TUMBY BAY - Let’s be honest. Australia is an insignificant world power sitting in isolation at the bottom of the planet desperately clinging on to an increasingly tenuous notion of Western hegemony.
On one current reckoning we sit in seventeenth place on the world power scale, just below Switzerland and just above Turkey.
On another ranking, as a military power, we fill nineteenth spot, after Spain, a position we’ve held for three years.
On Transparency International's corruption perceptions index, Australia has plunged from sixth to twelfth in eight years.
Depending upon their perspective, other countries regard us as either a giant quarry or as a quaint outlier with strange and sometimes dangerous animals, pleasant and sometimes dangerous beaches and twangy suntanned accents totally unintelligible behind a Covid mask.
"Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people's ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise."
That description is largely true nearly 60 years later. The only thing that seems to have changed is that we have now acquired an enormous ego and think we are a nation to be reckoned with.
We say repeatedly that something is ‘world best’, ‘world first’ or ‘world renowned’ without having a clue what we’re talking about.
“Alone of all the races on earth, they seem to be free from the 'grass is greener on the other side of the fence' syndrome and roundly proclaim that Australia is, in fact, the other side of that fence,” wrote Douglas Adams.
We even believe in Australian exceptionalism while we are roll on our back looking imploringly at more powerful countries as we invite them to scratch our tummy.
In contrast, our antipodean neighbour, New Zealand, seems happy to accept its place in the world (32nd on the world power scale, having just moved up from 34th).
Aotearoa revels in its isolation and independence.
Australians for some inexplicable reason desperately want to be noticed.
Back in the 1960s when Horne wrote The Lucky Country, Australians had something of an inferiority complex.
We even had a term to describe it - cultural cringe. This was the habit of Australians perceiving their own artists and writers, and even executives and trades people, as inferior to anything from overseas.
So we glorified in being ‘Ocker’ Australians, a theatrical stupidity and naiveté that was a point of pride for many of us.
It was exploited for all it was worth in books like John O’Grady’s They’re a Weird Mob, films like The Adventures of Barry McKenzie and stage performances by Barry Humphries.
Our cultural cringe is still here but it’s not considered patriotic to show it because we know we’re a country to be reckoned with.
We stick out our chins instead of tugging our forelocks and shout at the top of our voices, ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi!’
That more laid back, easy going, ‘she’ll be right mate’ attitude – cringeworthy though it could be - was probably better than this new arrogance that came from…. surely it didn’t come from the availability of cheap travel, did it?
As in ‘Rome’s OK but we’ve got a one of those in Dubbo that’s better.’
Certainly that previous unassuming casualness helped cement our benign engagement as colonists in Papua New Guinea and our friendly extrication in 1975.
Globalisation, an ever-growing prosperity and the information revolution has changed all that however.
A desperate need to play with the big boys and girls now colours our approach to the world, particularly among our leaders.
And unfortunately they’re not very good at doing it.
That older Australia would, for instance, make the world take notice of us for an innovative and progressive approach to climate change.
Australia could be leading the world, instead we’re looked upon as a pariah.
On another front it wouldn’t be hard to turn our punitive approach to asylum seekers completely around to their benefit and ours.
We need migrants (our economy relies upon them) and our navy is already patrolling our borders and turning back the few people smugglers that are left plying their loathsome trade.
We could be a shining example to the world of what a compassionate and innovative nation looks like. Just like we used to be.
Instead, we preen our feathers and engage in dangerous and crude pandering to placate and win favour with so-called allies and corporations of which our government now appears to be a wholly owned subsidiary.
We Australians have got a lot of hard thinking to do about what we have become.