PROTESTING PROTEST: Rob Bukey, exercising his birthright on YouTube.The popularity of Rob Bukey’s video Newcastle Stop Whingeing,about Novocastrians in particular, and by inference Australians generally, raises several questions about our national character -an appropriate thing to consider as we have just celebrated the precious memory of our ANZACs.
The sudden popularity of Mr Rob Bukey’s very amusing video about Novocastrians in particular, and by inference Australians generally, raises several questions about our national character, an appropriate thing to consider as we celebrate the precious memory of our ANZAC fighters. Are we really nothing more than a pack of whingers, and if we were, would that be a bad thing, or a sign of a healthy scepticism and willingness to question and evaluate issues as they arise? And how many of us are whingers, just a minority, hiding among coastal heathlands by the beach, or is whingeing a systemic, Newcastle/national past-time, indulged in by all? And is it valid to complain about those who complain, to in effect whinge about those whingeing?
The SMH (April 4, 2013) reported as long ago as 2013 that we had in fact over-taken the British as world champion whingers, when the NAB Well-being index put us at the top of the negative world, true princes of doubt and dissatisfaction, czars of gloom and envy, universal Hanrahans.And this despite our clear superiority over virtually all other nations in terms of economic well-being, employment, health and education. So why?
A quick glance over the shoulder at significant events in our history seems to lend gravitas to this hypothesis of our whingey quintessence.After all, the convicts complained endlessly about the food and getting those irritating lashings by sadistic commandants, when this treatment was clearly for their own spiritual betterment.Then, miners at Eureka just whinged endlessly about paying for mining licences, until the troopers could stand their incessant whingeing no more, and shot them.Then we had the little Aussie whingers during World War One, who complained endlessly about attempts by Government to introduce compulsory military service. After that war, our aboriginal servicemen had the audacity to whine about their unfair treatment, just because they weren’t allowed the same soldier-settler entitlements as white ex-servicemen, and could not join ex-servicemen’s associations. And in the 60’s we had the whingeing youth, complaining about the Asian war, when clearly any rational, non-whingeing person would see that if we lost in Vietnam, then soon we would inevitably be invaded by thousands of tiny communists. And how about Mr Howard, who corralled the hard-done little Aussie battlers, the whingiest of them all, and moulded them into a cohesive political unit, galvanised by feeling that everyone else was better off than them, muttering dark phrases like “we’ve been ripped off!”
In fact, our history is jam-full of whingeing, of ordinary Aussies reacting to untenable circumstance and finding its faults.With this rich seam of negativity, griping, carping and belly-aching running through our history, we can ask “was it worth it?”, “did all that whingeing pay off?” After all, Socrates told us that an un-examined life is not worth living, and that to question and complain is essential in the pursuit of truth. Could it be that our national past-time of whingeing is, in fact, a virtue, a reaction to circumstances which are intolerable, unfair, or just plain stupid?Is this ingrained habit of questioning and complaining as Australian as Vegemite, as true-blue as Weet-bix, as authentic as a Demidenko novel, and as essential for life as Billy McMahon’s snorkel?Could this be our Australian way of sorting out a chaotic reality, to eliminate the bullshit, to sift through to find the truth?
Let’s face it, Newcastle, we whinged about BHP when it was open, then whinged about it when it was going to close, (though I really don’t think anyone has actually called for it to come back, as implied by Mr B’s song). We whinge about the form of the Knights/Jets, about parking in the city, about another Council rates rise, and all these complaints are reasonable and worthy. A good whinge is even seen as beneficial for our health, like getting it off your chest. “Go on, have a good whinge,” we advise.
George Brandis failed in his attempt to legislate for “the right to be a bigot”, but our right to whinge is sacrosanct and undeniably Australian. And it is in this context that we are fully entitled to whinge about some indefensible decision-making in our city, on a range of issues. In fact, not only is this the cornerstone of democracy, but it’s our historical destiny, our birthright, to not simply accept, but to keep asking questions such as:-
Is it valid to alienate forever sections of park-land for private use by a company like Supercars? Is it OK for a company like Supercars to chop down many mature trees in our city, when ordinary rate-payers are fined for taking off just a bough in their back yard without permission? Is it fine to endorse an event which breeches Council’s own noise emission guidelines, using legislation cunningly crafted to evade EPA scrutiny? Is it OK to use public funds, rate-payers’ dollars, to facilitate private car races? Was it short-sighted to terminate the light rail at Wickham for ever, making network expansion difficult? Should that have been placed on the existing rail corridor, freeing funds to complete worthy civic projects like restoration of the old Post Office and the completion of the art gallery? And is it ethical for Council officers to do the bidding of an organisation like Supercars in public consultation meetings with residents, when their role should be to represent rate-payers?
Ah! That feels better, but a good whinge does deserve intelligent responses.