Tag Archives: Australia

What Could Australia Be without War?

We hear over and over that Australian nationalism was forged in the crucible of war.

The Australian War Memorial preaches this belief with its Forging the Nation exhibition.

The renowned war historian C.E.W. Bean made the message clear in his history of Australia in World War 1:

And then, during four years in which nearly the whole world was tested, the people in Australia looked on from afar [and] saw their own men flash across the world’s consciousness like a shooting star. Australians watched the name of their country rise high in the esteem of the world’s oldest and greatest nations. Every Australian bears that name proudly abroad today; and by the daily doings, great and small, which these pages have narrated, the Australian nation came to know itself…

We are repeatedly reminded of headlines like the following:

But it’s not true. It is a myth. Australian nationalism was alive and flourishing in the years preceding and following Federation in 1901. An Australian identity — the one that is propagandized today with its stress on mateship and egalitarianism — was there in the cultural, social and political life of Australians before 1914.

I wish I could locate the source of the words now but I recently heard a woman being interviewed on Late Night Live, I think it was, remarking that the Great War broke Australia. It changed us as a nation. We lost our confidence not just from the immediate trauma of the four years of battle but from the many traumas of trying to rebuild lives in the years following.

With Federation in 1901 the big question was what sort of nation Australians wanted to build:

‘’A new demesne for Mammon to infest?
Or lurks millenial Eden ’neath your face?”

Was the continent to see repeated the evils of other civilizations, the ravages of war, the co-existence of great wealth and abysmal poverty, the rigid class structure of privilege, or was it, on the other hand, free of the taint of older societies, to produce a civilization in which the individual dignity of man had full respect?

(Greenwood, 199. The poetry is from the Bernard O’Dowd’s prize-winning poem challenging the emerging nation in 1900 to ask what sort of society it would make of itself.)

The mateship was there long before Gallipoli as anyone who has read Henry Lawson’s poetry should know.

Bitten deep into the consciousness of the men and women who espoused the Labour cause was a belief in the importance of solidarity, of sticking together, of being able to rely on one’s mate. (200)

And it wasn’t confined to the labouring class, either:

While the more advanced liberals had in common with the leaders of political Labour a belief in experimentation, a sense of Australianism, a recognition of the necessity for remedying social injustice by State action, and, in the larger view, an optimistic acceptance of the social democratic doctrine of progress, all this sprang from genuine conviction, for the faith to which they held and by which they acted was their own and not merely a pale reflection of Labour doctrine. (203)

Australian values (good and bad) were being self-consciously “defined and firmly established” from at least as early as 1901. There was a confidence we would scarcely recognize today, a confidence in the ability to transform and make a more just society, one free of poverty and inequality and exploitation (205).

There was a tone of self-confidence about the pre-1914 nationalist creed. The world was young, and despite the turmoil and depression of the nineties there was an idyllic and anticipatory assumption of future triumphs. Power and creative vigour, the impulse to assert the dignity of the ordinary man through a new Australian social order and the exhilaration of building towards an independent and native cultural tradition all belong to the movement. (207)

Geographic realities meant that the nation had to come together to work through a centralizing power. (See Australia and the United States – Interesting Comparisons for a comment on Australia’s attitude towards central government.) There was also the labour movement’s felt need to take control of the power that had formerly been used to oppress them into accepting unsafe and intolerable conditions. But the core values were shared by both sides of politics:

Humanitarian liberalism, whether of the Deakin [i.e. Liberal] or Fisher [i.e. Labor] variety, was in the ascendant until the war of 1914. Liberal and Labour governnicnts testified in action to their belief in the efficacy of State enterprise. Their social and economic principles were worked out in the field of public policy, and by experimentation they endeavoured to forge new instruments of social and economic justice . . . . Social aims, however, touched almost all legislation . . . . (210-11)

So what were some of the achievements of that “social experiment” of the pre-War years? What particulars are worthy of being remembered and celebrated and embraced as proud achievements of a nation? Here are a few: read more »

Ammunition for Climate Change Deniers (The Facts Are Bad Enough)

I posted a familiar looking photo in “Post-Apocalyptic Fiction has been moved to Current Affairs” that I have now replaced with one of the current situation. It reminded me of scenes I had seen in another bushfire year and I thought, “Here we go again” – but no, I have learned that that photo was recycled from a 2013 bushfire in Tasmania.

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And now there is this infographic circulating on Twitter, Reddit and everywhere else, I guess. Infographic.tv awarded it one of “the best”. The critical comment comes from cupboard.com.

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Here is my own “infographic” based on the same data. Bear in mind I am no mathematician so more mathematically endowed readers are welcome to offer corrections:

California —  AmazonSiberiaAustralia
Bottom row — the scales as depicted in the infographic, all compared with California. Top row — a truer representation according to the figures (my rough calculation).

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Certain maps hit home as definitely misleading from the moment I saw them. They do not represent what is happening now. They “point” to areas where we have had bushfires since September 1919, and the “pinpointing” is with a thick marker pen rather than a precision pen.

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Here’s a more realistic satellite image of where the most serious threats are at the moment:

From space.com

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There are other more informative maps for residents, too, on the various state fire service sites. These are bad enough:

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Left: Today’s map from NSW Rural Fire Service.
Right: Qld Rural Fire Service current map

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I can see the climate change deniers (who include our current political leaders in the pockets of the coal industry and Pentecostal faith) eventually standing up for Murdoch’s media coverage as some more “realistic” perspective:

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From theguardian.com

 

“Post-Apocalyptic Fiction has been moved to Current Affairs”

Terrified children at the helm of dinghies, piloting away from the flames . . . Photo by Allison Marion of her son Finn; see ABC News article: Victoria bushfire evacuee . . . .

A novelist has the words to best describe it:

Australia today is ground zero for the climate catastrophe. Its glorious Great Barrier Reef is dying, its world-heritage rain forests are burning, its giant kelp forests have largely vanished, numerous towns have run out of water or are about to, and now the vast continent is burning on a scale never before seen.

The images of the fires are a cross between “Mad Max” and “On the Beach”: thousands driven onto beaches in a dull orange haze, crowded tableaux of people and animals almost medieval in their strange muteness — half-Bruegel, half-Bosch, ringed by fire, survivors’ faces hidden behind masks and swimming goggles. Day turns to night as smoke extinguishes all light in the horrifying minutes before the red glow announces the imminence of the inferno. Flames leaping 200 feet into the air. Fire tornadoes. Terrified children at the helm of dinghies, piloting away from the flames, refugees in their own country.

The fires have already burned about 14.5 million acres — an area almost as large as West Virginia, more than triple the area destroyed by the 2018 fires in California and six times the size of the 2019 fires in Amazonia. Canberra’s air on New Year’s Day was the most polluted in the world partly because of a plume of fire smoke as wide as Europe.

Scientists estimate that close to half a billion native animals have been killed and fear that some species of animals and plants may have been wiped out completely. Surviving animals are abandoning their young in what is described as mass “starvation events.” At least 18 people are dead and grave fears are held about many more.

All this, and peak fire season is only just beginning.

Flanagan, Richard. 2020. “Australia Is Committing Climate Suicide.” The New York Times, January 4, 2020, sec. Opinion. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/03/opinion/australia-fires-climate-change.html. (With thanks to the reader who sent me a link to this article.)

And our faith-infused prime minister, Scott Morrison, as per one of the videos posted in the previous post, tells us that we have always had to face disasters and challenges of one kind or another, and this is no different, and we will, as we have beaten other challenges, likewise rise up and beat this one. He is not talking about climate change. He is talking about the historic catastrophic fire season in Australia as if its a one-off.

After yesterday’s post another video emerged that shows the PM getting a bit of humiliating flack for a change.

In my previous post I dwelt on the PM’s faith perspective. I think it’s fair to say he does not believe in evolution nor that the Bible has anything to say about climate change. Richard Flanagan’s article reminded me of another more material factor that attracted an inordinate amount of attention in the last election:

In no small part Mr. Morrison owes his narrow election victory last year to the coal-mining oligarch Clive Palmer, who formed a puppet party to keep the Labor Party — which had been committed to limited but real climate-change action — out of government. Mr. Palmer’s advertising budget for the campaign was more than double that of the two major parties combined. Mr. Palmer subsequently announced plans to build the biggest coal mine in Australia.

Clive Palmer has a deep record of dishonesty in business and with clients that surely rivals Donald Trump’s. The poster above shows how attached he was to imitating his U.S. alter ego in that election campaign.

Palmer himself had no chance of becoming PM but his votes lent support to the Scott Morrison government. Who is Scott Morrison? He is acceptable to many Australians as a PM because he is said to be “authentic”. Yes, he’s a “daggy dad” and even a pentecostal, but Australians are a tolerant lot and can accept neighbours down the street who are like that. We have proven we are just as likely to vote for atheists and, god-forbid, unmarried women, as prime ministers. What is Morrison’s political background? I have never liked him for the reason given by Flanagan:

Mr. Morrison made his name as immigration minister, perfecting the cruelty of a policy that interns refugees in hellish Pacific-island camps, and seems indifferent to human suffering. Now his government has taken a disturbing authoritarian turn, cracking down on unions, civic organizations and journalists. Under legislation pending in Tasmania, and expected to be copied across Australia, environmental protesters now face up to 21 years in jail for demonstrating.

“Australia is a burning nation led by cowards,” wrote the leading broadcaster Hugh Riminton, speaking for many. To which he might have added “idiots,” after Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack blamed the fires on exploding horse manure.

Such are those who would open the gates of hell and lead a nation to commit climate suicide.

Most Australians want serious action on climate change. I’m keeping a close eye on Extinction Rebellion (Australian branch) with a view to contributing actively to that movement — I took special notice of them at the same time as Morrison who wanted to limit their ability to make a public impact with their activism. Scott Morrison and his party appear to be firmly indebted to contributions from the coal industry. I understand that the opposition party has also begun taking significant donations from that industry.

The situation is eerily reminiscent of the Soviet Union in the 1980s, when the ruling apparatchiks were all-powerful but losing the fundamental, moral legitimacy to govern. In Australia today, a political establishment, grown sclerotic and demented on its own fantasies, is facing a monstrous reality which it has neither the ability nor the will to confront.

Mr. Morrison may have a massive propaganda machine in the Murdoch press and no opposition, but his moral authority is bleeding away by the hour. On Thursday, after walking away from a pregnant woman asking for help, he was forced to flee the angry, heckling residents of a burned-out town. A local conservative politician described his own leader’s humiliation as “the welcome he probably deserved.”

As Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, once observed, the collapse of the Soviet Union began with the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986. In the wake of that catastrophe, “the system as we knew it became untenable,” he wrote in 2006. Could it be that the immense, still-unfolding tragedy of the Australian fires may yet prove to be the Chernobyl of climate crisis?

Evacuees at Mallacoota Wharf (Jan 2020). Picture: Twitter/Bluefestblues Source:Twitter — From news.com.au

 

P.S. I recall the days when an election was about advancing a more humane, just and sustainable society. Today, the debates seem to have very little imagination beyond the theme of “economic growth”, led, of course, by mining giants et al.

 


Flanagan, Richard. 2020. “Australia Is Committing Climate Suicide.” The New York Times, January 4, 2020, sec. Opinion. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/03/opinion/australia-fires-climate-change.html.


 

 

Apocalypse Now: Rapture Into Denial for Pentecostal Leaders

I’m wondering if any Australians who comment here from time to time have been affected by the bushfires that seem to have been with us and only getting worse for months now. What’s happening now is horrendous and unlike anything else I’ve ever heard of, and I know Indonesia, the Amazon, Africa, the United States Arctic regions and god knows where else have been experiencing similar. I am finding it hard to get my head to imagine the following scenario in which a young firefighter was killed. No-one would think this possible . . .

A young volunteer firefighter and soon-to-be father was killed when a “freakish weather event” lifted his fire truck off the ground, the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) says.

Samuel McPaul, 28, died yesterday after his truck flipped in the Green Valley blaze in Jingellic, 70 kilometres east of Albury near the NSW-Victoria border.

NSW RFS district manager Superintendent Patrick Westwood said Mr McPaul was “doing everything right” when tragedy struck.

He and two others had been mustering cattle caught in a paddock on flat ground.

“The crew decided to move away from that area and, quite unexpectedly, very suddenly, they experienced extreme winds and what could only be described as a fire tornado that lifted the back of the truck, fully inverted it and landed it on its roof, trapping three people, three crew that is, and unfortunately, one of them fatally,” Superintendent Westwood said.

“The driver was a veteran captain of 35 years-plus experience.

“He thought he was in the right spot — as he was, from what I can understand — and just this freakish weather event that would have to be seen to be believed. Even then, other veteran firefighters don’t believe what they saw, [it] engulfed that vehicle with flame, fire, and strong winds and literally picked up an 8-tonne truck and flipped it over.

(From ABC News)

Many readers have probably already seen the horrific scenes of apocalyptic-like doom, the navy rescuing people stranded on the beach as their town was being destroyed, and no doubt similar scenes elsewhere in the world.

A few weeks ago fires several kilometres away were causing our view across town to be hazed out by smoke. To go outside was to breathe smoke and return inside smelling strongly of smoke. A few days later I thought it was clearing and went outside at twilight and saw what looked for all the world like a “glorious red sunset” — but not where the sun sets in the west; it was in the south! Reflections of the fire in the clouds. An apocalyptic poet would find words to depict something like the sun being thrown out of its orbit.

A Timeline

2017

That Coal Prop in Parliament

 

2018

Inside a Pentecostal Hillsong Church (link is to analysis of the influence of his religious beliefs on his politics, inc climate change) (And here’s another.)

 

2018 (Nov)

And a similar message was delivered directly for Greta Thunberg.

 

2019

Brian Houston, Pentecostal Hillsong Pastor, is a potential liability publicity wise given coming under a cloud for failing to report to police evidence that his father had been guilty of child sex abuse in his church. (And one more about the Devil and Scott Morrison.)

2020

I Wish I Could Understand Australia Better

I am an Australian but I think that makes it harder for me to understand Australia in some ways, especially the weekend’s depressing election results. Perhaps that’s because what I would like to see obscures my view of the reality.

Scott Morrison, a Pentecostal churchgoer who attributed his election victory to a miracle, is once again Australia’s Prime Minister — after winning an election that broke the standard rules of the game. His Liberal-National coalition was meant to be thrashed at the polls after all sorts of not very secret political power plays that saw ugly challenges and changes of party leadership prior to the election.

The good news:

Tony Abbott, ex-Prime Minister, eater of raw onions with skin, Catholic, anti-abortion, a climate change denier who becomes a climate change believer when he sees his support base waning, and back-stabber and leaker-of-dirt-on-colleagues-to-the-press-in-chief, lost his seat and is finally out of Parliament for good.

The bad news:

Peter Dutton, an alt-right type racist and all-round bigot who was the one Abbott and others in the Liberal National coalition hoped would be the new Prime Minister could not be unseated despite massive campaigns from all sorts of movements and notable persons to target him in his electorate.

Following on from the entrenched support for Dutton we have further alt-right type persons, racists, fear-mongerers, — Pauline Hanson and Clive Palmer — giving their preferences votes to Scott Morrison’s party and handing him a secure and unexpected sweeping victory in north Queensland. That is despite Pauline Hansons’s party being caught out in a sting operation by Al Jazeera journalists approaching the U.S.’s National Rifle Association for donations and Clive Palmer being such an obviously dishonest jerk going all out to imitate Donald Trump’s worst attributes. (Palmer cheated workers of wages when one of his mining businesses collapsed and promised to “repay” them just on the eve of the election — surely such an obvious con no-one could possibly take him seriously.

But surely racism and fear of job losses as a result of environmental priorities is not the whole story. Those states of mind are always going to be with us.

On the other side, I find myself despairing of public “debates” and interviews. Political leaders now have the art of evading direct answers to questions down to a fine art. Scott Morrison doesn’t use the term “fake news” but he does regularly speak of the “Canberra bubble” to dismiss any serious questions. Same thing, just an Australian branding.

Yet the “serious” interviewers don’t do seriously informative interviews. They play the game of asking questions from the opposing party’s point of view. They don’t stand back and challenge the respective parties from the perspective of the broader public. Interviewing a Liberal politician they challenge them with Labor Party points; and vice versa and so on. It’s all removed from the real world.

Except for the shock-jocks — who play the anti-immigrant and fear cards.

And the shock-jocks and the mainstream interviewers are earning fortunes to do their work of trying to score political points and win audience ratings. And meanwhile both major parties are dancing and dining comfortably with big business and careful not to upset the media giants.

It’s all out of touch with reality — at least the reality of the root drivers of the forces shaping the worlds of most of us.

Democracy and political debates is primarily about media management and media images. And that gives the victory to the cleverest or luckiest and/or richest manipulator.

There’s something ugly happening here and we’re waiting for something positive to return to the play. That’s how it seems to me. I wish I could understand it more clearly.

 

 

Anzac Day, 2019

Lake and Reynold’s book was published in 2010. I wish it weren’t as relevant today, or even moreso, as it was then.

Like the many Australians who are concerned with the homage paid to the Anzac spirit and associated militarisation of our history, we are concerned about the ways in which history is used to define our national heritage and national values. We suggest that Australians might look to alternative national traditions that gave pride of place to equality of opportunity and the pursuit of social justice: the idea of a living wage and sexual and racial equality. In the myth of Anzac, military achievements are exalted above civilian ones; events overseas are given priority over Australian developments; slow and patient nation-building is eclipsed by the bloody drama of battle; action is exalted above contemplation. The key premise of the Anzac legend is that nations and men are made in war. It is an idea that had currency a hundred years ago. Is it not now time for Australia to cast it aside?

Lake, Marilyn, and Henry Reynolds. 2010. What’s Wrong with ANZAC?: The Militarisation of Australian History. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press. (p. 185)

Australia’s Lost Narrative and Identity

This is a parochial post. It concerns only my little corner of the world. I have liked to think of myself as an internationalist, one who has surpassed all attachment to the accident of the place of his birth, but in my more honest moments I know I still have a special attachment to Australia, for all its ugliness and outbreaks of inhumanity.

So this post is an outline of a discussion among various prominent persons that I watched on the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s free-to-air TV program The Drum last Friday, 29th March 2019. The discussion was initiated by Australian government’s decision to inject massive amounts of money into extending Australia’s War Memorial in our national capital city, Canberra. A key participant in the discussion was Professor Marilyn Lake of the University of Melbourne. I liked just about everything she said. She expressed so very much of what had been bugging the back of my mind for years now — what appears to me as a steadily growing nationalistic focus on war and the warrior as core to Australia’s identity.

Lake spoke of the “excessive militarisation of Australian history” over the last twenty years. Yes. Lake was speaking of the government investment in raising war consciousness among Australians, in museums, in the War Memorial, in the new war centre in France, and even the Department of Veteran Affairs’ supply of study guides for schools! (As Lake suggested, curriculum materials should surely be the responsibility of the education department.) Further, we have seen books and films promoting Australia’s warrior history over that same time.

But only the last 20 years? Certainly 20 years ago we saw Prime Minister Keating push to Australia’s consciousness the historic significance of the Kokoda Track campaign in New Guinea in order to delay the Japanese advance towards our homeland. As a boy I had been impressed by the story of the Kokoda episode but I had never heard it promoted to a place of greater significance, for Australia’s identity, than Gallipoli. The context was the political led push for Australia to become a republic. To break all ties with the British monarchy. But after Keating came Howard and a return to all ties British.

Australian nationalism would seem to be inseparable from war, beginning with Gallipoli. That has certainly been the dominant official message for some decades now. But what might be the alternative?

Here Marilyn Lake reminded me of all those history lessons I had endured in junior high school. I had not fully appreciated them at the time but I have been glad many times since that I had them.

The question Lake was answering was something like “What is the Australian story, the so-called radical social democratic experiment, before World War 1?”

The Australian story, pre-WW1 – the social democratic commitment to the common good. 

A long list of social and political legislation begins in the nineteenth century:

  • Manhood suffrage
  • Secret ballt
  • Eight hour day
  • First legal minimum wage (Victoria, 1896)
  • A basic living wage (the Higgins judgment in 1907)
  • Old age pensions
  • Invalid pensions
  • Maternity allowance

And these things were paid for out of general revenue. One did not have to “put in” to “get out” as one did in places like Britain and Germany.

Justice Higgins said at the time that Australia was torn between two ideals: the common good and private greed. (What has changed? In what direction?)

This was the social democratic commitment to the common good.

Yes, there was an ugly side. All of these historic developments were framed by the White Australia Policy — the official policy that excluded non-whites from migrating to Australia to live.

But notice what was happening within.

Women of all backgrounds, and aboriginals and migrants and even earlier Asian migrants and their descendants all participated in extending that founding vision of democracy to much broader one, not just to white males but to include ALL persons.

Schools would do well, for example, to include in Australia’s history the story of aboriginal activism. How many Australians today even know about the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association formed in the 1920s to push for full citizenship of aboriginals and their land rights.

We need to know the stories of a whole range of people demanding that our nation become more inclusive.

World War 1 —

World War 1, says Marilyn Lake, “broke Australia’s soul”. We know the stats. Out of a population yet not 5 million, 60,000 dead and nearly a half million wounded, gassed or imprisoned. And not the experience of the aboriginals: fought and died alongside whites in the trenches and then when returned to Australia were treated as non-citizens of no account.

Another comparison with the United States

Nearly a month ago I wrote Australia and the United States – Interesting Comparisons

The United States, observes Lake, are devoted to Freedom (e.g. freedom to own guns), but wea  in Australia are more devoted to Fairness, equality of opportunity, — the Civil Rights movement took this Freedom narrative on board. But Australians were demanding equality, not freedom.

Note the American historian Eric Foner.

The alternative story

Though all of this was happening within a “White Australia” it gave a platform for other groups — women, aboriginals, Chinese Australians — to also demand equality or fairness and would become the Australian story of how we sould achieve that ideal of equal citizenship. Women of all backgrounds, and aboriginals and migrants and even earlier Asian migrants and their descendants all participated in extending that founding vision of democracy to much broader one, not just to white males but to include ALL persons.

We need the stories of activism of all these oppressed groups and how they struggled to gain their rights in Australia.

Mention was made of Rebecca Huntley who said that the (relatively recent) global financial crisis precipitated an intensified desire for government to be activist and reformist in the interest of fairness.

Vida Goldstein visited the United States and people from around the world flocked to see this Australian experiment.

Yet how many in Australia know William Cooper‘s story — the only aboriginal to protest Nazi Germany?

Or Pearl Gibbs and Margaret Tucker, aboriginal women who fought for equality?

Vital references:

Australia Fair: Listening to the Nation ((Rebecca Huntley)

Birth of a nation: how Australia empowering women taught the world a lesson

Mapping the massacres of Australia’s colonial frontier

Australia and the United States – Interesting Comparisons

Why are Australians more accepting and trusting of the role of government than Americans?

  • The United States was settled primarily in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by people fleeing from tyrannies;
  • Australia was settled primarily in the nineteenth century in a land much harsher and more difficult to settle than North America — government was needed to provide roads, water, finance, health services, to enable people to move and populate much of the land. Government was viewed more positively than had been the historical attitude in America. Settlers weren’t fleeing to Australia from governments, either. They were being transported by governments and relied on governments services for survival.

I’ve also found Australia at times to be a very controlled country, too tidy and neat and orderly sometimes. Australians pride themselves on the larrakin tradition, the disrespectful and self-reliant “digger” of Gallipoli, that sort of thing, which is seen as originating in the convict past, and many of the convicts were Irish rebels. But there is also a stifling authoritarian and reactionary strain in Australia, led by conservative politicians, churches, wealthy businesses and various clubs like the Returned Services League. And that, I have heard it said, might be seen as traced back to the other sector of our convict days, the guards, soldiers, police, brutal applications of power. It’s that second element that I feel has been depressingly dominant for far too long now, especially since it is led by political figures who want to take us towards the American ways of privatization of what have traditionally been seen as public services, such as health care and education.

What are the voting (government participation) differences?

  • Voting is not compulsory in the United States, or course, and voting takes place on a Tuesday;
  • I think many Australians look askance at both of those practices. By making voting compulsory the poorer and otherwise voiceless sectors will have a say and those seeking election cannot avoid taking their interests into account; that’s a good thing. Also by making it compulsory the otherwise “silent majority” will have their say so that radical partisan movements of either the left or right cannot take over the government by default.
  • It is more democratic to have voting on a Saturday. That’s a holiday or half-day holiday for most people so it is much easier for people to arrange to get out to vote. Sunday would have been better but we have the influence of the churches insisting generations ago that Sunday people should be in church and reading the Bible, not getting mixed up with worldly things.

Such are some interesting (to me) reflections inspired by an interview with historian Judith Brett and comments on a recent Drum program by David Marr. Some of the ideas may be myths, but they make interesting discussion topics — well for some of us anyway.

 

Australia’s Refugee policies: (1) women without male escorts; (2) male sports stars

We learned only this week that in 2014 the Tony Abbott government, in contravention of international obligations, authorized border officials to turn back to Saudi Arabia any Saudi Arabian woman arriving without a male escort and who, under questioning, gave indications that she would seek asylum in Australia. Further details are addressed in an interview with an Amnesty International representative from about 40 minutes into ABC’s The Drum.

If you are male and fled torture in Bahrain and happen to be a famous soccer player everyone right up to the Prime Minister will be calling for your return to Australia. Which is a good thing, of course. But inconsistent application of goodness…., barbaric.

 

Changes

I’ve been bringing myself up to date with the way the world has been changing these past few and more decades, beginning with the 1960s. I am constantly reminded of two quotes, one I heard by Sting quite a few years ago, and another more recently from my mother.

Sting was talking about his boyhood and how everyone listened to the same radio programs, the range of entertainment and recreation and things were more limited but that meant you shared a lot more with everyone in society. He said he thought it was better then. I asked myself if that was just a typical opinion of anyone looking back and thinking things were better in the old days, but I did have to wonder if he was also right.

My aged mother was reflecting on the years of the Second World War and those following, and saying how she remembered society as being less divided than it is today. Obviously, I thought, during total war a nation is going to pull together. And certainly there were serious conflicts afterwards as different sections found their new places with respect to each other afterwards. But I also remember learning at school or soon afterwards how Australia was one of the most egalitarian countries in the world with one of the narrowest gaps between rich and poor. And in the late 60s and 70s there was certainly more hope despite our youthful naivety about what it would take to bring about real change. Perhaps since then we have lost that naivety and come to understand how power works and cannot be so easily changed.

But surely it is true that there is less optimism and less social cohesion today in Australia, and I can only imagine as an outsider from what I hear in the news about America what the divisions are like in the U.S.

One of the truisms Karl Marx pointed out (oh how I must be showing my ancient past to be citing Marx today!) was how the capitalist system produced workers who were alienated from their jobs. Today I notice that businesses and institutions seem to try to make up for that loss by artificially creating communities and personal meaning through human relations programs to offer workers some sort of personal group identity and meaning in their work places. But the alienation, I think, has meanwhile been extended beyond the workplace to the consumer society as a whole. Targeted products, especially via the new technologies, have enabled services and products tailored for ever more fragmented groups.

We’ve come a long way from the days when I could go to school and talk about the latest black and white Batman short that was showing at the local cinema and expect others to know what I was talking about.

I don’t think such changes are the imagined product of wishful nostalgia, either.

 

Australians on the looney NRA fringe

Last night I was mystified listening to Bob Katter, a prominent political figure (of a “minor” party) in my state of Queensland, saying the following on a respectable documentary program:

The program is Four Corners; Katter’s comments come in the introductory minute and again from the ten minute mark.

I want more firearms sold because I want more firearms. I want more people involved in protecting our country.

What? How can giving citizens guns help protect our country? Don’t we have armed forces for that? How can my neighbours and I having guns be an assistance to national defence? Unless we are occupied by enemy troops. But it’s going to be a bit late by then.

So I kept listening for his explanation and it soon followed:

I want my nation to be able to protect itself. We’re a tiny little country, 25 million people. And a lot of those people would owe allegiance to other countries that may well be our enemies in any future confrontation. So, I mean, not only have you got the threat from outside, but increasingly, you’ve got a threat from inside. And it may not just be a threat. They might have a majority in this country in within the next 25 years – if you want to extrapolate the number of people coming in. So you’ve got a threat from within as well as from without.

Could the link between wanting guns and racism be any clearer?

One detail that I found curious and troubling was that as soon as Bob Katter launched into the above words his voice suddenly changed. It moved from matter-of-fact normal into a kind of defensive, victimhood, high-pitched whining.

Guns, racism, victimhood.

Just to end on a totally irrelevant note, I suppose we should not be shocked by anything from the guy who pelted eggs at the Beatles when they arrived at Brisbane airport in 1964: I am the egg man: Katter

 

 

Aboriginal Languages, a Repository of Aboriginal Knowledge

When I come across an article like Aboriginal languages could reveal scientific clues to Australia’s unique past I generally find myself ignoring references to ancient astronauts but clicking down a host of other warrens helping me catch up on tidbits of fascinating insights into aboriginal culture and beliefs that I have missed in the past ten or so years. This one was no different. It led to myths about meteorites and variable stars and another look at the following map of indigenous languages

And that map reminds me of a project I was closely involved with as a metadata and open access repository librarian not very long ago and that I helped get kick started, the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages. Some years back a certain federal government decided that bilingual education in remote aboriginal communities was not a good idea so many text resources in schools that had been painstakingly produced in local indigenous languages were stacked away to gather dust and creepy crawlies or even dumped in bins. In some cases these books were the only written records of the languages in existence. After an academic from Charles Darwin University (CDU) successfully sought funding to rescue as many of these print resources as possible, an irreplaceable resource for both scholarly linguists internationally and local aboriginal communities themselves, the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages (LAAL) was set up and, since I happened to be working at CDU at the time, I found myself with another very worthy task to assist with.

It was a fascinating project. As a metadata librarian one of my main challenges was investigating ways to facilitate open access to languages and even ideational concepts that had no simple point by point correlation with English; yet more … to find optimal ways to facilitate open access to both linguist scholars and local aboriginal communities.

 

 

Trump and Another (Australian) Baby Boomer Drop Kick

When I read . . . .

The thing about Donald Trump is that he was never one of the Cool Guys. He was the schmuck over there across the room who was feeling up women and picking our pockets while we looked the other way. He ran a campaign that said, you know the club they would never invite you into? I’ve been there, and it’s all bullshit, and I’m going to tear it down, the whole stinking meaningless system run by these people who have looked down on you from their suites in Davos and the Renaissance Weekends, the places they kept you out of while they were making decisions about your lives and not listening to anything you had to say.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, Don’t blame yourselves millennials (like you would), boomers created Donald Trump at Salon.

What is it about the hair with these guys?

. . . . I was reminded of Bob Katter, the leader of Australia’s Katter Party — (pro-guns, anti-gay, pro-racist/corrupt/dictatorial state premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen supporter . . . . you get the picture). . . .

He was one of those who threw eggs at the Beatles when they arrived at Brisbane airport in 1964.

Turning Defeats Into Great Mythologies

Recall a few posts ago that I quoted some lines from a BBC/SBS episode The Celts

Professor Alice Roberts: The defeat was total. Boudicca’s entire army was wiped out. According to Tacitus only 400 Romans were killed that day compared with 80,000 Celts. The last great Celtic rebellion was over.

Neil Oliver: We’re told Boudicca survived the battle but poisoned herself shortly after, and with her died any hope of another Celtic uprising and an end to Roman rule in Britannia.

Alice Roberts: Boudicca disappeared from history and entered into national mythology, a martyr to the idea of a free Britain. 

This time I have highlighted a different section.

I was reminded of Australia’s annual observation of Anzac Day that emerged as something of a repeated national funerary ritual for the defeat at Gallipoli. It became a time, however, when Australians would remind themselves how unique they were in that they celebrated a defeat as the beginning of their “nationhood”. A glance at the Wikipedia article falls on a cluster of quotes:

 it has been seen as a key event in forging a sense of national identity.[20]

The Gallipoli campaign was the beginning of true Australian nationhood. . . . the Gallipoli campaign was a defining moment for Australia as a new nation.[21]

This Short History of Australia begins with a blank space on the map and ends with the record of a new name on the map, that of Anzac.[15]

Anzac Day now belongs to the past and during the war all energy was concentrated on the future but the influence of the Gallipoli Campaign upon the national life of Australia and New Zealand has been far too deep to fade… it was on the 25th of April 1915 that the consciousness of nationhood was born.[17]

The popular belief that the Anzacs, through their spirit, forged Australia’s national character, is still today frequently expressed.[18] For example, in 2006 the Governor-General of Australia, Michael Jeffery gave an address in which he said that although the Anzacs lost the campaign they created a lasting identity for Australia:

We are summoned to recall the battle sacrifices of Australian farmers and tally clerks, teachers and labourers and to commemorate outstanding courage and strength of character in the face of sustained adversity… [The campaign] won for us an enduring sense of national identity based on those iconic traits of mateship, courage, compassion and nous.[18]

The Spirit of the ANZAC continues today in times of hardship such as cyclones, floods and bush fires. At those times Australians come together to rescue one another, to ease suffering, to provide food and shelter, to look after one another, and to let the victims of these disasters know they are not alone.[2]

And the worship of a man who dies but whose death is vindicated by an exaltation to heaven and the salvation of those who identified themselves with him.

In other words, it is not so strange to imagine people latching onto a defeat, a death, to create a myth of martyrdom, of a higher victory or salvation as is sometimes suggested. (I’m thinking, of course, of the claim that the crucifixion of Jesus had to be historical because no-one would make up such a “myth”.)

The Greeks developed the genre of tragedy to dramatize that very characteristic of humanity: an exploration of how the death of a hero can be cathartic, a victory of spirit, and not the nihilistic end it might logically seem to be.

Is there is any national or religious history that lacks a glorious martyr? I just looked up the story of the invented national hero William Tell and see that even his death was tied with efforts to save the life of a child. Is it possible to imagine such a hero dying pointlessly in a mundane accident or comfortably of natural causes? We even see the same mythologizing at the personal level. The unbearable pain of the loss of a child often finds relief in taking up a cause to somehow give meaning or purpose to the child’s death.