As the nationwide inquiry into the spheres of chubby youngsters, alcohol aficionados, and nicotine enthusiasts—an inquiry christened the Preventative Health Task Force—unfolds, I find myself ruminating on the striking lack of humor permeating the political landscape. Amidst my anticipation for the arrival of my “butter pride” T-shirt, I’m compelled to ponder why the realm of politics seems so burdened by a lack of levity. A perplexing transformation has occurred, transforming politicians into the guardians of fun. Regardless of the missteps, whether concerning children’s playthings, smoking, or paunches cultivated by beer indulgence, the rallying cry emerges: demand the government enact a law to rectify it all. The dawn of a landscape has arisen where politicians tread with trepidation, afraid to dismiss calls for intervention lest they be deemed unserious.
In the midst of this gravity-laden sphere, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, stands as an exception, offering a breath of fresh air. When queried about his role in combatting obesity, he espoused a refreshingly candid policy—simply, “eat less.”
During a parliamentary inquiry into smoking within automobiles, a cancer authority, Bernie Stewart, underscored that while smoking indeed posed a hazard similar to fiddling with radios or conversing on mobile phones, the risks for passengers were marginal due to smokers generally opening windows. The hot air, alas, vacated the car, but it lingered within the halls of legislation. Interest groups and media pundits swayed politicians to advocate for a new law. Yet, amid the fervor, the essence of humor evaporated, yielding to a cascade of regulations.
Amid the gamut of requests stemming from the Rudd Government’s 2020 summit, one particularly irksome proposal emerged—a call for mandated daily exercise. One might initially suspect this initiative was a clandestine maneuver by small-government advocates to trigger a George Orwell alarm. Regrettably, this was not the case. Sincere do-gooders earnestly championed the notion of state-sanctioned calisthenics, leaving us incredulous.
Diving into the portal of Australia’s official governmental culture page, we unearth the assertion that “Australians harbor a penchant for dark humor.” An exemplar of this emerges through the naming of the Harold Holt Memorial Swimming Pool after a prime minister who mysteriously vanished while swimming in 1967. The page continues, highlighting the tendency to mock the overly pious—a facet deeply embedded within Australian humor. From this vantage point, it becomes evident that expecting politicians to interpret every peril, offense, or impropriety as grounds for stern rebuke contradicts the spirit of Australia. The media’s relentless portrayal of this attitude as the norm warrants scrutiny, for it paints a distorted picture. The iconic Bob Hawke, if present, would likely contest this narrative. A luminary who exemplified leadership through example rather than imposition, he orchestrated industrial negotiations, currency deregulation, and even indulged in a yard glass—transforming any setting into a spectacle. His presence was synonymous with Rodney Dangerfield’s, an avatar of levity prompting music, exuberance, and a flurry of questions: “Whence this influx of beer?”
In the echoes of nostalgia, Amanda Vanstone’s absence is acutely felt—a reality I’m unafraid to admit. Her interviews were replete with her outdrinking journalists while extolling the virtues of cheese. Likewise, Gareth Evans etched an indelible memory by proposing we “work hard, think hard, play hard, drink hard.” Perhaps it’s time to introduce a new verse into the national anthem.
Elevating politicians to the role of fun custodians shackles them, rendering it arduous to indulge in mirth and share common ground with the populace. While Alexander Downer’s “the things that batter” falls short of the mark, Peter Costello’s rendition of the macarena with Kerri-Anne Kennerley garnered newfound admiration. The notorious jacket episode elevated Joan Kirner’s status, and Keating!’s enduring success underscores the nation’s penchant for clever wit. The triumphant performance of Beaconsfield – the Musical is an ode to this quintessential national ethos. As history attests, larrikinism thrives on perspective, reminding us that amidst adversity, we are indeed fortunate to be alive.
In homage to an Irish prayer, I beseech a revival of the larrikin spirit—an elixir empowering us to alter what we can, laugh at the rest, and bestow upon politicians the wisdom to distinguish between the two.
Cassandra Wilkinson, author of Don’t Panic: Nearly Everything is Better Than You Think, contributed this excerpt to Binge Thinking—a compilation of political essays scheduled for publication on Saturday.