Monash University Publishing, $19.95 pb, 92 pp
In 1958, the Australian political scientist A.F. Davies (1924–87) published Australian Democracy: An introduction to the political system, one of the first postwar attempts to combine institutional description with comment on the patterns of political culture. It introduced a provocative assertion: Australians have ‘a characteristic talent for bureaucracy’. Disdaining the myth of Australians as shaped by the initiative and improvisation of our bush heritage (Russel Ward’s The Australian Legend was published in the same year), Davies argued:
this [talent] runs counter not only to the archaic and cherished image of ourselves as ungovernable, if not actually lawless, people, but also to our civics of liberalism which accords to bureaucracy only a small and rather shady place. Being a good bureaucrat is, we feel, a bit like being a good forger. But in practice our gift – to be seen in statu nascendi at any state school sports – is exercised on a massive scale in government, economy and social institutions.