Thursday, 10 May 2007

An Australian Experience-egalitarian to the bone

Australians sometimes went out of their ways to make the impression of egalitarianism stick. One best approach is to show that people here ultimately receive same treatments regardless of their positions in the society. The long-serving popular Labour Prime Minister Bob Hawke once had a taste of this "star treatment". He was caught on TV not wearing a seat belt during an interview in a moving government car. The local police soon came out to defend justice and issued him a ticket of 200 AUD fine for that offence. Hawke didn't seem to mind that at all, a small amount in his language, for that incident may well have convinced people that his leader position did not get him any favours in this land of legal equality. Further to prove this point, the journalist who interviewed Hawke also got a ticket. The exercise of equal treatment is complete and perfected in this saga. Perhaps partly for such popularised media showing, Hawke did not fail to keep his image of an ordinary Aussie bloke by once personally going to a car dealer in Doncaster, Melbourne, to pick up a brand new BMW after he left government and federal politics.
People have a matured indifferent attitude towards some showing of wealth. At a small post office, I used a friend's address to post a package overseas. The old postman at the counter spot the name of that well known beach esplanade and casually mentioned that he had a holiday house in a close-by area, also well known for beach views and open space. Then we engaged in a casual chat like neighbours about sites and scenes over there. It just makes one think that this society is quite egalitarian that average working people, if making smart household finances and not indulging themselves too much, they would be able to enjoy wonderful life and comfort coming with it. It is absolutely not a hard life and provides many benefits to people who do honest work. When most things are affordable, people here naturally see less value in extreme luxuries and extravagance.
The line got blurred also because of the mobility of labour and talents. Even between cities and the countryside, there are similar living and working conditions. An acquaintance ensured me that there is no problem going to stay with him in a northern Victorian country town, living in essential conditions matching that in Melbourne. This brilliant guy boarded at the prestigious Scotch College after his father and studies law at the Melbourne University. While doing legal work he met a beautiful country girl in northern Victoria, fell in love, got married, and stayed there practicing. This back and forth between country and city demonstrates an absence of boundary for people to cross in their career and life, so that they could expect change of course and do not fear of being locked in a particular place and stratum.
It is undeniable that differences among social groups exist in real life, if we don't blindly fall for fantasies of utopia. The social divide surfaces not only in income gaps, but also in districts people choose to reside. In Melbourne, this choice is called the right side of the Yarra, implying good residential areas of the south east. I had fielded some jokes from Aussie friends about the first choice of house buying at the wrong side of the Yarra, to the north; to correct that innocent mistake, the next house should be in some reputable suburbs instead. Sydney and other major cities have their own local areas of choices. These perceptions are deep in people's mind and futile to resist. Impressions of a place often depend on which parts of the city you first encounter. I once attended a conference in Sydney and happened to find accommodation in a kind of shabby house belonging to an associate within a neighbourhood of ugly street scape. Another friend owns a house in a far away suburb, passing miles of gum trees at both sides of the roads, quite a treat of country style. But if one starts looking from a residence in north shore of the harbour or Manly which screams a good life, things become quite pleasant and worry free. It does take time to discern imperceptible differences in choices and visible boundaries, and making gloomy comments from temporary initial impressions also tens to miss the mark. For this reason alone, my observations of Sydney are quite limited, as a non-Sydney-sider would sensibly do.
Australians in this classless society still harbour curiously expectant craving of recognition or high regard from certain quarters of the outside world. Even with fading connections with British royals and growing tide of republicanism, ordinary people are keen on reading about glimpses or signs of royal occasions and links. Magazines with sections of tabloid stories of the British royal family and bestselling books on royal figures have almost guaranteed good sales. The prestigious Geelong Grammar, outside Melbourne, is forever more prestigious in Australia for once housing an extraordinary royal student, Prince Charles of Britain. A Tasmanian girl became Princess Mary through marrying Prince Fredrik of Denmark. This modern day fairytale coming true excited the Australia public and the media, causing unprecedented waves of well wishing from the Prime Minister down to local folks. News media follow the event inch by inch and throw out some bits of the Princess' itinerary from time to time, long after the royal wedding completed. It seems that these kinds of bond with a European royal family are deemed to be proud of, at least for the reason of adding something spicy to a good but dull time here. Those extravagant, fancy affairs stand against the plain origins and backgrounds of Australia.
It takes one to visit and stay in Australia to fully appreciate how wonderful and blessed a place this is. Unique in climate variety, clean natural environment, and established urban centres make live remarkably comfortable. Adding egalitarianism, social democratic traditions, and abundant resources, Australians have good reasons to boast their fortunes and to certify Australia's claim to be one of the best places in the world. The social factors prove decidedly significant and persuasive, in that the society has retained an Australian fair go mentality based on European heritage of progressive politics, equality, and pursuit of quality life. It is highly crucial for Australia to become a more humane, multiculturalism, liberal minded (not Liberals), and progressive society, in this world of material madness and unilateralism. Australians are to remain confident, compassionate, and fair minded, those precious qualities which were central to their past endeavours, did their country credit, and are vital for their admired and sustainable future.

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