In the early part of last century, with a population of 5 million people, Australia entered the so-called Great War, World War 1 (1914 -1918) where some 60,000 Australians sacrificed their lives for their/our country. It was incorrectly termed the ‘war to end all wars’ and just like the Second World War some twenty years later, the profound hardship was also shared at home.
At the end of World War 1, upon returning from service, Australians faced another great challenge: the relentless suffering of the 1918–1920 Pandemic, the so-called “Spanish Flu” where more than 12,000 Australians lost their lives. The privation of The Great Depression (1929-1932) soon followed, with Australia experiencing one of the most severe rates of unemployment in the industrial world at 32%.
It is almost unimaginable now, the hardship Australians must have felt: the depth of their pain and despair, the sorrow and loss faced by our forbearers, a generation whose stoicism remains unparalleled. So much so that it is embarrassing that our society now considers it necessary to redefine words like ‘hard’ or ‘Aussie Battler’ in order to attract the sympathy and attention they apparently so desperately seek and desire.
Yet another example of real hardship occurred in the summer of 1939 when Australia experienced a heatwave with temperature recorded as high as 49.7 degrees Celsius (121.5 degrees Fahrenheit). It was relentless, lasting some 14 days. That January was a disaster: hundreds of people lost their lives, the numbers of deaths from the heat were so high in some communities that they simply ran out of coffins. This was at a time when the population was a mere 7 million and the country was preparing to face the next great challenge, when later that year Prime Minister Menzies announced our entry into the Second World War (1939-1945) a period of hardship and sacrifice that has been well documented.
We have learnt and benefited from our history, from the sacrifices of those who have gone before us, those who built and have left us a very generous legacy, yet we are reluctant to acknowledge how much better our lives are today. We now seem to feel a need to pitch the line that everything is actually harder or we are ‘worse off’. As usual, once said more than three times on social media it somehow becomes a truism or matter of fact! Perhaps we are just redefining our negative words proportional to the rate that our lives improve, so we can maintain the need to continually complain and deny ourselves the optimism and happiness our forefathers believed we deserved.
Just as an example: the other week the weather report described one isolated day with a maximum temperature of 38 degrees on the east coast of Australia in the middle of our southern hemisphere summer as a ‘heatwave’. Those who remember January 1939 must quietly shake their heads and mockingly wonder how soft we have become as obviously ONE DAY IS NOT A HEATWAVE. Certainly, my deceased relatives would think it a load of bull for the media’s deities, who seem to confuse climate and weather, to make such a stupid statement.
Again another slightly different but related example: last month the federal drug regulator announced that painkillers containing codeine will no longer is available over the counter from 2018. What has changed? Is there a relationship between the demands for heavier drugs and the way we are redefining certain empathy seeking words? Let’s face it; no one gets headaches anymore, it’s not ‘hard’ enough. It seems that most of us are now only ever afflicted with migraines and this is apparently reflected in the demand for harder painkilling drugs. As a consequence, these drugs are being withdrawn due to misuse.
(Not that I’m stoic, yesterday morning I awoke with a scratchy throat, by lunchtime there was concern that I had an infectious disease, some type of viral influencer and by evening drinks the fellas diagnosed me with bacterial pneumonia. Clearly, the belief that man-flu is more painful than childbirth is an exaggeration, as today, irrespective of the various diagnoses and the relief provided by a small camphor bag, I just have a cold!)
We need to toughen up a bit and stop understating the basics just to make everything sound harder than it is. Stop embarrassing the legacy that we’ve inherited. Stop denigrating the memory of our forefathers: those who endured real struggle and hardship, hunger and homelessness, like the survivors of the Great Depression, the real little Aussie Battlers. How dare we compare our situation today with those who survived such forlorn years? Just look at the photographic evidence of the time: the skinny malnourished skeletons whose sunken eyes reflect the permanent pain etched deeply on faces aged well beyond their years.
Today when we refer to ‘Aussie Battlers’ the picture is generally one of welfare dependence, addiction, sloth and obesity, not people picking themselves up and having a go. Just stop using the term, as it insults the memory of those who’s lives defined the label.
There is no success without hardship – Sophocles
24 February 2017