It seems that after all my generation will be tested. The spoilt brats born in the 1950s have lived a charmed life. The challenge that they must now rise to may be less dangerous than that faced by their parents. But it is much more complex.Michael Portillo describes how lucky his generation was. I know. Brought up in Australia, I was even luckier; it may a bit hotter than in the Hundred Aker Wood, but just as safe and even more self-contained. All questions asked could be answered on the spot. But, of course, we never asked certain questions. As Portillo points out, we've never had to go to war to defend ourselves and so were never forced into having to define ourselves. When John Howard called recently for the re-introduction of Enlightenment values into the curriculum, he was asking a lot; the teachers themselves are unaware of where we come from. If you exclude the 'cultural studies' nonsense that has been peddled as intellectual enquiry for so long. For young Australians of my generation, the only way to start this enquiry was to throw the swag over the shoulder and get out.
The shock of other peoples' lives did it for me. I remember standing on a street corner in Naples and the question coming at me from every which way: why isn't Australia like this? Why not this chaos? Why not this sense that outside the circle of your family, or your group, there was no order on which you could rely? Why not this fear of other malign powers in the land? Why not? Because Australia had been a British colony, and that was its luck. At the time, just out of university, it seemed an abomination to entertain such a thought. To place the words 'empire' and 'benefit' in the same sentence almost brought on a sense of shame. And I wondered then, and have continued to wonder since, why it was that I had to go to Naples to learn this, why the Twin Towers had to come down to remind us of the rarity of what we have had.
Yes, we were spoilt. We assumed that it was just there for us, naturally, in the course of things. Almost of necessity. But it wasn't like that at all. We forgot that it had been won at great cost, and in forgetting, the fight went out of us.