For many Australians the phrase 'the lucky country' has a particular resonance. Donald Horne's famous words have been used in numerous ways to describe everything that is great about our nation.
Portrait of Donald Horne, Woollahra, 1987
Alec Bolton 1926-1996. Image courtesy of the National Library of Australia.
The phrase 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 labelled 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!
The great irony
Donald Horne remembered the night he penned those words. Within a few weeks the phrase had become the title of the book.
In a hot summer's night in December 1964 I was about to write the last chapter of a book on Australia. The opening sentence of this last chapter was: 'Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck.'
That sentence was a rather brutal indictment of his country at the time. It is a direct, uncompromising and seemingly unambiguous commentary on Australia in the 1960s. Horne was critiquing an Australia that did not think for itself; a country manacled to its past; and 'still in colonial blinkers': 'If we are to remain a prosperous, liberal, humane society, we must be prepared to understand the distinctiveness of our own society'.
He was thinking about things like Australia's cultural cringe, its foreign policy and the White Australia Policy. He was, to paraphrase those words, talking about a 'not too clever country'.
I had in mind in particular the lack of innovation in Australian manufacturing and some other forms of Australian business, banking for example. In these, as a colonial carry over, Australia showed less enterprise than almost any other prosperous industrial society.
Australia, Horne argued, developed as a nation at a time when we could reap the benefits of technological, economic, social and political innovations that were developed in other countries. Those countries were clever: Australia was simply lucky.
When The Lucky Country was released in 1964, most of the reading public was aware that the phrase was being used ironically. Horne lamented the fact that it had since been taken up by others and given different meanings: '... I have had to sit through the most appalling rubbish as successive generations misapplied this phrase'.
The clever country
The adoption of the phrase 'the clever country' in the political sphere is for many a catchy wordplay on Horne's 'lucky country', as well as an upbeat statement about what we need to do to compete on the world stage. Yet Horne's thesis in The Lucky Country is precisely this. He argued that, as a nation, we were lucky to develop at a time when we weren't being particularly clever.
Horne talked about the need to be more innovative and proactive, and about making decisions in our national interest. These are the issues debated by our politicians and intellectuals today under the banner of the 'the clever country'.
Professor Ian Lowe, an eminent social commentator, says in his paper The Clever Country? that Australia has two options. Either 'we could continue our current economic strategies; this could be called the 'steady as she sinks' approach', or, he says, 'we could try seriously to become 'the clever country' by investing in our own future.'
Horne saw the links between the debate of today and his own words of nearly 40 years ago:
I think we should realise that 'the lucky country' provides a descriptive phrase, condemning Australia for what it was, whereas the clever country is a prescriptive phrase, suggesting to Australia what it might become.
A phrase for all seasons
A search on the Internet under 'lucky country' underlines just how many times, and in how many contexts, Horne's famous words have been used and adapted.
There are stories about sporting success ('the lucky country'); sporting failure ('the unlucky country'); asylum seekers ('the unlucky country'); poverty ('Whatever happened to the lucky country?'); and aboriginal health ('the forgotten country'), to name a few.
His words were meant as a wake-up call but were widely interpreted as an affirmation of the Australian way of life. They were meant to spark change but instead produced a relaxed approach and a 'she'll be right' mentality.
His words have proved prophetic and as Horne himself said, 'After all, the alternative to being a clever country is to be a stupid country'.
About Donald Horne
As an author, Donald Horne wrote over twenty books (including The Lucky Country), and contributed to many journals and newspapers in Australia, Britain, Europe and the United States. He became a professor at the University of New South Wales and went on to become the Chancellor of the University of Canberra. He was twice editor of The Bulletin and edited The Observer and Quadrant. He was also contributing editor to Newsweek International.creative at home date ideas creative at home costumes creative at home jobs creative at apple creative at apple salary creative at work creative before and after pictures before creative creative smiles before and after creative home before and after creative writing before bed creative photography before and after creative just before sleep creative director plt before molly creative behind the ear tattoos creative behind the scenes videos creative behind wasted youth creative rachy behind the scenes creative backsplash behind stove creative leave behind ideas creative process behind website design creative ideas behind the logo creative memories beneath the pines creative memories beneath the pines paper pack creative memories beneath the pines album creative between synonym between creative between creative and imaginative creative collaboration between painters creative tension between creative difference between artistic minecraft creative between difference between creative commons and copyright creative beyond creative beyond meat recipes creative beyond burger recipes creative beyond measure beyond creative management beyond creative agency beyond creative fortnite beyond creative studio creative but easy halloween costumes creative but easy pumpkin carvings creative but simple halloween costumes creative but not artistic creative but easy pumpkin carving ideas creative but cute halloween costumes creative but hot halloween costumes creative but conservative creative by nature creative by design creative by nature blakeney creative by button creative by nature llc creative by nature diy and decor creative by j creative during pandemic creative during lockdown creative during covid creative during quarantine creative during corona creative ideas during lockdown creative dates during covid creative dates during covid 19 creative event even creative flowers creative for kids creative for facebook ads creative for hire creative for preschoolers creative force creativeforge games creative forecasting creativeforkidsco creative form drawing creative form drawing pdf creative form drawing workbook 1 creative form design creative form liners creative form drawing angela lord creative form drawing for the four temperaments creative form taekwondo what's another word for creativity different names for creativity closest synonym for the word creativity creative ways to get in front of prospects creative ways to reach prospects creative ways to prospect creative ways to engage prospects creative in french creative in latin creative in counters creative in italian creative in japanese creative in asl creative in my kitchen creative inside sales titles creative inside creative inside art creative inside nantes creative inside dortmund inside creative writing inside creative writing brad reed inside creative writing robert olen butler creative like us creative like a simile creative like da vinci creative like meaning creative like me creative like synonyms creative like jobs creative made from letters creative works made of recyclable parts crossword clue creative works made of recyclable parts creative works made of recyclable parts nyt crossword creative attire made of recycled materials creative works made of recyclable parts nyt creative gifts made of iron creative nonfiction made of creative near me creative near creative near blacksburg va creative classes near me creative cakes near me creative nails near me creative cuts near me creative of destruction creative of arts creative of commons creative of greensboro pools & spas creative of garforth creative of entrepreneurship creative of the week creative of adam creative off road creative off camera flash techniques creative off white phone case creative off creative off meaning creative off synonym creative show off costume hire creative director off white creative on the cheap creative on demand creative on the cheap youtube creative on call creative on purpose creative on main street creative on resume creative on fortnite creative opposite of creative opposite meaning opposite of creative person opposite of creative thinking opposite of creative writing opposite of creative thinker opposite of creative mind opposite of creative subjects creative out of office messages creative out of home advertising creative out of office message examples creative out of office email examples creative out of office creative out of the box thinking creative out of office email what is a good out of office message creative outdoor distributor creative outdoor solutions