A Nation’s Psyche

COVID seems to have done to Australia what no other calamity did

Every nation cherishes an image of itself. We are often told that Australia’s was formed on the beaches of Gallipoli, but it’s older and more complex than that. Long before the Australian union, the people of the Australian colonies developed self-images of their own, in great variety. Few directly referred to the “convict stain,” but almost all stressed our independent spirit, our impudent mockery of authority, and our strength and toughness in the face of adversity.

When the states finally agreed to form a federation they drew many of their constitutional ideas from the United States and chose to call their new union a Commonwealth, which is actually a very respectable English translation of the Latin term res publica. That choice reveals that there was a tension, as there still is, between our nation as a monarchy and as a republic. I can’t recall who first coined the expression “crowned republic,” but it’s an apt term to describe the unique Australian political compromise.  To paraphrase Sinatra, we did it our way.

COVID seems to have done what no other calamity succeeded in doing. It has affected the psyche of the nation. Clive James reportedly claimed that Australia’s problem is not that there are too many descendants of convicts, but too many of the offspring of their jailers and prison officers. That may not always have been fair comment, but it looks truer now, when the platitudinous PC nostrums of our bosses and betters dominate our lives. Not enough smiling, self-reliant Indians; far too many chiefs!

I hate “we’re all in this together.” Actually, we’re not. If you have a government job, or a job sustained by government contracts (think sign writers – haven’t they done well!), you probably feel fairly comfortable. If your work was in hospitality or retail, you may already have lost your job or business. Or else you’re nervous for your future. A blind man on a galloping horse could have seen hard times coming as early as February or March, but on day of reckoning will we ask ourselves why we sacrificed so much for so little?

So little? Sorry, but yes. The Spanish Flu pandemic 100 years ago killed 50 million at a time when the world’s population was a quarter of its present total. It affected all age groups, not just the elderly. If Victoria declares a “state of disaster” now, what reserves of vocabulary remain to describe something like the 1919-20 outbreak, or (heaven forbid) another major war?

The mass media and so-called celebrities have given poor leadership. Some journalists and public figures have urged restraint, but not the ones who catch the headlines. A kind of passive and subservient “wokeness” dominates discussion. Not only are we advised to wear masks, but we are told that it is ill-mannered or disrespectful not to do so. Here is the nanny-state in full flower. There is no science in requiring people to wear masks when on their own in public, but it is declared polite to do so — and of course it makes policing easier! What an appalling decline in standards: ordinary people are no longer to be trusted to manage their own lives and justice has been subverted.

In failing to report death rates and in focusing only on total numbers, the mass media have skewed public opinion and heightened fear. Raw numbers alone are terrifying unless seen in context. 4,058 people died in the State of Victoria in October last year, before the COVID outbreak, and September this year has seen 3,825 deaths. How do COVID-related deaths look against that backdrop?

I’m not denying the seriousness of COVID for many, particularly the elderly. But when the final score is worked out, and weighed against the cost in ruined lives and livelihoods, and the degradation of human rights and liberties, will it all seem worthwhile?


David Daintree was President of Campion College (Australia’s only Catholic liberal arts college) from 2008 to 2012. In 2013 he founded and is now Director of the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies, under the patronage of the Archbishop of Hobart.

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