World Cup 2018: Socceroos the product of Australia’s creation!

Events such as the soccer World Cup in Russia are about more than a bunch of blokes (or women) kicking a ball around a park. Sport carries mass and popular culture, the culture of youth and minorities. Perhaps, though, the way it carries national cultures — or is purported to — gets particularly noticed.

“The principle weapon of the Australians is their mental approach,’’ a French journalist said about the Wallabies some years ago. The aim, he wrote in the French daily Liberation, is less to win for one’s “country, flag or for history” than for one another.

“They play for the other members of the team, their mates (in English in the text). They’re competitive until the end for the guy who defends next to them on the line. And it’s this dynamic of active solidarity that makes them so formidable.”

Who wouldn’t be touched by the story of Daniel Arzani? The 19-year-old who came to Australia from Iraq aged seven and has just become the youngest player ever to make the Australian World Cup Squad. To the bemusement of fellow rail passengers, I found myself screaming at my iPhone on the Munich Underground upon reading the news: “Go son, go!”

Arzani’s parents told reporters he thought he wanted to be either a neurosurgeon or a footballer before choosing to be a footballer. When his father, speaking for the family, said he loved Australia and its “culture” it was presumably not the art galleries or the architecture he was talking about but the environment that enabled young Daniel to dream of being both a Socceroo and a brain surgeon; remembering, of course, that the “loved” culture also created the art galleries and a lot of the art that’s in them.

The products of culture — a symphony orchestra or dance troupe — bring hundreds, even thousands of people, into contact with each other. Never more so than when the product is sport and especially if that sport is football. The soccer World Cup, starting in Russia this week, is by far the biggest single-sport competition in the world.

Seen from abroad, sport in Australia looks tribal, as elsewhere, but not in any violent sense — off the field, there are neither hooligans nor skinheads nor black-clad anarchists marauding in the streets. To borrow from historian Manning Clark’s famous phrase, where sport is concerned there’s no “blood on the wattle”.

The veteran German journalist Holger Gertz, who’s covering his fifth World Cup after 10 Olympic Games (Summer and Winter), has told me more than once that he thinks the Sydney 2000 Olympics were the “most beautiful”. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and with the Cold World over, with all those volunteers and local crowds applauding the prowess of non-Australian athletes, “they made us feel that world peace was in reach.”

Yes, there have been ethnicities associated with domestic soccer clubs, but that has receded with Australia winning through to the finals of the past four World Cups.

In fact, Australian sport appears both intensely international and intensely local (the creation from scratch of our own football code is testament) and usually a source of integration for non-Anglo Australians and pride and expression for Indigenous Australians.

We want to see the Socceroos do well because they represent us, but also because we feel that we’ve played a part in creating them. They are us.


Australia is about to get a dose of French president Emmanuel Macron’s charm

AMERICANS have just witnessed and Australians are about to get a taste of Emmanuel Macron’s big-vision thinking, not to say the galvanising effect of it, when he arrives in Australia today.

Galvanising by dint of what it is — multilateral, pro-European, inclusive — and by what it is not: acutely divisive, Donald Trump-type rough-talking.

China’s role in the Pacific, defence ties, climate change, economic issues — and cuisine — will be high on the agenda when Macron meets with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Officials said the French president would also discuss security in the South Pacific on his first bilateral visit to Australia. Australia has a $50 billion deal to purchase 12 next-generation submarines from the French. Cuisine will be discussed at a lunch on Wednesday with Australian and French chefs.

In international diplomacy, Macron has shown that flattering morally tainted hands doesn’t mean entering into a Faustian pact with their owners.

He combines a certain pride in the office of president — receiving Russia’s Vladimir Putin at the Palace of Versailles, President Trump at the Eiffel Tower, while lending the Bayeux Tapestry to the Brits — with a cool kind of sleeves-up communicability.

Check out the laid-back style, what a young French colleague of mine calls the “coolitude”, of Macron’s Twitter videos.

The key concept chez the French president, though, has been coherence based on principles. He was elected on a program to shake up France and is implementing it.

In the workplace, he’s introducing enterprise bargaining (moving away from branch-based negotiations) and making the French industrial appeals court faster and cheaper, and so more proemployment.

Elsewhere too, reform is on the cards. Reform of education and training at the state-owned railway company — 50 billion euros ($80 billion) in debt with train drivers retiring at 50; a law to “moralise” politics; tax reform for pensioners (they will pay more), and the wealthy (dead capital stuck in highend real estate will be more heavily taxed). These changes have dizzied the electorate.

But the bottom line is that France has to be fixed. Those who are working should be taxed less and those who are no longer working must contribute a bit more.

The IFI (formerly ISF) wealth tax in fact brings in little revenue for the government, but it’s a symbol. Again then, there’s coherence.

The result is that by the usual indicators, the French economy is improving. The key will be whether the positive impact of reforms flows through to ordinary people by the next elections in 2022 (hence the speed of their implementation).

Unless sustained, the current barely 2 per cent annual growth rate won’t be enough to boost wages or create jobs, or help the middle class into housing when city prices are elevated.

But the stakes are high. Macron’s election torpedoed the traditional parties. Since then, the mainstream right has moved further to the right as Macron siphons off its traditional base.

Macron himself rose from nothing to the presidency in a year. So there’s every reason to believe someone else could do the same, if Monsieur Macron does not deliver.

Those newcomers, even if mutton dressed as lamb, might very well come from the populist space.

Sir John Monash and Anzacs deserve recognition in Europe

ACCORDING to his military ID, he was at Villers-Bretonneux in France on Anzac Day, 1918.

But he was not an Anzac. He was from Oldenburg in Germany’s north. August Grotelüschen “spent a lot of time in the trenches of the Somme”, his son told a group of German newspapers. “But he never said anything about it”.

In an interview to mark a hundred years since the start of WWI, Rolf Grotelüschen, then 85, said that he kept the remnants of his father’s war years neatly in the Oldenburg family house: field post cards; dark blue soldier’s pass; photos of August at 18 in a grey military uniform. “In this year of commemoration,” he said, “I wish people would learn from these things.”

We know from observers’ accounts that one of the most striking things about men returning from the battles of the Somme was their silence. The horrors of what they had lived and witnessed, at least initially, were indescribable — “the back of language broke”, to use Robert Hughes’ memorable phrase.

We also know that when civilians talked about the war with religious metaphors — of cavalry, crucifixion and martyrdom — the image that most readily came to men on the Western Front was the abattoir. And this on both sides of the lines.

By definition, the Sir John Monash Centre, to be inaugurated at Villers-Bretonneux tomorrow, argues the imperative of a single institution focusing on the specificity of Australia’s story on the Western Front. And that is fair enough given the depth of Australia’s bearing, loss and wartime presence there. And of the commemorative context: France is home to more than 30,000 war-related sites, memorials and monuments and Belgium hosts many, too.

Beyond the Picardy region and parts of northern France, the French, like the Germans, even Bavarians whose great grandfathers stood across the front lines from us at Fromelles, don’t know much about the Australian experience, sacrifice or contribution to the so-called Great War.

Explain at a Paris or Munich dinner party that there are some 46,300 Australians laid out in the rich black soil of the Western Front, or that we suffered more than 5,500 casualties in our first 27 hours of warfare at Fromelles in 1916, and you will usually be met by a stunned, rather embarrassed silence. That we might also know, though, that 27,000 Frenchmen were killed in 24 hours on 22 August, 1914; 20,000 Brits on day one of the Battle of the Somme (July 1, 1916). Further east, the story was much the same. When the war was finally over — with more than 9 million dead in 52 months of fighting — 15 per cent of Serbia’s population had been wiped out.

John Monash at his headquarters in the Villers- Bretonneux sector. (Pic: Australian War Memorial)
John Monash at his headquarters in the Villers-Bretonneux sector. (Pic: Australian War Memorial)

General Sir John Monash and the Anzacs of the Western Front are about to get the kind of recognition they deserve — for their vast sacrifice, resolution and courage, for their victories with the allies in 1918. Demystified (if that’s possible), Monash, even for those who make the effort to see him with a degree of objectivity, was surely our greatest military leader. Monash the Jewish Melbourne citizen soldier and engineer, of German family origins, who co-engineered the great allied breakthrough of August 8, 1918, that German commander General Erich Ludendorff would call “the black day of the German army”.

World War One was important in forging Australia’s identity as a young nation and much of it happened in the
muddy trenches of France and Belgium. Events on the Western Front between 1916 and 1918 lie at the bedrock of our national story, especially in Europe, so are central to us putting our case here, in a deep sense, about who we are. (As is the Quai Branly museum, which opened in Paris in 2006, integrating Australian indigenous art into its architecture and hosting one of the largest collections of it anywhere outside Australia). For a long time, France was the country in continental western Europe that mattered most, still matters a lot, and with the advent of president Emmanuel Macron, not to say Brexit, matters more again than it did even a few years ago.

Interactive screens inside the galleries at Sir John Monash Centre on the site of the Australian Memorial outside Villers-Bretonneux. (Pic: Ella Pellegrini)
Interactive screens inside the galleries at Sir John Monash Centre on the site of the Australian Memorial outside Villers-Bretonneux. (Pic: Ella Pellegrini)

To quote Pauline Neville-Jones, formerly political director of the UK Foreign Office, “if you want to be important in France, you need to be grand”. But ‘grand’ doesn’t mean grandstanding, or shouldn’t, and we’ll see whether the Centre manages to be both big-thinking and personal, and the extent to which Australian, local and other visitors take it to heart. But it’s true that a wide-reaching synoptic account of Australia’s role on the Western Front, writ-large, has been needed for a long time.

And yet over many years travelling back and forth from Paris to the Somme and the north of France for commemorative events, it’s the commonality of experience, not infantry tactics or the details of any decisive military offensive, that begins to mark you — the sacrifice and family suffering across countries, borders and cultures.

And the contemporary relevance.

The kind of destruction that was witnessed in Europe between 1914 and 1918 could surely never happen again? Well, it did; 21 years later. Surely other European countries, if not the world beyond, could have stopped tensions between two nations — Austria and Serbia — rising to the point of spinning off into war? They didn’t. We cannot idly presume then that they would if, say, antagonism between Russia/Syria and the US, or North Korea and the US, were to reach boiling point.

went looking for Rolf Grotelüschen for this story and instead found his notice. He bowed out last year, aged 88. So is perhaps again with his father, with members of the German and even Australian imperial forces and all those others now — who knows? Or perhaps that’s just how some civilians, for whom the universal tragedy of WWI remains incomprehensible, still prefer to think of it.