The Lackey Country


Queen’s Birthday public holiday, 2006. As I strolled down the nearly deserted Rundle Mall in central Adelaide I saw Mike Smithson, a reporter for Channel 7, set up with a cameraman interviewing a rather surprised 30-something man. ‘As a New Yorker,’ Mike said to him, ‘do you find it strange to see our city deserted on a Monday?’

Mike’s idea being, I suppose, that if we were big and brash like America all of the shops would be open. Because everything’s bigger and better in America, isn’t it? I mean, it’s America, and this is Adelaide.

I came home and switched on the telly and there was Jennifer Aniston being interviewed by an Australian journalist. Jen looked bemused, bored, indifferent. She said a few words about her latest romantic comedy, explained how Oprah had offered to shout her an $US8 million wedding, and then bemoaned how her hair always got in her eyes. Heady stuff. If only Richard Wilkins had been asking the questions. I hear he’s in line for a Congressional award for Services to American culture he would’ve had Jen eating out of his hands.

I’m always a sucker for a happy story, so I opened The Advertiser and started reading the birth notices. The first name I saw?



Am I paranoid or is there something going on here?

I grew up in the 1970s and 80s hearing about how Australia used to have a sense of inferiority. How we used to favour English and American culture, saved our whole lives for a trip back to the ‘Mother Country,’ how our artists and intellectuals fled our shores at the first opportunity.

But things had improved.

We’d learnt to believe in ourselves, to support our rock bands, read books by our authors and see films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock and Breaker Morant. The ABC was playing Sculthorpe and Meale, Williamson was populating our stages with recognisable Australians, and Don Dunstan was teaching us to cook with chickpeas. We were visiting Bali instead of Birmingham, proudly wearing barbecue aprons with cartoon breasts, laughing at Paul Hogan and, at last, coming to like who we were.

Thanks to Sharyn Raggett

We were the Lucky Country.

But things have changed again. It seems a lot of people have given up on the idea of delving into our national character of trying to find out who we are, how we tick, what we value, and what we find funny. Now it’s just a race to see the latest photos of Brangelina’s baby.

It was somewhat sad, but strangely appropriate, to see John Howard in Washington recently. Apparently Dubya had just told him he’d made Australia the next State of America. John was ecstatic. He was given three days in the presidential holiday house, a free meal with George and Laura and a guard of honour. And all this at the ridiculously low price of one semi-arid, post-colonial backwater, marooned somewhere beneath Asia.

George was seen patting John on the head. John rolled onto his belly, panted, looked at George with his bloodshot eyes and begged for more. It was about then John embarrassed himself and had to be removed from the Oval office by the President’s butler.

So, the good news is, we’ve become what we always wanted to be part of the USA. The lucky country gets lackey.

Not that we’ll notice the difference. We’re mostly American anyway.

Instead of going to local Victor Harbor, we South Australians now fly to Queensland to holiday in American-style theme parks. We watch an endless orgy of American crime shows, dramas and, worst of all, romantic comedies that aren’t particularly romantic or funny. I don’t want to see Tom Hanks falling in love again. And as for funny, I spent my childhood wondering why the hell people were laughing at Steve Martin.

Anyway, back to my Queen’s Birthday holiday. It was getting late, so I took out the trash (rubbish), went to the bathroom (thunderbox) and tried to catch some Zs (sleep). No luck. I found my tape of the 2006 Logies and settled in with a Dr Pepper. Pink was on, followed by Joan Rivers, who didn’t seem to know which country she was in.

It didn’t matter Joan will always love Australia. Just like John Travolta (lathering up in the Socceroos’ change room), Sammy Davis Jnr and John Denver even death can’t put a stop to their visits.

We’ve always been suckers for the Yanks. It started with Bob Dyer’s Pick-a-Box (as Roy Rene shook his head and wondered what was happening). Then there was Don Lane and Steve Vizard (with a direct rip-off of The Tonight Show I didn’t realise how close a copy until I saw Jay Leno do the real thing in LA). Rove carries on this tradition of snappy lines, dumbed-down content and sucking up to every American that gets off the plane from LA.

You can see it in our music, too. What’s happened to all the Australian acts? In the 1980s, Oz music was all the go AC/DC, The Angels, Midnight Oil, Men at Work and Cold Chisel, to name a few. The music was on the radio and we had programs like Countdown to give it a push (until Molly eventually became an honorary Yank, flying to the US to interview the likes of Madonna, who’d pat him on the head, Dubya style).

Now it’s 50 Cent and the rest of the crew presenting a cleaned up version of life on the streets of LA, or our own Australian Idols fresh-faced, white-teethed, God-loving drongos that couldn’t play an instrument or write a song if their life depended on it.

This rant could go on for days. I could explain how most Australian publishers now favour the distribution of big name overseas writers over the cost and struggle of developing Australian talent; how kids I teach seem more interested in American history than our own; how most Americans I’ve met don’t know what we’re going on about.

I reckon our local media has a lot to do with the problem. The Australian media are the sons of Goebbels they have become propagandists, softening us up with an endless diet of CSI and NYPD, until we bleed fake blood from every orifice. They don’t care to make culture, but to disseminate half-truths, idiotic catch-phrases and dimly lit footage of augmented breasts shimmering with baby oil.

Are we completely stupid? Doesn’t the Friends theme sound a little bit like Deutschland Ãœber Alles?

I’ve been to the United States. I enjoyed the national parks and standing on top of the Empire State building at night; I enjoyed the Chicago Opera and driving up the West Coast with a car full of Dutch lawyers (that’s another story); I even enjoyed Salt Lake City.

It’s a great country, but to use an American phrase get over it.

So, a plea to the sons of Goebbels. Don’t reach for your revolvers. Our kids might have heard of Gregory Peck, but none of them know about Chips Rafferty. They might know Roosevelt (F or T), but what about Lyons?

And a challenge to my fellow Austrayleurns. Make the next film you see an Australian film, the next book you read an Australian book, the next CD you buy an Australian performer of group. When Idol comes on, resist you’re only one step away from liking Celine Dion.

Instead, get down to one of the few remaining pubs that support local music and see a band. It might not be too late for us to avoid becoming the next American State.

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