-scale entrepreneurs or similar. This being Britain or, more accurately, England, we are talking about middle classes: there are a million and one graduations from lower to upper, but the fact remains that the middle is where it’s at. I hadn’t quite understood this position of privilege until I had it removed.
Australian culture is, it seems to me, inherently suspicious of the middle-class and its values and, instead, lionises the blue-collar. Historically, the digger (miners and, later, soldiers), the battler (‘you little Aussie battler’) and, by modern extension, the fluro-wearing tradie, as the backbone of the country. As an aside, I was perplexed by the romantic yearning of office girls for sweaty herberts as evinced by the spotted column in the free rag mX on the train, until I realised that the earning power of said sweaty herberts far, far outranked that of the university-educated professionals.
Australia has not had a Thatcher to break the power of the unions and it is still, also, a country very much under construction. These factors undoubtedly contribute to the hero-status of the labourer, as does the country’s foundation stories that mythologise the glories of the early settlers – in much the same way as the American West glories the cowboy. Of course, the corollary to this is that it is a very male discourse and, when I arrived, I found the land of Germaine Greer to be inexplicably, not misogynist exactly, but certainly andocentric.
I’ve recently reread Collapse by Jared Diamond. He highlights Australia as the one first-world country that is most environmentally fragile; essentially a new society living on very old (and depleted) soil. He posits that Australia is mining all its resources – even the renewable ones – at such a rate that they will soon be depleted and that instead of investing in value-add, by processing raw materials, the country is exporting them for other countries to profit from. It is sobering reading for a mother who moved here specifically to give her child the best start in life. The economy in Victoria is stalling, but Western Australia is setting the agenda (political and, hand-in-glove, economic) for the whole country with its phenomenal, but unsustainable, resources boom.
I’m a product of my country – I believe in the worth of education, the liberal arts, culture and all those other English middle-class values. I see here a society that mocks, denigrates or is openly suspicious of many of the things that I hold most dear and it worries me quite profoundly. It also seems to be rather a limiting factor on Australia itself: these are not values that are going to help the country to survive beyond the mining boom. These values mean that politicians here play to the cheap seats even more than their cousins in Westminster do, something I would not have believed possible before. Clearly, the whole issue does not sit well with me: I recognise inner snob/class prejudices and dislike them in myself, but equally despair at Australia’s celebration of the lowbrow in exclusion of the highbrow.