Thursday, 30 December 2010

Making sense of Giles Coren and why Australia exists

I wince at cliches. Yet they are so useful. Toss in a few and before you know it you have bashed out half an article; if you're super savvy, a whole article.

Or, if you are Giles Coren, two whole articles.

First in the Daily Mail and secondly in the Mirror, the gregarious food writer delivers a breathtakingly coruscating jeremiad of not just Australian cricket but of Australia itself.

There are differences in style (gauged to hit varying degrees of knuckle-dragging) but both articles are nigh on identical in terms of content and reliance on cliche. We are not offered revolutionary insights that change the way we think about Australian cricket, unlike how Coren's pen skills have sometimes made us think about restaurants. Instead, the reader is bombarded from every angle by anti-Australian cliches, until by the end of it you feel like you have been on the receiving end of a literary Gatling gun.

There are the usual jokes about antipodean machismo, barbecues, lack of culture, convict history and beer that tastes of pee; about catabolic TV soap operas and not one, but two, Minogue sisters. Pushing even those Corenesque circumscriptions, there are gags about skin cancer, aboriginal apartheid, and domestic violence.

You could say, because both articles were probably knocked off in a matter of minutes and offer little beyond blunt billingsgate, it is lazy bigotry. As many Australians are saying, what a bludger. Ben English, writing in Australia's The Daily Telegraph, calls it "repressed resentment" (worth reading that one too - it's like holding Coren's writing up to a mirror and putting on it a wide-brimmed hat with dangling corks).

You could say that. You would, on a level, be correct. The writing is hideously, viciously gratuitous. But you'd be missing the point. Both articles are brilliant. The incessant assault stupefies you into a neanderthalic rage. It should be accompanied by a YouTube video showing Coren bludgeoning Ricky Ponting with a cricket bat. With every myopic barb you clamour for more blood. Another one-liner, Giles! With no opportunity for response, the attack is as ferociously one-sided as the current Ashes. It is painful to read, you don't want to enjoy it, you shouldn't enjoy it, but Coren whips you up into a mental state akin to.....well, akin to those cavemen Australians that he writes about and despises so much.

Come to think of it, I used to live in Australia (Manly, as you ask - and isn't it apt that there isn't a town called Womanly?). It became quite evident that if an Australian isn't taking the piss out of you, he doesn't like you. Is Coren paying our southern cousins a compliment...?

Digressions. Basically, you shouldn't like the articles but you do, thanks to Coren's colourful language and way with words. So do read them. Leave principles at the door (sorry, I suppose you've already done that by reading the Daily Mail and the Mirror) and, for a moment, have a laugh.

However, there is more to these articles than polemic. Two things actually - one that Coren will probably wrinkle his nose at and nod sagaciously in agreement; the other I don't suppose he could give a t*ss about but I'll mention anyway.

First, Giles Coren is a Times columnist. The imposition of a paywall in front of Times and Sunday Times online content has done a number of things but the most regrettable of all is that I no longer get to read Coren's columns unless I buy the newspaper (the same goes for Messrs Finkelstein and Aaronovitch, and Rachel Sylvester). Coren has said he supports the paywall but has openly directed readers towards outlets, such as the Mail, where he can be read for free (see Twitter here). These two articles about Australia would not have appeared in the Times - probably for editorial reasons more than anything else, but perhaps also because Coren really wanted people to read them? They are the sort of articles that lend themselves perfectly to viral internet spread, a phenomenon now closed off to Times content with its little (£) caveats.

Secondly, the title of Coren's piece of the Daily Mail closes in the question: "just what is the point of Australia?"


History lesson: its primary purpose in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (for white British people, not the natives who had inhabited terra australis for centuries) was a depository for criminals. Ah-ha! A cliche! Yes, but true. It gradually became then a place for surplus, non-criminal populations from these isles (and post-WW2, fleeing European migrants). It was not principally intended, unlike other British colonies or imperial possessions (e.g. Caribbean, India, Hong Kong or Gibraltar), for strategic economic or political designs on trade routes, natural resources or military significance. It was an empty desert with a fertile-but-fragile littoral fringe to which excess people could first be sent and second be induced to settle and eke out some farming.

Over time, Australia developed stable institutions and made the straightforward transition to an independent democracy - a republic in all but name. People continue to flock there, not least from these shores, thanks to its laid back feel and good climate.

Yet that still doesn't explain what Australia is for. Economics, however, do, and they explain that Australia is for one thing above all: the exportation of natural resources. It is true that services comprise two-thirds of Australian GDP and that one of its biggest companies is media conglomerate News Corp (Mr Coren's employer, no less). Yet any country with a couple of brain cells to rub together (cliche, acknowledged) can create a services sector. What any country cannot do is possess the rich natural resources that Australia does and it is these resources that Australia peddles on world markets. And if you don't trade, you fade.

Agriculture and mining in Australia make up 10 per cent of GDP but a whopping 57 per cent of exports. Australia is the world's third largest supplier of uranium, iron ore and diamonds; the second largest producer of nickel, gold and zinc; and the greatest exporter of coal. The country produces 95 per cent of the world's opals and possesses significant interests in natural gas, bauxite, copper and silver. Not thought of as an oil nation, it is also the twenty-eighth largest producer of petroleum. As a country with wide open spaces and millions of sheep, there's a fairly large amount of wool going around too.

Most of this goes to China, which is Australia's biggest two-way trading partner and the owner of a sizeable wedge of Australian debt.

China's role in Australia is a bastardisation of its relationship to the USA and to Africa. Its massive trade surplus and financial heft are propping up Australia's flatlining, resource-driven economy; whilst its voracious appetite for raw materials is feeding on the continent from inside-out.

Today, the Chinese defence minister announced that China is preparing for armed conflict "in every direction" in order to defend its interests - the chief of which is continued economic growth. To achieve this, it needs a continued supply of raw materials.

In years to come, nations may come to blows over resources as they become scarcer and people in the developing world (particularly Chinese people) become more plentiful and more wealthy.

A couple of aircraft carrier squadrons off the coast of Darwin sounds ridiculous now but then again, a couple of months ago so did two Ashes victories by an innings, nearly 600 runs by Alastair Cook, and a 90 m.p.h. Tim Bresnan ripping through the Australian top-order.

And if all that's about as gratifyingly heavy for you this side of 31st December as a sack of Australian coal, pour a stiff drink (it's after midday) and read Mr Coren.


  1. "Yet that still doesn't explain what Australia is for. Economics, however, do, and they explain that Australia is for one thing alone: the exportation of natural resources."

    Australlia has a vibrant and diverse economy. As you mnetion only 10% of GDP comes from natural resources yet Australia still has record low unemployment. The Australian economy is in great shape---your assertion that it is flatlining" is absolute nonsense (unlike the UK's). Frankly, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that you used this long bow to support Coren's ridiculous and unfunny collection of Australian cliches in th3e economic sphere. The Australian economy beats the hell out of Englands, believe me.

    Show's your own bias against Australia, which makes you, quite franky, a bit of a tosser.

  2. A country doesn't have to be 'for' anything, Australia has enough going for it not to need to have to excuse its existence to miserable, pathetic no-life Brits. What is the UK for, incidentally? Breeding miserable gits? Certainly not sportsmen (how many batsmen in your team were born in your sodden excuse for a country?)
    Coren's ignorance of Australian culture, which is rich (although admittedly not too deep, after all Australia is essentially an anglo-celtic country, what would you expect), is not surprising, since Brits are extremely culturally insular, and the UK is a land of cultural degeneracy. After all, the term 'ocker' is almost unknown today, whereas chavs populate every English street.
    No, this essentially racist bile, and supercilious crowing (are the English good winners? rhetorical question if that had eluded you) diminishes you as people, if you really are human.