The federal election is near so I want to talk about art.
And not just because politicians are excellent artists (of the taurus excretia kind) but because this 1890s oil painting perhaps shows how far Australia's conservative swing has swung.
I love this painting. Not just because of its style, beauty, or the fact my great-grandfather was a proud blade shearer just like these men.
I love it because in an era in which queens, judges, or business leaders usually posed for grand portraits, it is working people (not their bosses) who dominate this artwork. In the same way our greatest poem - Banjo Paterson's Man from Snowy River is a win for the underdog.
We actually took pride in being a battler's paradise, a Land of the Fair Go.
Australia pioneered votes for women, elected the first working-class government in the world, and invented the secret ballot, maternity allowances, and concept of a basic wage. We remember Simpson and his donkey, not his general, and the two PMs who steered us through our most dire days, Curtin and Chifley, were both working men of humble backgrounds.
Even our greatest right-wing PM, Menzies deliberately named the Liberal Party as he did, not a Conservative Party. Indeed, the Liberals still support the finest piece of "socialism" ever passed in Canberra: Medicare. Health care for all.)
But something's changed.
Australia seems to be lurching to the extreme right in a way it never has before. Just look at the parties fielding at Saturday's election.
There is only one major choice to the left of Labor: The (lost-the-plot) Greens.
But...to the (far) right of the Libs, there is an endless smorgasbord of Trumpish choices. Parties led by Fraser Anning, Pauline Hanson, Cory Bernardi, Bob Katter, and Clive Palmer, not to mention old bulls in the paddock like the Christian Dems, etc.
You'd think Australia was suddenly the most right-wing, intolerant, anti-worker, and hypocritically-religious place on Earth. Are we?
I doubt it.
Australians don't generally like extremists, on either side of politics.
Even back in the 1890s - when it was the Left on the rise and Henry Lawson's Freedom of the Wallaby warned of "blood on the wattle" - Australia never embraced the radical path.
My great-grandfather was a member of the Shearers' Union and involved in the great strikes, but it was never a revolutionary form of socialism looking to overthrow the state. They were bushmen standing up for their rights. In truth, the collective identity of the unionists disappeared entirely once work began and a fierce individualism took over (the epitome of capitalism) as each man worked for himself, racing to be best gun shearer.
In short, Aussies have usually taken the best of both sides and tried to sail down the middle path.
Our Diggers fought a war to stop Hitler, and now we have one of the right-wing candidates, Anning, using infamous Nazi slogans in our Parliament. Sickening.
Aussies have usually taken the best of both sides and tried to sail down the middle path.
Clive failed to pay his own workers' entitlements and now brags about how rich he is. Pauline preaches freedom of speech as she lists the things she wants to ban.
I'm no fan of Liberal and Labor, they are shadows of their former selves. But at least they are (roughly) centralist. Labor supports free enterprise and Liberals support Medicare. As undeserving as they are of your vote, please think seriously before flirting with extremists.