Australia – the lucky country or just more optimistic?

It’s no exaggeration to say that we (in the UK at least) are living through difficult times. The aftermath of Covid, the impact of the Ukraine war on energy prices, the rising cost of living and public services at breaking point. It’s all too easy to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and even despondent.
by Jonathan Males
We live in difficult times

It’s no exaggeration to say that we (in the UK at least) are living through difficult times. The aftermath of Covid, the impact of the Ukraine war on energy prices, the rising cost of living and public services at breaking point. It’s all too easy to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and even despondent.  By way of contrast I offer the following thoughts after spending two months in Australia, a long overdue return to my home country to reconnect with special people and places.

The lucky country?

Australia is bouncing back from Covid, but in common with the rest of the world there are new pressures. There are labour shortages and upward pressure on prices, along with the same global headwinds we all face. But despite these challenges, most of the people I met expressed a sense of optimism and possibility for the future. There’s a greater sense of abundance than of lack, of the glass being half full rather than half empty.  Australia rode out the 2008 financial crash and hasn’t suffered a recession since the early 90’s, so there is cautious optimism that while the next 18 – 24 months might be a little bumpy, overall “we’ll be right mate.” 

Australia was once described as the lucky country because of its natural resources, climate and lifestyle. Is it still lucky?  I’m not sure luck is the right word, because it implies that success is due to external, uncontrollable factors. As a performance psychologist I would never advise relying on luck!  Far more important is attitude – and I believe there is much we can learn from attitudes that feel, at least to me, more prevalent in Australia than the UK right now.

Queenstown

Let me illustrate this with the story of Queenstown, a remote mining town on Tasmania’s west coast. For a hundred years from the 1890’s Queenstown was home to the Mount Lyell Copper mine. The steep hills around the town were denuded by a combination of wood cutting and the sulphurous fumes from the mine. The landscape looked like the pitted, barren surface of Mars. The Queen River carried barely treated mine tailings and sewage through the forest, killing vegetation for several metres either side of the bank. After the mine closed the main source of employment was a nearby hydroelectric scheme, but once this was completed work dried up again. Yet things are changing. Just as green vegetation is starting to reclaim the bare, brown hills, Queenstown is starting to come alive again too. The old mining railway to Strahan was recommissioned to take tourists through a deep rain-forested gorge. Friends of mine launched a whitewater rafting company to take adventurers down the King River below the new hydro dam then return on the railway. Mountain bike trails were established across the nearby ranges. Old houses were converted into Airbnb accommodation for the visiting bikers. An artist moved in and opened a gallery. A bookshop appeared. The pubs are flat out serving meals and there’s even a wine bar.

Figure 1 Queenstown - new hope?
Figure 2 New growth on the bare hills
Optimism, resilience and reinvention

Given the right chance, both people and the natural world can be remarkably resilient. Not because of luck, but because small changes combine to create bigger changes, which build momentum and lead to something new – this is the process of reinvention.  The story of Queenstown tells me that what’s more important than luck is a willingness to have a go, to take a chance, to persevere and overcome obstacles. To believe that something is possible even if it’s not been done before. To focus on what might be, rather than become fixated on what is going wrong. 

Maybe we could all use a bit more of these life-affirming, optimistic attitudes as we face into the rest of this decade?

Figure 3 Queen River - this is the improved version! It used to be worse.

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