The unlucky country

By October 11, 2019Australian Politics

I get sick of people using the epithet ‘lucky country’ in referring to Australia in a laudatory way, without realising the phrase’s original intent. Donald Horne used it as the title for his 1964 book in which he opined that Australia’s climb to prosperity was based entirely on luck and the nation was run mainly by second rate people who shared its luck. Horne also regarded our political and economic system as second rate, and maligned the country’s lack of innovation and ambition as well as its lack of interest in intellectual matters1,2. Given the clear lack of any even moderate indication of intellectual ability among the current crop of politicians, one could do nothing but agree with Horne’s analysis.

The fact that the book’s title was ironic seems to have escaped most people (who have probably not read the book). Indeed, Horne was quoted as saying “I have had to sit through the most appalling rubbish as successive generations misapplied the phrase”3. To further the irony, the hopelessly incompetent Tony Abbott suggested that two of the defining moments in Australia’s history from 1964 were the launch of The Australian newspaper and the publication of Horne’s book4. While Horne’s book has increasingly demonstrated its perspicacity over the years, The Australian has done the reverse, slowly going from a newspaper to a parody of its former self.

One of the remarks that Horne made in his subsequent book ‘Death of the Lucky Country’ was that Australians, “in the lucky style” have never earned “our democracy. We simply went along with some British habits”3,5. Given the constant attacks on Australian democracy from the current government, we may soon have to find out what it means to fight for it. This is because, as the Australian populace is becoming more progressive and more aware of having been screwed by neoliberal economics, the conservatives are concerned that they will become unelectable. As David Frum has said: “If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy.”6  That is what is happening now, with the government telling bald-faced lies in the recent election campaign, using posters to mimic those of the Australian Electoral Commission to mislead voters, stacking the boards and executives of supposedly independent bodies, attempting to nobble GetUp, prosecuting whistle-blowers, and ignoring the Constitution. In addition, they are now threatening protesters with gaol and the removal of any government benefits they may have, and attempting to make Extinction Rebellion protesters’ bail conditions so restrictive to prevent association and therefore prevent future protests. Such conditions were originally imposed in an attempt to hamper association among members of bikie gangs7. Fortunately, this time, these conditions were thrown out. However, these transgressions will get worse, and the ensuing fight will be one in which the rights that people thought they had, will be trampled by conservatives.


  2. Horne, D., 1964. The Lucky Country. Penguin Australia
  5. Horne, D., 1976. Death of the Lucky Country. Penguin


  • Russell says:

    Agreed. One of Horne’s other good books was called “Money Made Us”, still worth reading though dated. If Australia’s half-dozing, benzo-stupefied, blissful-in-ignorance population really knew the stark mess we are now in across many issues in many quarters, they would choke on that Maccas they are chomping. We have had nothing for thirty years but botched managerialism, dogmatic and inane neolib change at mind-numbing speed. The said juggernaut has mindlessly destroyed reliable, stable traditions of many kinds, including refined personal manners. It has headlong despoiled and privatised the commons/common wealth wherever a massive resistance could not be thrown against it. With that we had a rising tide of meritless-cratic (not even meritocratic) gormless fiends and fools climbing up in both private business and government. We have few native, fully Australian-originated companies left to make us just a bit proud. Our culture is saturated in tacky post-modern Yank cableTV pap, and a vast swathe of people are now barely literate. Small are the ranks of the “deeply literate” that we once generally looked to for novel ideas and critique. Hard drugs, procurable with ease in rural as well as urban areas, capture many disillusioned, untrained young minds who see no secure job future, no fulfillment of simple hopes. To judge by figures and metrics, we are going down the toilet both economically and culturally. Albeit there’s a febrile arts-humanities arena in capital cities. These folk indulge long and hard in identity politics, write for subscriber journals with very low sales, and chat about books over Pinot and Jack Daniels in streets of Carlton, Newtown etc. A bright but solipsistic elite – with few brave public intellectuals of the stature of George Monbiot. Where are those beyond parliaments who might speak for Australians seeking a way out of the morass reigned over by those Canberra time-serving, uninspired charlatans we see fumbling for mere quick fixes to a cascade of dire situations. (Pardon me Richard Flanagan!) Public discussion is debased and left to the raucous far-right: the Jones radio – Sky Channel TV sewer of bloviation. Well that’s the good stuff… for the negative points about our nation.

    • admin says:

      Jeez, after reading that I feel like downing a bottle of Jack Daniels just to relieve the violent intersection with reality. Van Badham hit the nail on the head when she said that ‘The Liberal Party is incapable of solving Australia’s economic problems because Liberal ideology created them.’ I think that goes for much more than economics.

    • Mark Dougall says:

      Russell I thought your reply was good until I got to George Monbiot. Then I though it was great. Then you referenced Richard Flanagan and ’twas even better. Blot has some good subscribers. By the way you are right.

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