Who Are Australia’s Intellectual Exports?

I think everyone is aware of Australia’s exploits in successfully exporting musicians (AC/DC, Beegees, INXS, Midnight Oil, Kylie Minogue etc) and actors (Mel Gibson, Eric Bana, Russel Crowe (I think this is a week where we claim him as he hasn’t thrown telephones at anyone), Heath Ledger, Geoffrey Rush, Hugh Jackman, Cate Blanchett etc), but who are our ‘intellectual’ exports?

I’m genuinely curious as to which Australians could be said to have significantly influenced international public debate. Germaine Greer definitely  (somewhat embarrassing for us and we’re quite glad we got rid of her), Peter Singer (ditto), Clive James (less embarrassing, but hardly A grade material), and then I’m kind of drawing a blank.

I’m sure there are a few others out there… there has to be… but who?

UPDATE: In case you’re tempted to write Barry Humphreys, don’t!


19 Responses to “Who Are Australia’s Intellectual Exports?”

  1. Ross Grove Says:

    Tim Flannery. Don’t ask questions you don’t want answered.

  2. Tim Andrews Says:

    Yeah I thought of him, but he’s not that well known internationally is he? And besides, I’d hardly consider him an ‘intellectual’, as opposed to ‘activist’…

  3. Andrew Landeryou Says:

    Love a good frolic on more highbrow territory than VEXNEWS would dare to wander in.

    That font of reliable data Wikipedia defines:

    An intellectual is a person who uses intelligence (thought and reason) and critical or analytical thinking, either in a professional or a personal capacity.

    Perhaps not exactly what you’d have in mind but Rupert Murdoch has had a massive influence on public debate throughout the English speaking world and certainly qualifies according to that definition.

    Those questioning his intellectual contribution – aside from being a patron and facilitator of debate through some of the world’s best outlets for ideas in quality newspapers and talking heads TV – should check out the 2008 Boyer Lectures and his many speeches and opeds over the years. He might be in business but his business is ideas and in my view that makes him Australia’s greatest intellectual export, by a country mile.

    I suspect by more traditional definitions that might preclude the Rupe, Greer has certainly been the most impactful of all Australian intellectual exports, whatever you might think of her views.

    Robert Hughes certainly has had an impact too and not only in the arts.

    This reference suggests Australia doesn’t have someone who could qualify in the top 20 of the world’s intellectuals. Perhaps Tim Andrews might crack the list one day and fly the flag for all of us.

  4. Rachel @ Musings of An Inappropriate Woman Says:

    Tim Andrews. :p

    Seriously though, I love Singer and Germs! Don’t know if Clive James counts though, for the reasons you listed.

  5. Tim Warner Says:

    Not 100% certain of the definition – but if writing and influence today or in the nineties & naughties are the criteria – Owen Herries, the chief of staff in Iraq who changed US counter insurgency tactics (name eludes me), Geoffrey Blainey (not for what you may think – The Causes of War is a key book in every Military Academy in the developed world, he has spoken at most of them) and of very recent vintage Dr Ian Plimer.

  6. Ben Says:

    To be honest, I agree with some of Peter Singer’s views and Greer’s. In fact, Singer’s pro-torture arguments are very persuasive. And I applaud Greer’s attacks on men who claim they’re women, because they adopt gender stereotypes.

    As an anti-elitist, I’d probably nominate Rupert Murdoch for giving the world FOX News and countless other New Media forums. He is a pro-democracy genius. Also, Ian Plimer, for ginning me up. He can deconstruct the global warming movement in his sleep with dates.

  7. Jeremy B Says:

    Ian Plimer definitely, but let’s not forget Howard Florey, who shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1945 for his role in the extraction of penicillin.

  8. Ross Grove Says:

    Nick Adams.

  9. chris Says:

    before the page loaded I tried to guess who would be nominated and the only one not yet mentioned that sprang to mind was John Pilger. the others I thought of were Hughsey, Humphries, James and Singer. As far as actually influencing public debate goes, well that is another matter.

  10. Tim Humphries Says:

    All worthy names…However your forgetting Banjo Patterson and Henry Lawson. If we’re looking over the entirety of Australia’s history, they rank up there.

  11. Tim Warner Says:

    But that does get to Intellectual ‘export’ and what that constitutes. Florey changed the world, but so did Hargraves, Bragg, Mitchell (thrust bearing etc). But is that what is being sort – if Greer and Hughes are in the mix then being a quotable quote and being asked ones opinion becomes a marker.

  12. Alex Dore Says:

    Hate to say it, but Gareth Evans.

  13. Sam Roggeveen Says:


    I’m a bit late to this party, butI nominate Hedley Bull:

  14. Tim Andrews Says:

    Thank you – as embarrassing as it is, I wasn’t even aware of him! Shall definitely have to get a copy of The Anarchical Society now!

  15. Sturt Says:

    I’d agree that many of the names so far mentioned are “intellectual exports”, but all of them owe a debt to the philosopher John Anderson, who was never particularly famous but has an intellectual legacy as the founder of “Australian realism” that’s more enduring than any of the popular writings of Hughes, James, Greer, etc.

  16. Alison Broinowski Says:

    I am amazed that in nominating various Nobel prizewinners nobody mentioned Patrick White.

  17. skepticlawyer Says:

    John Finnis, major natural law scholar and theologian.


  18. fred nurk Says:

    Hmmmmm. The name Tim Andrews comes to mind…..

  19. Christian Le Says:

    I think Kevin Rudd is our intellectual export in the full sense of the word. As a former PM and now foreign affair Minister, he was travelling the world and I think he is quite intelligent and intellectual at the same time. Not many Aussies have his intellect and he is well-versed in politics and world affairs and more intellectual than our PM Ms Gillard. I like someone who has not just intellect but a man of character. Intellect without character or integrity is not credible. Australia needs both!

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