Social democrats in English-speaking countries have frequently looked to Sweden and its neighbours as offering a policy model that combines economic prosperity with social equality. In recent decades this admiration has dissipated due to a sense that comprehensive welfare provision in the Nordic nations is in retreat and that policy options for small states have been reduced by ‘globalisation’. Yet there remains strong evidence of economic and social achievement in various northern European nations, maintained by policies which continue to be more recognisably social democratic than elsewhere. This article examines Australian policy interest in Scandinavia, especially the 1986 union mission that produced the report, Australia Reconstructed. The article situates that mission in the history of interest in the Swedish model in the wider English-speaking world, with the aim of exploring the extent to which social democracy in the north of Europe remains intact and relevant.