Marcus on Life: The Unlucky Country

THE LUCKY COUNTRY  “The Lucky Country” sounds like a nice cuddly description of Australia, but it isn’t. In fact it’s a rather cynical dig. It comes from the title of a Professor Donald Horne book in 1964 called "The Lucky Country". The point he was trying to make was that Australia was “Lucky” rather than “clever”. Lucky to develop without being particularly clever. Lucky to have adopted the technological, economic, social and political innovations of other more “clever” nations. His quote " Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck". Another Professor, Ian Lowe, wrote a paper called “The Clever Country?” saying Australia had two options. To “continue our current economic strategies, this could be called the ‘steady as she sinks’ approach….or to try seriously to become "the clever country" by investing in our own future”. The usage of the expression has been redefined a hundred times since 1964. Given different meanings. Horne laments the fact that he has had to “sit through the most appalling rubbish as successive generations misapplied this phrase”. So let me misapply it one more time. To a Pom the “Lucky Country” means something completely different. It means “A Gambling Nation”. Australia is a nation of gamblers. If someone goes past you in a Porsche in the US you say “That’s Bill Gates, built Microsoft, clever bloke”. If someone goes past you in a Porsche in the UK you peer in the window, sneer and say “Nouveau Riche, no class”. If someone goes past you in a Porsche in Narre Warren Australia, gets out in his flip flops and tracky daks, scratches his arse and goes into Bi-Lo to buy a six pack of Bourbon and Coke you go “That’s Joe Bloggs. Won the Lotto. Good on him”. Australians respect luck. I’ve never seen such a nation (a wife) so besotted with Lotto. You have as much chance of winning as you have of being hit by lightening three times on a Wednesday on an odd day of the month. No chance. But still you pour your hard earned wedge into the grubbies of a company with a monopoly on exploiting stupidity. Luck is the Australian culture. It stems perhaps from the fact that the country was built on the luck and guts of pioneers who wandered into the bush, marked out some land and dug for gold. “Something from nothing” is Australia’s culture, a culture that thrives on the image of “boy dun good”. Thick but rich. The only time you mention your hard earned academic qualifications in Australia is in interview, under your breath. It's just not fashionable to be smart. Far better you “make it” against the odds than narrowed the odds with an education. Australians thrive on the idea of fighting against the odds (Gallipoli). But this idolisation of the “chancer” has left some Australians believing the marketing, that something comes of nothing and that their own lives will also be, one day, miraculously, transformed. That their boat will come in, that it’ll be alright in the end. That they too will “make it”. That some piece of “luck” will deliver. But sorry, it won’t. Too many of us live life with unrealistic expectations. In Europe “Everything’s built and everything’s old”. The culture of acceptance and realism is far more natural than one of hope and fantasy. People are resigned to their financial fate. They set up school fees funds. They budget their holidays. They don’t expect some “opportunity” or meteorite hit to bail them out of their current excess. The consequence of unrealistic expectations for any Australians brain washed by the lucky marketing, will be disappointment. Disappointment at expectations not being met. Disappointment in retirement. Disappointment in yourself. Disappointment for your family. On top of that you can add daily, often solitary, financial pressure, pressure that will cost you more than money in your lost, happy, frame of mind. Whilst you’ve got time, do yourselves a favour. Stop planning on a miraculous wealth event and start planning on reality, plan on a realistic income, plan on a realistic expenditure. Plan on the stockmarket returning 9% per annum not a million dollars in one stock next month. And having scared yourself, start planning your way out of it. If it’s any consolation, my experience is twofold.
  • Happiness is certainty. Worrying about whether you are going to end up in a hole is far more damaging than being in one.  Happiness is a couple of hours doing some family financial planning away.
  • The bigger a hole you find yourself in (four kids and a renovation), the harder you work to get out of it and ultimately the more you get out of life. You should relish the challenge, it is invigorating. There’s no happiness in idleness. (OK, now I’m lying).
Apologies for the host of generalisations.

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