Sam de Brito August 26, 2012
Australian of note ... Julian Assange. Photo: Reuters
THERE'S a famous scene in the 1949 Orson Welles movie The Third Man where his character, Harry Lime, talks about the gifts of adversity.
''In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland … they had 500 years of democracy and peace and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock,'' Welles smirks.
When I saw this movie again recently, it made me wonder what Australia had produced in the past 30 years that was of global significance, aside from Julian Assange and Ugg boots?
AC/DC? Steve Irwin? A cure for peptic ulcers? Sure, the CSIRO gave the world wi-fi and we also partly invented the bionic ear, a vaccine for cervical cancer and the wine cask. But is that it?
History will judge us - and let's hope it's not just for the Bee Gees and the ''Oi, Oi, Oi'' chant. Just as we look back and are steeled by memories of the Anzacs, embarrassed by the White Australia Policy and amused by the dagginess of Puberty Blues, so too will this era be scrutinised and periodised, as have been the Roaring '20s, the Great Depression and the Cold War.
Will we earn a name? We've had the ''Atomic Age'', ''Space Age'' and ''Information Age'', with some speculating we're now in the ''Social Age''; it depresses the hell out of me to think that from tens of thousands of years of human development, our generation's most memorable contribution is friggin' Facebook.
Standing as we are in the river of time, it's almost impossible to perceive the thing ''we shall be remembered for'', just as no one got around in 1500BC Egypt calling it the ''the Middle Kingdom'' or woke up in AD537 Europe and said: ''You know, this really is quite a Dark Age.''
One statement, perhaps, we can make with some certainty is that, as pressure creates diamonds, hardship and suffering also produce unpredictable cultural rewards.
The last ice age gave us the incredible drawings of the Chauvet cave in southern France, music and our first figurative sculptures; the Peloponnesian War, Socrates; British colonialism, Gandhi; apartheid, Nelson Mandela. Another product of the Borgias, Niccolo Machiavelli, believed it was only in moments of great crisis that human nature truly revealed itself: virtue grows from and is dependent on the context of violence and disorder. It's an interesting point and surely one our nation embraces with phrases such as ''Australia was born on the shores of Gallipoli''.
It does, however, make you wonder what sort of character is produced by a culture that has as its greatest concerns interest rates, its place on the footy or gold-medal table, and whether or not the sauce on its quail lacks acidity.
I'm tempted to write off such egocentricities as simply more of the same from the ''Me Generation'', but that's a title already held by baby boomers and the ''self-realisation'' of the '70s, and they at least had to go through the turmoil of the '60s.
''Me'' was our current generation's starting point and it fittingly gave us the ''i'' era of iPods, iPhones, iPads, reality television and the anal-gazing of Twitter. If you doubt me, eavesdrop anywhere and the most-used word in conversation will be that singular, personal pronoun.
To that end, our pronunciation has, as ever, been a little unique. While we chant ''Oi, Oi, Oi'' to the world, perhaps it should instead be ''I, I, I.''