I don’t even like tennis. Before Novak Djokovic made the mistake of believing this country was the same law-abiding bastion it used to be, I routinely confused him with Rafael Nadal. Consequently, I had to Google his name to put a face to the man who had blundered into one of the moral panics we do so badly. Sporting champs – like actors – belong to a gentry blessed to be living at a rarefied time when mastery in divertissements is saleable via advertising and television. I judge them solely on the humility with which they behave as beneficiaries of a fluke. Djokovic is respected as person and sportsman; his reputation in his native Serbia is unblemished.
These facts – combined with a detestation of gestapos and yobbos – meant the grand slam ace was assured of my support. It helps that the people’s tribunes excoriating him are effete laptoppers who suffered least during our globally notorious lockdowns. They’re cleaving to the mob with theatrical solidarity in the hope that their uninterrupted paydays and privileges will pass unnoticed. A bit like businesses in America putting “BLM” signs in their shop windows.
By the time Brexit victor Nigel Farage asked if Australia was a banana republic late last week, it was already a rhetorical question to observers around the world. We have gone from being seen as a no-worries wonderland to a prison island of dictators, lickspittles and cowards in two years. The shame could take decades to live down. How that happened will be one of the great questions for historians of the future. They could do worse than renovate Manning Clark’s old thesis on “punishers and straighteners.”
Beneath the economic stagnation, lawlessness and martial fetishism, the foundations of a banana republic are psychological, spiritual and cultural. The knights so beloved of Paul Keating in Clark’s historiography – the “enlargers” (in whom the Bankstown Bonaparte saw himself) – are far scarcer today than they ever were in the Rev. Samuel Marsden’s allegedly lash-happy heyday. No historian is likely to credit sanctimonious autarkists like Daniel Andrews and Mark McGowan with enlarging anything. They will, however, notice the similarities between the flogging parsons of the nineteenth century and the officials interrogating a tennis player in the dead of night, shooting civilians in the back with rubber bullets and assaulting pregnant women in their own homes. I only wish Clark the atheist and secular humanist had lived to see his co-religionists truly come into their own. They are now Australia’s most dedicated floggers.
The convict-era explanation for covid extremism has limitations. Deranged behaviour has, after all, been seen throughout the world: in North America, Western Europe and even Mr Farage’s United Kingdom. However, if each unhappy nation in this pandemic is unhappy in its own Tolstoyan way, their historians must determine through what inherited traits, imported habits and human frailties their particular rots set in. In Australia’s case, there has been an obsession with standing over and humiliating – most especially, men. They have been belittled as ‘non-essential,’ as having no right to provide for their families. The only permissible outlet for the anger that must result is attacking those whose unbowed independence embarrasses the emasculated. Weakness thus becomes manly and so-called egalitarianism reins in the free. Novak Djokovic, then, is a threat to the subliminally enraged. “None of this would have happened if the Serbian star had just had the jab,” whined The Australian’s sports editor, Wally Mason, this week. You can hear the convict say, ‘If you didn’t try to escape, matey, we wouldn’t be Norfolk-bound.’