[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, May 2018.]
I spent the first thirty years of my life in Australia and the last twenty trying to stay out of it.
Plenty of local people in this part of the world regularly ask me why we are living so far from Australia. There are a number of reasons but visiting there always reminds me that it is landmass with a population that now badly lacks what I call ‘public intellectuals.’
I grew up in the Canberra suburbs seeing brainy egomaniacs like Richard Neville, Clive James, BA Santamaria (though he was also a genuine bigot) and inspirational Prime Ministers Gough Whitlam and Paul Keating on television — and here I mean free-to-air-TV.
But apart from someone like journalist, author and broadcaster Phillip Adams or a humorist like Andrew Denton there are now precious few deep thinkers in popular media.
The same claim could reasonably be made about the United States today where figures like Gore Vidal, Noam Chomsky and perennial US Presidential candidate Ralph Nader have been replaced by a small number of quality satirists such as Jon Stewart.
Even someone like the brilliant (Canadian) writer/activist Naomi Klein has been sidelined from being heard on a scale that her ideas deserve. The most popular networks and cable TV stations pull in large numbers of viewers who are instead fed a daily diet of polished lies and exaggerated fear-mongering.
Australia is a part of the world where talented, clever people in the creative arts industries have to leave if they genuinely desire to have a wide and mainstream audience. Germaine Greer, Robert Hughes, Clive James, Nicole Kidman, Jason Donovan,Toni Collette, Rod Taylor, Guy Pearce, Kylie Minogue, Nick Cave, Hugh Jackman, Cate Blanchett, Tim Minchin, Geoffrey Rush, Naomi Watts, Sia, Rebel Wilson and Barry Humphries simply could not have achieved the high quality of what they have done by remaining in Australia. There, sport is number one and everything else cultural is a distant second.
Self-styled Australian ‘feral futurist’ Richard Neville wrote a rare, honest assessment of Australia for Adbusters not long ago. He explained why “the lucky country” still tends to rely on superpowers such as the USA (and most recently, China) and how it’s leaders prefer being an international sycophant. “Australians are easily distracted,” he argued. “The focus of mass media [in Australia] is shopping promotions and light entertainment: cooking, sport, gossip, stock shifts, celebrity trials, soft porn and big-ticket ‘must see’ events.”
The question then has to be why has this happened? I think it’s partly because there is no developed interest in real politics in Australia, as opposed to the personality/leader-rivals "slugging it out in a boxing match" type-journalism that Australians are served. The internet should have been a factor in leading to discussion on politics being less mediocre but it does not appear to be in Australia, unlike the USA where Obama then Bernie Sanders were able to break new activist ground. Instead, the news cycle “downunder” is dominated by a merry-go-round of opinion polls about leadership — both state and federal — and that passes for proper political analysis.
Australians are generally not only politically apathetic. As one anonymous (European) online poster who had lived in Australia for 12 years wrote: “Australians as a whole are quite conservative. Just look at the government they elected! I find it increasingly frustrating. It’s all about family, building a house, having a garden, a big 4WD and a BBQ on the weekend with the other families talking footy, house prices and gardening/fishing… I think maybe more adventurous Aussies leave.”
Australia is a very isolated country, but not only geographically. It is rich with beautiful landscapes (particularly the underrated desert) and its people have a lot in their favour. I just don’t want to live there because it doesn’t suit me and we wanted our son to grow up in culturally-rich Europe .