Flat White

Holt anniversary barometer to slide in standards

19 December 2017

7:27 AM

19 December 2017

7:27 AM

Beer is flowing at pubs and clubs and fuel is available at the bowser even if prices may be opportunistically increased over the festive season. But there is still a Christmas crisis in Australia this year.

Signs may appear at the supermarket should you be lucky enough to have groceries scanned by a real person or around the Christmas tree when gifts are exchanged on Monday.

To use or not of two simple words – thank you – will define whether you belong to the grateful and respectful cohort or deserve to be allocated to a less-savoury category.

In what should be the season of goodwill to all, recent days have shown too many Australians are happier being juvenile and disrespectful to the past, displaying such a lack of understanding from whence they came that their future may well have no direction.

When Prime Minister Harold Holt drowned at Cheviot Beach 50 years ago, Australia was a country where respect was taught by parents and expected by society.

I remember the night of his disappearance well – a six-year-old growing up in country Victoria when neighbours called at our home on that warm December evening.

“What about Mr Holt,” asked one of my grandmothers who was staying ahead of Christmas, providing a segue for concern about the loss of the prime minister. These were not politically-active, just ordinary people expressing grief.


The key word in that question was Mister showing respect for the person, the office and therefore the nation.

But fast-forward to 2017 and the anniversary of Holt’s drowning has sadly highlighted the absence of historic awareness among many modern Australians and their penchant to trivialise key moments in the national journey with social media banter that confirms the absence of knowledge and respect.

An article by News Limited journalist Joe Hildebrand went for a contemporary angle on Holt’s disappearance by “re-creating” the events of that fateful day as if unfolding on twitter where fact and fiction can be blurred at the best of times.

Funny it may have been to the author but in reality it was nothing short of flippant dribble flowing from the pen, trivialising a national and personal tragedy.

When the article did stray to paragraphs seeking to masquerade as serious, lack of research was evident with Holt labelled “a conservative politician straight out of central casting, at least the way conservatives would like to see it” as if to portray a sense of knowledge and accuracy, albeit false and misguided.

Professor Tom Frame, who doubtlessly spent considerable more time in preparing his notes on Holt for the Museum of Australian Democracy in stark contrast to Hildebrand’s juvenile and amateur take on history, said:

“Standing firmly in the tradition of Victorian liberalism … Holt believed that government had to discern and then respect its place in human affairs, that it should not intrude unnecessarily in social life nor presume to know what was best for its citizens. But that did not prevent him from believing that government should display compassion when the need was compelling and demonstrate charity where it had the competence to alleviate distress.”

Both these articles were posted to Facebook where stupid, petty and ill-informed comments cluttered any quest for true understanding a reader may have had.

Out came the well-worn jokes about a swimming pool named after Holt, the Chinese submarine conspiracy theory (although many tried to pin that on Japan) and dalliances with women. Historical context was lost on many with questions on why he was swimming alone, oblivious to the lifestyle of the 1960s in a time before older Australians may say the world went mad.

The level of disrespect did not stop there over the weekend. There were malicious posters wanting current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to swim at Cheviot Beach, a parallel perhaps with a former Young Democrats member who once wrote of his ambition to “hug John Howard with a screwdriver in each hand”.

The rise of vicious and hate-fuelled politics in Australia only adds to the increasing acceptance of pathetic and poorly-informed commentary that now captures not only events of today, but those in the annals of history in a vortex of juvenile abuse and petulant disrespect.

Australia half a century ago had a reality check in the week of Christmas and came through with dignity and respect. A prime minister had drowned, a family had lost a father and grandfather and the nation mourned.

Could today’s torchbearers display the maturity needed to pass the respect test?

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