Guest Notes

Unneighbourly notes

5 October 2019

9:00 AM

5 October 2019

9:00 AM

More than 20 years of living in Australia has caused me to think that most Australians may now never really master the basic principles of communal living — especially those principles involving a certain generosity of spirit.

To provide a little background to this subject, until relatively recently Holland had much the same population as Australia — although one confined to a very small country, half the size of Tasmania. Quite rightly, Holland has a worldwide reputation today for its degree of civic concern and friendliness while Australia — for all its magnificent vastness — remains, in my experience at least, just about the most unwelcoming Western nation I know in terms of communal concern. Let me give you an example or two.

In two properties my wife and I have bought in the Upper Blue Mountains of NSW for our own personal use, we ‘inherited’ a number of dead or derelict trees. Naturally, we asked for permission to remove them, which was quickly granted following a council inspection. However, in both instances, hostile crowds gathered to abuse us when felling finally began. Indeed, on the second occasion, the crowd included the owners of a neighbouring house, a small run-down property, which they visit for about one month a year. The trees in our garden, which suffered from a root-borne disease, were tall gums and proved to be totally hollowed out when they were finally felled. Our actions involved no risk to these neighbours whose own property, ironically, boasts a number of dead and dying trees, which truly do present a danger to us. I cannot imagine any other couple in the world behaving so oddly, yet both hold respected professional jobs.

The kindest explanation I can offer is that these days, involvement in almost any kind of environmentalist cause can result in the participants suffering some kind of mental disturbance. Thus, the children taking part in the national protest regarding climate change should largely be absolved. For what genuine choice did members of the Hitler Youth, say, really face regarding their widespread recruitment in pre-war Nazi Germany? Yet, what then can we say about their wretched teachers? From them the children can learn today to hate anybody above a certain age who is supposedly largely responsible for most of the world’s ills. Indeed, many of us oldies — especially males — saw military service and believed we were fighting genuine, often universal troubles. I was never asked to quell a riot in a juvenile prison admittedly yet for the most part feel easy with myself and what I was called upon to do.

The house my wife and I currently occupy in the Blue Mountains was opened three years ago by this country’s National Trust as a house and garden of exceptional interest and we have also volunteered its use subsequently for charity events. In short, we have spent time and effort pursuing ageless ideals of beauty and utility — as many people continue to do in Britain and Europe — where quite good chances exist that your neighbours may actually like you and even appreciate their proximity to lovely grounds rather than to some antagonistic tip.

I do not know what percentage of Australian schoolchildren taking part in the recent global warming protest have even the most elementary grasp of science and much the same applies, in my mind, to the teachers who regularly harangue them. You may even begin to see that the comparison I made with the Hitler Youth may not be so far-fetched or absurd as you imagined. In my case, it took no more than one composed and rational book — Ian Plimer’s Heaven and Earth (Connor Court 2009) to banish my last miniscule doubts about the rights and wrongs of so-called Global Warming during the course of its 500 pages. My own main training was not in science, yet I encountered nothing at all that I could not understand.

Prior to our coming here, my wife owned two small units in a Sydney apartment block and swore, owing to her mind-bending experiences there, never to repeat that error. High percentages of people in Western Europe have lived in apartment blocks since long, long ago and seem, in my experience, largely to have sorted out most regularly encountered problems, but then few people might wish to build a swimming-pool, for example, in sharply sloping terrain composed solely of solid rock in Neutral Bay. In a city such as Sydney, where few people have much traditional aptitude for communal living, a great imperative exists now for absolutely clear strata laws which are both sensibly followed and properly enforced. A while ago we broke our rule and invested in a delightful little Sydney apartment again. We could never have foreseen what has subsequently occurred.

Is there something in the history of Australia which makes constructive communal living impossible? Oddly enough, I believe that there is: no full-scale war has ever taken place on our land, nor, Darwin apart, in our skies. We never learned, in short, to regard our fellow citizens with appropriate love and respect because we were never all directly involved in that vast community enterprise known as war. When I saw London blazing, even as a tiny child, I intuited that we would never be beaten. Australia, which was not always thus, has today grown dangerously materialistic to the exclusion of almost everything else.

I may occasionally err, yet feel I am basically right in my instincts that Australians have little talent for communal living. I first acknowledged this when my wife and I first ceased to take holidays in Australia. Two years ago, I underwent major surgery and, as a result, still cannot operate a large garden umbrella. I bought a modest, outdoor awning instead but was forbidden to use it by the executive committee. I cannot imagine this happening in any other country I know.

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