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From Adelaide to Rome to Paris- the West is still worthy!

Last weekend I was treated to time in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia.  An underrated city, often overlooked by being in the centre of Australia it has an enviable and equitable Mediterranean climate, a quality university and orchestra, gracious suburbs, enviable urban parklands, a pair of Panda bears at its zoo and a thriving wine and food culture. It has an atypical political pedigree for modern Australia, being the only colony that was not a receptacle for convicts.


Its colonial settlers were an intriguing mix of the religious, philosophical and practical: Methodists, German Lutherans who planted the vines in the famous Barossa Valley, Anglican dissenters and Cornish tin miners. Politically, South Australia has often led the reformist movement in Australia, being the first colony to give women the vote and the right to stand for parliament in 1894, just after New Zealand. Ironically, South Australia remains the only State never to have had a female Premier.


Adelaide’s main thoroughfare is King William Street. Strolling along it on Sunday I noticed a Bus Stop sign that promised to take its passengers to “Hope Valley via Paradise” interchange.  The previous night at a function a South African émigré  commented to me how his life in Australia was a “golden bubble” compared to a childhood where learning to use an automatic rifle by one’s teenage years was de rigueur.


For so many Australians, and for so long,  modern Australia has been a combination of “hope and paradise.” Democratic, blessed with abundant natural resources, opportunities to prosper, high standards of living, enviable worker conditions- let’s not forget Australia was once known as the “working man’s paradise”- with a climate and natural beauty that Barry Humphries once described as “twenty four hours of sunshine”, it is little wonder that the Australian way of life has been the envy of many and the willing destination of millions. Luck has abounded for many in the great southern land.


In the years following World War 2, Australia’s immigration moved from the monocultural white to the multicultural many, with a remarkable lack of social discord.


Australia embraced new post-war foods, sports, traditions and cultures. Social conflicts about the Vietnam War, the status of women and the treatment of Australia’s indigenous population only served to create a more open and tolerant society in which there were remarkably few social barriers to stop the children and grandchildren of migrants securing social progress.


As if to prove the point South Australia’s Premier, Peter Malinauskas, is half Greek, half-Lithuanian. Its most recent Governor was a refugee from the Vietnam War. New South Wales recently had female Premiers with Armenian and Polish backgrounds.


How subtly and swiftly perceptions can change. Standing underneath the ‘Hope and Paradise’ Bus sign on a gloriously sunny and mild morning, I wondered how many Australians today would consider themselves surrounded by abundant good fortune. Decades of optimistic progress seem to have been replaced by concerns about a series of national crises.



Think about it. A day does not go by without being reminded of an existential environmental crisis. Ditto the mental health crisis. Domestic violence statistics continue to startle. Doctors tell me of practices where consultations about the psychological maladies of their patients outnumber the physiological. Then there is the cost-of-living crisis. The dream of each successive generation obtaining home ownership as an article of faith has become a nightmare for most. National debt seems insuperable.


Australia has a shortage of teachers that threatens to become a crisis, if not already. For many the defeat of ‘the Voice’ referendum in 2023 epitomised the ongoing crises faced by our indigenous population, fears that have been reinforced by recent events in Alice Springs where the lawlessness of indigenous youth has led to the imposition of night-time curfews. Recent killings at a popular Sydney shopping centre, and the slaying of two intrepid and optimistic Australian surfers along with an American friend on a surfing expedition to Mexico, have crystallised a perception that Australia and Australians can no longer consider themselves as carefree and insulated from tragic ‘slings and arrows’  as we used to be.



Our golden bubble risks becoming a cloudy morass. But then again, we are not alone. The last few years in the West have been dominated by seemingly insuperable problems.  A pandemic,  conflicts in Ukraine and Palestine, the simmering ambitions of China,  immigration crises and a parlous world economy just to mention a few.

 

For those of us living in democracies the spectacle of the world’s largest democracy conducting an election in India over six weeks gives us hope. The likelihood of a peaceful end to fourteen years of Conservative rule later this year is a reminder of the importance of rule of law democracies continuing to function in a vital manner.  America, however, having survived Watergate fifty years ago, now must endure the indescribably unedifying prospect of Trump v Biden Round 2.


The superstructure of the tennis world is also under siege. For many the prospect of a French Open without a genuinely competitive Rafael Nadal is an existential crisis beyond measure. Beaten in the fourth round of the Madrid Open, his end is nigh, and he knows it.

 

Probably for the first time in fifteen years, one cannot confidently predict the Men’s Champion in Paris. Sinner and Alcaraz are injured. Djokovic is limiting his tournament play.  The Women’s game may well be producing a new era of splendid rivalry if the epic Madrid final between Swiatek and Sabalenka in Madrid is any guide. Swiatek prevailed in three sets in a match that lasted over three hours.


The world’s travails seem to be made worse by the raw hostility of a series of protest movements. The demands for justice in Palestine have become a Trojan horse for an atavistic attack on nearly all institutions. Western governments are either vestiges of ‘evil’ colonialism or imperialism. Listening to the chants one would believe that our democracies are the propagators of a rampant capitalism that is responsible for every known human and environmental injustice. It seems that for many anything must be better than what we are.


Is it too facile to point out that the greatest improvements in living standards, not to mention democratic freedoms, of any period in human history have occurred under the watch of capitalist liberal democracies? The paradox of our universities being besieged by protesters rancidly lamenting the state of the world is almost overwhelming.

 

 

Universities that were developed to champion challenging and free intellectual discussion are being hijacked by those who delusionally offer their support to theocracies and thuggish death cults who never tolerate dissent, let alone demonstrate equal rights for women and other minority social groups.


Many have observed that we will never have paradise here on earth; however, we will always have hope.  Even without Nadal, there will be new and great champions in Paris!


More than ever, we need to remember the hopefulness of human experience. The best of times has always existed alongside the worst of times.


Two scientists from Adelaide’s university, Howard Florey and Marcus Oliphant, travelled to England as World War 2 threatened to do its worst.  Florey was able to extract the miraculous penicillin mould and manufacture it as the world’s supreme anti-biotic. Conservatively, it is estimated his work has saved 200 million lives. Oliphant work with radar systems aided the British to repel the powerful Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. Oliphant was also central in convincing the Americans and their Allies that they could develop nuclear weapons before the Axis powers. Not bad work.



Florey and Oliphant have been dubbed “the Wizards of Oz” in a recent brilliant account of their work written by Brett Mason. Florey literally developed a yellow medicinal road of human salvation.  When all seemed lost, Florey and Oliphant proved otherwise. They displayed the vital ingredients of human progress: freedom, intellect and initiative.


A quick, necessary reflection on history reminds us that all is never lost.  The capacity to build new golden yellow brick roads remains eternal. Just as this year’s champions in Paris and Rome will serve, slice and slide their way to memorable achievements on the orange clay in the weeks ahead.


Nil desperandum!

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