This Sunday, the country's only federally funded university commences its 75th anniversary year.
The milestone reminds us of the vaulting optimism of past leaders as they emerged bloodied but unbowed from the horrors and deprivations of WWII.
Less flattering are comparisons with latter-day dodgers and spinners, for whom peak courage is a vaguely insubordinate question in the party room and whose vision peers no further than the next poll.
Weakened by rationing and saddled with a debt-to-GDP ratio of 120 per cent (currently it's around 41 per cent), Australia's war-weary population in 1946 was barely one-third of its current 26 million.
Yet somehow this small but indefatigable dominion on the unfashionable side of the planet saw for itself a big worldly future.
"The government is particularly anxious that the national university which this bill seeks to establish ... will bring credit to Australia, advance the cause of learning and research in general, and take its rightful place among the great universities of the world," said Ben Chifley's minister for post-war reconstruction and minister in charge of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, John Dedman, in the second-reading speech of June 19, 1946.
"For this reason I shall welcome suggestions from honourable members, and will sympathetically consider any amendments they may wish to make with the object of helping the university to achieve these ends."
Reading this, one is struck by the constructive pluralism of the project, its enlarging human spirit, its moral certitude.
Mind you, it was also a speech of its time, ignoring First Nations people and women as Dedman vowed to "leave no stone unturned to secure" the best "men" to run it.
With the establishment of an Australian national university liberally endowed, properly housed, and staffed with men of world repute, Australia will have taken one more step to align itself with the great and enlightened nations of the world."
Hard to miss that in the current crisis, universities have been conspicuously denied protection, despite building the current prosperity, earning export dollars, and being sizeable domestic employers.
More so when you remember that in fobbing off Pfizer et al last year, the government placed its chips (and ours) predominantly on two university-led vaccines, AstraZeneca and the University of Queensland.
The UQ option showed brilliant early results, but was abandoned when it was found to compromise HIV testing.
On AZ, a recent investigation by the group Universities Allied for Essential Medicines UK, traced the flow of research funds which led to its development, and found that since the year 2000, as little as 2 per cent came from private enterprise.
UAEM's yet-to-be-peer-reviewed paper noted: "Although the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine itself was developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the underlying ChAdOx platform relies on two decades of virus-vectored vaccine research at the Jenner Institute, University of Oxford, led by Professor Sarah Gilbert (S.G.) and Professor Adrian Hill (A.H.)."
Another contrast with the post-war years is how far we've slipped from Dedman's aim of ranking Australia "with the great and enlightened nations of the world".
Take this reference from the UK's Financial Times this week, that notorious green-left tribune.
"The G20 includes some countries that have set ambitious climate goals, such as the EU, and others that have resisted setting emissions targets, such as Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Australia - making it difficult to come to an agreement."
The FT observation was one among many in the international press in the dispirited aftermath of a G20 climate conference - this one in Italy - called to co-ordinate language ahead of the Glasgow COP26 meeting in November.
Materially, Australia's antediluvian non-leadership matters. On Thursday, the government's own Australian Bureau for Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences found farmers are already going broke from climate change.
"Lower average rainfall and higher average temperatures have had a negative impact on farm productivity and profit," said ABARES director Jared Greenville.
"These conditions have reduced farm profits by an average of 23 per cent, or $29,000 per farm per year, relative to conditions between 1950 to 2000."
That's an "average" loss "per farm, per year" and it will only get worse.
Quite deliberately, Scott Morrison's "leadership" has ensured Australia resides on the problem side of the climate crisis ledger, while on vaccine distribution we've simply become pitiable.
Under the headline "Australia makes world-class mess of its vaccine rollout", The Irish Times on Monday noted "just 13 per cent of the country is fully vaccinated ... and more than half of aged and disability care residents and workers are still unvaccinated".
"There is nothing gold standard or world-class about these figures, which put Australia bottom of the chart for vaccinations among OECD countries," observed Padraig Collins.
Although, at least on this score, a correction is under way.
Hot on the heels of his Clayton's apology for his government's "20-20" short-sightedness, the Prime Minister is now buying vaccines willy-nilly. The numbers are staggering: 85 million Pfizer boosters for 2022-23, on top of 40 million jabs already contracted, 10 million Moderna, and 51 million Novavax - none of which will obviate the immediate disaster. Plus there's AZ.
Perhaps, though, Dedman and Chifley would have presumed their own party would stay true to international obligations, scientific data, and a fairer distribution of wealth, right?
Sadly not. Still smarting from 2019, Labor this week formally abandoned talk of rolling back 2024's stage-three tax cuts for the well-off, to avert a scare campaign over increased taxes.
Also dumped are policies to clip the Boomer boondoggles of franking credits, negative gearing, and capital gains tax, along with several worthy social programs that would have been funded by them.
The full bleaching of Labor's actual reason-for-being might yet come via its watered down 2030 emissions targets - ironically, just as its previous 45 per cent promise becomes the global norm.
Finally, this week the Grattan Institute released Gridlock: Removing Barriers to Reform, which attempted to quantify why so many necessary improvements never materialise.
Report author John Daley told me inter alia there needed to be wholesale change, with a proper federal anti-corruption body, donations transparency, restored protection for departmental secretaries from ministerial dismissal, an end to the revolving door between politics and lobbying, and an end to the ludicrous practice of advisers being beyond accountability.
Of course a bit of 1946-style policy courage and vision would help too. Chifley became minister for post-war reconstruction in 1942 - fully three years before the war ended - and he was succeeded by Dedman.
Without them, there'd probably be no Snowy scheme (with the uniquely Australian multiculturalism it turbo-charged), perhaps no Holden plants, no PBS, and, unquestionably, no ANU.
- Mark Kenny is a professor at the ANU's Australian Studies Institute and host of the Democracy Sausage podcast.