Publisher of Griffith Review, Professor Julianne Schultz challenges our notions of what it means to be Australian and asks timely and urgent questions about our national identity.
Maybe because Australia has been so rich for so long, complacency and entitlement, rather than innovation and aspiration have become the norm. Maybe because the habit of not looking back has become so ingrained, we are incapable of imagining what we might become, as we really have little idea of how we got here. Maybe because we have for so long accommodated bullies, we have retreated to smaller dreams in manageable spaces. Maybe because so few of our political leaders have had courageous imaginations, they must be led. Maybe because we are ashamed of our racialist past, we forgot how to hold onto the good bits. Maybe because being home to the oldest continuous culture is just too difficult for its white settlers to comprehend. We need to address these issues if Australia is to be more than a half-formed idea.
What is the idea of Australia? What defines the soul of our nation? Are we an egalitarian, generous, outward-looking country? Or is Australia a nation that has retreated into silence and denial about the past and become selfish, greedy, and insular?
A lifetime of watching the country as a journalist, editor, academic and writer has given Julianne Schultz a unique platform from which to ask and answer these big urgent questions. The global pandemic gave her a time to study the X-ray of our country and the opportunity for perspective and analysis.
Schultz came to realise that the idea of Australia is a contest between those who are imaginative, hopeful, altruistic and ambitious and those who are defensive and inward-looking. She became convinced we need to acknowledge and better understand our past to make sense of our present and to build a positive and inclusive future. She suggests what Australia could be: smart, compassionate, engaged, fair and informed.
Braiding her personal experience with often untold stories from our poorly understood history, Schultz finds a resourceful and creative people who have often been badly served by timid and self-interested leaders: a people eager to meaningfully recognise the First Australians and solve the flaw at the heart of the nation. A people who are not afraid of change and put culture ahead of politics. She tells us revealing stories that we rarely hear from our media or leaders.
This important, searing and compelling book explains us to ourselves and suggests ways Australia can realise her true potential. Urgent, inspiring, and optimistic, The Idea of Australia presents the vision we need to fully appreciate our great strengths and crucial challenges.