For those of you who have the misfortune to not be Australian, today is Australia Day. It is the day when our nation pats itself on the back for being the best place on Earth, full of the best people, who are full of themselves. By mid-afternoon, a good percentage of the population will also be full of alcohol, which is supposed to indicate some kind of macho male superiority in the males: I do not know what it indicates in the females. Sitting in front of the telly, watching our favourite sports, eating fatty food and drinking high-carb beverages, we congratulate ourselves on being a land of bronzed and fit pioneers who can ride horses, raise cattle and shear sheep.
It is all hogwash, of course. Australia is about the most urbanised country on the face of the planet. The number who really can ride horses, raise cattle or shear sheep is vanishingly small. In fact, the fraction of the population having any knowledge of important survival skills, like gardening and how to wear an Akubra hat, would scarcely rate a slice on a pie-chart of national aptitudes. We can all drive cars, however, because the distances involved in getting anywhere interesting from anywhere else make walking or cycling the pastimes of the lunatic fringe.
Our recent tragic floods have galvanised those involved into great acts of generosity, supporting each other with what we Okkers term 'Mateship'. Now, mateship is a vague catch-all phrase covering anything considered noble in the spirit of humanity. Give a stranger $100 in normal times and you are suspected of being a deviant, but give a stranger $100 now and you are regarded as a Good Bloke (or Blokette: mateship is not gender-specific).
As is the way of human nature, there are some who are taking unfair advantage of all the handouts and generosity, but we speak of them, if at all, in the most scathing terms, as Bludgers. The Bludger is the lowest form of life: lower than the cockroach, lower even than pond slime. The Bludger is too lazy to expend effort to get ahead and prefers to sit back while others do all the work. This is not the same thing as the Battler, a person who has little and is doing it hard, but (at least in this version) is nobly uncomplaining. The difference between the Bludger and the Battler is that the Battler enjoys the dignity of being seen to be deserving of a helping hand. Battlers do their best with what they have, in spite of whatever handicaps stand in their way. Bludgers just expect others to take care of them and constantly have their hands out, wanting something for nothing.
Australia Day is all about honouring The Mate, sanctifying The Battler and trying to stifle The Bludger. The trouble is, each of us is partly all of these things. The times ahead will be interesting, for the effect they have on the relative proportions each of these national traits come to occupy in the body politic. When energy becomes fearsomely expensive, bludging may become unprofitable. It will become a case of "work or starve" for most of the population and the few who are able to be carried by the labours of the many will have to justify their existence, in ways and degrees unheard of at present. Even mateship may become unfashionable, in a society where getting enough food for myself and my family could be a higher priority than looking after the battlers.
Nobility of spirit may be the luxury of an affluent society. The Battler may be the eventual winner in our game of survival, where a willingness to work will be more important than the mere possession of labour-saving technologies. An axe will be more valuable than a pen; a horse-drawn buggy will have more value than a fossil-fuelled vehicle. An understanding of the seasons will pay better than a specialisation as a banker; knowledge of soil fertility will feed more mouths than having a thousand followers on Twitter. Wearing out the knees of your jeans will become more socially acceptable than wearing out the seat of your best trousers. Washing clothes using river stones will be more affordable than stone-washed denim.
As we celebrate Australia Day, I wonder how many more there will be before the crash. Carry on drinking folks, carry on over-eating, carry on being life's spectators. As for me, I have to go out and weed the garden.