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The Land Before Avocado (Book Review)

Front cover of The Land Before Avocado

My Christmas included the thoughtful gift of The Land Before Avocado by Richard Glover. A book, I should explain, I had considered buying on the odd occasion and never quite justified the purchase. So it was a perfect present by definition – something I wanted but wouldn’t buy for myself. And, yes, I’m known to seek a warm nostalgia from my youth of the 1960s-1970s… and this is a book aimed at the foreheads of every human like me with that delusion. Because was it better back then? Honestly? And, if so, why don’t the statistics support this argument?

Glover paints a great picture of the abysmal food. Pre-1960 you could count the people from non-European countries in the hundreds (or merely tens, or less). We had been a British bastion on the edge of the World and under the White Australia Policy that pretty much meant there were us, the other Europeans we let come here and the indigenous population. We treated people appropriate to that order, too. Even as a heterosexual male there was a fine path to be trodden. Difference wasn’t what Australia tolerated – enshrined in Law were ideals of sexism, homophobia and racism. I’d even forgotten how bad these laws had been, partly because as a child/youth it’s really the only culture you know.

Women lost their jobs when they married or became pregnant. Married women couldn’t get bank loans without her husband being guarantor. Gay citizens faced imprisonment (and Western Australia still had flogging on the books). It was a land before Occupational Health and Safety, before roadside booze buses and seat belts. You know, those things that the statistics show have saved our lives. People smoked in elevators, restaurants and hospitals. Nothing happened on Sunday!

The average person is living 12 years longer. We’re getting, in real terms, 70 per cent higher wages even if the type and hours of work have changed. And the food has never been better with this multicultural influence from the cultural exchange of bringing nearly half of our population in from overseas. Go take a look at the food of the 1970s; Glover scoured years of the Women’s Weekly to bring succour to our nostalgia for all things gastronomically appalling. We certainly lacked class.

I won’t go on about the contents of the book because I had a number of reactions as I read through the chapters. Sometimes I’d read something that would make me go “Oh, my God!” because I’d totally forgotten that even used to happen. Other times, like reading about a Judge’s comments involving gang rape, I could not be more appalled at the attitudes that prevailed.

So if you do think an Australia that had less food diversity, a misogynistic, chauvinist, homophobic, pro-bullying, higher crime, lacking critical sewage and communications infrastructure; if you prefer an Australia with lower standards of living, lower wages, lower life expectancy and no workplace protections worth mentioning; if you preferred the early closing, nothing happens on Sundays, Anglo-Australia of that era – good for you! But I’m with Richard Glover, I prefer THIS Australia. This vibrant inclusive affluent country with all the benefits of multicultural experiences.

This is a good book for those people who think they prefer the earlier model. I just find it hard to imagine Australia if we didn’t have Gough Whitlam (after Labour’s 23 years in the political wilderness). Now there’s a thought experiment I’d call terrifying – the Whitlam Government immediately abolished conscription, took steps to introduce colour television and equal pay for women, gave us free university education, opened the door to indigenous land rights, ended the White Australia Policy, brought in no-fault divorce, gave us actual Welfare as we know it and started the dismantling of trade protectionism that would have kept us poor, isolated and outcast in today’s vibrant global economy. Nearly 50 years later, the Liberal National Party is still slowly dismantling the Whitlam policies.

If there’s one thing I’d have from the Land Before Avocado, it’s another Gough Whitlam. And, yes, the music.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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