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February 18, 2014

The lucky country, Part 1/4

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

More by this author...

In a virtual visit to Australia before embarking on my recent tour of the country, I consulted four classics by four well known Australians; Alan Moorehead's The Fatal Impact, Patrick White's The Vivisector, Donald Horne's The Lucky Country, and Colin Roderick's Henry Lawson. I also watched two Australian films; Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) and Australia (2008) - more about these two historical dramas in part 4.

Alan Moorehead was born in Melbourne in 1910. He was the foreign correspondent of the Daily Express. He was a journalist with an excellent story telling talent.

In addition to The Fatal Impact (1966) dealing with ‘An Account of the Invasion of the South Pacific 1767-1840’ including Tahiti, the Antarctic and Australia, he published 21 books including two classics The White Nile (1960) and The Blue Nile (1962) which I also enjoyed reading. He died in 1983.

Patrick White (1912 – 1990) was an English-born Australian writer, one of the most important English-language novelists of the 20th century. In 1973, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the only Australian to have been awarded the prize. From 1935 until his death, he published 12 novels, three short-story collections and eight plays.

He was six months old when his parents moved to Australia. When he was thirteen his father sent him to school in England, to Cheltenham, ‘where, it was understood, the climate would be temperate and a colonial acceptable’. Neither proven true, and after four miserable years he went to King’s College, Cambridge. He published his first novel Happy Valley in 1939. He wrote Vivisector in 1970. His last work published in 1974 was a collection of short stories The Cockatoos.

Donald Horn’s famous phrase and the title of his 1964 book 'the lucky country' is used by many Australians to refer to the country’s weather, lifestyle and history from the past gold to today’s economic booms.

Recently the phrase is used to describe Australia’s geographic lucky isolation from the world's trouble spots. Australians also take their icon Kylie Minogue’s famous song I Should Be So Lucky to mean ‘we’ have been so lucky, lucky, lucky. The explorer Major Mitchell in 1830s also referred to the region of western Victoria through which he travelled as Australia Felix (Happy Australia).

“In a hot summer's night in December 1964 I was about to write the last chapter of a book on Australia,” Horn said, “The opening sentence of this last chapter was: 'Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck.'

Horn was particularly referring to the White Australian Policy. The policy was in effect in 1901 following the Federation favoring immigration to Australia from Europe; Australia was determined to keep herself white and already obsessed by the fear of a colored invasion. The policy progressively dismantled between 1949 and 1973. “If we are to remain a prosperous, liberal, humane society, we must be prepared to understand the distinctiveness of our own society,” he added.

Horne wrote over twenty books (including his classic The Lucky Country), and contributed to many journals and newspapers in Australia, Britain, Europe and the United States. He became a professor at the University of New South Wales and went on to become the Chancellor of the University of Canberra.

Henry Lawson (1867 – 1922) is perhaps Australia's most loved and most well known writer and often called Australia's "greatest writer". He was the son of the poet, publisher and feminist Louisa Lawson.

Colin Roderick selected and introduced some of Lawson’s short stories in his 1959 classic “Henry Lawson: Bill, the Ventriloquial Rooster and Other Yards.”

One short story selected by Roderick is Lawson's celebrated "His Country-After All." One of the characters says:


"What’s Australia? A big, thirsty, hungry wilderness, with one or two cities for the convenience of foreign speculators, and a few collections of humpies, called towns—also for the convenience of foreign speculators; and populated mostly by mongrel sheep, and partly by fools, who live like European slaves in the towns, and like dingoes in the bush—who drivel about ‘democracy,’ and yet haven’t any more spunk than to graft for a few Cockney dudes that razzle-dazzle most of the time in Paris. Why, the Australians haven’t even got the grit to claim enough of their own money to throw a few dams across their watercourses, and so make some of the interior fit to live in. America’s bad enough, but it was never so small as that. . . . Bah! The curse of Australia is sheep, and the Australian war cry is Baa!”

Few months before his death, Colin Roderick, 88, received from his publisher a copy of his last book—the edited letters of the mother of another great Australian writer; Banjo Paterson.

Roderick's remarkable career as an author began in 1945, with The Australian Novel. This was followed by critical and biographical works on Rosa Praed (1948), Miles Franklin (1982) and Banjo Paterson (1993). Roderick wrote one novel, The Lawyer and the Lady (1955), edited and investigated the publishing history of James Tucker's convict novel, Ralph Rashleigh (1952), and produced books on subjects as variable as the murderer John Knatchbull and the explorer Ludwig Leichhardt.

His greatest works were his multi-volume collections of Henry Lawson's verse and prose. These were complemented by three critical and autobiographical works on Lawson.

In 1965 Roderick was appointed foundation Professor of English literature at James Cook University in Townsville, where he worked until his formal retirement in 1976. He created the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies, whose prestigious annual lecture series and literary prize bear his name.

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