COVERS

AUSTRALIA’S BASH

JOHN HOWSE May 2 1988
COVERS

AUSTRALIA’S BASH

JOHN HOWSE May 2 1988

AUSTRALIA’S BASH

COVERS

Whether they like it or not, Australians are stuck with the macho Crocodile Dundee image. On the eve of Expo 88, as they swagger through their yearlong celebration marking the 200 years since the convict-laden British First Fleet established its South Pacific gulag in 1788 on the shores of what is now Sydney Harbor, the wiry face and steely sinews of actor Paul Hogan present the nation to the rest of the world in films, tourist promotions and beer commercials on TV. It does not matter that the fictional crocodile-fighter Mick Dundee is the

essence of Australian manhood, and women number half the population of 16 million. It does not matter that he bears little resemblance to the immigrants from Europe and Asia who make up a quarter of it. Or even less to the more than 160,000 Aboriginal people. Or to the majority of citybred citizens who have never seen a wild crocodile—let alone wrestled one in a mango swamp—and who no longer sneer at people who drink wine, like modern art and go to the ballet. For most of the world, Crocodile Dundee says and does it all.

But the Dundee syndrome masks

the realities of Australian life and obscures its rich diversity. The nation, like Canada, faces a spectrum of challenges to the traditional view that its storehouse of natural resources guarantees its people a high standard of living. That standard is slipping in a world of diminishing trade protection, deregulated economies and growing competition among nations for markets. There is, as well, what critics say is a moral problem arising from widespread corruption within the political system. Australia has entered a phase in its history when no one seems to have anything

to say. The conservatives have lost touch with what had been their comfortable, bedrock British heritage as Australia has forged new links with Asia — especially Japan. As for the radicals, Manning Clark, Australia’s historian and philosopher king, has written that they “have lost their faith in being able to change human nature or create a different society.”

As in Canada, Australians grapple with the dilemma of Aboriginal land rights —how much control to return to native people over the territory that white invaders wrested from them over the past two centuries (page 48). Many Australians agonize over government immigration policies that favor a relatively open door to Asians and that lack popular support. There is widespread debate about the privatization of once-sacrosanct Crown corporations and about whether the Labor government of Prime Minister Robert Hawke should introduce a

broad-based consumption tax. And there is the simmering question of defence—whether Australia’s traditional alliances with Britain and the United States will survive as the island continent yields to the greatly increasing Asian influence and Japan prepares to take a more active defence role in the Pacific.

Hatred: The fact is that Japan has supplanted the British, not only as a trading partner but as an investment banker as well. Australian businessmen are now more likely to greet their Japanese colleagues with a formal, well-rehearsed “Konnichi Wa” (“Good day to you”) instead of Paul Hogan’s trademark, “G’day.” The bitter hatred of the Japanese that was a legacy of the Second World War has largely disappeared. Japanese developers have bought up vast tracts of land and tourist facilities, especially along Queensland’s Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast near Brisbane. Even the private koala sanctuary at Lone Pine is now owned by Japanese interests. In downtown Sydney, Japanese

tourists receive bank brochures in Japanese at the Martin Place headquarters of the Westpac Bank before they buy gold Australian Nugget medallions, which compete with the Canadian Maple Leaf on international markets.

But relations between the two trading partners soured recently when Japanese steel mills negotiated lower prices for Australian coal than the government had approved. When officials in the capital of Canberra protested, the Japanese government retaliated by seeking—unsuccessfully— a rollback on the $570 million that Japanese developers had offered for the spacious Australian Embassy site in Tokyo. Declared Sallyanne Atkinson, lord mayor of Brisbane: “The feeling here is that the Japanese have started to take over.” She added:

“But we need investment from overseas.

It creates jobs, and a lot of the profits stay here.”

‘Sleaze’: The influx of investment money, much of it from Asia, has helped foster widespread corruption.

During his recent successful campaign to unseat the New South Wales state government, Liberal Premier Nicholas Greiner told voters that he was tired of travelling around Australia and being

confronted with “the sleaze factor” rampant in his home state for the past 20 years. Added Greiner: “I have had a gutful of people treating my state as some sort of national laughing stock over corruption.” Corruption charges hover over several exministers in the former Labor state government. And in 1985, High Court Justice Lionel Murphy was convicted of trying to influence a magistrate hearing forgery and conspiracy charges against a longtime associate of the judge. Murphy continued to sit on the court during lengthy and ultimately successful appeals.

Greiner has set up an independent commission into corruption, while in Queensland a commission is currently investigating corruption within the state police force. Judge Marcus Einfeld of the Federal Court of Australia told a recent meeting of Canadian and Australian jurists in Canberra, “Our common law has failed against organized crime and corruption.” He added: “It has ceased to be creative in

the modern era. It is negative in that it prohibits, but it fails to protect fundamental freedoms.”

Perhaps Australia’s greatest contemporary challenge involves its survival in the economic world and how it will redefine what has become an expensive relationship between industry and the traditionally powerful labor unions. The grain trade is an example: because of vast distances and because Australian grain handlers earn such high wages, the costs of moving grain to ports are the highest in the world. Most salaries in the grain trade are set at high publicservice rates. In addition to that problem, wrote economic columnist Des Keegan in the daily Australian newspaper, “There is also the ‘nickoff system’ where half the grain elevator crew is at golf or the pub at any

given time.”

The Queensland Confederation of Industries is leading an attack on such entrenched union benefits as a 17V2per-cent bonus added to workers’ regular paycheques during their annual vacations. Said Brisbane investment consultant Samuel Winston Smith: “There are changes in traditional attitudes.” He added: “Rank-and-file members are not taking as much no-

tice of their leaders. Basically, they want to work. And young Australians for the first time ever are proud to tell you they are going to night school to be a waiter or bartender.” Union rates in temporary-help jobs are also under review. In Canberra, barman Shawn Kenny, 24, a University of Calgary economics graduate visiting Australia on a working holiday, earns a basic $6.40 an hour, but on Easter Monday, because of union provisions, the rate went to $16. Said Kenny: “I am not knocking it, but does it make economic sense?”

Concern: Australia maintains economic ties with Canada, consisting largely of an exchange of raw resources, although manufacturing and defence imports are beginning to show in the statistics. The total trade of $1.3 billion makes Australia Canada’s 15th-largest partner. Canada’s exports were $700 million in 1987, consisting of a varied mix of sulphur, potash, lumber and food products. Australia sends Canada $600 million

worth of sugar, wool, meat and fruit. But many economic experts have expressed concern about the future. R. Allen Kilpatrick, Canada’s high commissioner in Canberra, said that Australians “are watching with some interest our free trade negotiations with the U.S.” Kilpatrick also noted another and increasingly evident Canadian import to Australia: Canadians themselves—tourists and businessmen. “God knows how much ‘Crocodile' Dundee and the beer commercials are doing,” he said, “but they play an important role.”

Doves: But beer commercials and “Crocodile” Dundee films are often illusory. In what was once a conservative nation, there is a growing series of protest movements. In a study of contrasts on Palm Sunday last month, white-robed students at Sydney’s St. Patrick’s Seminary chanted prayers in a procession through their grounds overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Then 90,000 Sydney residents took to the streets in an inner-city peace march. The crowd, chanting “Jobs not guns, peace not war,” included high-school students, Aboriginal activists, costumed peace doves on stilts, skateboarders and a contingent of homosexual activists bearing a model rocket with an outsize condom attached and a poster reading “It won’t stop fallout but it will stop AIDS.” Veteran activist Josephine King, 67, clad in a multicolored kaftan, took part, and declared: “The police used to call us all Communists for marching for peace. But take a look around. These are people from all ethnic groups, all political parties, young, old, poor and rich—everyone.” Politics is in a state of flux in Australia. Prime Minister Hawke, after five years in power, is the longestserving Labor leader in the nation’s 87 years of confederation, but he is under attack from his party’s left wing for his conservative ideology and his probusiness policies. The Oxford-educated former union leader runs a pragmatic regime that has strayed far from Labor’s once-strong socialist foundations. Hawke wears expensively tailored suits, smokes costly cigars, golfs regularly at posh clubs with big-business colleagues and recently won $11,000 while on a visit to a Gold Coast casino with a local entrepreneur. Hawke is a close friend of Sir Peter Abeles, the Australian transport czar who is the prime minister’s business mentor. Said Brisbane consultant Smith: “He is stuffed” —a phrase meaning “finished” in the earthy language of Australian politics, commonly used not only in conversation but in

parliament and the press. Added Smith: “He dresses and acts like a man with a lot of money. That is not consistent with his income or his party.”

Indeed, Hawke now rates lower in opinion polls and, with his stock on the decline, federal Treasurer Paul Keating is the emerging heir-apparent as the Bicentennial Year progresses. How Keating handles a litany of economic challenges — including high debt-servicing costs, dependence on welfare, declining terms of trade, high youth unemployment, high inflation relative to trading partners and widening social gaps—will likely decide how quickly Hawke leaves politics. Party insiders say that he may take a plush Geneva posting with the International Labor Organization or join the board of Abeles’s international transport consortium.

Fireworks: Meanwhile, despite the success of the Jan. 26 entry into Sydney Harbor of a fleet of tall ships— along with a massive fireworks display that lit up Sydney Harbor Bridge — many Australians seem oblivious to the Bicentenary. According to a recent Gallup poll, no less than 48 per cent of respondents said that the nationwide program of touring exhibits, sports extravangazas and cultural programs was not worth the effort.

Another 10 per cent said either that they had not even heard of the Bicentenary or that they had no opinion about it. A successful Expo 88 over the next six months in Brisbane could alter those ratings (page 40).

‘Kangasnoot’: Even during the early planning stages of the Bicentenary, Aboriginal leaders complained about celebrating two centuries of European settlement instead of the 40,000 years of Aborigines’ presence. But in Britain this month, despite the withered ties to the mother country, slouch-hatted Australian troops are guarding Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle as part of the Bicentenary celebrations. The Union Jack remains on the Australian flag, and British class-consciousness persists under the slang expression “kangasnoot.” There is also an enduring love of British-style perks for Very Important Persons. That is one reason why the Expo site is riddled with private corridors so that VIPs do not need to queue with the masses. And the exclusive Expo 88 Club offers an oasis of luxury in return for a $4,600 corporate membership fee. Political observers say that even knighthoods, which the Labor administration has never recommended, will likely return if the Liberal-National Party coalition regains power.

Yet it is “Crocodile” Dundee's im-

age of a rough-andtumble land, not the Bicentenary hijinks, that fuels the tourist boom into Australia. Publicity has also increased the sales in Canada of such Australian products as Koala Springs’ orange-and-mango soda pop, rabbit-fur Akubra cowboy hats and Driza-Bone riding coats. Said expatriate Australian William Powell, president of Vancouver-based Koolah Products from Australia Inc.: “There is a lot of interest in Australian products. ‘Crocodile’’ Dundee has a lot to do with it. But Australia also knows how to make good bushwear. We have 150 million sheep and millions of cattle.” Hawke paid off an America’s Cup yacht-race bet in 1987 by giving President Ronald Reagan an Aku-

bra. Donning the hat, Reagan said: “I feel like saying ‘G’day, mate’ when I put on this hat.”

As well, Australia’s wondrous array of exotic animals—from kangaroos and koala bears to wombats, croco-

diles, large cane toads and 10-foot gurgling earthworms—lure visitors. A University of Queensland zoologist recently warned visitors against the practice of boiling the warty cane toads—introduced into Queensland in 1935 to control canefield pests—to extract a slimy hallucinogenic substance. Said Robert Endean: “People have died eating these toads in the Philippines and Fiji. It is a very dangerous, stupid thing to do. They are playing Australian roulette.” Toad secretion now is classified as an illegal substance under the state Drugs Misuse Act.

Junketeering: Legal roulette, though, has become big business in Australia’s Northern Territory, where Darwin’s Diamond Beach Casino offers Asian gamblers regular all-expense-paid luxury trips from Singapore in return for their highroller custom at roundthe-clock gaming tables.

Said casino manager Michael King: “This is a very different tourism market. It is mainly for

Asians who like junketeering: they enjoy coming down here, but everything has to be well arranged.” The visiting gamblers play in a private second-floor casino by invitation only, insulated from locals and other tourists who dis-

pense their money on the main gambling floor. The special guests drink cognac and champagne—on the house. Said King: “Louis XIII, Dom Perignon and Orrefors crystal are the only names we dare mention.”

Darwin’s population of 70,000 is 10per-cent Asian—including Lord Mayor Alec Fong Lim. It is a jumping-off spot for what is fast becoming one of Australia’s hottest tourist centres—the sprawling Kakadu National Park. Otherwise known as “Crocodile Dundee Land,” the park features crocodile-infested rivers and mango

swamps, feral pigs and buffalo. There are also former Aboriginal settlements with rock paintings that date back more than 20,000 years. Over the past five years the government has invested about $550 million in tourist facilities, including a luxury desert resort at Ayers Rock, a spectacular Central Australian landmark that is a must-visit for travellers. The state’s major Bicente-

nary event is a four-month, 2,000-km cattle drive from newspaper magnate Kerry Packer’s Newcastle Waters ranch to Longreach, Queensland, site of the Stockman’s Hall of Fame.

Exploits: Despite all the stereotypical—and often misleading—aspects of Crocodile Dundee’s character and exploits, one is indisputably real and almost universal in Australia: his intense devotion to his country. Aboard a train racing through the eucalyptusstudded sheep-raising bushland near Cootamundra, New South Wales, Aboriginal farm worker Donald Morgan said: “I love this old place. I never want to go anywhere else in the world.” And veteran country balladeer Slim Dusty, who with opera star Dame Joan Sutherland was selected to perform in the Opera Trust’s National Living Treasure Series during the Bicentenary, said, “Considering that we started out as a dumping ground for convicts, we haven’t done too badly.” Now, modern Australia need worry less about its fast-diluting convict origins and more about how it will strike a compromise between its essentially European culture and that of its populous and increasingly powerful Asian neighbors. In that case, the country faces the challenge of convincing the rest of the world that Mick Dundee sells theatre tickets and beer—not the Australian reality.

JOHN HOWSE