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Australian story : Kevin Rudd and the lucky country

by Mungo MacCallum

Series: Quarterly Essay (Nº 36)

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In this Christmas issue of Quarterly Essay , Mungo MacCallum investigates political leadership in Australia, past and present. This is a characteristically barbed and perceptive look at the challenges facing the Rudd Government and Australia. MacCallum argues that the things we used to rely on are not there anymore.… (more)
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http://shawjonathan.wordpress.com/2009/12/05/mungo-on-kevin/

This essay is mainly interested in the nature of Kevin Rudd's appeal to voters. It discusses policy, of course. It also quotes poetry, mainly bush verse, including a savage parody of 'Clancy of the Overflow':

He was poisoning the water when he chanced upon a slaughter
So he joined in patriotically to massacre and rape
And he sees the vision splendid of the native problem ended
and a land made safe for cattle from Tasmania to the Cape.

It takes the odd potshot at contrarian rightwing columnists. It produces some fabulous quotes, including for example a definition of a modern progressive as 'a fella that stumbles forward every time somebody shoves him'. (Sadly there are no footnotes, so we often don't know what wits are being quoted – I'm guessing Mungo himself did the Paterson parody.)

That is to say, there's a lot to enjoy. There's also substance – of an airy sort. It discusses Rudd's policies, and his largely successful response of the Great Recession (as Robert Manne calls it later in the book), but mainly it argues that he taps into some deeply held myths about what it means to be Australian – egalitarianism, fairness, the larrikin–dutiful citizen dichotomy, that reluctant progressiveness, 'fervent, if understated, nationalism'. 'For all his nerdiness and prolixity,' MacCallum concludes,

there is something very Australian about him, and the voters recognise it. In a totally unexpected way, Rudd has given them back their Lucky Country – and this time not in a spirit of irony, but one of self-belief.

Hmmm ... But I enjoyed the ride.

This issue also includes the 2009 Quarterly Essay Lecture, 'Is Neo-Liberalism finished?' a search for the meaning of the Great Recession by Robert Manne. The lecture isn't as much fun as the title essay, covers some of the same ground, occasionally manages to be incomprehensible when explaining how the Great Recession came about. Where MacCallum takes cheerfully bitter potshots, Manne eviscerates in earnest.

And then there's correspondence about Noel Pearson's Radical Hope which over all confirms that Pearson's conversation is mainly with conservative white leaders, but also shows him as eager to do more than simply pontificate as a lone voice. ( )
  shawjonathan | Dec 4, 2009 |
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In this Christmas issue of Quarterly Essay , Mungo MacCallum investigates political leadership in Australia, past and present. This is a characteristically barbed and perceptive look at the challenges facing the Rudd Government and Australia. MacCallum argues that the things we used to rely on are not there anymore.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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