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Australian Story: Kevin Rudd and the Lucky Country: Quarterly Essay 36

Also of interest is the transcript of Robert Manne's QE lecture about the end of neo-lib Interesting to read in retrospect. Also of interest is the transcript of Robert Manne's QE lecture about the end of neo-liberalism, if you can get beyond the technical jargon used.

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It is a magazine in extended pamphlet form and by publishing in each issue a single writer of at least 20, words we hope to mediate between the limitations of the newspaper column, where there is the danger that evidence and argument can be swallowed up by the form, and the kind of full-length study of a subject where the only readership is a necessarily specialised one.

Quarterly Essay aims for the attention of the committed general reader. Although it is a periodical which wants subscribers, each number of the journal will be the length of a short book because we want our writers to have the opportunity to speak to the broadest possible audience without condescension or populist shortcuts.

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Quarterly Essay wants to get away from the tyranny that space limits impose in contemporary journalism and we will be giving our essayists the space to express the evidence for their views and those who disagree with them the chance to reply at whatever length is necessary. Quarterly Essay will not be confined to politics but it will be centrally concerned with it.


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We are not interested in occupying any particular point on the political map and we hope to bring our readership the widest range of political and cultural opinion which is compatible with truth-telling, style and command of the essay form. Mungo MacCallum is hardly typecast as the chronicler of the story of what has gone right and wrong about the business of immigration, regular and irregular, to this country but this most larrikin and cold-eyed of one-time Canberra chroniclers brings to this story all his wit and dryness and power of mind.


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MacCallum was famous in his heyday for the way he could raise the depiction of the follies of Canberra to the level of literature. He could tell his readers that there were moments when Bill Hayden irresistibly brought to mind the fact that he had once been a Queensland cop and he could quote Auden, at the drop of a hat, to illuminate, by contrast, the fatuity of some rambling condemnation of communist tyranny which was not wrong, just very silly.

He caught the human face of politics, in the days of Gorton and McMahon and Whitlam and Fraser, and he made it seem, through the medium of his imagination and the sharpness of his eye, like one of the most high and mighty farces on earth. No one who has ever read his account of how the Easter Island Fraser, a man of indomitable personal dignity, was upstaged and made a fool of by a motorbike freak I think in Tasmania could doubt the genius of this jester at the court of the kings of Dismissal. He did for Australian politics — from a vantage point that was at once insolent and engaged — what Gore Vidal did for the America of the Kennedys and Christopher Hitchens has done for the Britain of Thatcher and beyond.

He wore his personal style like a scalpel but he remained terrific fun even as he was rehearsing a satire that gained its force from his sense of appal at the thing which was being mocked and the truth which politics was distorting. And if Mungo was a clown, he was a serious clown with a higher quotient of truth than most of his contemporaries could muster.

Well, a clown who is also a truth teller has many faces, some of them grave indeed. But it is not, for all its latent vehemence, a pessimistic essay. MacCallum takes the dimmest possible view of what John Howard did when, as he says, he made his play for power against the odds, or rather when the Tampa sailing over the horizon provided him with the kind of opportunity he might have dreamt of.

Australian Story: Kevin Rudd and the Lucky Country: Quarterly Essay 36 ' MacCall | eBay

He suggests that the true parallel to John Howard is not Robert Menzies, the patriarch of the Australian Liberal Party, but the Little Digger who set Protestant against Catholic during the First World War and owed fealty to nothing but the prejudices he could bequeath and bestir. These are harsh insinuations though they have their precedent in remarks made by Malcolm Fraser during the election campaign though Mungo MacCallum also believes that John Howard was displaying the politics of conviction during the election a view shared by John Birmingham.

He begins by suggesting that we are all — probably even the Aborigines — boat people and then goes on, with a characteristic sideways motion, to tell the story, humorous and hopeful, of how that old ruffian Sir Henry Parkes reacted to a boat load of French and Italians in the light of his anti-Catholic prejudice. In entertaining fashion, MacCallum dissects the myths that made Australia- the idea of the Lucky Country, with endless pastures, a workingman's paradise, a new Britannia, and more.

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In newly uncertain times, MacCallum argues, Rudd has sought to tap into these myths, in the process reclaiming them from John Howard. Australian Story is both a canny assessment of the Rudd government's election-winning approach and a broader meditation on the nation's core traditions at a time of major change and challenge.

If the polls are to be believed, he is still seen as the best man for the job by an overwhelming majority of Australians. But why?


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