Allon, Fiona. Renovation Nation: Our obsession with home

New South, $34.95

Australians are unhealthily obsessed with our homes, and it’s John Howard’s fault, according to Fiona Allon. In Renovation Nation, Allon examines whetherAustralia’s current fixation with our houses belies a different meaning from the good old Great Australian Dream.

Our nation is our metaphoric lounge room. During Australia’s years spent on John Howard’s firm economic watch, we became prosperous, but fearful –  obsessed with property prices, mortgages, investment properties, The Block, home renovations, landscaping, Bunnings, Jamie Drury. After all, we were just making ourselves relaxed and comfortable.

Allon asks, if all this cocooning was designed to make us safe, from whom were we hiding? Was anxiety about national security (particularly, keeping strangers out ofAustralia) the dry-rotten foundation for our personal home and lifestyle obsession? Did our fortress mentality match the political climate the way the pool’s slate pavers matched its infinity edge?

Renovation Nation is ground-floor political analysis, second floor social commentary. It canvasses immigrant culture versus ‘taste’, prestige versus ‘masstige’, innercity metros versus outer suburbs aspirationals in their McMansions. If you’re not an aspirational these days, you certainly know one. DIY is repackaged as infotainment. Heritage is commodified and presented as a consumable. We’re now familiar with gentrification, so who wants to tackle post-gentrification?

“Wealth made us smug and self-satisfied, prosperity made us selfish” Allon states, believing renovations concentrate our interest on the here and now, so that we become narrow and insular.

The suburb of Earlwood, where John Howard grew up, proves both case study and metaphor. Although Allon’s approach occasionally belies a Sydney-centric perspective, the reader can easily extricate their own suburb from under the scaffolding.