Lucky? Not Likely!

10 September 2008

On Australian Exceptionalism

Of the many defining characteristics that Australians cling to in an often uncertain search for national identity, the notion that they live in the Lucky Country endures with little effective criticism. The precision with which the term is used – Australia is the Lucky Country and not just a lucky country, one fortunate land amongst many – precludes not only a comparative appraisal of whether it really is a reasonable description at all, but also any historical understanding of how the term came into being, what it might have obscured and the extent to which it will influence the future as that uncertain time forms on the edge of the present. The country is lucky, always, and there’s nothing else to say.

Of course it’s not uncommon knowledge that the term in popular usage is something of a misnomer. When Donald Horne used it in his book of the same name in 1964, it marked the epilogue of an extended inquiry into a mindset and a manner, what it meant to be a particular type of person at a particular time. As Horne’s subtitle read, he was writing about ‘Australia in the Sixties’, less nationalistic than it had been, somehow different than what other people thought of it, but a little forlorn, worried at the edge of Asia. He described a people content with their lot, but not imaginative enough about others, or even about how things could be different for themselves.

What worried Horne the most was the absence of a public life, a debate about what might happen next, what just might be happening now. In a sense that’s not surprising because the Liberal-National coalition had been in power since 1946 and Prime Minister Robert Menzies had only just retired after 17 years in his second stint at the top. It could well be a maxim of Australian political history that federal governments both create and maintain public discourse, gently prodding much of the populace to speak of certain things now and ignore other things then.

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Show and Tell

24 August 2008

One Picture, 706 Words

There is, we are often told, an old Chinese saying that a picture tells a thousand words. But no-one ever mentions which picture, what words and who might be listening. Or, for that matter, who might be watching, wondering. Consider the photograph on the left. What does it tell us? It shows an athlete running into a crowded stadium – only the marathon allows for that. His salute suggests victory ahead, and a certain confidence that would only come from entering the stadium with a comfortable lead. He is, in fact, Samuel Wanjiru, and he’s just over 400 metres away from crossing the line first in the Olympic marathon for men in Beijing this morning. We don’t know that from the picture, yet a quick search of the Internet will give us the background, the frame if you will.

But leave Wanjiru aside now, including his stupendous capacity to run just over 42 kilometres in 2:06:32 hours and not seem to be tiring. Consider what’s happening around him instead. Click on the picture to enlarge it if you need to. The crowd haven’t quite noticed Wanjiru yet, but they will soon. The stadium announcer will point him out, and cameras are just starting to relay his image to the big screens high up in the stands. And, if you look carefully enough, the screen in the picture is exhorting the crowd to cheer, in both Chinese and English for good effect.

Now ask yourself this: why does the crowd need to be told to cheer? This is no reminder. Crowds cheer – that’s why they go to any sporting event, let alone the Olympics. Not everyone understands the technicalities of every event, but when Wanjiru makes it to the track, when he runs beyond the frame, so to speak, they’ll know. So again, why do they need to be told?

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A Time to Mourn, A Time to Reflect

22 April 2008

Sadness and Resolution in Hong Kong

The main body of this post is a modified version of an update published earlier today on A Death in Hong Kong. Anyone reading Greetings Earthlings! who would like to know more about the Discovery Bay community’s response to Vicenta Flores’ death can go there – it’s currently being updated twice a day. I’ve added further personal commentary here.

Memorial Service for Vicenta Flores

A Moment of PrayerVicenta Flores’ memorial service was held last night, 21 April, at the Discovery Bay International School on Lantau Island in Hong Kong. Led by Father Henry Cabral of the Discovery Bay Catholic church and Sister Aida of the Catholic Centre in Hong Kong’s Central district, the service reflected on Vicenta’s life and the many difficulties faced by Filipino migrant workers in Hong Kong.

Vicenta’s sister Irene spoke briefly in Tagalog, offering her thanks to those in attendance. She also asked anyone with any information about her sister’s disappearance and death to come forward. Her grief was obvious, and she soon broke down crying for the first time since she arrived in Hong Kong.

Here’s a brief video clip from the beginning of the service, as people were still coming in. The crowd eventually spilled out the hall doors.

The South China Morning Post reported on the service this morning, and included Father Henry’s comments on the degrading and dehumanising way domestic helpers are often treated here in Hong Kong. He also expressed his reluctance in saying that, but the necessity that it should be said.

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