The Last Frontier?

Indigenous Australians and social justice

Authored by: John Whyte , Catherine McDonald

Routledge International Handbook of Social Justice

Print publication date:  April  2014
Online publication date:  April  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415620437
eBook ISBN: 9781315857534
Adobe ISBN: 9781317934011


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In 1964, a famous Australian intellectual called Donald Horne published a book entitled The Lucky Country. He intended that the term would be read as ironic commentary as his book was essentially a critique of what he considered Australia to be at that time: a smug, provincial, unimaginative and mediocre nation that was wealthy despite the efforts of its inhabitants. At the time, his critique sparked indignation, but as the years passed, the original meaning of the phrase ‘the lucky country’ was lost and new meanings emerged in the popular imagination. Currently, it is, for all intents and purposes, an empty signifier deployed by many people holding different and often opposing political positions to illustrate what the ‘good life’ in the ‘lucky country’ should involve. What Horne intended as pointed satire has become a catch phrase for rather naive assertions of the superiority, wealth and general wellbeing of Australia by many of its less critical and poorly informed inhabitants. Horne’s original meaning has largely been lost as Australians pat themselves on the back for their supposed successes. An Australian Government-sponsored website, for example, stated the following:

The phrase [the lucky country] has been used to describe our weather, our lifestyle and our history. It is often invoked to describe the nation’s good fortune, from gold booms to economic booms. Recently, our geographic isolation from the world’s trouble spots has again seen us labeled the lucky country. It has been paraphrased by politicians—‘the clever country’—and when Kylie Minogue sings we’re ‘lucky, lucky, lucky’, we all know what she means. How ironic then that Horne’s irony was totally overlooked!

Australian Government, n.d.

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