When I was a kid, the pictures on Saturday afternoons were a highlight of the week. Before the main feature, the cartoons and even the Pathe newsreel would come one of the top favourites, a government warning on the danger of keeping unexploded ammunition in homes. Mortar bombs often featured; unlike bullets and other aimed projectiles, they don’t miss and they wound anyone that’s exposed. These films had names like Not Worth Dying for and started with a picture of a mortar bomb on the mantelpiece, went to pipe smoking Dad accidentally knocking it over, the house going up with a roar, just the thing to put kids in the right frame of mind for the next episode of Gunsmoke.
Germain Greer has long been an icon on the mantelpiece of the Left and of Feminism but they might need to have a look at those old government films. Her article in last weekend’s AFR tackles Australia’s alleged love of plain speaking and inflicts casualties on all sides. Greer is non denominational; everyone gets a serve regardless of gender, age, education, ethnicity, etc. And this on the One Day of the Year set aside for mass smugness and feeling mightily pleased that we are not anyone else.
But it’s when we go dipping into the Rozella biscuit tin of history looking for precedents of our general fabulousness that we come up against some problems. Australians seem to have been more collectivist, more taciturn and instinctively aware of the limits on individual expression in the past and this hasn’t travelled so well to the present A former Malaysian Trade Minister once commented that Australians often told her how much they liked plain speaking but how they seemed to lose their enthusiasm for it quickly enough when they were on the receiving end.
And then there are the comparisons with the Americans. One of the staple cliches is how quietly spoken and unobtrusive we are as travellers compared with loud and pushy Americans but any time spent flying around Asia these days is going to make that notion questionable at least. A recent online article on doing business with the US advised Australians to be less aggressive and boastful, to “get the tickets off themselves”. If we’ve got the Americans telling us to tone it down, something is amiss in the self image department.
So let’s keep that mortar bomb on the mantelpiece – even if it’s a bit fat and old – and give it a good toss around every now and then. It might go off but then that’s what it’s designed to do.
Greg from Cottesloe