Having been forced to endure months of harsh lockdowns, my often-malleable compatriots Down Under are starting to fight back as they realise their government is clueless and they’ve been nuts to swallow the ‘zero Covid’ strategy.
By any measure, Australia has not enjoyed the coronavirus pandemic – and that has nothing to do with the number of deaths, because at less than 1,000 for a population of 25 million, it has, in the main, escaped lightly.
Where it has really suffered is in identifying exactly what level of threat Covid-19 poses to the population and then acting accordingly. Instead of being bold, brave, and positive in its handling of the situation, Australia has shown all the spine of a bluebottle jellyfish.
The collywobbles set in at the slightest whiff of Covid. Not deaths. Not hospitalisations. But simple cases of the virus send public health officials into a spin, locking down millions, deploying the military onto the streets, and imposing needless and draconian curfews. Blind panic best sums up the Australian government’s approach.
Then there are the stern warnings from state leaders that would be hilarious if they weren’t so serious – about enjoying sunset on the beach, removing a mask to drink beer, dodging errant footballs while watching a game, and most recently, a local council deciding to shoot 15 rescue dogs rather than allow volunteers from an animal shelter to travel for their collection in case they spread the virus.
That’s the level of insanity we’re looking at.
Meanwhile, it was humans on the receiving end at a so-called ‘freedom rally’ in Melbourne, where violence between protesters and police led to officers firing rounds of pepper balls – the most powerful non-lethal force at their disposal – into the anti-lockdown crowd.
It was one sign that patience with being treated like sheep might finally have snapped among parts of the Australian public. And it’s about time. I had begun to wonder what happened to the rebellious larrikins, the famed Aussie battlers, the brave Diggers, the pioneering ‘new Australians’ who just a generation or so ago left homes and family in Italy, Greece, Vietnam and beyond to pursue their dreams in the Lucky Country.
It seemed that a subservience to the ruling class, an unhealthy respect for authority, had overwhelmed my homeland.
The whole penal colony fable is a bit exaggerated, and of course there have been generations of intermingling since the 18th century, when Australia’s first white arrivals were drawn from the ranks of Great Britain’s sheep thieves and petty criminals.
The violence and harsh conditions that welcomed those newcomers to the shores of Botany Bay, however, instilled a deep loathing and mistrust of their governing class, and it is often argued that Australia’s success was built on that resentment, driving its people to prove themselves to the authorities at home – and back in Mother England – that they could more than hold their own on the world stage. That inferiority complex was the driving force that has seen us excel in literature, in music, and particularly in sport.
But it also makes the Aussies a malleable bunch at times. Authority can make us go all weak at the knees. Public awareness campaigns that might struggle for lift-off elsewhere prove wildly successful in obedient Oz.