Australia: The Lucky Country

For months now during this coronavirus crisis I have seen and heard repeated comments on how fortunate we are to live in Australia – ‘the lucky country’. Don’t doubt for a moment that I am pleased to be Australian.

However, I cringe each time I hear we’re in ‘the lucky country’. Examples include in the Sydney Morning Herald here and here and The Australian here. Not once has the phrase been used by someone with an understanding of its context and origination.

It is not a glorified reflection on how privileged we are to be of this nation.

Donald Horne wrote the book (literally) on The Lucky Country in 1964, with the central proposition that Australia is a country of boring, mediocre wowsers where intellectuals do not exist. We were a middling nation with middling success more through good luck than good management.

“Australia is a lucky country, run mainly by second-rate people who share its luck”.

Horne believed we're fortunate that nothing terribly awry has happened to our nation because little of what our individual leaders do seems to matter much. Is he right?

Nearly 60 years on and in the midst of a crisis, I’m not so sure. Arguably Australia has been complacent and insular in recent decades, but I wouldn’t call the response to COVID-19 – and the public’ awareness and commitment levels – boring or uninspiring. The stage could very well be set for less reliance on a single trade partner (China) and an increase in local ingenuity and manufacturing. Funnily enough, examples of these are highlighted in the articles linked above.

So what I do know is that if you say Australia is the lucky country; it's not a compliment. It was designed as an insult and our nation co-opting and lazily re-framing the phrase as a compliment, if anything, only proves Horne’s point.

What I do know is that if you say Australia is the lucky country; it's not a compliment. It was designed as an insult and co-opting it as a compliment, if anything, only proves Horne’s point.