WHEN we survey some of the more controversial incidents of recent times, from the attempts to place restrictions on poker machine players to the suspension of live cattle exports to Indonesia, there is a connecting thread that almost everyone has missed. This is the return of the wowser.
Wowsers (We Only Want Social Evils Remedied) are traditionally as Australian as meat pies and Holden cars.
They were responsible for Australian institutions such as the six o’clock closing and the shutting of shops on Sundays.
One would have thought that they had receded into the annals of history as Australians became more liberal on these sorts of issues. Shopping is now very much a Sunday experience and Australians are used to the idea of civilised drinking.
But wowserism has never really gone away and, like any great tradition, has bided its time waiting for new opportunities. It has simply changed its spots. Once it had a strong religious colouring; now it is taking on an increasingly secular tone.
Wowsers want to improve people and make them better. To do so they have to prevent them from engaging in activities that they find immoral: be it gambling, eating meat, drinking alcohol, smoking or consuming junk food.
My father used to say that for such people if you were enjoying yourself there must be sin involved.
I have no doubt that behind the ruckus about live meat exports there is a vegetarian agenda, based on the idea that vegetarians are better people than meat eaters. If we limit gambling we can make people better. And, as we all know, it is a fact universally acknowledged that there is not a bogan out there who could not do with some improvement.
In days gone by, the ideals of wowserdom were often linked with those of eugenics. People could be improved if only their habits and lifestyle were changed; if only they lived a more rational way of life.
Eugenics has often been misunderstood. For one thing it was embraced in countries such as Australia by people who considered themselves to be progressive, who we would describe as being on the left. For another it was as much about changing the environment as it was about selective breeding. It was about making better people. Continue reading ‘Wowsers are traditionally as Australian as meat pies and Holden cars, says Associate Professor Gregory Melleuish.’