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.
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.
At 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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.