Edition 1FRI 09 OCT 1998, Page 016
Hunting an elusive species
By JOHN HAWKINS
John Hawkins goes in
THEY’RE everywhere, and nowhere. They’re the Snark, Forrest Gump and Macavity the Mystery Cat rolled into one. Flick on the radio or telly, and they’re there, but not there. Yesterday, I heard a talking head drone: “It’ll be interesting to see how the Asian meltdown plays out with the battlers.” And today, a radio ham sighed: “We need to be concerned with the effects of global warming on the battler.”
Just who is this third-person “battler” so often referred to, yet spotted about as often as a snow leopard?
The battler has heroic beginnings, it seems, spawned from that Defining Moment at Gallipoli when all those Homeric Aussie males went clambering up the perpendicular bluffs to certain death at the hands of Turks. And let’s not forget the Aussie women, who start out in the national mythos as long-suffering, determined drovers’ wives capable of staring down any dinkum, fair or otherwise. Dignified battlers, indeed.
But many years on, and after all the noble soldiering has been done, “battler” has more moneyed connotations and loses its honeyed mythological edge. In the 50s, battlers were seen as souls left on the margin of the great Australian dream time of the Menzies era.
They were the nameless, undefined electorate who could never quite creep into a comfortable tax bracket, fatalistic survivors of an economic crap-shoot for whom luck never quite rolls sevens their way.
As buzz words go, “battler” has undergone more transformations in recent years than Bill Clinton’s definition of truth. Modern battlers, whoever they are, seem somehow less dignified, yet more anonymous than ever. When they are mentioned, and they are mentioned often, they are patronised in absentia, their very absence their regarded worth.
The battler is alien to people of other industrialised nations, as is the Aussie character for that matter. The globalised vision of the Aussie battler remains to this day the Hollywooden, “noif”-wielding Paul Hogan. Ask an Englishman about battlers and he’ll finger you the way to Yorkshire. Ask an American, and she’ll respond, “Oh, wow, like that word is really not coo-wool. You must mean the street people.” And to judge by Aussie TV ads (never a good idea), battlers would seem to be sorry blokes with hungry eyes who eschew sheila-made lunches for Four ‘n’ Twenty pies. Undignified, for sure, but battlers?
Whatever the Aussie battler is, there would seem to be more of them now than ever before, and the army is growing, if the constant references to them are any indication. Inevitably, when dealt such perplexity, I look to academe for answers.
Recently, I read a scholarly paper presented at a conference of economists in Sydney. The author, Ann Harding, professor of applied economics and social policy at the University of Canberra, told her peers that job security was a thing of the past and that the divide between haves and have-nots in Australia was growing exponentially. “The rising tide of economic growth no longer lifts all boats -some, stuck in the mud, are instead swamped,” she said.
But do these indigenous mud men and boat women qualify as battlers? Harding doesn’t say.
In desperation, I even watched the Great Debate between John Howard and Kim Beazley, certain one of them would mention battlers. I listened as Howard said a goods and services tax would end the tax-bracket creep now preventing so many eager Aussie workers from clocking on an extra 20 hours a week to salvage a standard of living for families they’ll never see. But neither leader mentioned battlers.
Next I gave polling a go. Polls are simple, expedient measures of what folks think of stuff, and you don’t even have to justify the results anymore, now that polling has been elevated to the scientific status of meteorology and astrology. I fronted up to the first bloke who crossed my path and asked him to define a “battler”. But the mate sneered: “Go on, get a dog up ya.” This image depressed me.
I turned inward, to the Internet, after that. I hunted and pecked in “a-u-s-s-i-e b-a-t-t-l-e-r”, and the search engine coughed up www.aussieoutback.com.au and a site called Aussie Animals. In short, nothing acceptable emerged, so I logged off and prayed for e-mail. I think it might be pleasant to meet a battler.
Many Aussies may be battlers and not even know it, others may know but feel obliged to go about disguised. There’s just no telling.
Now the election is over, no doubt battlers will emerge in fresh debates on the GST, republicanism and other bush-beat politics. A reprobate Beazley will taunt Howard as the latter holds up a parliamentary finger and says: “Australians must now march forward up that fiscal hill to long-term prosperity.” And somewhere an invisible battler will crack: “Crikey, mate, talk about hard yakka.” And his mate will respond: “Yeah, and perpendicular bluffs.”
John Hawkins is a freelance writer
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