The Wisteria Diary – No breadcrumbs will mark this way out



Late autumn sunlight shines through growing gaps in the wisteria’s foliage. A succession of frigid nights has patently reminded that winter is near. Much of the world is in tumult, but things have been pretty quiet in Ballarat. Thank goodness for understated blessings. My Other Half has found the intricate detail of quilting an effective diversion. I have been content to read, reflect, and observe what others reveal by what they choose to say.


It has been some weeks since I updated the diary. In that time Australia’s fears of a Corona onslaught have receded. A sense of imminent threat saw a strong temporary national consensus prevail. But as people’s sense of relative personal safety has increased, many have enthusiastically resumed their normal agendas. Large and consequential decisions await, and an acute sense of self interest is not something that dies easily for some.


As no publicly stated position should now be permitted more than five minutes oxygen without a contrarian view taking shape, it’s only natural we already have a school of thought pushing the idea that the economic lockdown undertaken was an over-reaction. The most astringent rationalists have suddenly developed a deep concern for the mental health of the populace. Some who have made a stock in trade of defunding and deriding public education are suddenly the loudest advocates of the value of classroom teaching. As we have learnt from previous crises, dealing with the immediate emergency is one thing, winning the post-event battle of ideas quite another.


This isn’t to deny our economic predicament, or its consequences. A generation of Australians who have never known a recession now face what could be the worst downturn since that hitherto spectral event, The Great Depression. When we last had a recession, most people went into it with more stable employment conditions, and as a society we carried much less personal debt. A government whose rhetoric has habitually praised the market now finds itself supporting more than half the workforce, albeit temporarily, if we take them at their word. Until the JobKeeper scheme concludes, we probably won’t really know how many businesses currently operating to any degree will be viable in the future. For all we really know, the economic worst may still lie ahead.


This uncertainty will weigh on a workforce already anxious about returning to the workplace, where it can. Such as the economy is now opening up, that is predicated on the hope that the general rate of community infection is sufficiently low as to leave the vast majority of us unaffected. We further hope we are now in a position to identify and isolate further outbreaks promptly. But no trip outside your home can be done with the absolute certainty of safety. We will all need to make our own assessments of relative risk.


To make those assessments as easy as possible, our leaders will need to remain clear and consistent. Even if you think Dan Andrews has been overly cautious in his approach (I don’t), you would be hard-pressed to say he hasn’t been predictable. Agree or not, if you were paying attention you’ve known what to expect from him, and when to expect it. Scott Morrison’s verbal incontinence aside, the Federal Government has likewise stayed pretty much on message, as have the other state premiers. Should you be inclined to downplay the value of this, just look across the Pacific to the current predicament in America.


Regardless of how well we manage our own affairs from this point on, we can do nothing about the reality that much of the world will be in some degree of turmoil for the foreseeable future. We have no choice but to operate amidst more uncertainty than we are accustomed to. It would pay us all to stay alert for those who will seek to benefit from that uncertainty. A degree of democratic skepticism won’t hurt as we try to figure out what ‘normal’ will look like from here on. The challenge will be to avoid the destructive partisanship which has been all too evident elsewhere.


For myself, I’m venturing back to the bookshop to see if there are any customers left out there. If the trickiest question I have to resolve is whether the economics titles now belong in fiction, I’ll be a fortunate man indeed.




Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.


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About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. The world atomises as we age. The windmills have won and we realise the futility of tilting. With good government and island barriers we seem to have escaped the worst of the disease. The war is largely over but I’m not sure if we will survive the peace.
    Australia has nimbly roved at the feet of Big Nick and Big Carl for decades, but I get the feeling they are getting sick of us gathering all their crumbs. The big blokes have got us in their sights. Our traditional protector is busy looking after themselves. And the other big bloke has lined us up for a decent shirt front.
    Never a good idea to backchat the umpires. They don’t forget and we’ve run out of free kicks.
    (Is it only me or is the Almanac in career best form now that the past is a much better option than present or future?)

  2. John Butler says

    Don’t know about the war being over, PB. I sense a long, uneasy truce ahead.

    But you’re right about the big boys. They clearly sense opportunity. Let no good crisis go to waste.


  3. Kevin Densley says

    Thanks for this fine piece, John. Intelligent, reflective words such as those in this essay are highly appropriate at any time, I suppose, but feel particularly needed at present.

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