Sir: As a long-suffering Victorian myself, I read with interest Peter Murphy’s take (November 2020) on the response to the pandemic by the Victorian government, led by the Premier “Chairman Dan” Andrews. Murphy displayed some real insights on Andrews and his motivations.
I think there is more to add, however, when it comes to the Victorian population, who have displayed an astonishing level of support (if the polls are to be believed) for his dictatorial behaviour. Murphy has said that they are “not rebellious”—I would see it as going further than that. I’m going to let you in on a little secret about the Australian national character, first identified by the great historian John Hirst: Australians are obedient. While constantly deriding politicians, Australians will obey government rules and regulations to the letter.
If this is true of Australians generally, it is doubly so for Victorians. The reach of government into every aspect of Victorian life is extreme, something that was happening long before the pandemic. More rules and regulations are enacted and enforced, principally because Victorians demand them.
Premier Andrews’s pandemic management style is something that could only succeed in Victoria. Moralising, fining, endless lockdown, wrecked economy, helicopters overhead, accusing Victorians of failing to obey the rules, while the community actually delivers higher compliance than just about anywhere else in the world. Cometh the pandemic, cometh the Premier … It seems likely (if astonishing) that his style will be an eventual winner with enough Victorians to succeed at the next election.
It is perhaps tempting to simply write 2020 off, say that was the pandemic year, and not worry too much about the Premier’s performance. While exponentially worse than the performance of any other Australian state, Victoria’s total deaths, by world standards, remain exceptionally light. However, in Victoria we should have grave cause for concern. Power is never given up willingly. Andrews has shown a desire for power and control, with opportunities that he could never have envisaged. He will not give this up voluntarily. The source of his current level of direct power is through the virus, and you may rest assured this will be front and centre through 2021. A vaccine will probably not be available for many months. During this time, the Premier will be constantly talking about the virus, how people need to be wary, the need for more and more regulations to control it or prevent its return.
At some point there has to be a concerted pushback against a Premier who has demonstrated such a willingness to suspend normal liberties and destroy the economy, all in the name of a “scientific” response to COVID-19. I suspect we will not be “back to normal” until he is gone.
Michael van Leeuwen
Fitzroy North, Vic
The Sea in Literature
Sir: How satisfying it was to find Charles Dickens’s Dombey and Son taking its rightful place in any reflections on literature where the sea becomes inseparable from the characters (Barry Gillard, “The Sea”, October 2020). The characters in Dombey and Son are never far from the sea in seeking explanations for what is most powerful and mysterious in their lives, and Dickens never has to go further than the sea in seeking answers.
Dickens has recently been relegated to the cosy “Man who invented Christmas” image of a recent film; the bad husband and vile seducer of the speculative fiction of The Invisible Woman; or, more recently, the imperfect father of a confused colonial “Dickens boy”. I had a feeling that the tide had gone out, never to return. With feelings of deep gratitude I read “The Sea” and felt the soothing effects of a wave of recognition finding its way to the shore. The sea occurs as an ever-present metaphor throughout Dombey and Son; it provides answers to Paul Dombey’s question in ways that can also be answered, as Barry Gillard has, by looking at how other writers have written about it.
It’s no surprise, either, to read that James Joyce provides such a response to Paul Dombey’s question about the sea in Ulysses. We ought not to forget that Dickens, while he may not have invented Christmas, did invent Mrs Lirriper and a stream of consciousness that prepared the way for others such as Joyce, Beckett and Woolf. The Molly Bloom who uses coarse words and explicit sexual references may at first seem remote from Mrs Lirriper and her Victorian “lower-class” sensibilities but the humour that emerges from women who have a knack for observing life is much the same, as is the tenderness and capacity for loving. Mrs Lirriper’s sexuality shows itself in her tenderness for her husband’s memory, along with her awareness of some men who come into her life in later years. Molly Bloom shows the same tenderness in a different way in her famous soliloquy.
It is hard to think of anything that Dickens has written about that doesn’t also find its equivalent in the present day: the sea, the law, the medical profession, religion, poverty, cruelty, snobbery. There are examples of sexual harassment and domestic violence and a great deal about bullying and offensive behaviour that goes well beyond the regrets and offences that make up some of today’s causes for complaint.
Coleridge, Conrad, Melville, Hemingway and the Bible found their way into Barry Gillard’s article about the sea in a way that respects tradition and acknowledges the power of great literature to help us think more deeply about our lives and the lives of others. If we ride roughshod over the past and “move forward” into an atmosphere where no traditions of Western culture are passed on, it’s hard to see how this helps to appreciate and value any cultural traditions.
One of Dickens’s sons was named after the writer Walter Savage Landor, who wrote: “The present, like a note in music, is nothing but as it appertains to what is past and what is to become.”
Biblical Sexual Morality
Sir: I suggest that it is his “consistently Christian worldview and a conservative morality” that exposes Lyle Shelton to the hatred and vilification he receives from his opponents. As Paul Monk has made clear (November 2020) there is nothing in the way Shelton has gone about arguing his views that warrants the vitriol he has experienced. I would have thought this might make Monk reflect on Shelton’s opponents and the way in which they have gone about advancing their causes and the paucity of argument beyond the simplified slogans of their media initiatives.
Monk argues that Shelton and Australian Christian Lobby are in error about “biblical sexual morality” being a “gold standard”, and criticises Shelton for not defining his terms or otherwise justifying his stance. But Shelton’s book seems to be designed to talk to those who hold his view on those matters. Accordingly, it is unfair to criticise him for failing to address the issues raised by Monk, which can be answered in a way quite different from the way Monk does, were they to be addressed.
To simply assert that such views are held by “the intuitive or narrow mind” borders on descending into the sort of criticisms levelled at Shelton by his vilifiers. It can be argued that the conservative biblical view of sexuality is anything but “plainly severe”. To dismiss the positive effect of such views on the history of Western civilisation by mere assertion is in my view as unfair as Monk’s criticism of Shelton.
Monk assumes that these matters of morality require us to try to find a rational consensus, but the reality seems more an unwillingness of vested interests to consider the deleterious effects of often profound changes. This includes the areas of pornography, homosexuality, gender dysphoria and cohabitation specifically raised by Monk.
One thing that the Judeo-Christian ethic did provide was answers to these issues. Even though Paul Monk does not think these are nuanced or academically satisfying, some conservatives like the late Sir Roger Scruton thought they were worth another closer look.
South Yarra, Vic