The greatest country?

On talk back radio recently I heard suggestions from callers as to how to celebrate Australia Day. The most common suggestion was to down tools at 12 noon and sing Advance Australia Fair. A number of callers emphasised that we should remember we live in the greatest country in the world, and that we should remember how lucky we are on the day.

One brave caller, however, challenged the idea that we live in the greatest country in the world. “How do we know?” he asked. Has anyone lived in every other country? Of course not. So what is the basis for this claim? Don’t other countries claim the same about themselves? The radio host tried to accuse him of ‘spoiling the party’ but eventually they agreed that instead of claiming Australia is ‘the greatest’, we can agree that Australia is a great country, a lucky country, though one can’t call it the greatest.

I agreed with this caller. I have visited many other countries and have seen how these countries are great in their own ways. It would be the height of hubris to claim Australia is the greatest. As an ex-pat American I can assure you that most Americans would scoff at our claims to ‘the greatest’, and others from other nations would too, I am sure. Not that America is the greatest, either, although many there do make this claim!

I moved to Australia in 1985. I chose to live here with my Australian-born wife because we believed that Australia was a far better country in which to live and in which to raise our young family. Its pace was not as frenetic as was America’s. People were friendlier. Aussies knew how to relax, go on picnics, have barbies, while Yanks only knew how to work and shop. The Australian environment was less polluted than America’s, our gun laws are tougher and the potential for a good life was far greater here. The gap between rich and poor seemed to be not as pronounced as in America.

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Now, 30 years later, having raised my family here and now enjoying see our daughters raise their young Aussie families, I still believe this. Regular visits to family in the States and following the news from there only confirm my views.

But like that caller, I question our assertion to being the greatest country. Sure, we have a great life, but if we honestly compared ourselves to other countries we would see there is room for improvement. An ad hoc assessment shows that our education standards are not the best in the world. We are quickly losing our manufacturing abilities, and will soon no longer make our own cars. We still do not have a very fast train as is so common throughout Europe and elsewhere. The living standards of our First Australians, and treatment of recent refugees leaves much to be desired. We see examples of abhorrent racism on public transport almost weekly. We claim to be the greatest when it comes to sports but our Olympic achievements are not what they once were, and despite our supposed love affair with sports our obesity levels are on a par with America’s. The gap between rich and poor is widening.

It was only a few weeks ago that the media focussed on the new year and new year’s resolutions. Lose weight! Stop smoking! Get in shape! Be more successful! How quickly we forget our resolutions, and most of us find it difficult to carry through on even the simplest of resolutions. But at least we are prompted once a year to take stock of our individual lives in an effort to improve what we can.

Perhaps Australia Day can serve a similar purpose on a national level. On this day let’s celebrate our wonderful nation, but let’s remember our responsibility to take advantage of the opportunities we have to make our nation better. To aspire to being great means we have to work at it. Great athletes, doctors, performers, teachers- none is great just by claiming to be. No country is created ‘great’. They make themselves great.

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Do we live in a great country? Most certainly, as do millions of others in their own countries. But basking in the belief that we are the greatest, mistaking luck for achievement and slapping ourselves on the backs as we have another beer means we risk ignoring those areas which truly need attention and improvement. We should remember that our national anthem exhorts us to “Advance Australia”, not to stand still. If we stand still, then real greatness will be at best a dream or a distant memory.

So after the backyard cricket matches, our barbies and beers, let’s put our heads together and take stock. What can we do individually and collectively to really advance and make Australia greater? In fact, why wait? Let’s start right now! 

What do you think of Zvi’s comments on Australia? Do we really live in the greatest country in the world? Tell us below.