What a day this was: 13 February 2008

Of course much might be said about just how well/badly we have done since.

13 February 2008: just back from The Block in Redfern

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Redfern Community Centre, The Block, 2007. Image from Redfern Oral History. Click for more.

At least 1,000 people stood in the pouring rain at Redfern’s famous Block and watched on the big screen as Kevin Rudd moved the motion of Apology. I would not have missed it for quids!

Next to me an Aboriginal woman in her thirties or forties, her tears blending with the rain.

Cheers and a standing ovation greeted Kevin Rudd’s speech.

cafe-cana.gifWe didn’t get to hear the middle section of Dr Nelson’s speech as at that point the Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, was speaking to us live.

However, the symbolism near the end of Rudd and Nelson jointly presenting to the Speaker the gift from the Stolen Generations spoke to all our hearts.

Golden syrup and damper afterwards, and then a coffee for me on the way home at Cafe Cana.

William Yang was there at the Community Centre, and some people from church.

Big smiles from some little Aboriginal kids as I crossed Pitt Street and Redfern Street: “Look! He’s got a flag!”

A day truly to be treasured, long long anticipated and for a period the dread that it would never happen. But it has happened.

No more analysis today, no more commentary. The day is too good for that.

See Cheers, tears as Rudd says ‘sorry’.

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UPDATES

See:

Speech gets standing ovation in Redfern

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s speech received a standing ovation at the Redfern Community Centre, where hundreds gathered. Residents, workers, families, students and Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore braved the rain to watch the speech via a large outdoor screen set up in the heart of the notorious Block, the setting of the 2003 Redfern riots.

After the speech a teary Ms Moore stood and addressed the crowd. “Parliament House in Canberra is a long way from the streets of Redfern, but the apology made this morning must resonate here in our hearts and minds,” she said.

David Page, 46, composer with the indigenous dance group Bangarra Dance Theatre, said he liked the fact that Mr Rudd made a personal apology.

“It was very moving to see a prime minister with a bit of heart. I loved it when he said he was sorry. There was just something personal about it. It’s very hard for a prime minister to be personal,” he said. “It’s a long road but it’s a great beginning.”

Enid Williams, 72, who was brought up on a mission in Warrabinda in north Queensland after her father was forcibly removed from his family, said she was happy with Mr Rudd’s speech, but said it was now important to look to the future.

“We’ve been put down so many times,” she said. “I’m 72. The main thing is the young people, to give them a better future.”

The reception was not so warm for the speech delivered by Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson, and the crowd booed at file footage of former prime minister John Howard that was broadcast before the apology.

Michael Kirby, 36, a resident of Waterloo who grew up in rural NSW and whose father had been removed from Swan Hill to be raised at the Kitchener Boys Home, said he was pleased with the turnout at the community centre.

“I was so proud to be walking down here today with non-indigenous Australians,” he said. “Now we have to move together to try and build Australia bigger and better as a whole.”

An entire day of activities has been planned at the community centre, including an afternoon smoking ceremony, repetitions of the speech and a barbecue.

Melanie Giuffre of Surry Hills said she and her husband, Remo, brought their children Lola, 13 and Roman, 9, to Redfern to mark a historic national event. “Roman was doing something at school but we thought it was important to be here as a family,” she said. “[The speech] was really wonderful. It felt we’ve seen the Prime Minister we voted for.”

Sydney Morning Herald multimedia report.

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Ivan Clarke, one of the stolen generations, is comforted by a friend after watching the apology by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on a large screen in Redfern.
Photo: Jon Reid Sydney Morning Herald.

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And SIXTY years ago I….

How’s that for old?

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From Sydney Boys High School. See Found–something from my last year at high school (1959) and Memento mori – another from the Class of 1959.

My History score crashed the following year, thanks to a bad habit of guessing what would be in exam papers… Worked in 58, not in 59. The teacher, Frank Allsopp, used me as an awful warning for several years into the 60s – by which time my History score so recovered at Sydney University that in 1962 I topped Asian History, then an exciting new field. I think I recently saw a death notice for one of the two lecturers in Asian History at that time, Marjorie Jacobs. India was her specialty. The other lecturer was Ian Nish, expert on Japan and China. It was a very good course. See also My Asian Century.

See also 50 years on – 1: a classmate’s story (2009). And in reminiscent vein: 1959 revisited, Trams down Cleveland Street via Memory Lane, The year my voice broke…, 1957 or MCMLVII and Nobel prize winner’s obituary triggers memories.

Lenny Basser, left, and my good friend Roger Dye far right.

1958 when we were 15 – Roger and I, that is.

I was living in Kirrawee in 1958.

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Avery Avenue, Kirrawee, where I lived 1956 through 1958, behind the tree on the left. And yes, we were close to transport. That’s the Cronulla line on the right. It took about an hour and a quarter to get to SBHS from here.

Sundays found me at Sutherland Presbyterian Church, Flora Street Sutherland, where I had recently joined the youth Fellowship.

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See Frameworks for belief — 2 – my world 1952 to 1959. A repost and À la recherche du temps perdu — 12 — some churches.

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Sutherland Presbyterian Church and manse. I was an elder here  at the age of 21, and Sunday School Superintendent. In the mid 1960s exciting events occurred in this church, the congregation mostly leaving to form the Presbyterian Reformed Church. At that time I resigned. See my 2008 post Uncertain dogma, The Shire, and related musings. See also this search for Calvin.

 

From February 2008: reading; Mardi Gras event

The first one includes a perennial topic here in Oz: our national day. And yes, I had forgotten all about reading this!

Outside the whale

19 Feb 2008

Flawed and opinionated it may be in parts, but Frank Welsh’s Great Southern Land: A New History of Australia (Penguin 2005) is proving a very entertaining and informative read. A retired London banker, Welsh has devoted himself to a number of histories, especially of various outposts of the British Commonwealth. He sits somewhat apart from our “history wars”, evincing an enthusiasm for Australia’s successes that would have done John Howard proud, but at the same time warning us in a footnote to take Keith Windschuttle with a grain of salt.

Something of his tone and approach may be gleaned from this five minute talk on ABC Radio National:

As a reasonably well-informed outsider I find the current fretfulness of Australian commentators and historians over the significance of Australia Day to be puzzling. Newspapers are full of worried questioning, argument and counter argument: does the arrival of the First Fleet really deserve celebrating? Is the country’s progress, remarkable though this has been, negated by the initial dispossession of the Aborigines – or, indeed, by the ecological damage sustained? But then, in the course of writing a history of the country, I have noticed that not all Australians share the opinions of academics or journalists, and I do not know how far their unease is reflected in the community at large. Certainly in the small town in which I found myself on Australia Day this year I didn’t see much anxiety. There was none of the strident patriotism that you would find in the United States, it is true, but rather a quiet pride in being Australian, in barbecues and brass bands, in clean beaches with a minimum of official interference, was evident.

To me at least, the problem that seems to trouble the media hardly arises January 26th 1788 was an epochal event, not only in Australia, but in world history. Australia, hitherto little more than a geographical expression, neglected by the rest of the world, began its development into a nation, and a continental nation at that, just as did France on the 14th July in the following year, or the United States had done eleven years previously. Of course the record of no country is entirely unsmirched. The fall of the Bastille was followed not only by the declaration of the Rights of Man and the eventual overthrow of tyrannical regimes all over Europe and in South America, but also by a bloody reign of Terror, in which the guillotine was erected in every French market place, and by nearly 30 years of warfare in which millions died. The American revolution prolonged slavery for a generation after its final abolition in the British colonies, but the 4th and 14th of July both commemorate days which altered the whole future of the world and which nobody thinks should be abandoned.

Similarly, I would suggest, no Australian government stupidities or neglect of difficult problems – what administration anywhere is invariably prudent, far-sighted and liberal? – should be allowed to obscure the emergence of one of the most successful societies the world has ever seen – and this is not just a prejudiced or personal view. In the United Nations Assessment of Human Development, prepared every year, Canada and Australia almost always figure in second or third place – Norway leading – well ahead of either the United States or Great Britain.

Of course countries celebrate not only their foundation or liberation – England being here an exception – but other events of national significance. Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand has more resonance than either Australia or Waitangi Day. I spent the morning of 25th April last year in a rain-swept field of northern France witnessing wreaths being laid on the memorial to the Australian Imperial Force – and those who complain of Australia’s participation, far from home, in two World Wars should experience for themselves the continued gratitude and goodwill of the Picardy folk. Resistance to oppression knows no geographical limits.

Nations can also admit their own mistakes: Martin Luther King Junior Day, in the United States, commemorates the shameful continuance of black oppression; the Holocaust Memorial Day, 27th January, is observed in Germany as well as in Israel – and November 11th stands throughout Europe in remembrance of the major follies of the last century, from which no country can be absolved. Should present day Australians feel that a day must be laid aside to commemorate those things that ought not to have been done and those good things that have been left undone, Anzac Day, which finds the nation in a reflective mood might well fit the need. Or, if like Japan, we prefer to look forward optimistically, we might celebrate Children’s Day, which they do on May 5th, Culture Day, November 3rd and – here I should declare an interest – Respect for the Aged Day, September 18th.

But Australia Day should surely continue to be observed as a proper celebration of the world’s recognition of one of its most distinctive and attractive cultures, at least until Republic Day can be proclaimed, and that may not be for quite a while yet.

Anna Clark reviewed the hardback edition in The Age:

…Welsh self-consciously places Great Southern Land outside conventions of Australian history writing – he is English, not Australian, his approach is general, not narrowly academic – and the book certainly offers a different point of departure.

Welsh’s voice is present throughout. He frequently moves out of the narrative to give judgement on aspects of Australian history and history writing, offering his own opinions and answers with a degree of interest and authority.

Sometimes this authorial tone appears a little condescending, but it can also be illuminating. Welsh rightly argues that there has been a tendency by Australian historians away from comparative studies and his persistent attempts to situate this history within a broader context are certainly instructive. His comparisons with South Africa, for instance, expand the domestic Australian narrative to include a wider history of the British Empire.

This insistence on a broad historical focus makes the book more complex and engaging.

Great Southern Land is a strong general political and economic history. Welsh’s account of the 1890s depression encapsulates the great shifts in employment and economy, the cycles of Australian industry and the fate of the pastoral industry as part of a growing international economy. As the turn of the century approaches, he turns his attention to the movement for federation and nationalism, which he analyses with care and insight.

Welsh has a real grasp of the political sensibilities that have helped shape Australian life and it is impressive how up to date his history is. His interpretation of the conservative ascendancy over the past decade, especially his account of the rise of Pauline Hanson and the One Nation Party, is perceptive. And his analysis of John Howard’s dominance of Australian political life is equally compelling. Political debates over refugees and Australia’s relationship with the US since September 11 are covered, as is the recent dispute over frontier violence in colonial Australia…

I was fascinated to read that the Colonial Office in London in the early 19th century administered the British Empire with a staff of just seventy, “including filing clerks, doormen, messengers and ‘necessary women’” from “cramped and evil-smelling headquarters” at No 13 Downing Street. More than other histories of Australia that I have read, Welsh is able to relate what was happening in Australia to what was happening in British, indeed world, affairs. That is a big plus. He punctures quite a few of our romantic myths, including the green shamrock view of Australian history which has probably been more influential than the famous black armband. He is a bit obtuse on the prehistory of Aboriginal Australia, but rightly points out how fluid and conjectural much of our knowledge still is in that area.

I can forgive much of a man who writes this:

Macquarie’s Bank [of New South Wales] still exists, seemingly disguised as a frozen food store under the absurd name of Westpac.

Or Wetchex, as a friend of mine said at the time of the change, evoking condoms rather than frozen food.

AFTERTHOUGHT

This book is in fact much better as an introduction to Australian history than the dramatic if one-dimensional The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes (1987) and is obviously, twenty years on, much more up to date. The research Welsh undertook is most impressive.

Well now, that’s my Mardi Gras event for this year

28 Feb 2008: WARNING — links may have expired.

courthouse After coaching tonight I caught the slow bus from Chinatown to arrive on a cold and wet Sydney night at Newtown’s rather wonderful Courthouse Hotel for the blogger meetup. That’s not our group in the picture on the right. I was late, so I missed Marcellous.

Even before I had settled into the group for an hour I met of all people someone I had taught English with at Dapto back in 1970, one of the Spender sisters, Dale and Lynn, the former a rather well-known feminist writer, the other no slouch either. It was Lynn I saw, though initially I thought it was Dale. We both contemplated the years that had flown since then with some amazement, though I have to say I am a minnow compared with what those two have done with that time. (See also When I was a twenty-something conservative in transition…)

Back to the blogger meet: it was great to put a face to Panther at last. James O’Brien I knew instantly, though I had never met him before, and I discovered why The Other Andrew is so called.

Someone whose travels eclipse M’s trips in duration, if not quite in exotic destinations but he comes very close, is this person:

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I’m an Aussie who has just spent 2 1/2yrs roaming around Europe with my dog, a very large Alaskan Malamute by the name of Bondi. Our adventure began in May 2005. So far we’ve travelled around much of UK, including a week-long walk across Scotland; spent 2 months each in Spain & Paris, plus a 5 week circuit of Ireland; done a load of family-tree research; a coast-to-coast crossing of England on foot along Hadrian’s Wall path, and a side-trip to dive wrecks in the northern part of the Red Sea. Most recently we completed a 20,000km 20-country tour of Europe by car, and 3 months in Scotland.

I also discovered what the wonderful header on Dancing About Architecture is all about.

Check here to learn more about what this meet was and who was there. I imagine a relevant post might appear before long too. Topics as various as knitting, historical reenactments, and Number 96 — that site was especially referred to — were being talked about as I, noticing that it was getting dark out, decided I had to set off home, which I did via an excellent Chinese noodle shop in King Street.

Newtown at night is, I have to say, far more interesting and far more pleasant these days than Oxford Street.

 

 

Looking back 20 years: the Japanese surfer

Back in 1998 I became a student again, part-time, at the University of Technology in Sydney.  A one-year course gave me lots of letters after my name: Grad Cert TESOL (UTS)! While I had been among other things ESL teacher at Sydney Boys High from 1996, I actually had no formal qualification in that field, other than the in-house training — and it was good too! — that I received at Wessex College of English in 1990.

One thing I haven’t mentioned publicly before is that Michael was so pissed off at my attracting a HECS debt that he insisted on paying the fees for me upfront — neither the first nor the last example of his generosity. He’s travelling in Vietnam right now, by the way, but you may recall we had lunch together in Surry Hills on just about the hottest day on record for Sydney.

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One highlight (of many) in that 1998 UTS course was a learning journal: My year with a Japanese Backpacker. You can read the whole thing there. Here is part:

19 August, 1998

I first met ‘Hiro’ a month ago at the Flinders Hotel. He had just finished an eight week English course and had to move out of his home-stay accommodation the following Saturday, or so I gathered after a very tortuous conversation. A few days later he rang to let me know he had found a place in an Eastern suburb near the Harbour. I did not hear from him again until the night before last when he rang to arrange a meeting. After sorting out that Neil was my name and not the name of the hotel, we managed to make an appointment for Tuesday at 6 at the Flinders Hotel. Our communication obviously succeeded as he turned up at the appointed time.

His English pronunciation is clear. The text of his talk is heavily reliant on content words (in the right order) but very weak on inflections and grammatical words. His strategic competence is highly developed. Conversation required intense concentration on both sides with (at stages) frequent recourse to body language, paraphrase, repetition and a Japanese-English dictionary. The month spent living with an English speaker, looking for work, and generally going about town has led to some advance in his spoken English.

He had mentioned at our earlier meeting that he would like to practise his English with me. Since he is a very handsome young man, and since I had met him in a gay bar after all, there were dimensions to this situation. I determined to explore the situation tactfully, but I have not seen any analysis of the appropriate registers and genres for dealing with such a cross-cultural situation with someone of very limited English.

His family grows flowers, he told me, and he himself wanted work in photography, art or floristry. In the context of Australian culture one might by now have been drawing probably false conclusions about his being in a gay bar. (It proved to be a false deduction: he was unaware he was in a gay bar. The delicate matter of sexuality was successfully negotiated at our second meeting.)

From the age of six he had wanted to go overseas; an uncle had been living in America at that time, and it was to America he first wanted to go, but the pictures in an Australian travel brochure persuaded him to come here. He was drawn by Australia’s natural beauty and the surfing. So he sold his car (a Subaru) and came last May.

He said he wanted to experience all things. He wanted to meet Australian men. He wanted to learn English. Most interestingly, he wanted ‘a big heart’; eventually I worked out he meant an open mind–he found Japan too narrow.

Our conversation turned to religion. Having heard a sermon at a funeral he began practising Zen meditation. Asked what he got from it, he said ‘Nothing. Nothing is good.’ In the context this made perfect sense. We looked up dharma and Tao in his dictionary and discussed them wordlessly, as is appropriate.

At the end of the evening he proposed we meet again in a month or so, hesitant to be too demanding as I had been telling him how busy I was. In parting, we thanked each other for a very pleasant evening, and the best English lesson he could have had.

His real name was Kyohiko, from Sendai, a place much affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Yes, I have wondered, but I don’t know.

Sequel: 23 March 2000

“Hiro” returned to Japan at the end of May 1999. In the last six months of our friendship we met monthly to go to a jazz bar near my home. My Shanghainese flatmate was a bit dubious about “Hiro” at first, but towards the end, as he was planning his own 12 months overseas “pilgrimage”, he and “Hiro” found they had a lot in common! The other nice thing about “Hiro” was that, while straight, he did not have a homophobic bone in his body! Makes you feel hopeful about the world