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A Piece of Wire: 1987
Tuart College, English Faculty
Tall, bronzed and independent. That's a view which many Australians share of themselves. It is often referred to as the Anzac Spirit.
Upon closer examination, however, this preferred self-image has little basis in truth. We may on average be tall when compared to an Indonesian or a Brazilian, but we stand at about the same height as people from other first-world countries. We may be bronzed during the summer, but the cost of that bronzing is reflected in the highest skin cancer rate in the world. Once skin cancer begins, the bronzing rapidly fades to reveal our paleness.
In independence, however, lies the greatest mistruth. Australians as a society hold up images of rough, hard pioneers who could turn a piece of wire into almost anything at a moment's notice. It sometimes seems as though the nation is bound together with pieces of wire, twisted into place by independent, ingenious bushmen. Reality, however, is quite different. Over a third of all Australians rely to some extent on social security payments for their income. Public housing and public transport provide cheap, subsidised essentials. The modern Australian no longer needs a piece of wire to fix anything that goes wrong. The piece of wire has been replaced by the Reserve Bank. Independence and the need for self-reliance, for creative thinking, for individuality, has been suppressed.
The "use by" date stamped on so many food products also seems to be invisibly stamped on most other things. Built in obsolescence is a fact of life that all consumers need to consider when purchasing any manufactured products. The payments on a car will last longer than the car. The house will start to deteriorate long before it is paid off. Meanwhile, at the supermarket items with expired "use by" dates are put in a basket at half-price, but few people buy them. Australian culture is now firmly based around the 'latest is best' ideal. Last years' clothes hang in the wardrobe unseen and unworn because fashion has dictated a new style, a now colour, a new look. Independence in thought and action is being replaced by dependence upon someone else's thought and actions.
It is sometimes said that we live in an effluent society, where everything is disposable or must be disposed of at a certain time regardless of the amount of wear and tear it has been subjected to. No one needs a piece of wire anymore.
Australians, then, may also become disposable. Embryos are experimented upon, and discarded when finished with, as though they are mere pieces of animal flesh. There is no consideration of the potential which may exist in the embryo, only of its immediate, useable, dollar value. The question then arises - how soon before some actual living human beings in Australia also become excess to the needs of society? With their "use by" date expiring, with their bone structure last season's style, what will become of them?
As we let our independence slip by, as we embrace further and further the effluent society, the gradually weakening cry for a piece of wire is less and less heard.
Is this the future you foresee for your descendants? Or is it time to grasp that piece of wire before it moves beyond our reach?
595 words, published copy of original text, Blackheath 30 September 2004