Sunday, September 23, 2007

Advance Australia Where?, by Hugh Mackay

I read Reinventing Australia probably a decade ago and remember enjoying reading it. Sure, it showed the bland day-to-day life of Australia, but nonetheless it was a pretty interesting portrait of the way we lived.

For some reason or other, I didn't enjoy Advance Australia Where? Some parts of it I found really boring and could barely concentrate. It basically describes (amongst other things) Australia's addiction to so-called Information Technology. We love our computers and mobile phones. But the author worries that we're becoming 'disconnected' by it.

The book also goes into a lot of other social phenomenons, like women at work, the changes in attitude amongst young men, the higher rate of people living alone, the falling birth rate, women having children later in life. And on and on.

Hugh Mackay comments on all of these items, bringing his inoffensive, moderate leftish perspective (if I can lazily put it like that) to bear on these subjects. However well meaning he may be, I found he had barely anything of real interest to say.

When I got to the chapter on politics, and what he calls 'the dreamy period', I perked up and thought this might be of more interest. His thesis is that Australia has turned inward and sleepy over the last decade. I thought he would marshal lots of fascinating material from his interview subjects to give a compelling portrait of the nation politically, or apolitically.

But even this section fell flat for me. His talk that we may be finally turning away from 'the dreamy period', and his reasons for this, didn't really work for me. I don't think Australians are waking up from a torpor. I don't think John Howard put Australians to sleep over the past decade. Contradicting myself although, I have noted (read Judith Brett's Quarterly Essay on your typical Liberal voter) that lots of people vote for him because they are not interested in politics. His predecessor, Keating, seemed to politicise a lot of issues, and make people angry because of this. Howard let people 'relax' again and not worry.

I hate saying this about Hugh Mackay as I agree with him on a lot of issues, but there's something about his writing that I find mawkish. When I closed his book I thought, My God, imagine how dull one of his novels must be.

I'm sure Hugh has his committed readership who get a lot out of what he writes. I might just stick to his columns in future.

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