Books & Literature

Book Review: Still Lucky, by Rebecca Huntley

Social research looking at today’s attitudes and beliefs in Australia, compared to those expressed in the 1964 classic, The Lucky Country, by Donald Horne.

Rebecca Huntley is a social researcher and has conducted hundreds of qualitative group interviews all across Australia. Her aim in Still Lucky has been to distil the wisdom, concerns and attitudes she has encountered from Australians, coming from all walks of life, into a coherent picture of what we care about and our hopes for the future.

Huntley’s narrative compares the themes found in the 1964 classic The Lucky Country by Donald Horne to today’s attitudes and beliefs. Horne expressed his belief that Australia was ‘”a lucky country run mainly by second rate people who share its luck”’, and populated by people who were unconcerned about investment in education or infrastructure and thought they could just endlessly dig up resources, export them and simply hope for the best (Horne cited page 12).

As the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (GFC) began to bite, Huntley noted a marked shift in attitudes. Her subjects were ‘fixated on a worst-case scenario about what lies ahead’, a position Huntley found increasingly difficult to explain to corporate clients (page 14). Those from abroad would point to Australia’s strong economy and low unemployment figures, unable to understand that the underlying concerns of Australians were based on the challenges they could see approaching in the near future.

Clearly much has changed since 1964, such as improved gender equality and a far more diverse and lively artistic, food and cultural life across the country. Nonetheless, Huntley notes much of what Horne discussed is still relevant: we are earlier adopters of new technologies; we still focus on owning our own home; our distrust of politicians remains; and our attitudes to new arrivals – be they migrants or refugees hasn’t changed much. As one interviewee put it, ‘I would like to see immigration cut…now that I’m here’ (italics in original page 95).

Through analysis of research into a range of issues such as racism, climate change, job security, the still-difficult position of women – often worn out by being both a breadwinner and bread-maker – Huntley puts some of our concerns, fears and attitudes into perspective. She discusses the worrying increase in job insecurity, particularly for women in part time work and how this intersects with and further influences Australians’ consistent desire to own one’s own home.

Huntley notes when she asks what people have recently been discussing with friends and family, two topics tend not to be raised: Indigenous Australians and climate change. In the first instance, it appears this is not a racist bias but rather that the vast majority of us rarely come in contact with Indigenous Australians. Research which specifically addresses Indigenous issues receives positive responses, particularly on matters such as Kevin Rudd’s Apology and constitutional recognition.

Similar responses noting lack of political will, inconsistent policies, planning and programs are given when people are directly asked about these two areas. Since 2010 Australians have been given ample reason to distrust their politicians and be suspicious of their motivations. This has been particularly evident in the renewable energy debate and meeting greenhouse targets. After a minor swipe at the 24/7 media cycle which distracts and detracts from getting things done, Huntley speculates that researching issues to death is a hindrance rather than a help in implementing reform.

Reviewed by Jan Kershaw

Rating out of 10:  7

Released by: Penguin Australia
Release Date: January 2017
RRP: $35.00 trade paperback, $14.99 eBook

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