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The Australian Whinge Has Become The Cultural Cringe

By Pearl Bullivant on November 4, 2011 in Other

Australians like to portray themselves as a population of stoic people, but the recent furore over the carbon tax portrays Australians as a bunch of myopic whingers who refuse to alter their ‘lifestyle’ for the sake of future generations.


Five years ago, middle class Australians were more than happy to embrace Al Gore and his Inconvenient Truth roadshow. Pseudo bohemians all over the Eastern Suburbs were fighting over their soy chai lattes to be selected as Al Gore Climate Crisis Ambassadors.

At the same time, the Dalai Lama and his Path to Happiness message was drawing huge crowds amongst the stockbroker and accounting set, and John Howard was about to be knocked off his gilded perch over his archaic Work Choices legislation, refusal to sign the Kyoto treaty and his denial of global warming.

Organic baby stores were popping up in every Eastern Suburbs shopping strip and, in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis, fashionistas proudly became recessionistas, with neo-frugalism becoming the ‘lifestyle’ choice of the self-respecting yuppie. All the while, Pearl was predicting that this environmental zeal would become yet another shallow trend to amuse the bored middle class – and, how right I was!

Five years on, and what a short memory Australians have. Worship of Al Gore has been replaced by worship of Lord Monckton, an extremist who is derided in his own country yet embraced by Australians in complete denial. Climate change has become as untrendy and smelly as the once hip Birkenstocks and Crocs. It has become the inconvenient truth that threatens to prevent one being able to afford the latest Mercedes, the five-bedroom McMansion and the essential luxury holiday. Australians were prepared to embrace the heady ‘zen moments’ of climate change science, but only if it involved wearing trendy yoga gear and eating organic food. If it involved personal sacrifice, like a carbon tax, forget it.

On a recent trip to climb Mt Kinabalu (the essential ‘must do’ for old lefties) I realised just how pathetic affluent Australians had become. Until that trip I’d never suffered from the ‘cultural cringe’. Not even a plane load of marauding league players on a flight to Hawaii or the sight of my second husband (not second for long!) cracking open a can of VB on a 6am flight from Auckland could raise those skinny shoulders up to my ears. But cringe was all I could do when I opened the Borneo Post and read that Australians in Paddington were doing it tough; that lack of impulse shopping meant that we were suffering and that “people are really honest about it. They are becoming a lot more comfortable in saying ‘We’re struggling’”.

Struggling?! In the same newspaper, Malaysians were being urged to conserve money and resources and to live within their means because the government had no control over the cost of living! No wonder refugees in the deplorable Malaysian refugee camps were more than happy with Julia Gillard’s ‘Malaysian Solution’. I’d be champing at the bit to get to Australia if ‘struggling’ meant not being able to afford luxury goods.

We live in a country where botox is enjoyed by the masses, but we whinge about the price of electricity. We prefer tax cuts and a European car to living within our means. Australians might all band together in times of crisis but wouldn’t it be better (and cheaper) if we made small sacrifices to prevent the crisis occurring in the first place? We’d prefer to wait until it’s too late. To quote the Greens: “there’s no jobs on a dead planet”.