Bigger than Bradman and Phar Lap combined, no Australian legend has endured the ages quite like the ‘fair go’. Egalitarianism is as central to Australian identity as exceptionalism is to the United States. The promises that underpin these mythologies are as contentious as they are seductive. The ease of social mobility is necessarily implied. Wealth accumulation is palatable so long as it pays homage to its common roots. Class, if it is mentioned at all, is treated like a hoary anachronism that demarcates the Australian way of life from the highly stratified existence in the mother country. But the veneration of the self-made man seems an appropriate cultural alignment. Although many Australians are nonplussed by the loftiness conveyed by titles, there remains an affection for the wealthy iconoclast, the maverick art collector, the billionaire draped in a high-vis vest.
An ambitious treatise on social stratification in Australia
Battlers and Billionaires: The Story of Inequality in Australia
by Andrew Leigh
Redback, $19.99 pb, 210 pp, 9781863956079
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Gillian Terzis a writer and editor based in Melbourne. She has written on the mining industry for the Guardian and Meanjin.
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