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The mealy-mouthed quality in Australian life

By Malcolm King - posted Tuesday, 16 June 2020

The Australian novelist David Foster once said, "I'm not a nice guy. I don't even want to be a nice guy. I have to over-correct for the mealy-mouthed quality in contemporary Australian life."

Of late - and maybe this is a psycho-social side effect of the Coronavirus – I too have lacked felicity, as the veils of delusion have fallen to show the true state of the Australian character. Foster is right, the laconic Australian has been replaced by an obsequious toadyism.

It's a generalisation (can it be anything else?) but we have become a rag tag band of self-interested, mealy-mouthed yahoos, who walk and talk like the bourgeoisie but who have nothing to sell but our mediocrity.


I can forgive the folks on the hill when they say things like, 'we're all in this together', as they swing the Maserati in to the drive in Vaucluse or Toorak. It's much harder to forgive the financial services industry, who pirated millions of dollars from people with illegal fees and criminal financial advice.

To shore up the ruins of myself and my generation, I tell myself the old family stories of Uncle Bob flying his Lancaster over Germany, bringing back a wounded crew or of my stepfather, Peter, firing his colt like Ned Kelly, as the Japanese charged through the jungle camp in Bougainville.

I'm looking for the antidote to the mealy-mouthed virus, to the awful whining of the cultural left, to the extraordinary bitchiness and self-interest of the Boomer generation.

I know the foundation stories, the myths and the realities, from settlement to Curtin to Keating to Howard and beyond. From Paul Kelly at The Australian to Paul Kelly of 'From St Kilda to Kings Cross'.

I used to take comfort that we were children of those men and women who had survived, 'the hardest years, the wildest years, the desperate and divided years,' as Midnight Oil once sang.

But that was yesteryear and whatever we are, we ain't the tough nuts. We're soggy beer nuts.


Of course, my disillusionment may be part of an existential breakdown but I think not. It appears to me, as an observer of Australian life over the last 40 years, that we have decanted the best of our natures, poured it on the ground and kept the lees.

We used KPIs which quantified our progress (high salary, holiday house, shares) over qualities such as community, family and well-being. That sounds like it was written by a Greenie fire-twirler from Melany, who I have little in common with - or maybe I do.

In the late 1970s and 80s, we re-calibrated our universities and TAFE's to focus on quantification and the pursuit of money. Universities pursued international students like a hound chasing a fox. That has all gone pear-shaped now.

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About the Author

Malcolm King is a journalist and professional writer. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University in Adelaide. He runs a writing business called Republic.

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