The difficult road to modernity
Boost to commerce & conservation in Oro

Australian resilience is an oxymoron

Scott Morrison and Gladys Berejiklian - existential threats to Australia
Scott Morrison and Gladys Berejiklian - incompetent politicians who are existential threats to Australia


NOOSA – This piece starts in Papua New Guinea, the place that taught me what resilience really means.

After my arrival in the country in 1963, one of the attributes that quickly endeared me to Papua New Guineans was their tenacity; even if it tended to be a tenacity conditional on whether people were convinced that what they were asked to do was meaningful.

Most Melanesians were then, and are now, tough people living in a tough country. They’re living examples of the word ‘stoic’.

The Stoic philosophy dates back to the third century BC and has much complexity. But the sense in which we use it today dates to Imperial Rome around the mid-first century AD.

This was when thinkers like Seneca, statesman, writer and all round fixer, promoted the doctrine that wise men are “utterly immune to misfortune and that virtue is sufficient for happiness.”

A Stoic would not whinge, a stoic would cop the bad luck and press on regardless.

Oh botherI never heard a lot of whinging from the Melanesian people I was with 60 years ago. I still don’t in the context of this blog.

No whinging from the women giving birth while working the fields on the sides of steep ridges.

No whinging from the men who early anthropologists noted were strong and constantly ready to deal with violence or ill fortune with action, courage, persistence and loyalty.

No whinging from the small children walking 10 kilometres barefoot to and from school, carrying only a kaukau to gnaw on all day.

I don’t know about others who came to Australia as kids like I did, but this Covid sociopathy I’m observing now reinforces something I’ve long felt about the place. It’s a bit brittle and its become a lot worse over the last 20-30 years.

There’s something about its people that evinces hardness but which at its essence quite frail and easy to break.

This description does not apply to everyone, of course, but it does seem to be a cultural tendency. Very different from the bold, laconic, resourceful frontier type we used to imagine ourselves to be.

Fresh from England in the early 1950s, with my age in single digits, I encountered this in the playground. The main interest in where I was from was to exploit the difference in the way I spoke.

The gentle Mancunian accent was an invitation to be bullied. In retrospect, it was an opportunity for me to toughen up.

But I was happy when the Germans and Greeks arrived in own and deflected that xenophobic behaviour their way.

QueueAt the time, Australian parents seemed solid and resilient. The men had just returned from war and in my eyes were straight-backed, tough and humorous. They were more like the Australians I encountered in the outposts of PNG when I arrived in the Highlands at age 18.

Many of the women I knew as a child were feisty and self-confident, perhaps they had learned and been proud that they could cope with a society under threat and with their men being absent at war for long periods.

Life had also been difficult in the depression that preceded the war. Tough times should breed tough people.

These thoughts passed through my mind yesterday morning when I heard, with great disdain, the New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian announce ‘freedom rewards’ for the people of the State because six million doses of Covid vaccine had been administered.

Mind you, the number of infected people had also risen sharply - shooting past one thousand.

CaptureNSW has never been fully locked down. The mockdown it did was too late, too weak, too confusing and did nothing to contain the spread of the virus.

And what a spread it was - first to Victoria, then Canberra and across the ditch to New Zealand, and worst of all into the Indigenous communities of western NSW, people most vulnerable to the disease.

And now Ms Berejiklian was celebrating a meaningless figure of six million shots as if it was an achievement of substance.

Let me be clear, the only relevant vaccination figure in NSW at the moment is 25% - which is the proportion of its population that has been fully vaccinated.

Good newsIn Australia, prime minister Scott Morrison has been floating a figure of 70% as something of a target for ‘opening things up’, right wing politicians call it 'freedom'.

But that's not a real 70% of the population, it's 70% of people over 16, which is cheating bigly given the hundreds of under 16s laid low by the disease over the last two months in NSW.

If that definition of 70% is accepted as the starting point for some kind of normalisation as Morrison has been urging, we should all be aware it's really just 56% of the total population that have been vaccinated.

The virus will have a field day.

In the United States, the target vaccination rate of the whole population for interrupting the virus’s chain of transmission is variously projected at 94% (by the Mayo Clinic), 90% (by the Infectious Diseases Society of America) and 85-90% (by the celebrated Dr Anthony Fauci).

So what’s this 70% (really 56%) other than some phony number to provide an excuse for relaxing limitations on mobility and letting Covid rip?

Some faux 'scientific' number to hasten a re-opening of the economy that will trigger first a Covid breakout and then an economic meltdown that will make the current challenges look like Toytown.

Capture1Yesterday Gladys Berejiklian, whose strategy for dealing with Covid seems driven by an overwhelming self-belief, eased some restrictions even as cases escalated 13% in a single day.

The truth is that NSW never locked down hard enough to contain and drive down the virus.

Because it was in dire straits, NSW got a special uplift in the amount of vaccine it received from the Federal government.

And then the six million number was dreamed up as the target for easing restrictions.

This was a ‘reward’ for reaching a meaningless figure. There’s nothing to celebrate in six million. No reward was required, deserved or even sane. Because, even as Berejiklian was ‘rewarding’ her constituents, the state she governed was going down the toilet.

Yesterday there were terrible numbers coming from Berejiklian’s derriere, no longer premier, state.

As Covid busted the millenary with 1,034 new cases since late June, deaths reached 79, 700 people hospitalised, 116 of them in intensive care, 43 of them on ventilators. Cases this wave total 15,700 - and counting rapidly.

Two million people fully vaccinated in a state of eight million where, to truly get on top of Delta, another five million need to get the full treatment. (Which lasts six months before its efficacy declines, probably needing a booster after 9-12 months.)

Capture2Nothing to reward in any of that, you’d think.

And Berejiklian brags that NSW (provided with tens of thousands more doses of the vaccine than any other state) has delivered more vaccinations than any other state. Duh!

About three-quarters of the cases in western NSW are amongst the, until now, barely inoculated Indigenous population. And 40% of them are under 16. Shameful is a word for that. Another word is negligent.

A real reward in NSW would be a display of competence by this arrogant, hubristic, blustering, bullshitting, bragging woman who represents an existential threat to the rest of Australia. And New Zealand. And Papua New Guinea.

Today we celebrate Australians' twenty months of whinging, especially about lockdowns; whinging as if whinging itself could open some magic door to relief.

And do the whingers tell us what we should do? They do not.

2023Because there’s only one logical answer to that question.

Which is that we stay locked down when we need to and continue to otherwise strive to drive down the virus spread until vaccinations get to at least 80% of the entire population throughout the entire country.

The freedom being sought now is free-dumb.

And vacuous whinging. A disheartening sign, perpetuated by mass media including a decaying ABC (which it pains me to say we can no longer trust), that 'Australian resilience' is no more than an oxymoron.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Bernard Corden

A wonderful response, Robert, that had Mike Rutherford's 'The Living Years' ringing in my ears:

Every generation
Blames the one before
And all of their frustrations
Come beating on your door

I know that I'm a prisoner
To all my Father held so dear
I know that I'm a hostage
To all his hopes and fears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years

Crumpled bits of paper
Filled with imperfect thought
Stilted conversations
I'm afraid that's all we've got

You say you just don't see it
He says it's perfect sense
You just can't get agreement
In this present tense
We all talk a different language
Talking in defence

Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It's too late when we die
To admit we don't see eye to eye

So we open up a quarrel
Between the present and the past
We only sacrifice the future
It's the bitterness that lasts

Robert Forster

I too have begun to worry that too many people under 40 have lost resilience, their stoicism replaced with almost permanent protestations of victimhood or singular public pursuit of obtuse identity.

I’m also aware that when as a teenager I grew hair that covered my ears and linked arms with girlfriends who wore the briefest of mini-skirts, many men who were the the same age I am now were raising their eyes to heaven and wondering whether the world they valued was spluttering towards a dark grey end.

It's strange that stoicism, simple acceptance of prevailing circumstances, may once again be recognised as a primary virtue.

Until five years ago I had regarded my own embedded grin-and-bear it attitude as a handicap because simply stomping on, despite the difficulties, stifled flexibility and curbed lateral thinking.

But right now I too worry that if those among the under 40’s - who pick up grievance within so much of what is said to them or just by being exposed to circumstances like the unavoidable Covid pandemic - if they don’t stiffen up before they reach critical points in society’s decision making ladder, their only way forward will be descent.

Just as worrying is the emerging political response to a habitually whinging young electorate that Keith outlined.

Now approaching my mid-70s I accept that much of the code that shaped me was picked up in my village Methodist Chapel.

I rejected its rituals at 18, and haven’t been back since, but my brothers agree that each of us have accepted that ingrained Calvinistic stoicism must be called on when times get tough.

Resilience was of course abundantly evident when I arrived in PNG. What else but resilience did a matriarch call on as she struggled up an endlessly steep mountain path with 80 or 100 pounds of kaukau in the bilum slung from her head?

Stoicism may linger longer in PNG even as Australia and other confused democracies lose their grit, fade and are overtaken.

Perhaps enough young people, in all countries, will be able to demonstrate perseverance and so maintain stability?

But perhaps many groups will dissolve into a morass of near permanent personal complaint.

And yes, I know, I am almost exactly echoing many of those people of my grandparent’s generation.

Bernard Corden

Dear Keith,

Oxy or Oxleymoron?

Lindsay F Bond

Hey Paul, full marks to the grazier who filmed his sheep flocking to feed lines shaped to send a visually recognisable message. He, at least, has heart.

Chris Overland

As an historian I have a special interest in the causes, course and consequence of war. I am especially interested in the character, motivation and achievements of those who end up in leadership roles.

My interest in war stems from the depressing fact that it is such a significant feature of human history. Also, it almost invariably is a great test of individual and national character and abilities.

Both my study of history and my personal experience have convinced me that significant adversity in its various forms always exposes the true nature and character of those forced to undergo it.

The Covid-19 pandemic is exposing us all to adversity in various forms ranging from death of loved ones through to the trials and tribulations of lockdowns.

As Keith has cogently argued, a large number of Australians have not borne up well to the various challenges it has brought with it.

Worse still, the anti-scientific and anti-intellectual elements of our society have revealed themselves as more numerous than we all might have wished. They appear to mostly be people with very little ability to engage in critical thinking combined with undue credulousness and naiveté.

These people are always amongst us but they remain largely invisible until events such as the pandemic expose them to situations they cannot properly comprehend and to which they react by making irrational choices.

Over the years I have both experienced and seen others experience traumatic and distressing events. In my experience, the reactions to such events fall into three broad categories.

In the first category are those people who simply panic. They tend to engage in various pointless behaviours like screaming, shouting, making irrational demands of others or frantic but useless physical activity or even violence.

This is startling to see and can greatly hinder efforts to develop and manage a rational response to the event.

A second category encompasses people who essentially become immobilised by a combination of shock, fear, anxiety or uncertainty. They may not be able to properly comprehend what has happened and are thus unable to formulate a rational or appropriate response. They tend to remain essentially passive, sometimes even in the face of great danger.

Fortunately, this category of person usually is amenable to direction or suggestion and so, with appropriate support and leadership, can take actions to protect themselves or others. This may or may not be accompanied by a certain amount of complaining or whinging.

There have been many examples of these two forms of behaviour seen amongst combat soldiers or people subjected to severe trauma in one form or another.

The third category encompasses those people who appear to be able to rationally assess the situation and respond appropriately even though they may be just as shocked or distressed as anyone else. These people are ‘rational actors’.

One important characteristic appears to be a capacity to compartmentalise their thoughts: they deliberately put their fear and anxiety to one side and continue to focus on doing whatever is needed to deal with the situation effectively.

I have seen some stunning examples of this type of person in my working life as a hospital manager and there are innumerable examples of this ability revealed during warfare.

This brings me back to Keith’s observations about how we have coped with the pandemic.

Using my categorisations I would suggests that the large majority of Australians fall into the second category.

While perhaps not fully comprehending the true nature of the threat confronting the country they have been willing to accept and adhere to the advice and directions of those in leadership positions.

Basically, they have listened to the experts and decided that, however grudgingly or uncertainly, they ought to comply with their advice.

The anti-vaxxers, libertarians, anarchists and ‘freedom fighters’ who have protested or even rioted in the streets clearly belong in the group prone to panic.

They clearly lack the critical thinking ability to process information and arrive at a rational conclusion and their responses are manifestly contrary to what is required.

These people would flatly deny that they are panicking but their behaviours say otherwise.

In terms of leadership, it is now very clear that most of Australia’s state and territory leaders have been willing and able to do what has been required to protect their populations from the worst impacts of the pandemic.

They have demonstrated the abilities of those people I call ‘rational actors’.

Sadly, our Prime Minister, Treasurer and other members of the Federal government, have not shown the same abilities, nor has the premier of NSW.

They have allowed their assessment of the situation and response to it to be unduly influenced by economic considerations, their ideological prejudices and their own misguided over confidence. They have mistaken good luck for good judgement.

Their ideologically based thinking leads them to conclude that the economy must be prioritised over all other considerations, with constant growth in production and consumption being a critical necessity.

Because of this distortion in their thinking, they seem incapable of properly understanding the actual or potential impacts of the pandemic in human terms or, in fact, economic terms.

They seem unable to adequately process the information before them which tells them that, almost counter intuitively, insisting upon opening up the economy prematurely (or not shutting it down fast enough) will inevitably exacerbate the very economic problems they are seeking to avoid.

There are many examples of this form of thinking in warfare.

Adolph Hitler was a terrific example of this.

His decision to invade France in 1940 was made in the face of serious resistance from his Generals, virtually all of whom thought the risks were too great.

The spectacular success of the German military in overcoming France and Britain in only six weeks persuaded both Hitler and most of his Generals that he was a military genius. Seldom has a more erroneous conclusion been drawn from unexpected success.

Subsequently, Hitler’s insistence on viewing all military strategy through the prism of Nazi ideology and his own misguided self confidence was ultimately fatal to Germany.

Interestingly, Joseph Stalin, having initially fallen victim to the same type of thinking with disastrous results, was sufficiently intelligent and insightful to realise his error.

He chose to relinquish an active role in actually commanding the military, restricting himself to formulating only the very broad strategic aims.

Once the USSR’s military was commanded by competent Generals rather than political apparatchiks it rapidly gained ascendancy over the Germans.

In Australia, we have a Prime Minister who, I think, has a very strong belief in his own superior political judgement. This belief would have been vindicated by his unexpected victory in an election that most thought would result in failure.

He has described this victory as a ‘miracle’ and told others that he believes that God willed it that he should be Prime Minister.

This belief has led him to erroneously conclude that he is more capable than others of understanding and devising the correct political response to the current pandemic. This belief appears to have persisted in the face of clear evidence that significant errors in judgement have been made.

Fortunately, the Federal government has been left relatively impotent owing to the peculiarities of the Australian constitution and the decisions by the Prime Minister to effectively abrogate control over quarantine and the vaccination program, the latter having been badly botched by him.

So, what we have in Australia is a mostly compliant population led by mostly competent and rational state and territory leaders that has, so far at least, avoided the worst potential impacts of the pandemic.

The country has been hindered to some degree by poor leadership at a Federal level, with a small but vociferous ‘ratbag’ element within the government and wider community making many noisy but hopelessly misguided demands to open up the economy despite the obvious health risks involved.

Thus while I agree with Keith that far too many of our fellow citizens have been tried and found wanting during the pandemic, it remains the case that the ‘sensible centre’ has somehow held, at least so far.

The critical errors in judgement by Gladys Berejiklian have now exposed Australia to a potentially catastrophe and we can only hope that our collective luck holds a little while longer until almost universal vaccination levels reduce Covid-19 to an endemic illness.

William Dunlop

Or perhaps, Bernard, more like my late cousin, JC McDermott. During the second Nazi air raid on Belfast in World War II, while he had the chance he made a phone call to Dublin and asked for someone in authority.

He got De Valera. We need fire brigade assistance in Belfast, McDermott said.

It's said that the long fella responded with the quickest decision he ever made and fire brigades that could be spared from as far away as Cork proceeded to Belfast.

Fifteen minutes later the main telephone exchange in Belfast burned down. Belfast had nearly 1,000 casualties and some 100,000 men, women and children were displaced that night.

Bernadette Devlin's ancestors would have been included perhaps.

Paul Oates

There are a number of influencing factors that help determine our view of the world we live in. Primarily our parents provide a template until we start achieving our own experiences and lessons of life.

One very large influence is the tribe we choose to belong to and its reflection of a predetermined culture.

If you have noticed over our lifetimes, the content and nature of entertainment tends to reflect our cultural norms. Fifty to sixty years ago, the subliminal messages were about how sacrifices during the second world war helped us as a nation survive and start rebuilding our nation again.

Then, during the late 60’s and 70’s, we started to experience a new cultural wave that tended to promote discontent and encourage anti-establishment feelings as the divide between the wealthy and powerful and the poor and not so well off started to become apparent.

By the time of the new millennium, there was a definite break between the older generation and those who had never been or done without.

The stories and experiences of the depression and the war years were no longer around. Even the deprivations of growing up in the 1950’s were not necessarily so severe, since we could still enjoy ourselves with a family picnic or a ride on a bike if we were lucky enough to have one.

Then the process of mass consumerism crept in and we were encouraged to buy new things before those we had wore out. By the 1980’s, anyone who didn’t try to buy the latest gadget and vehicle was made to feel inferior by advertising.

Come the 1990’s and electronic gadgets were starting to rule our lives and everyone was encouraged to buy the latest version before the support evaporated for what you had already purchased.

You could follow an abbreviated continuum in the second half of the 20th century of household appliances. Families started out with an ice box the graduated to an electric refrigerator and finally a freezer and fridge combination that dispenses ice and cold water as well.

Then came the realisation that all this required more and more electric power. We were told that electricity was cheap and clean and governments (who owned the power generators) encouraged everyone to buy more.

Then came solar cells and everyone was encouraged to buy and install them on your roof to help the planet. We were now destroying our world with CO2 produced by making electric power.

Suddenly there was too much power hitting the grids and we, who had bought solar power units, were told we would have to forgo any income and have our units turned off remotely if the amount of power generated was too much for the local grid.

Can anyone see a pattern emerging here? We are being led by those who really have no long-term plans except to remain in power for as long as possible. We have become the proverbial ‘like sheep led astray’. The cons just go on and on.

Perhaps the PNG view of leadership is not so hard to understand. If you don’t have high expectations, you won’t be disappointed with the outcome.

Bernard Corden

Erich Fromm's 'Escape from Freedom', which was first published in 1952, distinguishes between positive and negative liberty and is well worth a read:,placed%20on%20individuals%20by%20other%20people%20or%20institutions.

Much of the work of Angela Davis is more relevant now than it was in the 1960s and 1970s:

"No one is free even the birds are chained to the sky" - Bob Dylan

Bernard Corden

My dear William, maybe we require several more like Bernadette Devlin McAliskey:

Lindsay F Bond

By the way, the 'sell' in which a Morrison bids folk to trust is too often, too repeated, too unsubstantiated, too ambitious and maybe too glad.

Barbara Short

Oh dear, Keith, you have lost the plot! After you have lived in lockdown for awhile, and know people who have mental health problems, you can understand what our lovely Gladys is doing.

When Delta reaches Noosa I wonder if your views might change.

It did. They didn't - KJ

Lindsay F Bond

Whether its passengers on a fast PMV at curves on the Okuk Highway or longer distance walkers as those from Goilala enroute to Kokoda, stoic cuts closer.

Probably that fuzzy image of carriers in World War II made for misrepresentation. After all, Kienzle organised and his troop carried through and got home with the goods.

William Dunlop

Very well spoken, Keith. The lucky country indeed.

Not so lucky with the mediocre level of the bullshitters of all political persuasions loose in this house we call Australia.

Keep that bat of your profession well lubricated, Keith. Slantie.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)