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Byron Shire
February 4, 2023

S Sorrensen’s Here & Now: Fair go, mate

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Image S Sorensen
Image S Sorensen

My place. Tuesday, 6.30am

Societies have always been built on beliefs.

The Maoris believed in tattoos and tapu. Aboriginal people believed in maintaining country. Egyptians believed in Isis (the goddess, not the thug club). The British believed in their superior civilisation (as did the Romans, who borrowed much of that from the Greeks). The French believed in liberty, equality and fraternity (after they’d believed in servitude, noble privilege and the King). Americans believed in the American dream. Indians believed in a thousand gods. Jews, Muslims and Christians believed in one god – the same one.

A shared belief is what binds members of a society together. If you and I believe the same thing, we are a society. If a thousand of us believe in the same values, we can live together. If we don’t, we can’t, no matter how many police, warriors, soldiers or sheriffs try to maintain social cohesion. We probably couldn’t even get a census together.

We don’t need to have all our beliefs the same, but a shared core belief is essential. When that belief is shattered, then society can start counting its days.

The 500 nations of Aboriginal Australia believed in maintaining country – five hundred nations, with different languages and customs, shared a belief in country wherein were the stories, creation and culture. (And still are.)

White Australia does not believe in maintaining country. We never felt like we belonged to the land (because it didn’t belong to us). We didn’t believe in country (we believed in the ‘old country’), but, born from convicts and immigrants and in a difficult strange land, we found a new core belief: a fair go. (Unless you were Aboriginal.)

I am not a patriot. I don’t stick an Aussie flag on my car on Australia Day (or reindeer antlers at Christmas). I think the national anthem is awful. I think that if Gallipoli was the making of the Australian spirit and Ned Kelly a national hero, then we are condemned to being losers forever.

But I am Australian because I share a belief in ‘fair go for all’ with my fellow Australians. Or at least that’s what I thought.

Apparently, my belief in a fair go is not shared by the rulers of this country. The atrocities that are happening to refugees on Nauru – people seeking shelter from a breakdown of their society; a breakdown in which Australia has often been complicit – and the abuses in Australian juvenile detention centres make me wonder: What happened to a fair go?

Apart from its popularity in the Orwellian speeches of politicians, the socialism of ‘fair go’ is being replaced with the capitalism of ‘me first’. Empathy is replaced by expediency, mercy by money.

When a government actively supports climate change, grows income inequality and degrades country, one has to ask, what’s next?

I tell you what: child abuse.

The children on Nauru are Australia’s responsibility and they’re being abused. The children in Australian detention centres are Australia’s responsibility and they’re being abused. The government knew about this for ages but, hey, it had a business to run.

It’s convenient for me to blame the government. Unfortunately, we are all involved. How can I sip coffee, munch on a wholemeal savoury muffin and discuss Australia’s medal tally when children in Australia’s care are being abused? It’s weird.

So, what is the Australian shared belief now? A toilet for every bedroom? Another gold medal in Rio? Faster internet downloads? A tax cut?

Me, I still believe in a fair go for all. But, I see it’s not a shared belief. Oh dear.

Every society has its day, I reckon. The American dream turns to nightmare; the French liberté turns to martial law; and child abuse is the Aussie way. Oi oi oi.

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