Chris Deeley replies to Dominic Kelly


I’m sure that most readers of Nick’s book would agree with Dominic Kelly that it is “very readable and generally engaging”, but doubt that many would share his apparent disapproval not only of the book, but also its author.

A recurring theme of Nick’s book is that Australia’s traditional culture has been, and continues to be, eroded by the rise of a new Ruling Class, membership of which is dominated by a “Knowledge Class” of intellectuals and fellow travellers seeking to impose their minority views on the majority. Typically, they do not attempt to “persuade people with reasoned arguments and evidence”, as implied by Dominic, but use more coercive means of persuasion. They campaign for what they regard as “right”, even if such campaigning goes against the wishes of the majority.

Nick is concerned that such campaigning is socially divisive, often counterproductive, and at odds with Australia’s traditional ethos of giving everyone a “fair go” in working together for the common good. Contrary to Dominic’s assertion, Nick is not “anti-intellectual”. But he is concerned about the proliferation of universities; more particularly the proliferation of courses, such as the study of Hollywood films, that do little to enhance the employability of graduates. Nick might include the study of politics in that category, thereby antagonising those such as Dominic, who may regard the study and teaching of politics (albeit at a minor university) as a worthwhile occupation.

Nick is clearly more impressed by wealth-creating activity. He may be an admirer of “the battlers”, but his admiration is not restricted to those who live “in the outer suburbs or regions”. It extends to all who have helped transform Australia from wilderness to wealth in less than four generations and who continue to contribute to that wealth. And, yes, some of those people choose to live in inner Sydney, as does Nick (according to Dominic), but so what?

After reading Dominic’s review, I was almost surprised that he didn’t condemn Nick, a mere English migrant, for his audacity in writing any sort of book about his adopted country, let alone a critique. But that would be going too far. After all, there have been plenty of other outsiders and immigrants who in the past have offered insightful comments about Australia: Sidney and Beatrice Webb, D.H. Lawrence, Elspeth Huxley and John Douglas Pringle, to name but a few.

Nevertheless, Dominic does a pretty good job of aspersing Nick, whom he regards as having “considerable chutzpah” (whatever that means), hypocritical, self-serving, and intolerant of those with progressive views, with mocking contempt for “virtually all forms of environmentalism”, and resorting to “cheap shots” and “strange non sequiturs”. It comes as no surprise that Dominic’s review is sullied by his own use of “cheap shots” and concomitant hypocrisy. (Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!) He regards it as unfortunate that Nick may be more “Right” than “Left”. For Dominic Australia’s cultural divide seems to be between the “fortunate”, meaning people like Dominic, and the “unfortunate”, meaning people like Nick.

Perhaps there is an argument for describing academics as fortunate. But I also think it’s fortunate that Nick has written such a readable and engaging book. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but anyone who thinks they can do better should have a go; and a fair one at that.

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Chris Deeley

Wagga Wagga

2 June 2013