Living with the facts of our history

There has been a kerfuffle lately about this statue on Sydney’s Hyde Park.

Hyde Park Captain Cook

Obviously recent events in the USA have caused this current crop, notably the observations of Stan Grant in America tears down its racist history, we ignore ours. Grant’s key point is quite reasonable:

Think of those words: “Discovered this territory.” My ancestors were here when Cook dropped anchor. We know now that the first peoples of this continent had been here for at least 65,000 years, for us the beginning of human time.
Yet this statue speaks to emptiness, it speaks to our invisibility; it says that nothing truly mattered, nothing truly counted until a white sailor first walked on these shores.
The statue speaks still to terra nullius and the violent rupture of Aboriginal society and a legacy of pain and suffering that endures today…

Captain Cook’s statue stands in the centre of our biggest city. There are Indigenous people who for good reason would prefer to see it removed.
Personally I accept that it remains; Cook is part of the story of this nation.
But surely we need no longer maintain the fiction that he “discovered” this country. It dishonours the people who reached this continent 60,000 years before Cook.
This was not an empty land.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, defending Australia Day this week, said it is also a day we honour Indigenous Australians.
If he is serious then what could be more apt than to correct a monument that tells us, still, that in 1770 we did not exist?

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In 1879

Do have a look at Kenneth Slessor’s poem Five Visions of Captain Cook.

Let rum-tanned mariners prefer
To hug the weather-side of yards,
‘Cats to catch mice’ before they purr,
Those were the captain’s enigmatic words.
Here, in this jolly-boat they graced,
Were food and freedom, wind and storm,
While, fowling-piece across his waist,
Cook mapped the coast, with one eye cocked for game.

And now we have a concern about a recent statue of Governor Macquarie.

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Keep in mind that Lachlan Macquarie was among the most enlightened and humane of our early NSW governors. Macquarie definitely deserves a statue, but on the other hand:

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See my post Bicentenary of Dharawal massacre in Appin area.

I say keep these statues, but correct their inscriptions where they are plain wrong. We should then face ALL our history.

Update

Typical! Here’s the OTT sensationalising of, essentially, Stan Grant’s article as filtered by the Daily Terror! Talk about “fake news!”

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So disappointing! 26 August

Referring to the news item on SBS: ‘Change the date’: Vandals attack statues in Australia Day protest. On Facebook I have said: “How disappointing! Turnbull —shame on him— is being a total arse, and is dead wrong himself, and these vandals are self-righteous pricks with no understanding of history either. Given my family history I am utterly opposed to ALL those right/left who have made such a hash of the perfectly sane and reasonable points made by Stan Grant. Why can’t we all just grow up? ”

Next day!

I stand by the everything from “these vandals are self-righteous pricks” on, though there may have been just one vandal. I have however been too harsh on Malcolm Turnbull, given what he actually wrote on Facebook. Shame about his “Stalinist” claptrap, but this is fair enough I think:

Tearing down or defacing statues of our colonial era explorers and governors is not much better than that. Of course Cook didn’t “discover” Australia anymore than Columbus “discovered” America or Marco Polo “discovered” China. I knew that when as a schoolboy I first read the inscription.

The statue gives a perspective of history from the time it was erected – 1879. Just as a history text in the Mitchell Library from the same era would do. Is the next step of this new totalitarianism to burn the 19th century histories of Australia as well, or should their yellowing pages be simply overwritten in crude graffiti condemning their long dead authors?

Old histories should not be burned, anymore than old statues should be torn down. Rather they should be challenged and complemented by new histories, fresh evidence and modern monuments.

And now to be really provocative, here is a thought that often crosses my mind:

Hyde Park Captain Cook01

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I’m really a conservative…

But hardly anyone else is, least of all the creatures that infest the Murdoch press so much. I say that after almost spoiling my lunch here at City Diggers (appropriately conservative venue) by reading the latest column by Andrew Bolt in which to me the great mystery is whether he is in any genuine sense any kind of Christian, deeply and intellectually that is — apart from using it as a chess-piece in a cliched rant directed against clearly sane people like Waleed Aly and annoying but misunderstood folk like Yasmin Abdel-Magied. (Best comment on her, by the way, comes from fellow ex-SBHS alumnus and well-known writer of letters to the editor Burt Candy on Facebook the other day: “My father died on the Thai-Burma railway as a Japanese POW and I know he wouldn’t have been offended by Yasmin using the ‘Lest We Forget’ to remind us that there are still wars across the world that are killing innocents. However he would have condemned her being forced out of Australia for it. He didn’t die to support cruel bigotry”). But it’s part of Bolt’s schtick to throw into his tired argument her name, Waleed’s, and the ABC, which apparently spends all its resources on vilifying Christians — on Compass for example, or by broadcasting Songs of Praise every Sunday. Meantime, I wonder just how much of the Nicene Creed Mr Bolt actually subscribes to hand-on-heart. I would guess not much.

But back to my being a conservative. All my genuinely Left friends over the last 50 years or so have known what a sceptic I am when it comes to The Revolution! When it comes to the classic locus of conservatism I am rather more Edmund Burke than Tom Paine, and always have been, despite my views on individual issues often producing a profile like So I tried ABC’s “Vote Compass”.

The overview of my political leanings came out thus:

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Not too surprising.

But then I subscribed to Quadrant back in the 60s, when it was half-way decent. I ever rejected the siren-call of Marxism. If from anywhere, my political core came from my parents and especially from my maternal grandfather Roy Christison, who if anything was a Dickensian and judging from many a thing he told me something of an agnostic in his later years. As am I really. Have a look at these posts from November 2008 and this one from the year before:

I began life as a resident of The Shire and continued as such for my first quarter-century. I was, so far as I was political at all, a supporter of the Liberal Party in early adulthood. I was a religious conservative. I even subscribed to Quadrant, though I would venture to suggest the Quadrant of the 1960s bore small resemblance to the Quadrant of today. I supported, at first, the Vietnam War.

In due course I changed my mind about the Vietnam War, but always felt the extreme left’s take on it was hyperbolic and in its own way bigoted. The treatment of soldiers returning from that war in the early 70s was disgraceful. As I went into my teaching career I began to see through the conservative religion to the pit of absurdity at its heart, leading to a considerable (but useful) period in the wilderness in that regard. I became involved, in a small way, in the Teachers’ Federation and came to see the value and necessity of the trade union movement.

In 1972 I voted for Whitlam. Since then I have tended to favour Labor, the sadly dying Democrats, or The Greens, or, on occasion, Independents.

I have learned much from some left-wing, even Marxist or neo-Marxist, writers without ever being or even wanting to be a Marxist. Like Bruce I read Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies (or some of it), and Orwell, and S I Hayakawa’s Language in Thought and Action. Take just one quote from Popper:

Liberalism and state-interference are not opposed to each other. On the contrary, any kind of freedom is clearly impossible unless it is guaranteed by the state. A certain amount of state control in education, for instance, is necessary, if the young are to be protected from a neglect which would make them unable to defend their freedom, and the state should see that all education facilities are available to everybody. But too much state control in educational matters is a fatal danger to freedom, since it must lead to indoctrination. As already indicated, the important and difficult question of the limitations of freedom cannot be solved by a cut and dried formula. And the fact that there will always be borderline cases must be welcomed, for without the stimulus of political problems and political struggles of this kind, the citizen’s readiness to fight for their freedom would soon disappear, and with it, their freedom. (Viewed in this light, the alleged clash between freedom and security, that is, a security guaranteed by the state, turns out to be a chimera. For there is no freedom if it is not secured by the state; and conversely, only a state which is controlled by free citizens can offer them any reasonable security at all.)

I have, partly through linguistics and English Studies, taken on since then much from postmodern and postcolonial sources — generally speaking so long as they can write like human beings, which many of them cannot. So my thinking may even be described by some as conservative. It is certainly not terribly profound or original. However, given all the above I found myself increasing alienated by what has in the past decade or two masqueraded as conservatism, a set of increasingly fevered and unreasonable right-wing fetishes starting with the kiss of that spider woman Thatcher — though it has to be said of her that she was a very progressive figure in her day on the subject of global warming, but then she was after all really a scientist.

In 1984-5 I found myself working full time for the then Liberal Party candidate for Sydney, not that I ever voted for him. That was when the Howard career really began with his first stint as leader, stalling soon after, but reviving to take him to power in 1996. I saw at that time the forces at work, viewed from my desk in a Glebe bookshop, or fielded by telephone. I saw, met, spoke to, or at least heard of many of the players at that time. I saw the beginning of the trajectory that has delivered the Liberal Party now in the wilderness. At the centre of it all has been John Howard. (Yes, I had taken time out of teaching.)

That potted background leads to an excellent letter in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

Liberals must return to tradition of decency, diversity and tolerance

It’s hard to see the Liberal Party re-establishing itself as a credible force without it reconnecting with a significant part of its one-time base: the small-l, compassionate tradition that was for so long such an important part of the party’s make-up, allowing it to operate as a “broad church” of anti-Labor tendencies. They used to call it the Whig tradition.

It was a tendency that recognised an obligation on government to look after those less able to deal with the world than others more fortunate; a tendency that saw people as people, rather than as economic units.

It used to be in the Liberal Party, too, that members were able to vote against their party if it came to a matter of real conscience. It was tolerated, and the party was proud of it as one of the most important distinctions between it and the ALP. It was a key reason for them naming themselves Liberals.

These days, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission would do well to have a look at the Liberals for misleading advertising, for liberal they ain’t.

One of the most poisonous trends throughout the Howard era has been the crushing of the small-l tradition in the party with the at-times systematic elimination of MPs and strains through the organisational wing.

Even with a handful of moderates surviving idiosyncratically, they are nothing like the force they were supposed to be in the Menzian Liberal Party. And when they do survive, they are there more often as numbers manipulators than as forces for altruism.

The Howard Liberal Party, fashioned by him and for him by the likes of Michael Kroger and Peter Costello, made people such as Petro Georgiou, Judi Moylan and Bruce Baird nothing more than an accidental ginger group.

It became, with them, a matter of note when this ginger group took stands against the party and the leader, when it should be something almost normal: an important check and balance within the party.

The Liberals used to be proud that they tolerated dissent. Now, they punish it as vindictively as the ALP, except that vengeance within the Liberals is often behind the back, not up front.

The Liberals’ liberal tendency should be an indispensable component of the party. That’s where the party’s compassion is: its humanity. Without it, they will forever recede into more of an intolerant right-wing rump undeserving of broad support from the electorate.

Paul Ellercamp Gymea

Also from The Shire, you may note.

The worst thing they could do would be to elect Tony Abbott as leader; when I saw him extolling his “people skills” on TV last night I almost fell off my chair!…

But the problem with Abbott is deeper than that; in fact he is part of the problem being a product of the rot that set in after 1985. I can’t help thinking Paul Keating was being mischievous in proposing Julie Bishop; let’s face it, he hardly wishes the Liberal Party well. I would also reject Brendan Nelson who has displayed an amazing talent for following all the worst advice he can find, in my opinion….

So. The trouble is there are virtually none of the loudmouth conservatives here or overseas that I can take seriously. After all, I find the case for human-influenced climate change compelling, which makes me a warmist! If I were still teaching I would gladly avail myself of the resources offered by Safe Schools! I plan to vote YES, assuming that silly postal survey turns out to be even legal. (We don’t know that yet.) And so on…

I am a conservative out of sorts with almost all the fetishes that pass for conservatism in today’s world! I suspect I am far from alone.

Re-reading Lawrence 55 years on

Using my Calibre reader on HP Junior I am rereading Sons and Lovers, having first read it in 1962. It holds up well. But how little of it did I really understand at the age of 18 in 1962?

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Hard to believe it was first published over a century ago! See Blake Morrison, Sons and Lovers: a century on.

Sons and Lovers is a great novel. A century of readers have reached for the same adjective. FR Leavis did, when he enrolled Lawrence in the “great tradition” of the English novel, comprising Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James and Joseph Conrad. And Philip Larkin did so, too, describing Lawrence as “England’s greatest novelist” and Sons and Lovers as his finest achievement: “Cock me! Nearly every page of it is absolutely perfect.” The perfection wasn’t apparent to those close to Lawrence at the time, including his childhood sweetheart Jessie Chambers, his editor Garnett, and his wife-to-be Frieda, all of whom suggested improvements and left their mark on the finished text. But the reviews were good, and 100 years later the novel’s reputation holds up, despite the recent dip in Lawrence’s critical standing.

To anyone of my generation, that dip is a puzzle…