Category Archives: Politics & Society


2017-07-04

The Declaration of Independence Disconnect

by Neil Godfrey

It’s a rainy day here where I am in Thailand and I’ve had the house to myself so with no other distractions it’s a time to return to blogging. My rss feed informs me that a number of biblical scholars have chosen today to write about (or simply quote) the Declaration of Independence as if it were a sacred document. I hate being left behind so I’ve been catching up on some American history myself and one piece of research that seems to make a lot of sense to me is Carroll Smith-Rosenberg’s This Violent Empire: The Birth of an American National Identity (2010). So here are two extracts.

The first reminds me of my undergraduate studies of interest-groups behind Federalist Papers, the Declaration of Independence and Constitution and that have continued to hold power up to today:

For more than two hundred years, citizens of the United States have followed Timothy Dwight in proclaiming their nation “the favorite land of Heaven,” a place of “peace, purity and felicity.” The rolling cadences of the Declaration of Independence, we insist, proclaim us a land of liberty and equality, our Constitution, a government of law and justice. But, shadowing the image the founders sought to project as wise and disinterested statesmen, observers caught sight of the hidden figures of speculators, price gougers, embezzlers, deceivers, and rogues.

The economically and politically discontented — Daniel Shays’s hardscrabble farmers, the Whiskey rebels of western Pennsylvania, Antifederalist critics — were not the only ones to see the new nation’s mercantile and political elite in this light. Many European Americans across the economic and regional spectrum continued to hold dear the civic ideals of classic republicanism: its fears of credit and speculation, its commitment to disinterested heroism and Spartan discipline. Others espoused the commercial republican celebration of industry and frugality.

Both groups watched with mounting ill ease as the national elite grew increasingly at home with the new ways of fiscal capitalism, their embrace of spectacles and the spectacular, of risk and, yes, deception. (p. 414, my bolding and formatting)

The second extract from the conclusion to the book hits a nerve — social divisions, rhetorical and literal violence — that is far more exposed today than it was when the book was first published:  read more »


2017-06-11

Thailand Holiday with Rhyming Parallels from Another Ancient World

by Neil Godfrey

Each time I visit Thailand I find myself wondering if I am in a country with religious parallels to the ancient Mediterranean world in which Christianity emerged. Obviously there are enormous differences, too, and it would be silly to ignore those and try to say that Thailand, like a number of other east Asian countries are replicas of the world of the New Testament. But history does rhyme, does it not? Take a look at these photos…

Everywhere one turns there is an image of the king or his wife looking benignly upon all and sundry. Thais overwhelmingly demonstrate adoration for their beloved king. People have photographs of him in their homes, in their business offices, in their work factories. And of course in public places, roadways, buildings. King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) died in October last year but there is a year long period of national mourning and the amount of black being worn by shoppers and office workers cannot fail to be noticed. Westerners who come from a tradition of mocking their leaders should understand the seriousness of Thai customs and their lèse-majesté laws. Do let the reader understand!


Check out the official name of a certain hospital building, too. The same name cum date cum title cum occasion, in full just as you see it here, is attached to the building itself.

But that’s just what we should expect in a city whose full ceremonial name is nothing less than

“City of angels, great city of immortals, magnificent city of the nine gems, seat of the king, city of royal palaces, home of gods incarnate, erected by Vishvakarman at Indra’s behest.”

But you can call it Bangkok, or if you want to impress the locals, Krung Thep.

Then there is the religious variety. Thailand is a Buddhist country but people are seen pausing to pray to images or other reminders of Hindu and Chinese deities or spirit protectors as well. One even sees the occasional reminder of Christianity as one of their options.

Buddhist temples are ubiquitous, of course.

But then there are any Hindu deities everywhere, too, and people don’t mind what their provenance, they will very often be seen praying to them without discrimination. read more »


2017-06-10

What a Beautiful Result!

by Neil Godfrey

Corbyn raised a media controversy with Branson’s transport company by opting to sit on floor of a train journeying from London to Newcastle. (Corbyn, by the way, does not own a car but does have a bicycle.)

After all the elites mocking Jeremy Corbyn us unelectable:

and after the intense attack on Corbyn by the mainstream media:

and

(both images from Norton and Blumenthal) . . . .

It turns out that an astonishing number of people really are acquiring a hope that a more equitable society is possible, that it really is a good idea for public utilities and national health services to be publicly owned, that free education is the right of everyone, that wars should be settled by political means. Neoliberal elites cannot understand such sentiments; and even many of the commentaries I have read on Corbyn’s dramatic success in changing the landscape of British politics seem still as bewildered as ever: Corbyn was “just a crazy populist” and those who voted for him don’t have any idea that without the neoliberal market driven provision of “goods and services” we all be doomed! People should listen more attentively to their “elitist betters”.

It’s been a long, long, wait to see such possibilities in the political landscape once again.

 


2017-06-03

Expulsion of the Palestinians: Insights into Yishuv’s Transfer Ideas in World War 2

by Neil Godfrey

Dear Reader,

This post is for anyone who loathes racism, both anti-Jewish and anti-Arab, and who feels they have not heard details of the Palestinian side of the history of the establishment of Israel in 1948. It continues a series of posts I have been doing on a book by Palestinian historian Nur Masalha titled Expulsion of the Palestinians: The Concept of “Transfer” in Zionist Political Thought, 1882-1948. As the title indicates, the research Masalha addresses is the extent to which the Jewish Zionist movement was seriously preparing to transfer the Arabs out of Palestine prior to 1948. The significance of the research is that it indicates that the popular notion that the Palestinians virtually voluntarily left Palestine at the establishment of the state of Israel and the first war with the neighbouring Arab states is a myth.

So if you are someone who cannot tolerate any suggestion that there could possibly be two sides to the situation besetting Palestine today then don’t read any further. If you are obsessed with a one-sided narrative that Israelis are saintly innocent victims and Palestinian Arabs are devilish bloodthirsty monsters, go away.

Thank you.

Below are extracts from a diary of Yosef Weitz, director of department responsible for land acquisition and distribution in Palestine in the years leading up to 1948. Weitz was typical of many of his fellow-leaders of the Jewish settlements in Palestine, believing strongly in the necessity of Arab transfer from Palestine to make room for Jewish settlers. Nur Masalha describes his unedited diaries, now in the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem, as

One of the best sources of insight into the Yishuv leadership’s transfer ideas during World War II. (1992, p. 131)

All bolding of text is my own.

Josef Weitz

20 December, 1940:

Amongst ourselves it must be clear that there is no room for both peoples in this country. No “development” will bring us closer to our aim to be an independent people in this small country. After the Arabs are transferred, the country will be wide open for us; with the Arabs staying the country will remain narrow and restricted. When the war is over, and the English have emerged victorious and when the judging nations sit on the throne of law, our people should bring their petitions and claims before them; and the only solution is that the Land of Israel, or at least the Western Land of Israel [i.e., Palestine], without Arabs. There is no room for compromise on this point. The Zionist work so far, in terms of preparation and paving the way for the creation of the Hebrew state in the Land of Israel, has been good and was able to satisfy itself with land purchasing but this will not bring about the state; that must come about simultaneously in the manner of redemption (here is the meaning of the Messianic idea). The only way is to transfer the Arabs from here to neighbouring countries, all of them, except perhaps Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Old Jerusalem. And the transfer must be done through their absorption in Iraq and Syria and even in Transjordan. For that goal, money will be found — even a lot of money. And only then will the country be able to absorb millions of Jews and a solution will be found to the Jewish question. There is no other solution.

18th March, 1941: read more »


2017-06-01

Pity the dead who were poor

by Neil Godfrey

Today’s photo from Thailand. . . . I’ve met this chap a few times now, always in the grounds of a Buddhist temple. His presence never fails to put a smile on my face, so I’d like to share his company with you, too….. He is inviting you to slip a donation into the coffin at his feet. It’s to pay for the funerals of the deceased (specifically for their coffins) too poor to finance their own final farewell.


2017-05-30

There is ALWAYS another interpretation: even of the Quran

by Neil Godfrey

Thou shalt not kill. 

Can’t argue with that, can we. It “speaks for itself”. No interpretation needed, right?

Except . . . .

People do indeed “interpret” the sixth commandment. They interpret it to mean that it does not forbid all killing, only the killing of persons; it does not apply to killing ants and flies. You can kill those. I think it is fair to guess that most believers in the Bible interpret the command to apply to killing that is not state-sanctioned. It is state-sanctioned, and therefore right, for soldiers to kill in war time. I imagine those who disagree with that interpretation and say it means we should not kill any other human under any circumstance are the minority. Pacifists, extremists. We might jail them in wartime or even shoot them.

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

Again, very clear and unambiguous. There’s simply no way you can “interpret” your way out of the blunt meaning of that commandment. It means you have to kill anyone who identifies as a witch. Christians included it in their Bible so why don’t they obey that command? Paul wrote that witchcraft ranks alongside idolatry which also requires the death penalty. So why don’t Christians put witches on death row along with murderers?

Somehow most Christians do find a way to interpret that command, not to change its meaning, but to relegate it to a status that is not relevant to them today.

When the LORD your God brings you into the land which you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you . . . and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them; then you must utterly destroy them . . . and show no mercy to them. . . . And you shall destroy all the peoples that the LORD your God will give over to you, your eye shall not pity them. . . .

God commanded the native inhabitants of Canaan should all be killed, too. A few extremist Jews do still believe in that command and when opportunities permit carry it out. You can’t fault them for their understanding of and obedience to the Bible. But no-one except the extremists themselves would suggest that they speak for “true Judaism” today.

No doubt most adherents of the Jewish religion acknowledge the terror in that command, but at the same time the plain evidence before our eyes tells us that most of them do not interpret that command in a way that obligates them to kill all Palestinian Arabs today. A few do boast that they believe in keeping both the spirit and letter of that command and they do kill Palestinian Arabs when opportunities permit. But they are the newsworthy exception. We do not judge the entire religion of Judaism according to those few Israeli terrorists.

But what is the “correct interpretation”?

read more »


2017-05-26

Two more pics from Bangkok

by Neil Godfrey

And taken with permission, one of the most ubiquitous of scenes but one I always enjoy encountering …..


“We do not believe in God, but he nonetheless promised us Palestine”

by Neil Godfrey

Part of the Uganda Protectorate that was transferred to the British East Africa Protectorate was at one time under serious consideration as a homeland for Jews.

Odd, don’t you think, that primarily secular Jews have led the Zionist movement while pointing to the Bible as the justification for their “return” to Palestine. When the Zionist movement was founded in the nineteenth century it was opposed by religious and most orthodox Jews. Zionism’s founder, Theodore Herzl, argued for a site in east Africa as the best place for a Jewish homeland for the foreseeable future. So what happened?

It was the British who were in large measure responsible for Palestine becoming the designated homeland. Protestant Britain, informed by Western Christian scholarship in a time of colonialism and imperialism, contributed to strong support among non-Jews for the Zionist movement focused on Palestine.

Most religious Jews argued against Zionism, insisting that the Jews were meant by God to remain outside Palestine and return was unthinkable without the messiah.

The secular early Zionists quoted intensively from the Bible to show that there was a divine imperative to colonize Palestine,  or in their discourse, to redeem Eretz Israel. But in fact the Bible is not a very useful text for reinventing a Jewish nation: the father of the nation, Abraham, was not from Palestine, the Hebrews became a nation in Egypt and the Ten Commandments were given to them in Egypt (the Sinai). . . .

(Pappe, I. (2016). “The Bible in the service of Zionism: “we do not believe in God, but he nonetheless promised us Palestine” in I. Hjelm and T. L. Thompson, eds., History, Archaeology and the Bible Forty Years After “Historicity”, 1st ed. Oxon, Routledge, p. 206.)

Eventually a few religious Jews did come to accept Zionism with Palestine as their focus and argued that the time of God’s punishment was coming to an end, that return to Palestine without the messiah was the new divine will.

Despite the several weaknesses of the Bible as a justification for claiming Palestine as the natural homeland of the Jews, the Bible was used to win support from among both Jews and gentiles (especially the British and Americans).

Several studies have shown that the gravitation towards Palestine as the epicentre of Zionist visions and aspirations was facilitated, among other factors, by a very keen and intensive Protestant interest in connecting the Jewish colonization of the “holy land” with divine and apocalyptic Christian doctrines, which saw the return of the Jews as precipitating the second coming of the Messiah. 

The orientation of Zionism towards Palestine followed European scholarly preoccupation with biblical Israel in the age of colonialism and imperialism. (Pappe, p. 207, my bolding)

That scholarship had a strong religious bias. Palestine was viewed as a land that rightfully belonged to Israel and other peoples inhabiting the land at different times were there either illegitimately or temporarily. Essentially non-Jews in Palestine “didn’t count”, Arabs were seen as nomads, and consequently the land was in effect empty, just waiting to be reinhabited by a people without a land.

At the same time, scholarship came to invent a Jewish nation with ancient roots as the rightful occupants. Despite archaeological evidence to the contrary (see, for example, The Archaeological Evidence for Ancient Israel) Jerusalem was depicted as a major centre for a viable Israelite empire from the days of David and Solomon.

A religious narrative was embraced by many secularists as a historical charter of birthright and nationhood. read more »


2017-05-25

Ladies Parking

by Neil Godfrey

They do things differently in foreign countries, as I was reminded this evening shortly after landing in Bangkok, Thailand. I would be surprised if many immersed in Western ways would be familiar with an entire floor in a multi-storey carpark being reserved for females. (No, there’s no religious reason; Thailand is a Buddhist nation.)

Here’s a close-up:

Presumably it’s a space where women can feel safe from violent and rapacious men. We are warned in public announcements at airport railways stations not to touch any stray dogs here. Rabies being the reason. The parking floor is a depressing reminder that wild dogs aren’t the only threat.

Damn. It’s actually been a good day and I should have posted something more positive. Will try again tomorrow.


2017-05-18

“You Must Learn How to Listen to the Land”

by Neil Godfrey

The title is the heading of the opening chapter of A Land Without Borders: My Journey Around East Jerusalem and the West Bank by Nir Baram (and translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen). I was alerted to the book by listening to an interview with its Jewish author on a Radio National program.  Most of my reading has been of the works of older scholars. What attracted me to this book was that its author is an Israeli born in 1976 and I wanted an insight into his post 1967 perspective. What really drew me in was the following message:

I grew up in Israel in the 1980s, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank worked in Israel and shared the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa with us every day. Since the Oslo Accords of the 1990s, and with greater vigor after the Second Intifada broke out in 2000 and the Israeli government built its “security fence” (the separation wall that runs along the Green Line in some sections, but mostly sits deep in the West Bank), separation between West Bank Palestinians and Israelis became more rigid, more planned. As a result, the Palestinians ostensibly disappeared from our streets and most Israelis stopped going over the Green Line. Many Jewish teenagers I spoke with have never met a Palestinian in their lives — not even one! — while Palestinian kids eyed me curiously because I was the first Jew they’d ever met. But even older Israelis, who used to maintain both working and personal relationships with Palestinians from the West Bank, have not seen one for many years.

In fact, . . . most Israelis . . . have no inkling what the West Bank looks like today or how its inhabitants conduct their lives. . . . (my bolding)

Now that does not sound good. I am looking forward to following Nir Baran’s travels.

Among so many who claim to speak for one side or the other, there is, according to Baran, a pervasive ignorance of the reality of the daily lives of both Jews and Arabs in the West Bank. Images of certain selected persons and events flash on our TV screens and it is so easy for us to think those images represent far more than they in fact do. Baran’s purpose in his travels:

Mostly I wanted the people right in front of me to tell me their stories, and at times to prod them to follow the course of what they told me to its logical outcome, to chafe their political dreams up against the sharp stones of reality, and to leave my readers room to equivocate, to formulate their own positions.

I’m reminded of another work I recently completed, one by an older Palestinian. It is also worth picking up for an insight into the realities on the ground: Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape by Raja Shehadeh. That was a poignant insight into the perspective of an older generation too soon fading away. But now I look forward to reading a younger perspective on both the present and future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


2017-05-17

How Philo-Semitic British Israelism Morphed into Anti-Semitic White Supremacism / Christian Identity

by Neil Godfrey

In a former life I was mixed up with British Israelism (the belief that the Anglo-Saxon races are the “lost ten tribes of Israel”) so recently I was interested to find a new research paper by J. M. Berger using British Israelism as a case study in how an innocuous if eccentric belief system was able to evolve into today’s antisemitic white supremacist Christian Identity movement. (I have posted details of Berger’s paper at the end of this post.)

The church I once belonged to embraced British Israelism as one of its core doctrines. When I wanted to learn more about the details of this belief-system I tracked down an old book-lined room of old wooden desks and chairs and tended by an old man representing what appeared to be the last gasping remnant of the “British Israel Association” in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. I purchased some very old literature with quaint titles that I still have with me:

Most of those publications hold a special place for Jews: the Anglo-Saxon nations (British and American) may have been declared the descendants of the tribe of Joseph but the British royal family was esteemed as a branch of the Davidic dynasty. The tribe of Judah, the Jews, were welcomed as inheritors of the promise of “the sceptre” that would continue unbroken until the coming of the Messiah.

So how could such a belief system evolve into a racist, even a violent, outfit?

It is impossible to cover the details of Berger’s discussion here but I can hit a few highlights. (This post does not do justice to Berger’s theoretical argument.)

It will be helpful to understand some basic principles of British Israelism.

Of primary importance is the distinction between the terms Israel and Jew. Israel is said to refer primarily to the ten tribes who made up the Bible’s kingdom of the north, based at Samaria, while the term Judah, from which we have Jews, was the name of the southern kingdom with its royal city of Jerusalem. Thus Israel refers to the northern ten tribes, the kingdom conquered by Assyria in the 720s, while the Jews belonged to the southern kingdom up to the time of the Babylonian captivity.

The promises made to Abraham were primarily racial or national. Yes, grace was promised (through Christ) but so was race. Multitudes of progeny, many nations and kings, dominance of the political landscape and super-abundant possession of wealth were promised Abraham’s descendants. Those promises became more specific when the dying Jacob passed on blessings to his sons, assigning each one, a future tribe, a particular destiny. The eldest son of Joseph was Ephraim and his descendants were to become a “multitude of nations” while his brother, Manasseh, was to become “a great nation”.

According to the argument these promises were never literally fulfilled in Bible times.

But around the mid-nineteenth century a few people did see two brother peoples, one a multitude of nations and the other a great nation, who did possess all the wealth and military dominance that they believed had been promised to Abraham’s descendants, specifically to the two sons of Joseph: the promises to Ephraim were seen fulfilled in the British Commonwealth of Nations and those to Manasseh in the United States of America.

After ancient Israel (the northern ten tribes) were taken into captivity they eventually migrated (as prophesied) to the north and the west, reaching the British Isles, Scandinavia, the Low Countries, northern France.

But none of this was antisemitic. Quite the contrary, as Berger rightly notes, it was philo-Semitic. British Israelism had a place for all the tribes of Israel: the Jews had been promised not national wealth but a perpetual royal dynasty. Luckily the prophet Jeremiah was able to rescue some of the royal daughters (descended from David) at the time the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar was ravaging his way through Jerusalem and eventually relocate them in Ireland where they united with another branch of Judah’s royal family line.

In the last days the British royal family would belatedly acknowledge their true identity and hand their throne over to Jesus at his return. The British and American nations would recognize at last that they were Israelites and Jews would convert to Christianity and everyone would live happily ever after.

The earliest copy of John Wilson’s formal ideological statement of British Israelism dates from 1850, although a Preface the 1876 edition is dated 1840.

So that was British Israelism as it was known for around 100 or so years — up to the time of the Second World War. Bizarre, yes, but surely harmless.

There was a tiny seed, however, that some generations after its publication (see insert on John Wilson) was coopted for lunatic and violent ends. That seed was the passing claim that all of today’s races descended from the three sons of Noah, with those from Ham being the children of the curse. (Ham, recall, was cursed by Noah for apparently taking advantage of his drunken stupor.)

Yet the fact that the Jews were designated a place apart from certain other tribes of Israel would eventually prove to be a wedge that could too easily be exploited in an increasingly anti-Semitic environment. Notice the following lonely paragraph penned by John Wilson in his Lectures on our Israelitish origin (1876 edition):

We have adverted to the case of the other house of Israel, which as being left in the land, and having generally borne the name of “Jews,” are supposed to have remained distinct from all other people. We have seen that the best portion of them must have become mingled among the Gentiles; and the worst of the Gentiles—the Canaanites and Edomites, children emphatically of the curse—having become one with them, they have become guilty of the sins of both, the curse of which they have been enduring ; that they have nothing in the flesh whereof to boast, and cannot obtain possession of the land by the old covenant ; that they can only obtain a peaceable settlement as being viewed in the One Seed Christ, and as being joined to the multitudinous seed to come, especially of Ephraim. (p. 368)

Ominous. But a reflection of the times. The descendants of Shem, Noah’s eldest son, wrote Wilson, had “the greatest natural capacity for [religious] knowledge” (p. 28) and it is from them that the tribes of Israel and the “other white races” descended. Wilson even uses the “Semitic” to refer to all of these descendants of Shem, not only the Jews.

Rising tide of anti-Semitism

read more »


2017-05-09

Sad Day for Indonesia

by Neil Godfrey

Today’s news about the conviction of, and two year jail sentence handed to, Ahok (governor of Jakarta; official name = Basuki Tjahaja Purnama) for blasphemy is a kick in the guts for many Indonesians (and Australians who frequently visit Indonesia, like me).

Solo is a major city in the central island of Java and associated with very conservative Muslims, including — in the past — terrorists who don’t think it anywhere near conservative enough. (I found Solo boringly, depressingly spartan, ascetic, etc, compared with other parts of Indonesia I have spent time in.) But Indonesia is a kaleidoscope of cultures, lifestyles, languages, races, histories, and my experience in Solo scarcely compared with my time in other cities of Java and miscellaneous islands between Malaysia and Australia. Personally I have experienced nothing but positive vibes from every Indonesian I have met, even though I look and sound so totally white non-Muslim Australian.

I can never forget a time I was in Java soon after a devastating earthquake in the island of Sumatra nearly a decade ago. I came across many groups attempting to raise funds by all sorts of creative means and when one of them approached me I was more than willing to give generously, and I did. What surprised me, though, was how, on looking around after I dropped some cash into a bucket, literally multiple scores (hundreds?) of eyes were all focused on me, the tall, white, out of place Westerner — and they were all smiling, some giving me a thumbs up. I had no idea that it would mean so much to them that a westerner would help them out like that — or that it would mean so much if a westerner turned his back or gave a mere pittance.

These are not the people I know when I read about the Ahok “scandal”.

I have to admit I have never visited Aceh, though. Aceh has the reputation of being unlike any other part of Indonesia in that it is an ultra conservative Muslim enclave intent on living under the barbaric precepts of medieval religious doctrines and has long been at something of a quasi state of war against the rest of Indonesia and its national government.

Everywhere else I have been throughout Indonesia I have known only, nothing but, friendly, smiling faces, happy talk and banter, friendship either real or potential.

So I was surprised to see the extent of popular support for extremist parties over the current Ahok “scandal”. What keeps coming to mind is that figure I was taught way back in a high school history class: that Hitler’s Nazi party came to power with a mere 30% of the popular vote. Violence and threats of violence do indeed too often intimidate the meek and mild.

Oh my god, for all the problems I have with the current democratically elected Indonesian leader (he approves of the shooting dead of drug smugglers for pity’s sake) I do hope his efforts to ban Huzb ut-Tahrir and their ilk have the desired effect.

 


2017-05-08

A Dangerous New Americanism?

by Neil Godfrey

Part of the reason for my delay in posts has been extra time I have been taking on studying a new report by J.M. Berger on the emergence of violent extremist groups. Hopefully the post will be up soon: it addresses that quaint old British-Israelism belief that the lost ten tribes of Israel became the British Commonwealth of nations and the United States of America, and how and why that positively philo-Semitic group of adherents evolved into the anti-Semitic and violent extremist Christian Identity movement.

Meanwhile, I have just learned of another article by J.M. Berger that appeared on online a couple of weeks ago and that is based on the same report I have been studying:

A Dangerous New Americanism published by War on the Rocks:


2017-05-02

Realities behind Australia’s national myths

by Neil Godfrey

The things they never taught us in school!

Two works I have read recently have been eye-openers for me.

When visiting Macquarie University (Sydney) a few years ago I was struck by a rather untypical statue on campus:

I could never figure out why or what it was about until I saw a photo of the same on the back cover of a book, Selling Sex: A Hidden History of Prostitution by Raelene Frances. Professor Frances’s opening paragraph explains:

In the pages of this book you will meet many women who have sold sex at some stage of their lives. The first is called simply ‘Joy’. For eighteen months in 1995-97 her larger-than-life figure leant against a red door-frame on the corner of Yurong and Stanley Streets in East Sydney. Being a statue, she is not really a sex worker. Or is she? The story of Joy became something of sensation in the mid-1990s, not just because she was said to be the only statue of a prostitute on display in public anywhere in the world, and not just because she personified the seedier side of Sydney. Surrounding the creation ofjoy was a quite extraordinary mystery. . . . 

The story of Joy, as well as the history of her statue, follows.

The above is just introduction to what particularly “struck” me, something that had never crossed my mind in my sheltered innocence and protective armour of national myths. Australian myth-peddlers and exploiters love to play on our belief in the “hard country” in which we have managed through toughness of character to survive. The “outback” is life-threatening and cannot be tamed, but it presence has been a major factor in the moulding of our “national character”. Tough, resourceful, loyal to mates — traits we associate with the pioneers who settled there to plant cattle stations and with those who worked for them. Writers like Henry Lawson helped to grow the myth.

So it comes something of a . . . surprise, let’s say, to read what apparently enticed men from the city to seek adventure and a financial start there and “build our nation”:

A woman like Japanese prostitute Matsuwe Otana would no doubt have had many European and Chinese customers who were engaged in the pastoral industry, as well as the mines and the ports. Drovers or pastoralists in town on business or for a rest welcomed the services provided by the karayuki-san. More commonly, Europeans took Lheir sexual pleasures closer to the stations on which they worked. Here they had access to a plentiful and cheap, if not always willing, supply of Aboriginal women.

The use of Aboriginal women as ‘stud gins’ is a recurring theme across the northern frontiers, from the late nineteenth century in Western Australia and Queensland, and until the 1920s and 1930s in the Northern Territory. . . . .

In the Northern Territory, too, young Aboriginal women were used as ‘bait’ to attract or hold European men to station jobs. Writer Xavier Herbert maintained that the women had to be there: without available women, men would refuse to work on remote stations.

Oh. Suddenly puts the myth in a different light. Best not tell the children.

Then there’s the Anzac myth. read more »