Mark Knight News Corp

Two decades ago, the late Ron Tandberg had a cartoon about the Howard government’s jacking up of the mandatory detention system, and the public support it was getting. Australia had just refused to recognise a new foreign government, I forget which, and the cartoon had two people walking past a newspaper flyer -- in one of the old wire grids -- saying that. "I don’t recognise my country either," said one passerby to the other.

It was a measure of Tandberg’s genius that he could convey, with a half-dozen strokes in the speaker’s face, a mixture of pain, bewilderment and alienation that many of us were feeling at the time, as the last illusions that Australia -- middle suburban Australia at least -- was a basically progressive, easy-going country of reasonable people.