Friday Australian poem #NS1— John Le Gay Brereton (1871 – 1933)

NS stands for New Series. I have in the past had such posts which have proven most enduring in terms of searches on my archives: Series 1; Series 2.


John Le Gay Brereton and Henry Lawson

Although his poetry has not received the critical and popular attention devoted to that of his friends Lawson and Brennan, Brereton remains an important figure in the development of Australian literature. His poetry was influenced by the ideas of mateship and egalitarianism prevailing amongst the literary bohemians at the turn of the twentieth century, but was also strongly marked by his reverence for the natural world and his views on the essential harmony of all living things.

See Australian Poetry Library and The Australian Dictionary of Biography.

…In the 1900s Brereton started to build his European reputation as a literary scholar and in 1909 published Elizabethan Drama: Notes and Studies. He contributed articles on Shakespeare and Marlowe to learned journals and in 1914 sent a critical edition of Lust’s Dominion (of disputed authorship) to the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium. The manuscript was lost in the German invasion, and was eventually published in 1931. Although strongly anti-militarist he was more sympathetic to the British cause in 1914 than he had been to Australian participation in the South African War and in 1915 brought out a book of poems relating to the war, The Burning Marl. That year he was promoted to university librarian.

In 1921 Brereton was appointed professor of English literature. He had a pervasive influence on his students and had long promoted the education of women at the university. Tall and loose-limbed, he was invariably hatless. Academic responsibilities occupied most of his time and energies; nevertheless in 1923 he was a foundation member of the English Association, in 1929 first president of the Fellowship of Australian Writers and in 1931 an organizer of the Sydney P.E.N. Club. He published a further volume of verse, Swags Up! (1928), and a volume of essays,Knocking Round (1930); with Bertha Lawson edited Henry Lawson, by His Mates (1931); and contributed innumerable letters and poems on diverse subjects to the Sydney Morning Herald, often under the pseudonym ‘Basil Garstang’….

8970857_1_l Le Gay Brereton, John: Tomorrow. Sydney: Angus & Robertson,1910. On the endpaper is a handwritten and signed poem by Le Gay Brereton titled “On the Mummified Legs of a Child in the Nicolson Museum.”

The poem that follows is a very small but neat example of his work. I encountered it recently in From The Trenches: the best ANZAC writing of World War I, ed Mark Dapin, Penguin 2013.


Light Loss

“Our loss was light,” the paper said,
“Compared with damage to the Hun”:
She was a widow, and she read
One name upon the list of dead
–Her son —her only son.

Gough – a view from Wollongong

But first Leunig’s take on the passing of EGW:


If that were an HSC question I guess we would add: DISCUSS.

Last night I posted on Facebook: “The entire Whitlam period coincided pretty much with my working at TIGS, with the denouement happening in my first year at Wollongong High. It’s like part of my own life has died today in a way…”  Also: “Great to see all Parliament rising to the occasion today in the Condolence Debate.”

Someone I taught at TIGS 1971-1974 posted: “It has just occurred to me that myself, [x] and many others like us would have accepted our scholarship and been teachers because our parents could not have afforded to pay Uni fees. I believe I owe my professional career for what it is worth to EGW.” He added: “And it has just occurred to me Neil James Whitfield, that I was sitting my HSC English exam when Gough was dismissed. I recall a teacher walked into the room and wrote this on the blackboard. He then turned and walked out. I recall looking up and thinking “what’s going to happen now”…”

I by then was at Wollongong High. I had forgotten that November 11 coincided with HSC English, but I do recall the shock of the Dismissal. There were significant Wollongong connections too. I see this in Whitlam’s first post-Dismissal press conference:

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you’d probably agree that you enjoy a fight. Are you looking forward to the election campaign and when will you officially launch the campaign?

WHITLAM: I can’t be sure when I’ll be making my first Public speech but I think I will be having something of political relevance to say at the Liverpool town Hall on Thursday when I’m at the naturalisation and at  Wollongong on Saturday night when I’m at a social function then. Certainly I like a fight. I’ve won a fair number of fights and I expect to win this one. I’ve never known so clear cut an issue. It’s not just what happens to my Government, what’s been done to my Government, it’s what can happen to any Government which thereafter is given a majority in the House of Representatives by the electors and which retains that majority in the House of Representatives. Parliamentary democracy is at stake in Australia here….

I didn’t actually watch the special repeat of “Whitlam: The Power and the Passion” on ABC last night – that links to my 2013 post the first time it was shown.

I enjoyed last night’s episode and look forward to next Sunday’s account of the subsequent collapse. It is a dramatic story, no doubt about it. And it was a an exciting time to be young, or young-ish in my case. I was 32 when Gough crashed and burned, and I still remember Rex Connor appearing dramatically at the Wollongong High speech night in, I think, October 1975, rather late — having been held up by events.

If I am correct in that memory then Rex Connor would have been held up because he was being sacked.

During 1974 Connor sought to bypass the usual loan raising processes and raise money in the Middle East through an intermediary, a mysterious Pakistani banker called Tirath Khemlani. Because of strong opposition from the Treasury and the Attorney-General’s Department about the legality of the loan (and about Khemlani’s general bona fides), Cabinet decided in May 1975 that only the Treasurer, not Connor, was authorised to negotiate foreign loans in the name of the Australian government. Nevertheless, Connor went on negotiating through Khemlani for a huge petrodollar loan for his various development projects, confident that if he succeeded no-one would blame him, and if he failed no-one would know.

Unfortunately for Connor, Khemlani proved to be a false friend and sold the story of Connor’s activities to the Liberal Opposition for a sum which has never been disclosed. Connor denied the Liberals’ accusations, both to Whitlam personally and to Parliament. When the Liberal Deputy Leader, Phillip Lynch tabled letters from Connor to Khemlani, Connor was forced in October to resign in disgrace. The Opposition proclaimed the Loans Affair a “reprehensible circumstance”, which justified the blocking of supply in the Senate, leading to the dismissal of the Whitlam government a few weeks later by Governor-General, Sir John Kerr.

Rex Connor was our local member of parliament.

That Saturday after the Dismissal which Whitlam refers to must have been when I and so many others – colleagues from Wollongong High among them – stood chanting “We want Gough!” at the top of our voices outside Wollongong Town Hall.

See also Whitlam Dismissal site.

Back to the documentary repeated last night:

Troy Brampston does rightly nail a few errors in the documentary, but none of them all that significant aside from the not uncommon trope of exaggerating the benighted state of the country in the late 60s and early 70s when, in fact, quite a few of the changes people attribute to Whitlam had already begun. (One thinks of the 1967 referendum on Aboriginal citizenship just for  starters.)  Hence the headline Hyperbole for true believers, which  is somewhat harsher than Brampston’s overall assessment:

Putting aside these flaws for now, it is a rollercoaster ride as viewers relive the razzle and dazzle of Whitlam’s ascendancy and early days of governing followed by the inevitable crash, as dreams collide with inexperience, economic turmoil and political ruthlessness given vice-regal sanction…

The documentary effectively captures Whitlam as a change agent who not only embodied the mood for change in the electorate but also had a plan for where he wanted to take the country in the tumultuous 1960s and 70s.

Howard praises Whitlam’s skills as opposition leader. “I thought he did a tremendous job as the opposition leader and the way in which he welded the party together and repaired a lot of the rifts and campaigned and developed what he called his ‘program’,” Howard says.

After Labor was elected in 1972, Whitlam had himself and his deputy, Lance Barnard, sworn in holding all ministries between them. Whitlam told Hayden, “It was the best government (I) ever had, except it was twice as large as it needed to be.”

The economy would prove to be Whitlam’s Achilles heel. “You will do great things,” Hawke recalls telling Whitlam, “(but) this government will live or die on your economic performance.”

The documentary spans Whitlam’s life. All the core elements are included, from his experience living in the outer suburbs of Sydney to his rise through the Labor Party and term as prime minister…

There are wonderful stories. Howard remembers telling one of his legal partners he was going to work on Billy McMahon’s 1972 campaign. “I don’t mind you doing it,” the partner said, “but you do realise, John, It’s Time.”

Phillip Adams recalls Treasurer Jim Cairns and Junie Morosi rolling around naked on the lawns of Kirribilli House. It is one of several strange scenes dramatised by actors who bear little resemblance to the people they are portraying. Nobody can portray Whitlam on the screen; he is already larger than life….

The documentary is a reminder of a Labor Party that once “dreamed the big dreams”, as Paul Keating used to say, and an inspirational prime minister with the conviction and courage to pursue them, however fatal his blind spots inevitably were.

Barry Spurr is still trending

Yesterday Matilda published THE TRANSCRIPTS: The Partial Works Of Professor Barry Spurr. Poet, Racist, Misogynist.

New Matilda has been accused of quoting Professor Barry Spurr out of context. Here’s a partial transcript of his exchanges. You can decide for yourself.

The following is an edited transcript of some of the emails from Professor Barry Spurr which have beem leaked to New Matilda.

Professor Spurr is based at the University of Sydney, and served as a consultant on the Abbott Government’s review of the National School Curriculum.  

The emails were sent to friends and colleagues at the University of Sydney over a two year period, from September 2012 to late 2014.

Professor Spurr has maintained that the emails were a ‘whimsical linguistic game’, and that they were largely restricted to a bit of ‘oneupmanship’ between himself and an old friend.

New Matilda is releasing a partial transcript of the emails in order to allow readers to make up their own minds about the truth of Professor Spurr’s statements….

You may recall that I was somewhat kind about the “whimsical linguistic game” as I had myself, I thought, played analogous games in the past.

Having now read these transcripts I renounce that analogy. These are nothing like the games MJ and I played with Nuttall’s Dictionary of Quotations, nothing at all. They are an insight into a particular kind of conservative mind one finds in certain rather exotic settings. I have known some habitues of certain Oxford Street bars in the past whose discourse was not dissimilar, and I have met the odd bird or two in High Church circles ditto. I hasten to add that I am talking of a particular subgroup in both those (sometimes overlapping) subgroups, not necessarily even a majority. But they do exist and they have for years – and they are ugly.

Given my rather dim view of the Pyne Review I was fascinated by this one, which has not received as much attention as, for example, the appalling one about thoroughly meritorious Australian of the Year Adam Goode.

DATE: April 19, 2014
FROM: Barry Spurr
TO: Friend, Friend
Subject: Churchill in California

The Californian high school English curriculum has arrived (as Pyne wants me to compare ours with other countries). Another 300 pages of reading! Amongst the senior year texts for study are Churchill’s wartime speeches. Imagine setting that for the NSW HSC English. And whereas the local curriculuim has the phrase ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’ on virtually every one of its 300 pages, the Californian curriculum does not ONCE mention native Americans and has only a very slight representation of African-American literature (which, unlike Abo literature, actually exists and has some distinguished productions).

[A fellow University academic] tells me that at her grand-daughter’s school – [in Sydney] – every day begins with an acknowledgement of the orignal [sic] owners of the land. No flag-raising or national anthem – just this, every day. On the school’s website, it proclaims that it prides itself on its ‘atheletics’ [sic] program.

If ever an education system needed a bomb under it, it’s ours.

Among the senior year texts in NSW 2009-14 we do have:

Non-fiction, Media or Multimedia: Speeches
  • Margaret Atwood – ‘Spotty Handed Villainess’, 1994
  • Paul Keating – ‘Funeral Service of the Unknown Australian Soldier’, 1993
  • Noel Pearson – ‘An Australian History for Us All’, 1996
  • Ang San Suu Kyi – ‘Keynote Address at the Beijing World Conference on Women’, 1995
  • Faith Bandler – ‘Faith, Hope and Reconciliation’, 1999
  • William Deane– ‘On the occasion of a Ecumenical Service for the Victims of the Canyoning Tragedy 1999
  • Anwar Sadat – ‘Statement to the Knesset’ 1977

The 2006-8 version included Socrates, Cicero, Abraham Lincoln, Emma Goldman, Martin Luther King, Denise Levertov, Vaclav Havel, and Mary McAleese alongside Attwood, Keating, and Noel Pearson — a crib on which (by Lloyd Cameron?) appears in Barry Spurr’s handy HSC guides.

But that is by the by. It does seem to me more than likely that much, if not all, in that “Churchill in California” email is unalloyed Spurr, not some persona of a grumpy old man. It also suggests, perhaps, a review process reaching for preset outcomes — “The Californian high school English curriculum has arrived (as Pyne wants me to compare ours with other countries).”

What do you think of this comment on the New Matilda thread?

Initially I had concerns about whether the disclosure of theses emails violated Spurrs privacy. However given his involvement in the review of the national education curriculum I believe discloure was warranted in the public interest. Spurr has been exposed as a person who holds racist, sexist and other views unacceptable to most Australians. However the time has now been reached where the focus should not ot on Spurr but on Minister Pyne. In particular Pyne needs to be asked whether he agrees that Spurrs views are unacceptable and if so whether he believes Spurr was an aapropriate person to be involved in the review. Finally Pyne should be asked whether he accepts that given Spurrs extreme views the review is hopelessly compromised and needs to be shredded. Any further disclosure by NM of Spurrs emails is likely to appear as persecution and lead to sympathy for him. Spurr is finished. Time to make Pyne accountable.

I partly agree, partly don’t – or would have expressed it differently. What do you think?

Note the built-in slant in this headline from The Australian:

Christopher Pyne backs school review despite Barry Spurr slurs

Labor says Professor Spurr’s contribution to a review of the national curriculum means it is now tainted.

But Mr Pyne accused someone of leaking the emails to sabotage the government’s school reforms.

“I don’t endorse the remarks that he made in those emails,” he told Sky News on Sunday.

“But it doesn’t mean that the review of the curriculum has in any way been traduced…”

Did he really say “traduced”? (PEDANT ALERT! Traduce: “Speak badly of or tell lies about (someone) so as to damage their reputation.”  Didn’t Mr Pyne just mean “affected” or maybe “devalued” or “damaged”?  A reviewer might be traduced, but not a review.)


Mind you, given the trend in our security laws lately this may not be so funny…

Again I refer you to my post Right-wing education critique is historically inaccurate and perpetuates myths (2007). Here it is in part:

…The real influence on the so-called New English was, and to a large extent still is, quite other than pomo. It really derives from an international conference on the teaching of English in 1967 at Dartmouth College. Why Johnny can’t write – teaching grammar and logic to college students by Heather MacDonald is a right-wing diatribe from the neocon mag Public Interest, but it at least gets a few things right historically:

Predictably, the corruption of writing pedagogy began in the sixties. In 1966, the Carnegie Endowment funded a conference of American and British writing teachers at Dartmouth College. The event was organized by the Modern Language Association and the National Conference of Teachers of English. The Dartmouth Conference was the Woodstock of the composition professions: It liberated teachers from the dull routine of teaching grammar and logic.

The Dartmouth Conference rejected what was called a “transmission model” of English in favor of a “growth model.” In a transmission mode, teachers pass along composition skills and literary knowledge. In a growth mode, according to Joseph Harris, a professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, they focus on students’ “experience of language in all its forms” – including ungrammatical ones. A big problem with the transmission model of English, apparently, is that it implies that teachers actually know more than their students do. In the growth model, in contrast, the teacher is not an authority figure; rather, he is a supportive, nurturing friend, who works with, rather than challenges, what a student has to say. Dartmouth proponents claimed that improvement in students’ linguistic skills need not come through direct training in grammar and style but, rather, would flower incidentally as students experiment with personal and expressive forms of talk and writing.

That is parodic, as anyone who was around at the time knows, and while there were excesses, most teachers managed a paradigm shift without abandoning all that had gone before. My own approach and experience you can read for yourself, and I was far from atypical. I never stopped teaching grammar or spelling; I fancy, however, that I taught both better because I knew why I was teaching them, to whom I was teaching them, and what the advantages and disadvantages of such teaching were. I was not, as in my first year or two, blindly following a dodgy textbook and calling that a program….

Update 9.30 pm

The Sydney University professor suspended over racist emails has taken legal action against the website that published them.

The Federal Court has ordered online magazine New Matilda not to publish further details about Barry Spurr’s leaked emails, which referred to Prime Minister Tony Abbott as an “Abo-lover” and made references to “Mussies” and “Chinky-poos”….

Lawyers for Professor Spurr argued the publication of the emails breached the Privacy Act, and the court granted an injunction preventing publication of any more details before another court hearing on Thursday.

New Matilda editor Chris Graham said Professor Spurr’s legal team was also fighting to have the emails returned, the articles deleted and the source of the leak revealed.

“Hell will freeze over before the last bit happens,” Graham said.

“There’s no way I will ever reveal the source, regardless of how it proceeds. Obviously, ethically, I can’t do it.”

ABC News

Surely the damage has been done and cannot really be recalled?

Update 22 October 9.45pm

Meanwhile, the federal government’s National Curriculum Review found what it was set up to find, namely that students are not being subjected to sufficient quantities of Western civilisation and edifying Judaeo-Christian values – though the good news is that it’s nothing a good dose of Bible studies won’t fix. No sooner was the report released than Barry Spurr, Professor of Poetry at Sydney University and one of the experts appointed to advise the reviewers, Dr Kevin Donnelly and Professor Kenneth Wiltshire, about the English curriculum, gave us a remarkable demonstration of the refining and civilising effects of a lifetime’s immersion in poetry and religious literature. In emails published yesterday in New Matilda, Professor Spurr uses a variety of uncomplimentary epithets to describe Indigenous Australians, Muslims, Chinese people, persons of colour in general, and women. For good measure, he also derides ‘bogans’ and ‘fatsoes’, and singles out Desmond Tutu, Adam Goodes and Nelson Mandela for special attention. Professor Spurr has sought to characterise these emails as satirical and ‘whimsical’. Whether this is indeed the case, or whether he is merely exercising his right to be a bigot (though, to be fair, he does at least seem to be something of an equal opportunity bigot), I think it is fair to conclude, on the basis of the evidence to hand, that humour is not Professor Spurr’s strong suit. Certainly, his employer Sydney University has failed to see the joke and has now moved to suspend him. His comedy stylings did, however, bring to mind Gandhi’s response when asked what he thought about Western civilisation: ‘I think it would be a good idea.”

– Right on, James Ley: Sydney Review of Books.

23 October 2014

Specifically on the “Churchill in California” email and Spurr as consultant see Max Chalmers, Barry Spurr’s Curriculum Wage Revealed As Dept Stands By Pyne.

…Spurr was one of the two consultants tasked with examining the English curriculum, and the only one asked to examine the full syllabus, including the year 11 and 12 courses.

But in response to questions from Senator Wright, members of the Department downplayed his impact on the review.

Paul said the review had been “robust”…

A series of questions about the timing of Spurr’s hiring and which reviewer had suggested him were put on notice.

Wright said Pyne should reconsider the review’s English recommendations in light of the Spurr emails.

“Minister Pyne has been at pains to suggest that his curriculum review, with his hand-picked reviewers, has not been an ideological exercise – but he cannot substantiate this any longer,” Wright said.

“This rushed and premature curriculum review was Minister Pyne’s idea from start to finish. He cannot distance himself now.”…

For a much broader take on the way education is thought of these days in the USA – and here, including under Rudd/Gillard – see Why To Change The Way We Talk About Education.

…Since the passage of No Child Left Behind legislation in 2002, the nation’s schools have been dominated by a regime of standardized testing that started in two grade levels – 4th and 8th – but eventually rolled out to every level for the vast majority of school children. Then, the Obama administration took the policy obsession with testing to extremes. Race to the Top grants and other incentives encouraged school districts to test multiple times throughout the year, and waivers to help states avoid the consequences of NCLB demanded even more testing for the purpose of evaluating teachers, principals, and schools. The latest fad is to test four year olds for their “readiness” to attend kindergarten.

An increasingly loud backlash to the over-emphasis on testing has been growing and spreading among parents, teachers, and students for some time, resulting in mass public rallies, school walkouts, and lawsuits….

And finally on this post – 2.50 pm 23 October

From the last one:

For academics, the Spurr Affair is a reminder that all email on a university network – along with records of your browsing – is open to scrutiny by university managers. It is not truly private: if you want “real” privacy use a non-academic account. It is also a reminder that some managers will assert that the email is university rather than personal property, irrespective of whether you’re a pottymouth or a puritan.