Bland Rube Triumphant

Letter From Queensland

Let us now praise famous Queenslanders, in particular the most famous Queenslander of the lot: Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen, who died, aged 94, on April 26.  One of Australia’s most sure-footed and most intuitively brilliant political leaders, Sir Joh, as everyone called him (though he received his knighthood only in 1983, it is now impossible to imagine him as plain Mr. Bjelke-Petersen), ruled his home state as premier from 1968 to 1987.  By his tenure’s length and ethos, he appalled the liberal commentariat, while being regarded by most of his subjects—“subjects” is le mot juste—with amused tolerance that often enough, when fueled by non-Queenslanders’ snickering, flared into passionate approval.  Queensland, in his time (and long before), had a seemingly ineradicable reputation as “the Deep North,” awash with Faulknerian craziness.  In more genteel Australian regions, it inspired an endless catalogue of jokes—mostly witless—about bananas, pineapples, and incestuous cross-burning rednecks.  Not that its sovereign cared.  The more vociferously Ausländer elements demonized him, the happier Sir Joh grew, the bigger the majorities he piled up in the state’s unicameral legislature, and the more attractive Queensland’s low-tax economy became to business investors of sometimes dubious morals but always impressive wealth...

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