The Lucky Culture: Catering for the Australian Dream

Australia is a lucky country that has a lucky culture. And if you don’t believe that look at the photo to the left: (From left: former Prime Minister John Howard, author and chief opinion editor of The Australian, Nick Cater, Caitlin O’Sullivan, columnist Janet Albrechtsen, former Liberal Party powerbroker Michael Kroger, and 7.30 Presenter Leigh Sales. Photo by John Feder: The Australian).
Politics, power and journalism, and not a latte-sipping leftie in sight. There weren’t many at the function, unless you count me, and I drink instant coffee and the occasional flat white. The launch last week saw a good roll-up of journos, politicians and business people, including Niki Savva, Arthur Sinodinos, Warren Brown, Rebecca Weisser (Nick’s partner), Troy Bramston, Paul Kelly, Malcolm Colless, Brian Toohey, Gerard and Anne Henderson, Peter Coleman and Judith Sloan, to name just a dozen of the 150 or so who were at the Art Gallery of NSW.
Shona Martyn, publishing director at HarperCollins Australia, called the book a “barbecue stopper,” said it was already on the best seller lists, and Rupert Murdoch loved it. She said he asked her to send a box of copies to New York, and read a statement from the Chairman of News Corp: “The Lucky Culture is a great book and particularly relevant as it comes in a moment of high political excitement. I particularly loved Nick Cater′s passion for the great Australian dream. It is the first step in restoring that dream.”
Whew, when your boss says something like that about your book, all your Christmases come at once. Then to add to that warm glow, the publisher hands over to a former prime minister, John Howard, who says Murdoch gave him a copy to read, and launches The Lucky Culture by saying it is “a very, very important book. It’s well written and an easy read.” (Before I go any further, I have to disclose Nick Cater is a long-time mate of mine, and I helped get him a job in Australia by introducing him to another friend, then editor-in-chief of a News Limited newspaper.)
Mr Howard agrees with Cater that human rights is a “debased currency,” courtesy of the new ruling class, and a “morally snobbish intellectual” one as well. The former PM also said: “Despite their very best endeavours, human rights practitioners have failed to unearth convincing evidence of institutionalised discrimination in any layer of public life in Australia.” Well, I could have said but was too polite to interject, that the Coalition failed to unearth convincing evidence of weapons of mass destruction in any layer of Iraq either.
He went on to say: “Human rights and issues reduced to simple claims of anti-discrimination have become a new weapon with which to bludgeon people in this country, whether they’re in public life or otherwise, who dissent from the new elite’s view of what is morally acceptable. You see it emerging in debates surrounding issues such as same sex-marriage … such as border protection. How can you possibly be in favour of this because it goes against human rights.”
So it’s not surprising that John Howard considers border protection “the greatest policy failure of this government by a country mile.” He also had a go at politicians who never had any job outside politics, comparing the Chifley and Menzies governments where soldiers, farmers, barristers, accountants and the like dominated the Cabinet. He praised Cater for bringing together the strands of the story of the ruling class and exposing “a morally superior, dismissive, sneering group in Australia.”
It’s a book that’s attracting acclaim from many conservatives. The Opposition Leader and the growing favourite for Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, reviewed The Lucky Culture in the Spectator Australia and called it a “beautifully written and perceptive book” and a “personal reflection by a refugee from Thatcherism, now a born-again conservative …”
Mr Abbott says Cater sees “a powerful new commentariat, dominant in the media, academic and public administration, that is every bit as condescending as the aristocracy he left behind in Britain. In contemporary Australia, the worst snobbery is not directed towards people of lower status, he says, but towards people of different opinions. He thinks that this ‘my opinion must be better than yours’ conceit is putting at risk the egalitarianism that’s at the heart of Australians’ sense of self.”
But the Opposition Leader doesn’t agree that a new ruling class has been created: “Happily, the book’s subtitle, ‘The Rise of an Australian Ruling Class’ is not entirely substantiated. Cater correctly identifies the cultural self-doubt verging on self-loathing that permeates much of our media and higher education. As he clearly demonstrates, though, most Australians are cheerfully resistant to these national and civilisational neuroses.”
But if you only have time to read one review before you decide to buy this book, I recommend Peter Craven’s superb critique of The Lucky Culture in the latest Weekend Australian (May 11-12). The founding editor of the Quarterly Essay is one of the best critics in Australia, and very readable. Witness this summary of Cater’s book: “The Lucky Culture is a vigorous, impassioned and polemical work, full of enthusiasms and discontents, by a man who as one of the editors of The Australian has always seemed to stand for the breadth of the national daily, not its firebrand side. That said, the book is a conservative forensic attack on that fraction of Australian society – the latte-sipping inner-urban wankers – that its author thinks is white-anting the commonwealth. It is a fascinating and red-blooded articulation – more particularly if you happen to be, as I am, a left-liberal-leaning parasite of the crumbling terrace belt – of how the other lot think or feel (or think they feel; it can get confusing with the likable Cater) about the irritating enemy.”
Craven says Cater gets some things wrong, for example, calling historian Manning Clark a Marxist. He “was a left liberal; he did write a sentimental book about the Soviet Union and he did have a close relationship with a communist defector. But a Marxist, nothing like.”
He is also critical of the author for being so scathing about the educated. “They are a ‘self-appointed elite’ who assume some citizens who are educated are smarter than the rest and ‘therefore their opinion should carry greater weight.’ The upshot is a ‘hubris’ where education becomes “a commodity purchased for the purpose of self-advancement’ and that this makes ‘the educationally credentialled citizen entitled to look down on the educationally deprived.’ … Of course it may be true that a politician who has not been to university – a Winston Churchill, say, or a Paul Keating – may be better endowed to lead a country, than one who has, just as a degree-less Gideon Haigh or a Robert Hughes may write better journalism. But for heaven’s sake, education does not therefore cease to have value, often of a definitive kind.”
I could not agree more. And I wholeheartedly endorse Peter Craven’s conclusion that “anyone who cares about Australian society will want to buy The Lucky Culture to argue through the vision of Australia it projects.”
There are those who do not like Cater’s vision: Bob Ellis, for instance. The author, playwright and former ALP speechwriter thinks the book should be pulped. This is part of his rant on his blog, Table Talk: “I have just seen Nick Cater on Q & A and am inclined to sue him … and to ask his publishers to pulp it pending discussions with me on how it should be rewritten. What a loathesome (sic) shallow Murdochist piece of Pommy filth he is entirely. “
And Nick Cater had a torrid time on that particular episode of Q & A on April 29. Here’s a sample:

TONY JONES: And just to bring you really to the point of the question there, I mean, is it your contention that if you go through university and come out the other side as a conservative that you are not part of the pernicious new elite that you are talking about?

NICK CATER: No. Let me say quite clearly that’s absolutely not what I am saying, Tony. I don’t know whether you had a chance to read the book at length…

TONY JONES: I did. I am not recommending it but I did read it.


JAMIE BRIGGS: That’s only because you’re not allowed to.

TONY JONES: We’re not allowed to recommend books, as you know.

NICK CATER: You’re not allowed to recommend books.

TONY JONES: It would be a commercial.

Nick Cater loves Australia. Ever since I’ve known him as a researcher/producer in the Seven Network London bureau in the early eighties, he’s wanted to come Down Under. It’s not a crime to be successful as a foreign correspondent in Asia, the editor-in-chief of The Weekend Australian, the chief opinion editor of The Australian, and now a best-selling author. He might be suffering from Tall Poppy Syndrome, following the reaction from some of the left. I don’t agree with everything he’s written, but he wants to start a debate because Australia thrives on discussion. “In that spirit,” he writes, “I do not expect everyone to agree with everything I have to say, and I sincerely hope that vigorous debate will ensure. I hope the discussion will continue on my website – – where correspondence will be gladly entered into and clarifications noted.”
I came to Australia on a free trip and to get as far away from Richard Nixon and Vietnam as I could, and I fell in love with the country and its egalitarian culture. It just so happens we had the same culture in my hometown, Philadelphia. Many times I have said, and heard it said of me: “You can take the boy out of West Philly, but you can’t take the West Philly out of the boy.”
A few years ago, I was a passenger in a Sydney taxi – in the front seat, of course – when the driver, who was a middle-aged Chinese man, nearly ran into another car, trying to avoid hitting a vehicle that stopped suddenly. The driver made a gesture of apology to the young, trendily dressed bloke in a late model convertible, who shouted angrily as he drove alongside: “What do you know. You’re just a taxi driver. That’s all you can do. You’re nothing.” This led me to respond with some good old-fashioned West Philly swearing, saying the driver was making an honest living, and worth ten of you. This young bloke, a member of the sneering class, was left speechless, never expecting such a thunderous response.
The driver and I shook hands as I got out of the taxi at my destination. “Thank you,” he said. “The pleasure was all mine,” I said. It was.
I am allowed to recommend books. This one is worth reading.

Tom Krause is the series producer of The Observer Effect, a new long form interview program, hosted by Ellen Fanning, to be broadcast on SBS on Sunday nights at 8.30pm ET, starting June 2. His views are his own, always have been.

4 thoughts on “The Lucky Culture: Catering for the Australian Dream

    • Kym, Thank you for those kind words. Sorry, I only got to see your comment a few days ago. I’ve been busy on the SBS gig. However, it ends in two weeks, and I will go back to writing my blog. I saw Gordon Westcott and Kieran Gill at SBS on the 30th anniversary of the Aussie victory in the America’s Cup, and we reminisced, as old journos do. Hope you are well. Cheers, Tom

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