Medically idiotic, economically ruinous, socially disruptive and embittering, culturally dystopian, politically despotic: what was there to like in the Covid era? Billions, if you were Big Pharma. Unchecked power, if you were Big State. More money and power over the world’s governments and people, for the WHO. Template for action for climate zealots. Dreamtime for cops given free rein to indulge their inner bully. Anguished despair, if you were a caring, inquisitive reporter. In Australia Breaks Apart, John Stapleton, a retired journalist with over 25 years’ experience with the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian, chronicles the collective madness that suffocated Covidian Australia, but also the resistance movement that began hesitantly and grew organically. It is a tale of the many villains complicit in tyranny and the few heroes of resistance. “What will you tell UR kids? Did you rise up or comply,” asked a sign during the Canberra protests. It’s a story of venal, incompetent politicians and brutish police – thugs in uniform – acting at the behest of “power drunk apparatchiks”.
If you want to know or recall what happened, read the book. If you questioned and resisted from the start, take heart at the documentation for the record. If you belong to the Covid class in slow retreat from the wastelands you created and now leave behind, take evasive action. An extract was published in the Weekend Australian. Among more than 900 online commentators, one quoted Tony Abbott that in two World Wars, many risked their lives to protect our freedoms, but in the last three years, so many gave up freedoms to prolong lives. Some took Stapleton to task for failing to thank our great and good leaders and public health authorities for keeping us safe through the terrifying ordeal of the ‘rona wars. The persistence of the last attitude justifies the book’s publication. It’s an effort to chronicle and, if possible, come to terms with how an entire population was terrorised into fearing a virus and complying with arbitrary and draconian rules. Stapleton laments this is not the Australia he knew and loved. There evolved a co-dependency between the über-surveillance state and a Stasi-like snitch society in which “we are all guilty until proven uninfected”. The unleashing of state violence on peaceful protestors included militarised responses on the streets and in the air that drew gasps of disbelief from around the world. State over-reach included “an insane level of micromanagement”. All was done without providing any evidence and cost-benefit analyses in support. It’s all here in grim detail, possibly with generous dollops of hyperbole. But who can blame Stapleton, writing amidst the “height of totalitarian derangement” syndrome?
Stapleton uses the narrative device of a fictional character called Old Alex who watches what is happening with detachment and growing disenchantment. In 444 pages divided into 19 chapters, he provides a comprehensive catalogue of the milestones, lies and obfuscations on the relentless march to medical tyranny and vaccine apartheid. He puzzles over the Left’s embrace of the Pharma-state’s over-reach. Struggles for words strong enough to convey the depth of contempt for the “shameless”, “odious” and “loathed” Scott Morrison, whose name became synonymous for some with the act of defecation as shouts were heard from inside a lavatory: “I’m doing a ScoMo, I’m doing a ScoMo.” Readers will encounter many writers from the Spectator Australia and Brownstone stables, which clearly sustained Stapleton through the dark Covid years with emotional connections to many of the world’s leading fellow dissidents. They will be reminded of many characters whose horror stories were illuminated briefly during the long darkness, such as Anthony and Natalie Reale who run the Village Fix café in Shellharbour, NSW. I wrote about them in the Speccie on January 15th 2022. We encountered the big-hearted and generous family on the drive up from Canberra to our new home in the Northern Rivers in December 2021.
Australia broke apart most obviously in the way in which the Morrison Government was complicit in the fracturing of the federation into mini-fiefdoms run by wannabe warlords a.k.a. Premiers and their palace courtiers of CHOs and Police Commissioners, some of whom have since been pushed upwards into Governors’ mansions. But it was more. Trust was also broken, perhaps irreparably, with respect to parliaments, the judiciary, human rights machinery, police, medical establishment, experts and the media. The significant switch to independent media reflects disillusionment as much with social media’s Big Tech platforms that turned into narrative enforcers as with the legacy media that turned into fear-mongering Big State mouthpieces and Big Pharma shills.
It was important for someone to write this instant history under time pressure, an accessible work of record, lest we forget. Or rather, lest they be allowed to forget and move on. This is neither a book by nor for academics. Therein lies some of its failings and much of its strength. “The Government is my enemy,” laments a disillusioned citizen. Do not trust politicians and bureaucrats. “They lie for a living,” says the cynical reporter. In the years to come a flood of scholarly tomes can be expected, analysing in excruciating detail the excesses of lockdowns, masks and vaccines and systematic assessments of their successes and failures. Given the paucity of critical journalism, it’s useful to have a record of contemporaneous events before memories fade and stories are conveniently rewritten. The journalistic strengths include on-the-ground reporting from protests like the Canberra Convoy, observation skills, an eye for the human interest story, jargon-free writing and analysis uncluttered by theoretical explorations. His stories of the personalities encountered during the massive Canberra protests in early 2022 bring out vividly the electric atmosphere, energy and camaraderie of what became a festive, exultant celebration of shared emotions and commitments to securing the freedoms of future generations of Australians.
This is a book to read, display prominently on the coffee table or discreetly on the bookshelf, recommend for purchase to the public library, and spread awareness by word of mouth. It contains many literary quotations and allusions. It’s appropriate therefore that I am left at the end recalling these lines from Dylan Thomas that apply very much to ‘Old Alex’: “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rage at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Ramesh Thakur is Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy and a former UN Assistant Secretary-General. This article was first published by Spectator Australia.