I spent this evening, after finally getting home from work — all day hungover and trying to deal with the reality of running a small business, chasing the tiny goals of human existence — watching the film Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.
I've long been a fan of Dr Thompson. For pure sentence structure, the essence of writing, there were very few as good as him. For that reason alone he was an inspiration for a young would-be writer. I devoured and relished his work. I wanted so much to be Hunter Thompson but never would be. I didn't have his courage. Thompson was Thompson and the mere fact that I wanted to be him and not Joshua Kinal meant that I would never come close to being anything like him.
Nevertheless, I've spent a lot of time trying to see what it was that made Thompson's work so good, so powerful and so engaging. For all his gun-toting, drug-taking lunacy, at the heart of all his writing is a passion, a belief and a search for truth about his own country and the potential it held.
The temptation gripped me during the documentary that the next day, Australia Day, I should get into my 1996 Corolla and drive. I should search for the truth about my own country.
My whole life I've looked to the United States of America as a country that held answers for me. I believed their bullshit. I believed what I was told through television and movies and comic books: The propaganda that filled my understanding that there was such a thing as "the American way", "the American dream" or even "the great American novel".
No other country has the arrogance to lay claim to a dream. It is, of course, ridiculous that a country and its people should declare itself unified in striving for a single dream but to never specify it in case it becomes unobtainable.
It was through Hunter Thompson and J.D. Salinger and, more recently, Steinbeck, that I discovered the sadness, despair and futility that goes with fooling a nation into believing in an unobtainable dream. But I never sought to find the truth about my own country.
Australia is my home. I live here. I work here. I was born here. But I never felt like I belonged here and I could not work out why. I felt like a foreigner in my own home and I thought it was maybe because I didn't care about footy. I played it in primary school, along with cricket, to be a part of the group. Growing up in Melbourne and not enjoying Australian Rules Football, before reaching the rebelliousness of adolescence, is social suicide. I liked television and film and, to a lesser extent, music.
So my plan was to take my car, made in Victoria but with foreign heritage (and what could be more Australian than that), and discover the people who make up my home to try to find a connection. Who are we? We call ourselves the lucky country: Not the hard-working country and not the sensible country. We are lucky. We are gamblers.
When I read Wake in Fright by Kenneth Cook I was overwhelmed to discover that somebody else managed to capture the feeling of both being Australian and being an outsider at the same time. As a nation our identity is tied to have a good time, have a laugh, she'll be right, no worries, have another beer, take it easy. That's the bullshit that we swallow. That's our version of the American dream. We believe in the myth of Crocodile Dundee, that our true-nature is a well-meaning larrikin.
Our reality, though, is more like Mad Max. We fear that our hopes, future and security will be destroyed by an almost anarchic disregard for consequences. Somehow in our history we've skipped the part where we strive to be our own success story. We went from clinging to Britain's apron and striving for the respect of a mother country — that most of us never came from and that never wanted us anyway — to desperately seeking the approval of whichever government led the world popularity polls that week. In doing so we're constantly concerned for what will bring about our own destruction. When will our luck finally run out?
Yet the last couple of years brought another reality home. As a nation we're still in our early years. The floods and bush fires show us that we're still more Dorothea Mackellar's Australia than we'd like to think. Our identity is bound to the land itself and its inherent contradictions and irrationality.
I will not escape on Australia Day in my Australian by creation — Japanese by descent — car and search for a true Australia, because I am not Hunter S. Thompson (who would most likely shoot my '96 Corolla just for the sport of it rather than ever own it). The date itself has no relevance for me other than a name.
I will do some work that I need to get done to deal with the reality of running a small business. I will make my small contributions to society in the only way I know how. I will refuse the notion of being a lucky country because the people I know, the families who made their lives here, did so through hard work rather than luck. They overcame the odds to survive and did not rely on dreams or any other nonsense, rather, on their own convictions.