Australia is a unique place. We’re the only country that occupies an entire continent. We’re a diverse country, ethnically, religiously and culturally. What is it all for? Should a country have a higher purpose?
Michael Kirby, Peter Doherty and Julianne Schultz have some differing ideas on what Australia is ultimately for, but all seemed to agree that our country has a long way to go if it is to fulfil any greater purpose.
Peter Doherty, biologist and Nobel Prize winner, believes that the advancement of science is Australia’s purpose. Australia was in fact discovered for science, he said. Captain Cook was on a commissioned voyage to track the path of Venus and the ship was packed with scientists. A metaphor, Doherty thought. Australia has gone on to become the most advanced scientific community in the southern hemisphere with a unique take on scientific problems, thanks to our geographic isolation.
Michael Kirby, retired High Court Judge respectfully disagreed (which is a nice way of insulting people, he tells us). In fact, he says it was the judges that founded Australia. With the civil war in America, England desperately needed somewhere to stash their prisoners. It was judges, sentencing so many British to banishment in the southern colony that built this country. Kirby, however, doesn’t see Australia’s higher purpose as being intrinsically connected to law and order. Rather, he thinks of Australia as a potential example to the world, demonstrating that “…people of different races and religions can live together in harmony under strong institutions.”
Julianne Schultz, editor of the ‘Griffith REVIEW‘, felt the Arts provide a potential direction for the nation. We have enormous strengths in our increasing creative output. If Australia could only find a way to embed the arts across the board rather than viewing them as an optional extra, perhaps we might serve as a cultural and artistic haven.
Pessimism holds us back from our purpose; our cloud of negativity prevents us from performing any higher role at all. Michael Kirby knows why. It’s those dratted journos. Every story that makes it to the mainstream media is divisive said Kirby, just try and get a good story printed and watch the barriers go up. Doherty countered Kirby’s attack on the media, “Oh no, you read some fabulously positive stories in the newspapers – but unfortunately, they only appear in the obituaries!”
We’re not a beacon, we’re a backwater says Kirby. We need a Bill of Rights, maybe then we could get passionate about the question of what we are for. The law is not always just and “Parliament won’t fix it. If its not sexy, if it won’t get votes, it’ll be left alone” said Kirby. We need to take ownership of our values and our purpose.
No one else can tell us what we’re for, says Kirby. That’s up to us.
Emily Handley is a Southern Cross University student.