Andrew Symonds. Photo: Privatemusings/wikimedia commons

I’m still mourning the death of Andrew “Roy” Symonds.

The moment I heard of it I flashed back to the house in Newtown of Professor Michael Jackson and his good wife Katie.

I had been invited to dinner and on arrival found Michael glued to the TV watching Symonds bat for the Oz one day team, waxing lyrical about Roy’s abilities and chutzpah. I must admit that I didn’t expect such an intense interest in cricket from a tall, white-haired political theorist from Nebraska, but I could certainly understand his admiration for Roy in the Oz team.

Everyone could see that Roy played cricket as it should be played, for sheer enjoyment of body, heart, and soul through the comparatively soft (though people do sometimes die) ritualisation of war that cricket is.

For me though, Roy was a different exemplar. He was an adopted son of Charters Towers with, like me, a touch of the tar brush as northern Queenslanders would tend to coin it.

He may have been of West Indian/Swedish roots, but he was an archetypical north Queenslander: laconic, honest, and direct, and full of principle and passion. He showed the truth in the old Chinese adage that the water and soil of a place make the people of that place. He was a true son of Oz, of southern culture, not of the east and west of the north.

But it was in the north in India that saw the start of his demise as a cricketer. (My brain screams out each time I see India and China being referred to as being part of the Global South. It’s as though the flat-earthers have taken over the humanities asylum. If we lose sight of our physical geography, we’ve had it as a species.)

Oz is far from being non-racist. The 1906 White Australia Policy is a chancre that still gives succour to Hanson’s born-in-Queensland One Nation. It’s sad that their lack of understanding of history does not perceive the efforts that Pacific Islanders and Chinese put into the development of north Queensland. But for all their small-hearted/minded bigotry, over the past 70 years Oz has more generally changed to embrace the bliss of multi-culturalism. After all, Mal Meninga has become a great cultural icon in Queensland.

The northern hemisphere is different, however. India is a cultural mosaic that is more than difficult to delineate, but like much of Eurasia, darker skin denotes lower class. The millennia old caste system casts this in stone. Brahmans are the light skinned people. Untouchables are the darkies.

Andrew Symonds found himself tarred as a monkey by the crowd in the test cauldron of Mumbai. Strangely, considering the exoticism that permeates India, the crowd just couldn’t cope with the dread-locked, zinc-cream-faced athleticism of a dark Queenslander raised on rugby league, swimming and steak as much as cricket. So they denigrated him en masse as an ape, someone sub-human. Sad old India.

Sadder still was that an Indian test cricketer chose to echo their jibe after Roy stepped in to help quell an ugly physical confrontation. Roy, the man of principle, reported the incident. Denigration as an ape is not in the supposed fair-play spirit of cricket.

Saddest, however, was the fact that in the end the faceless men of the Australian Cricket Board caved into the lure of lucre from the wealth of the Indian cricket market. The Indian cricketer was merely slapped on the wrist and Roy was slowly set adrift from Oz cricket, some on the Board and in the media even blaming him for the incident.

The trouble for Oz in this unfortunate tale is that such craven attraction to short-term profit over principle has continued to hold sway in too much of our business and political class.

Short term views versus something better

The logic of short-term advantage and ethics of chance are their guiding light. Property developers are too often only interested in their immediate profits rather than any long-term societal effects of their buildings.

The extent of the cladding debacle has been an all too evident example of this. Politicians and local businesspeople kowtow to the financial power of multi-national and foreign business interests, proclaiming the market as their guiding principle without any great understanding of economics.

My guess is that they haven’t read the philosopher of science, Karl Popper’s profound criticism for the lack of empirical basis of the much-touted theories of his old mate Frederich von Hayek, the small government market guru of Thatcher and Reagan.

There are echoes of this in NSW LNP Planning Minister Roberts’ recent negation of housing planning principles – just another short- term knee-jerk reaction towards the cheap and nasty.

We can only hope that the recent change of Oz government might stem the flow away from the pursuit of short-term profit devoid of principle.

Rather than a Prime Minister and former coal-fondling Treasurer with an honours degree on religious assembly demography, the new Treasurer has a doctorate in political science. Moreover, Andrew Leigh, another new Oz government politician, has a doctorate in economics and in fact has undertaken joint research with academics at Beijing University on international economic inequality.

On the business front, the ideas of Mike Cannon-Brookes have shown us that business needn’t be faceless men craven to mere short-term profit.

Oz punches way above its weight in science. The desert-that-doesn’t-look-like-a-desert landmass of Oz has necessitated thought transcending the ritualisations of knowledge of the northern hemisphere.

The comparative barrenness of the land also necessitates a more communal spirit of mateship writ large; the over 500 Aboriginal language groups ritualised war as a precedent. Oz is certainly much more socialist than China ever was.

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Oz luminaries such as Doc Evatt in helping found the United Nations, and Vivian Chow in urging Chinese Australians in 1930 to come to the new Chinese republic to teach the egalitarianism of the ANZAC spirit, understood this.

In his own small way, Andrew “Roy” Symonds is part of this pantheon of those who cared for life and principle over mere profit. He will be remembered long after the faceless men.

Michael Paton

Dr Michael Paton is an associate of the Centre for Chinese Studies, University of Sydney. He was previously the Teaching Quality Fellow in the Faculty of Economics and Business, co-founder of the research group Sustainable Management of Organisations Group (SMOG), and Vice President (Asia) of the Australasian Association for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Science. More by Michael Paton

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  1. Thankyou for your contribution but saddest to me was your dig at former Treasurer Josh Frydenburgh’s qualifications, he has achieved far more than the one you chose. Now I will be expecting miracles and a life of utopiah from the current Treasurer after your gleeming remarks of Jim Chalmers.

    1. My dig was at Scott Morrison as Prime Minister and Treasurer. He was the coal-fondler in parliament after all.

      I expect miracles from no-one. I just expect better with inspiration, luck and good management.