More Than Luck

6 October 2022
More Than Luck - Featured image

Calling Australia the ‘lucky country’ is far from ironic—especially for grateful migrants like me, writes recently retired academic Christo Moskovsky.

Three stories about the migrant experience in Australia span several decades: They’re a Weird Mob (1957), Looking for Alibrandi (1992), and The Lucky Country: Reflections and Reminiscences of a Long-Term Immigrant (2022). The first was a novel which became a feature film, depicting the travails of a young Italian journalist (turned construction worker) in Sydney as he tries to figure out what this country and its people are like. Also a novel which became a movie, the second tells the coming-of-age story of an aspirational full-of-life Aussie teenager of Italian descent. The third is my first-hand account intended as a reflective commentary of various aspects of life in Australia provided by a first-generation immigrant from Bulgaria after living in Australia for several decades.

The Australian Canon. Movies: Michael Powell, They're A Weird Mob, 1966, and Kate Woods, Looking for Alibrandi. 2000.

IMMIGRANT SONGS

Each of these three immigrant ‘songs’ offers a different way to understand immigrant experiences in Australia. But do we actually want to hear these voices? I think we do—not least because they paint a picture of Australia that is radically different from what we typically see in public discourse in this country. Most mainstream media abounds with negative assessments of Australia’s national character, and quite a few Government and public institutions gleefully indulge in the same. According to those assessments, Australians are not only racist, they are intolerant, bigoted, chauvinistic, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, misogynistic … you name it. The media unrelentingly piles on about the ongoing ‘epidemic’ of domestic violence (a cover term for men bashing their wives), about an ‘entrenched rape culture’ on university campuses, and about our alleged cruelty to refugees. It all makes Australia and Australians look quite appalling.

These unfavourable judgements are almost invariably provided by ethnic Anglo-Australians, most typically representing the country’s political and cultural elites. These are affluent and privileged individuals who have gained the most from Australia’s success and prosperity. Immigrants’ perceptions are quite often in stark contrast. Put simply, most immigrants like Australia and her people. We are very comfortable building a new life here. This comes out very strongly in all of these three books. In the eyes of most new Australians, Aussies are exceptionally decent, down-to earth, tolerant and accepting—perhaps more so than any other nationality. Ordinary Aussies are highly egalitarian, completely irreverent to authority, thoroughly loyal to their mates. “Could it be that in Australia there were no masters and servants as we knew them?” asks the main character, Nino Culotta, in They’re a Weird Mob. The Aussie larrikin cannot resist taking the piss out of people around them, but never in a malicious way.

Where would you prefer your daughters to be born and raised?

Most immigrants recognise and appreciate the extraordinary opportunities that life in Australia offers them. In Alibrandi, for instance, the protagonist expresses her amazement at “how far [her Italian relatives] had come from being penniless immigrants from Sicily. Over 40 years ago [her grandmother] had a one-room shack [in the outback] and today she was living in a double-storey house with Italian furniture, carpet, air-conditioning, a swimming-pool and many other luxuries.”

This is not to say Australia has achieved perfection and the Australian community is completely free of racism, bigotry, discrimination, gender bias etc. Regrettably, there are idiots here too—immigrants are not blind to this. In Weird Mob one such twit on a Sydney train screams “go home” at an immigrant family. In Alibrandi the main character is commonly described as “ethnic” and occasionally even referred to as a “wog”. My book, The Lucky Country, details incidents of racial abuse suffered by international students in Australia.

It can be a hard pill to swallow, but that is reality. We are all human and therefore imperfect—morally, ethically, and psychologically. Wherever there are human beings there will be some level of bias, prejudice, racism, bigotry, and discrimination. Regrettably, this seems to be an essential part of the human condition. But as with almost everything else, the critical issue here is one of degree; it is all relative. The question is not whether there are or are not instances of racism, sexism, bigotry etc in Australia; it is whether any other nation on Earth is freer of racism, sexism, bigotry etc than Australia? One would have to search hard and wide to find such a place.

NO BETTER NATION

The Lucky Country challenges its readers with a simple quiz: Where would you prefer your daughter(s) to be born and raised?, and lists a dozen countries alphabetically, including Australia. It goes without saying it would take an idiot or a complete hypocrite to choose anywhere other than Australia.

According to The Lucky Country, the story of the ‘awfulness’ of ordinary Australians is a myth that has little or nothing to do with immigrants’ actual lived experience. And yet this story powerfully dominates the public narrative and tends to suffocate any voices suggesting otherwise. Why that should be so is an interesting question. Could it be that many Australians have become so prosperous and comfortable, that they have become complacent? The serious problems that remain a reality for 99 per cent (or more) of people around the world have almost completely vanished here, and many Australians—especially political and media elites—seem to have lost a proper sense of real values, of things that really matter, and have embraced frivolous and often purely symbolic causes for no other reason than to feel good about themselves. Large sections of the Australian community—mostly ethnic Anglo-Australians—have developed a deeply irrational sense of guilt. They seem to have succumbed to decades-long propaganda promulgated by a small number of very vocal activists (mostly from the extreme left) pushing the view that Australia’s prosperity has been built on the back of social and racial injustice and oppression. The fact even the least well-off people here are immensely better off than 99 per cent of the rest of the world has stubbornly managed to remain outside of the public consciousness. It is so easy to take the things we have for granted.

There is also a not-insignificant section of the Australian community who are too shy or too intimidated to venture an alternative view, to defend the remarkable achievements of an extraordinarily egalitarian nation which has warmly embraced people representing every known race or ethnicity on Earth.

Somewhat paradoxically, this situation has left us—the new Australians, the many immigrants from all over the world—to speak up for the true greatness of Australia. Having the background of our earlier pre-Australia lives gives us a perspective that many native-born Australians lack. It gives us a sense of reality, the ability to truly appreciate the Australian miracle. We do not take for granted the freedoms, the rights, the opportunities, and the unparalleled prosperity that Australia offers.

Much as there is that unites the three ‘immigrant songs’ in terms of how Australia and Australians are perceived by immigrants to this country, it is necessary to bear in mind that the three books represent three rather different points in time from Australia’s recent history. Being more than half a century apart from each other, it is fair to say the Australia of Weird Mob is in many ways rather different from the Australia of The Lucky Country. Today’s Australia is much larger and considerably more prosperous than the Australia of 1950s and the 1960s, and its citizens enjoy some of the world’s highest living standards. But this undeniable success may have come at a rather high cost. This success may have in part been responsible for abandoning some of the defining values of Weird Mob’s Australia.

One of the things which Weird Mob’s main character finds most impressive about Australians is their individual freedom. He admires Australians’ freedom of speech: no one gets arrested when a public speaker stands up and declares that “Bob Menzies and his party should all be stood up against a wall and shot”. According to Weird Mob, “[t]he grumbling, growling, cursing, profane, laughing, beer drinking, abusive, loyal-to-his-mates Australian is one of the few free men left on this earth” (my emphasis).

We have witnessed an ever-growing erosion of individual freedom.

One of the things which The Lucky Country finds particularly troubling in today’s Australia is the ever-diminishing level of personal freedom. Many people fail to appreciate that most of the remarkable achievements of Western Civilisation over the past two or three centuries—industrial, technological, cultural—are very closely tied to the rise of individual freedom. Freedom empowered the ordinary person and unleashed an unprecedented surge of inventiveness, creativity, and artistic talent. Would the four working-class boys from Liverpool have evolved as The Beatles in an unfree society, would we have had The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin? Would we have had college dropouts launching an IT revolution from their garages and creating a technological future inconceivable to even the wildest imagination?

EROSION OF FREEDOM

One regrettable consequence of the West’s prolonged prosperity is that it has led to a shift in the West’s value system. Nowadays many people in Australia (and the West more broadly) seem to value personal safety and personal comfort much more than freedom. Indeed, over the past several decades we have witnessed a disturbing process of an ever-growing erosion of individual freedom. Contemporary Western societies are now a lot less free than they were 20 or 30 years ago; certainly a lot less free than Australia at the time of Weird Mob. We have seen an unrelenting trend to impose more-and-more boundaries and restrictions on how people live their lives, on people’s capacity to make their own decisions, to manage their own affairs—presumably all done in the name of our wellbeing. This disturbing trend came to a climax of sorts during the pandemic when we saw Governments assume extraordinary powers and strip the public of even the most basic rights and freedoms. Even more disturbingly, the public accepted this abuse of power (almost) without any resistance. Most seemed comfortable to give up their freedom and allow the Government to control practically every aspect of their lives. Like sheep in search of a shepherd…

Alas, the erosion of freedom is not the only point of difference between Weird Mob’s Australia and today’s Australia. The Lucky Country points to yet another very troubling cultural shift: pure emotion, rather than careful and thoughtful consideration of the facts, has become the ultimate (and often only) determinant in decision making about serious issues that affect us.

All this seems to be a part of a broader cultural revolution taking place across the whole Western world; a revolution coming from above, conducted by the political and media elites; a revolution involving the forcible imposition of a new value system, a new morality which is completely unaligned with empirical facts, completely detached from reality. In The Lucky Country I point out that much of the West’s unparalleled success can be attributed to its insatiable quest for knowledge. That is now over. A mindless new religion has chosen to abandon, indeed to unlearn, the immense body of knowledge derived over centuries of scientific exploration and rational thought.

The ‘liberal’ in ‘liberal democracy’ is just about to disappear.

As Canadian author and broadcast presenter Mark Steyn famously once said, societies can become too stupid to survive.

An increasingly intolerant new thinking—a new form of totalitarianism, a brutal cancel culture—severely punishes anyone who dares to voice a view which even remotely departs from the new progressive ideology. They get ‘cancelled’, publicly ostracised, and lose their jobs and livelihood.

The Lucky Country paints a rather pessimistic picture of contemporary Australia. We see mountains of public and private indebtedness, very little or no political leadership, no clear vision for the future of this country, let alone the will and determination to pursue it. Instead, we see the country’s elites embrace a mindless and very destructive new ideology representing a new model of totalitarianism. We see the inexorable attrition of individual freedom. The ‘liberal’ in ‘liberal democracy’ is just about to disappear. One wonders what will happen to the ‘democracy’ part once ‘liberal’ is gone.

Can we, the immigrants, be Australia’s saving grace, asks The Lucky Country. We, the immigrants, have not abandoned reason; we have not lost our common sense. We, the immigrants, have a much greater appreciation of the unparalleled achievements of Western Civilisation. Having typically come from countries which are to one degree or another unfree, we, the immigrants, value individual freedom a lot more than native-born Australians.

In essence, The Lucky Country contends that we need to hear more ‘immigrant songs’. The only way forward that The Lucky Country can see is for immigrants and for ‘Quiet Australians’ more generally to stop being quiet and to become vocal. Let us not forget that the people carrying the new cultural revolution are a tiny minority. Yes, an extremely powerful and vocal minority, but a minority nonetheless. If we, the Quiet Australians, chose to raise our voices even a little, we will drown out the new high priests’ hysterical screams.

Australia well and truly deserves that. Bloody oath it does.

Italian canecutters arrive at Cairns aboard the Aurelia, 1956.

Italian canecutters arrive at Cairns aboard the Aurelia, 1956.
Source: National Archives of Australia

Christo Moskovsky was born in Bulgaria in the 1950s and spent the first half of his life under communism until the collapse of the Soviet empire in the late 1980s. Christo moved to Australia in the early 1990s to undertake a doctoral program in linguistics on a Federal Government scholarship at the University of Newcastle. Christo recently retired from there after a 25-year tenure as a linguistics lecturer.

* This article contains excerpts from The Lucky Country: Reflections and Reminiscences of a Long-Term Immigrant, published by Connor Court in February, 2022.

This article from the Winter 2022 edition of the IPA Review is written by recently retired academic Christo Moskovsky.

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