Helen Razer, Crikey
When performer Doc Neeson died at 67 on Thursday morning in his sleep at a Sydney hospital, the nation farewelled the memory of a peculiar solidarity. The response ‘No way, get fucked, fuck off’ to his rock liturgy Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again? has been mentioned in a hundred obituaries. As it should. Perhaps not since slogans like ‘unity is strength’ fired up labourers in 19th-century trades halls have Australian men and women uttered something so fantastically cranky as one.
Although never an Angels fan, I joined this vengeful Greek chorus once while in high school. It was great. No. It was fucking great. It beats Lord Hear Our Prayer and Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi hands down – and even had Neeson not achieved legitimate greatness as a proto-punk hero, this moment alone was enough to elevate me from the class-based loathing of my teenage fellows and this son of Elizabeth to South Australian sainthood.
It is quite easy to forget that Neeson was a punk. Just like Johnny Rotten, he was born of Irish migrants. Just like Malcolm McLaren, he was improved by access to art school. He was a working-class boy educated in the avant-garde in a time when such things were possible and it is hardly his fault that Triple M occluded his wild colonial spirit with its Coca Cola give-aways. But it is our fault, I think, that we fail to see all that was good and important about such performers as we think of them these days as ‘bogan’.
For a time in Australia, it was not publicly acceptable to disparage others on the basis of their class. This may have been out of fear that someone who looked like Mark Latham would break your arm and but I suspect it was chiefly the result of social policy that allowed, for example, certain young migrants from Elizabeth to learn about Jean-Luc Godard at university and go on to form profitable punk bands. Whatever the case, there was a time, which coincided with my adolescence, where anyone who used a term like ‘westie’ did so only in abject snobbery and the interests of the ruling class.
Now, of course, it’s fine not only to say ‘bogan’ but to do so in the apparent interests of advancing progressive ideals.
On Monday, Crikey‘s Bernard Keane analysed recent findings of the Essential Report on preferred political leaders. If we don’t count the very popular ‘someone else’ choice as prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull is the resolute fan favourite. He’s really not a bogan.
The man who likely gainsaid his own green credentials in a Solomon Islands logging deal and put an end to the great infrastructure build of the NBN is beloved by Green and ALP voters. In an era of ‘check your privilege,’ it seems that the dapper Turnbull is far too well-groomed to be required to check his. While it is true that he chooses to accessorise with a few neutral items from a progressive grab-bag like the Republic and same-sex marriage, it is not true that he is a minister who gives half an apparent shit for making his portfolio work in the lives of non-corporate Australians. Let’s set aside for the moment the sheer financial irresponsibility of a man whose policies will doom us to the expensive maintenance of copper wire and prevent a nation in industrial freefall from learning from the South Korean national program, and just think about the NBN in the most basic progressive terms. This guy wants you to pay for a good road to your door.
Somehow, though, the silver fox is largely seen by progressives as a viable alternative to Abbott. This is despite the fact that he can claim no real ideological distinction and, in fact, should really – given that he ‘invented’ the internet in Australia – should and does know better about the economic and social value of the abandoned NBN.
What Greens voters are thinking is largely beyond me. As a progressive voter, I would certainly nominate Senator Cory Bernardi as my preferred Coalition leader. That guy, in advertising the contents of the stinking box, makes the buggers far less electable. But, in the eagerness progressive voters have to distance themselves from the ‘bogan’, they are happy to embrace the ruling class.
It has largely been older Australians eulogising Neeson best. These are people who can remember there being no distinction between The Angels and The Saints; for non-rock-snobs, the glorious Brisbane band who can lay claim to recording the world’s first punk single. These are people who can remember the possibility of a nation which did not eschew the cultural traditions of the working class and was not so silly as to lay blame for ruling class ideology in the mouths of those who would shout ‘no way, get fucked, fuck off’.
The 2005 Cronulla riots were, of course, an atrocity. But the way in which these images still function to demonise the ‘bogan’ rather than to illuminate the racist ideas absolutely manufactured by the political class allows an ongoing crisis evidenced in the Essential Poll and felt in every ALP branch meeting.
In the absence of any other plan that would re-unify a party that cannot reconcile its trade union principles with its progressive ideals, I would suggest that at the next national conference that the idea of ‘bogan’ as bad be done away with and they sing together as one, ‘unity is strength no way get fucked fuck off’.