God's Own Country


In the forties and fifties, when I went to school in New Zealand, it was often referred to as ‘God’s Own Country’. It was as though God had blessed the place, and made it special. However, it was, I later learned, basically to do with the nineteenth century colonial experience – the notion of creating a classless, democratic society, far away from tired, old Europe – where life for the common man or woman was nasty, brutish and short.

America, the first of the colonial societies, was also blessed by God. And after the British had been thrown out, the Lord guided the hand of the Founding Fathers, helped with the constitution and the establishment of the Republic. America, too, was a special place. It was founded on the rock of faith – with a God-driven destiny.

Thanks to Sharyn Ragget

Thanks to Sharyn Ragget

Australia was not quite so fortunate. It was originally conceived as a penal settlement; but after the sturdy, God-fearing, free settlers arrived, with their ploughs, sheep and cattle, it, too, became a ‘special place’ – far away from ‘old Europe’. Australia and New Zealand were, however, loyal vassals of the British. America was not. Nevertheless, all three countries had one thing in common – the colonial experience. One could, as it were, start afresh. This was the New World.

The three territories had something else in common – the indigenous inhabitants. But when faced with European technology, the ‘natives’ weren’t that much of a problem. They could either be killed, or dispossessed of their land, put into reservations and converted to Christianity. They could also fall victim to imported diseases. So it was written.

Of the three countries, America has, by far, retained its sense of God-driven destiny; New Zealand has gone its own way and largely disappeared from view; and Australia has become a ‘me-too’ state and a loyal vassal of a new master, America. If Australia has a God-driven mission, it is limited to the south Pacific, which, alas, is mainly water. The Asians, generally, don’t want a bar of us.

The God-driven mission is by no means new. At various times the Spanish, the Dutch and the Portuguese have been possessed of it. And in more recent days, we have had the British and now, the Americans. It seems that, by one method or another – military action or globalization, their bailiwick is world-wide.

In America, the messianic view is by no means limited to party politics. For example, even that admirable, dissenting writer, Gore Vidal, refers to the Founding Fathers in reverent tones. Bill Clinton believed in America’s ‘special mission’ as fervently as George W Bush. It is in domestic policies and rhetoric where they parted company.

Australia’s messianic view is somewhat pathetic. In an effort to be taken seriously, it invariably boxes above its weight, fights other people’s wars – the British in the Boer War, World War I and World War II; then the Americans in Viet Nam and Iraq. But for all that, Australia is still often confused with Austria.

Australia’s God-driven destiny is to do with defence – the defence of a white enclave in a hostile sea. We have the same attitude toward asylum seekers as we have toward unwanted diseases and insects. The federal government’s detention plans for Christmas Island are but one example of this.

Right now, Australia is going through an orgasm of patriotism. With its inward-looking society, it is starting to look like Rhodesia in the sixties under Prime Minister Ian Smith. Ian Smith and John Howard would have much in common.

Question: where does God fit into all this? Answer: the Family First Party, the Hillsong Church, the Pentecostals, the evangelical movement, the blessing of the soldiers bound for Iraq. (When the war in Afghanistan started, an American army chaplain sprinkled holy water on the Abrams tanks.) It is of significance that Treasurer Costello gave an address at a Hillsong rally last year. He subsequently called for a return to ‘family values’.

The preoccupation with our soldierly past is also part of our national self-esteem. Politicians and the media play on this with great effect. One has only to look at the role the media played on Anzac Day to see the result. The protests of the sixties are now strictly forbidden.

What joins Australia and America at the hip is not only the arse-licking relationship between John Howard and George W Bush – it is the sharing of New World, ‘democratic’ values, the belief that ours is the ‘best way’, to be imposed on people whether they like it or not. (And there are other considerations – not the least, economic hegemony. The transnationals must be satisfied – it is God’s will.)

The New World mystique (the NW being blessed by God) is very powerful. (In the UK, Tony Blair is essentially a New World politician.) It is what most Australians are comfortable with. The similarities between, say, Knox City (a middle class suburb of Melbourne) and San Jose (a middle class suburb of San Francisco) are quite remarkable. Both, with their supermarkets, Hungry Jacks, McDonalds, retirement villages and freeways are paradise for the white, established middle class.

The other aspect of Australia’s destiny concerns isolation and luck. Our isolation has meant that we have been spared the tumultuous and often tragic events of Europe and Asia. But isolation has also produced an inward-looking, conservative, defensive society. This is reaching its apogee under the Howard government. (Whether it would be different if Labor were in government is a moot point.)

Until we come to terms with ourselves, we are destined to be isolated and self-obsessed. It will be out-of-view detention camps and other people’s battles. We will always be on the tarmac, waiting for the Boys to return home, their having fought a ‘just and honorable’ war.

Is God really shining His light upon us?

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