Before I first set foot on Australian soil some 20 years ago, almost the only Australians I had ever met — a sprinkling of fellow journalists and artists aside — were young men I played sport against on English tennis and squash courts and cricket grounds — three sports I played at fairly serious levels when I was younger.
Hawkesbury Harvest Farmers and
Fine Food Market at Castle Hill, NSW
What I should state here immediately is what excellent ambassadors for their country such sportive Australians once were: intensely competitive yet modest as well as excellent company after the matches were over.
What I suspect now is that quite a high percentage of these players were possibly country boys, i.e., the sons of farmers or professional people who had been sent away to be educated privately in the capitals of their respective states.
Whoever they were all certainly showed a very welcome curiosity about life in other countries as well as the vital adaptability necessary to fit in well overseas.
Having lived in Australia myself for quite a number of years, I now tend to view such people as representing an “old” Australia — the heyday of which had probably passed well before I came here myself.
Christianity, in its various guises, undoubtedly played an important if largely unseen role in the basic psychology of this “old” — and very likeable — Australia, whereas it seemingly plays little or none at all in the psychology of “new”, politically correct, post-modernist Australia.
Indeed, in post-modern, theory-bound Australia, traditional Christianity is apt to find itself viewed today as little more than an anachronistic superstition. This is a very damaging change for our country.
I was reminded recently of my thoughts about “old” Australia while attending a local farmers’ market in the Blue Mountains. One of the participants at the market had driven for some five hours from very early that morning to bring excellent wines from vineyards he had planted himself some 20 years earlier. Before being so engaged he was an international rower based in England — just down the road from where I was then living myself, in fact.
However, his was just one of the fascinating stories of old-fashioned initiative to be met among the occupants of the stands — most of which retailed excellent, mainly rural, produce.
Such markets are patronised very enthusiastically locally, creating echoes of days when fresh Australian fare was marketed much more simply, locally and cheaply than is generally the case today.
Many among sellers and buyers wore engaging smiles — another somewhat unusual trait when compared with the mood generally prevailing in any of the three gargantuan local supermarkets, which are virtually our sole local outlets otherwise for the retailing of food.
Garish signboards proclaim the wonderful extent to which customers at this local duopoly are able to make huge savings.
Compared with what exactly?
Food prices have certainly escalated sharply during the past four years when I have been living largely abroad. Like power and fuel, food is an unavoidable purchase, yet how reassuring it would be to associate its purchase, at least occasionally, with some kind of pleasure or fulfilment.
At the time of day — mid-morning — at which I most often visit one or other of the vast local supermarkets, they are generally at their emptiest, except for seriously disorientated-seeming elderly people who generally cannot find the whereabouts of any of the things they seek amid all the brightly-lit acres of aisles. There is nowhere at all for any of them to sit, and some seem to me to employ their supermarket trolleys as substitute Zimmer walking-frames as they slowly traverse the vast distances which separate one corner of the store from another.
Towards the end of my mother’s life in England, our local greengrocer kept a special chair for her so that she could take a necessary rest in the middle of her shopping. Where is evidence of such basic humanity today?
In the supermarket which I prefer — not least because of an absence of Jamie Oliver stickers — vast crudely-drawn and printed hands point to the floor of the emporium which bear the legend “DOWN — AND STAYING DOWN”.
In spite of my initial misapprehension that such severed limbs referred simply to the spirits of the shoppers I have since learned that they refer apparently to the prices of adjacent foodstuffs. Very possibly the inventor of this canny slogan was paid a king’s ransom for his or her marketing genius, yet I find that these vast stores now remind me perversely of nothing so much as the old GUM supermarket in central Moscow where, in the days shortly before the collapse of communism, there was virtually nothing to buy.
It would be wrong, I am sure, to describe the buying of food today as a minefield, yet I find a good deal of the packaging, plus the tiny size of the print which bears vital information about the food’s place of origin, deceptive to say the least.
The thought crosses my mind at least occasionally that we may be exporting the very best of Australian produce and importing our own food instead from lands where local farming practices are not within our control.
To true capitalists the arbiter in all matters is supposed to be “the market”, yet playing about in any way with our main food supply can clearly affect the entire future health of our nation.
Let me remind you for a moment of the classic function of “the market”. I quote here from excellent American economist James Rickards’ book, The Death of Money: The Coming Collapse of the International Monetary System (Penguin Books, 2014):
“The word market invokes images of everything from prehistoric trade goods to mediaeval town fairs to postmodern digital exchanges with nano-second bids and offers converging in a computational cloud. In essence, markets are places where buyers and sellers meet to conduct the sale of goods and services.
“In the world today, place may be an abstracted location, a digital venue; a meeting may amount to nothing more than a fleeting connection. But at their core, markets are unchanged since traders swapped amber for ebony on the shores of the Mediterranean during the Bronze Age.”
In the small country town where I grew up in the UK — Faversham, Kent — supermarkets were in those days still many years from making an appearance.
Accordingly, local shopkeepers still vied with one another in their general courtesy and helpfulness. Any who did not do so would probably not have lasted long. Meat, fish, eggs, fruit, vegetables and bread were all locally sourced and, in spite of the widespread post-war poverty which prevailed, I suspect people generally ate better — and certainly cooked better — than many do today.
Branches of so-called high street banks competed similarly for local custom, whereas today they seemingly compete only in the rapidity — and gross inconvenience — of their closures.
Looking back, I find I can easily recall the names of local shopkeepers and bank managers, even from the somewhat distant days of my youth. Individual human beings once clearly mattered in the greater scheme of things, but I fear such days are increasingly behind us now.
The global financial crisis of 2008 demonstrated clearly how little the concerns of ordinary citizens mattered to the world’s super-banks or insurance companies. In the general decline of useful manufacturing in Britain and the United States of America, we have witnessed instead the rise and rise of artificially-created bank products such as derivatives.
In the West, in general, levels of national debt now threaten our long-held notions about civilisation itself, yet in Australia we are still quibbling endlessly about the making even of minor economies.
In my youth the object of much of my reading was to gain as wide a knowledge as possible of Western culture and history. In recent years, however, a large part of my reading has been transferred to international economic theory. I fear much of this has been prompted by an understandable wish to survive.
If you have not yet embarked on such a course yourself, may I recommend Mitch Feierstein’s Planet Ponzi: How the World Got Into This Mess, What Happens Next, How to Save Yourself (Random House, 2012) and James Rickards’ The Death of Money: The Coming Collapse of the International Monetary System (Penguin Books, 2014) as inexpensive paperback primers?
Giles Auty was born in the United Kingdom and trained privately as a painter. He worked professionally as an artist for 20 years. Publication of his The Art of Self-Deceptionswung his career towards criticism. He was art critic for The Spectator from 1984 to 1995. He currently lives in Australia and continues to devote himself to his original love — painting. He is a regular contributor to Annals Australasia, a journal of Catholic culture, where the above article first appeared. It is reprinted in News Weekly with permission.
Shopping-mall architecture ‘depresses the mind’
Most middle-sized American cities have disappeared into a suburban morass, while shopping malls have replaced the old town centres. Americans in most parts of the United States have no other place to congregate. Even churches are relocating to shopping malls in order to accommodate the habits of their congregations. Unlike European cities (and older American ones), the public aspect of cities is entirely absent: churches, public buildings, monuments, and so forth. The omnipresence of purely commercial architecture depresses the mind; Europeans accustomed to viewing well-proportioned buildings in their daily perambulations find it difficult to spend more than a day or two in such places.
Extract from David P. Goldman (alias ‘Spengler’), It’s Not the End of the World: It’s Just the End of You: The Great Extinction of the Nations (New York: RVP Publishers, 2011), page 157.