The Lucky County is a book written by Donald Horne, first published in 1964.The same year I was born. The book is quite famous in Australia and the term “The Lucky Country” is still widely used to describe Australia – even though most people do not understand what the phrase really meant to the book’s author.
This book – and certainly it’s title – is so famous here, I decided that I had to read it. Here is my review.
Book Review – of sorts…
Well, first the good news. I read the book, so you don’t have to. And you can thank me for it, because it can be summed up in one word: Shit!
It was dull in the extreme. Near the end with only three chapters remaining I cut to the chase and jumped to the final chapter (also titled The Lucky Country) which summed up the whole purpose of the book. Then returned – disappointed – and read the other bits.
Obviously very out of date because of when it was written and with only a small hint of any historical interest for a non-Australian like myself (or even for a young Australian who probably knows less than I do about the country in those days). Much of what Horne mentions applied equally to where I grew up. I am sure that was the case in most other so called ‘stable westernised democracies’. There was one thing he pointed out that was true. That was that the technical age (something still to take off back then) might pass Australia by whereas Asia – Japan was specifically mentioned – was already embracing it. Again however, that is true for all Western countries. Japan emerged as a manufacturing and technological powerhouse followed by other east Asian countries. More recently of course China has become even more dominant and it is not only Australia that has sat back and watched.
Misuse of “The Lucky Country”
The title has become a kind of nickname for Australia and is generally used to signify that the country has so much to offer. Among other things, it has mainly been used in reference to Australia’s abundant natural resources, both minerals and food. “The land of plenty” as Men at Work sang. It has also been used to describe things like the weather and distance from problems elsewhere in the world. Although oddly, that last one has never stopped Australia being dragged into wars all over the planet.
Yet the origin of the phrase was negative in the context of the book. It is said that in the decades following his book’s publication, Horne was critical of the “lucky country” phrase being used as a term of endearment and pride for Australia. So he was unhappy with the misuse of the phrase eh? Well maybe he should have written a more interesting book then. That’s all I can say.
The Final Chapter.
Right at the back of the book the final chapter has the same title. Finally Horne gets to the bloody point.
“Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people’s ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise.”
Yeah, thanks for those words of wisdom Mr. Horne. That could apply to any government in any country that I know anything about in my lifetime. Therein lies the biggest problem with this book. He talks about Australia as if any other western democracy is (or was) any different at that time. They were not. They still aren’t.
In fact if anyone wants to talk about second rate people running the country they only need to look at this shower (supposedly) running things right now! If only they were second rate. That would be a massive improvement on what we actually have now. Third rate? Fourth rate? No. These idiots now are much lower down the food chain.
Based on the current bunch maybe someone should write a book called The Bloody Unlucky Country.