panic, by david marr

Marr is Australia’s best journalist right now, as far as I can gather. He is acute on both what makes us different…

David Malouf has a wonderful theory that it’s the English we carried in our baggage that makes America and Australia such different places. In the early seventeenth century, settlers took to America a language of abstractions: “Passionately evangelical and utopian, deeply imbued with the religious fanaticism and radical violence of the time, this was the language of … dissenters … who left England to found a new society that would be free, as they saw it, of authoritarian government by Church and Crown.” Malouf argues that by the time Australia was colonised, the language had changed. What the First Fleet brought here “was the language of the English and Scottish Enlightenment: sober, unemphatic, good-humoured; a very sociable and moderate language; modern in a way that even we would recognise, and supremely rational and down to earth”.

…and what makes us boringly the same as everyone else.

Wherever the Tampa tactics lead Australia in the years to come, those of us in the City Recital Hall yesterday will remember the sight and the sound of a white, prosperous audience baying for border protection. They know it’s the winning ticket and John Howard has found it for them. He is a genius of sorts: he looks this country in the face and sees us not as we wish we were, not as one day we might be, but exactly as we are. The political assessment is ruthlessly realistic. Only the language is coy. But who has ever admitted to playing the race card?

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