'Australia Reimagined' with Hugh Mackay – Part 2

In this, our second part to our interview with well-known Australian researcher and social commentator, Hugh Mackay, we look at what we can do to help make Australia a more healthy and vibrant society, as outlined in his new book, Australia Reimagined.

In the first instalment of this interview, Mackay discussed the issues our nation is currently facing, including our epidemic of anxiety, our reliance on carbon-based energy, our dependence on technology, and our loss of faith in the political process.

How do we stay optimistic?
So, how does Mackay stay optimistic about our future while examining these very serious issues?

“There are two things,” he says. “We are humans and human beings have demonstrated for thousands of years that we are very resilient. We can pull ourselves back from the brink of choices.”

“Yes, we are a society fragmenting but I think people are realising that connecting online is not the same as talking to someone face-to-face. I think the tide is about to turn. I think within the next 15 years, there’s going to be a big change,” he adds.

“The other thing is when I listen to young Australians, we’re getting a rising generation of teens and twenty-somethings who’ve been shaped by the difficult situation of the last 30 years.

“They are a very resilient generation — they’ve lived through competitive education and work environments, and I think they are the hope of the future. They’re not perfect but they’re more realistic about technology than we think. I think of them as a promising generation. Human beings always understand when they’re on the right track.”

What sort of society do we want to become?
At the end of Australia Reimagined, Mackay lists the aspects of the ideal society we would all like to live in. He ends the book stating, "If enough of us wanted that kind of society, that’s the kind of society we would become. The process of getting there is already well underway; the big thing is not to lose heart”.

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Hugh Mackay is hopeful about the future for Baby Boomers

It’s a great list and a book well worth reading. But what can people — especially the Baby Boomers and over-fifty-fives — do to make a difference?

“The Boomers have got the time and the energy, and they’ve got the ideas,” says Mackay. “They’re very well educated and they’ve been very active in reshaping society. That comes out of that very early formative period.”

The Boomers are our tribal elders
“The Boomers should create as many opportunities to have contact with young people as they can — so they can help each other. The Boomers can continue to be an inspiration to young people and they have a lot to learn from young people. The ‘blue denim’ generation — which has now become ‘stretch denim’ — can still set an example for the Millennials,” he says.

“The first thing they can do is to ring their local Member and let them know how they feel about situations. Everyone can do this and it does make a difference,” he adds.

“There’s so many Boomers now and here’s their great opportunity for them to show us how to tackle our major problems. They can show us how to be less wasteful, recycle more, save power. Their example like this really counts.

“The whole thing about redeveloping communities is so important. The oldest Baby Boomers are 72 and the youngest are 57. Many of them are not working full-time but they’re fitter, healthier, and they travel more than generations before them.”

Community choirs, men’s shed, coffee mornings…
“They live as if they are going to live forever. This is the generation we’re looking to as an example of how to do it,” he says. “They can help build communities by volunteering work, community choirs, men’s sheds, discussion groups, coffee mornings. They can actually establish the principle that our neighbourhoods won’t thrive unless we show by example how we can pull ourselves back from the brink.”

“The more we talk to our neighbours, and the people at the supermarket, and down the street — the better. We need this social interaction — people can take matters into their own hands and it will have a lasting effect,” he adds.

“The Boomers are a very interesting generation,” Mackay continues. “They’ve been pacemakers — they’ve been impatient. The Boomers were famously impatient but it’s important to acknowledge what shaped them. The children of the Cold War and the post-war economic boom — they rode the upward escalator of economic prosperity plus the nuclear holocaust.”

“As a generation, I think they’re still the most interesting and the prospect of endless prosperity is theirs. They are the main cohort bringing about the gender revolution. They’re a great big loud voice, revolutionising everything. They’re our tribal elders and we can be inspired by them,” he concludes.

What’s in the pipeline for Hugh Mackay?
When asked if he feels he has more to write about this important area, Mackay says, “I feel this book closes the loop. I wrote Reinventing Australia 25 years ago, and now we have Australia Reimagined. I think this is my last word on this subject.”

But even at 80 and with 19 books already under his belt, there’s still no mention of retirement on the horizon for Mackay. He says he’s still keen to write another novel which he’s been thinking about for some time. Of course, he’s also going to be busy talking to people about his research and his new book — as well as talking to people in his local community, as he helps make Australia a more vibrant and socially cohesive once again.

What are you doing to keep your local community alive? Do you think the younger generation will be able to step in when they need to?

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About the book

Australia's unprecedented run of economic growth has failed to deliver a more stable or harmonious society. Individualism is rampant. Income inequality is growing. Public education is under-resourced. The gender revolution is stalling. We no longer trust our major institutions or our political leaders. We are more socially fragmented, more anxious, more depressed, more overweight, more medicated, deeper in debt and increasingly addicted - whether to our digital devices, drugs, pornography or 'stuff'.

Yet esteemed social researcher Hugh Mackay remains optimistic. Twenty-five years ago, he revolutionised Australian social analysis with the publication of Reinventing Australia. Now he takes another unflinching look at us and offers some compelling proposals for a more compassionate and socially cohesive Australia. You might not agree with everything he suggests, but you'll find it hard to get some of his ideas out of your head.

Argued with intelligence and passion, this book is essential reading for everyone who loves Australia enough to want to make it a better place for all of us.

Reimagining Australia is available here.