Spirit Of Mateship

Written by:
19 November 2021
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‘G’day, how ya’ goin’? is how cricketer Dennis Lillee greeted Queen Elizabeth, along with an out-stretched hand, when he met with her at Buckingham Palace in 1981.

Australia’s greatest fast bowler had good form in the area of breaking official protocol. 

Four years earlier, when the Queen was in Melbourne for the centenary cricket test between England and Australia, Lillee asked for her autograph. His request was politely declined, but apparently a couple of weeks later Her Majesty sent a signed photo of herself. The relaxed and irreverent attitude of Lillee captures something fundamental about who we are as Australians. 

There is nowhere else in the world that a long-haired, moustache-sporting, dishevelled looking sportsman from a predominantly working-class colony could playfully thumb his nose at authority. And get away with it.

Yet to Australians, the interaction was unremarkable. We look everyone in the eye and shake their hand. The interaction between Lillee and the Queen captures what is unique about the Australian way of life: egalitarianism.

Our sense of camaraderie and national solidarity is etched into the institutional make up of Australia.

The Australian colonies were some of the first places in the world to give every man the vote. 

They were also some of the first places to give women the vote and the right to run for parliament.

In 1856 Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia pioneered the use of the “secret ballot” which is necessary to secure the principle of “one person, one vote”. The basic idea is that no matter your race, religion, gender, or family’s last name, we all get to have our say on the big issues facing the nation’s future.

We had our say twice, in 1916 and 1917 over the life and death issue of military conscription. 

We had our say in the 1967 referendum which resulted in indigenous Australians being counted as equals alongside the non-indigenous. 

And we had our say in the 1999 referendum on the question of Australian becoming a republic. The point is not the outcome of those votes, but that everyone was dignified with the opportunity to have their voices heard. Our commitment to egalitarianism is also expressed in the basic habits and customs of the typical punter. 

The shout of a round of drinks.

Passing the plate at church. The belief that everyone should own their own home and that your home is your castle. The “drop in” custom when surfing. Your boss letting you knock off early on a hot summer’s Friday afternoon.

And most fundamentally, it means never leaving your mate behind, as eternally remembered with the Kokoda Track motto “courage, mateship, sacrifice, endurance.” But in recent times the spirit of egalitarianism has been waning, most apparently through the Covid restrictions. 

While the political class repeated the slogan “we are all in this together”, it was apparent that there was one set of rules for them and another for everyone else. 

Black Lives Matter protestors commandeered city streets in contravention of the stay-at-home rules, while those living in the suburbs couldn’t go to work. 

Sports and movie stars could traverse international and state borders, but those seeking medical care or wanting to see family were blocked. 

Public servants received pay rises while private sector workers and those in small businesses especially lost jobs and took pay cuts. 

Recent research released by the Institute of Public Affairs, for example, estimated that during the lockdowns in 2020, 570,000 private sector jobs were destroyed while 22,100 public sector jobs were created. 

That means 26 jobs were destroyed in the private sector for each job created in the public sector. That’s not the Australia we grew up in.

Perhaps more concerningly is the growing use of critical race theory in public life and schools. Critical race theory, which teaches that what matters most is someone’s skin colour, gender, or race is fundamentally divisive. 

It leads to Australians judging one another based on differences which we cannot change, rather than uniting us around our shared values.

It is critical race theory that has, amongst other things, led radical activists to demand that Australia Day be abolished, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Australians want the date to stay on 26 January each year. As lockdowns end and we can finally head to the front bar and the cricket once again, let’s recover the spirit of mateship and egalitarianism that made Australia the greatest country in which to live and raise a family.

Daniel Wild is director of The Centre for the Australian Way of Life at the Institute of Public Affairs.

The themes in this piece are elaborated on in an essay recently published in Essays for Australia, available at ipa.org.au/essays

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