A few Prince Philip items, and some other recent concerns

Lovely picture from a Fairfax photojournalist of the Duke of Edinburgh in Wollongong during the 1970 Royal Tour — Captain Cook related. I well remember this tour as I was teaching at Dapto High at the time an the Royal Family passed through Dapto on their way to the airport at Albion Park. Our kids lined the old Princes Highway and we were up there supervising them. I even suffered terminal embarrassment when just a few minutes ahead of the royal party I found myself driving my little Mazda 1200 up the highway while sisters Dale Thomas and Lynn Buchan, colleagues now better known by the name Spender, waved royally to the crowd!

The full set of photos is here.

Attribution: George Lipman/Fairfax Media

And in 1963, when Prime Minister Robert Menzies was more than a little creepy with his “I did but see her passing by/And I shall love her till I die” quote. The video is also a marvellous example of the Great Australian Silence that was so loud in those days!

Now I have devoted quite a few posts to the subject ignored in that presentation of 1963 Australia, and have been reading much about it too as this blog has testified. I now offer you a 2009 lecture by leading historian Grace Karskens, author of those splendid works The Colony and People of the River.

My recent post on race and racism made reference to the US series Race: The Power of an Illusion, but I then could only share trailers and transcripts. Here at last is a complete episode. It is of course a must watch.

Racism no way — 20 years on

Recently a story from Australia made a bit of a splash on BBC, partly I suspect because my impression is that Neighbours is bigger in the UK than it is here these days. Commenting on SBS reports on 7 April I wrote on Facebook: “And in circles where one would expect people to be better than this! Take stock, Australians — racism well and truly exists here, both personal and institutional. Don’t try to “whitewash” it or make fatuous comparisons with, say, us not being as bad as Nazi Germany or sections of the USA….” I also reposted something I had originally written 20 years ago. More on that shortly. SBS had reported:

Wongatha, Yamatji, Noongar and Gitja woman Clanton, who played a guest role as Sheila Canning on Neighbours this year, first posted the allegations to social media on Tuesday, detailing the use of slurs and racism “disguised as ‘jokes’” on set. 

She claimed that “overt and covert levels of racism were rife” behind the scenes, which left her traumatised.

Without naming anyone, Clanton said she heard “n—–” being used twice in the green room, while another actor laughed. She also alleged that an actor openly called another actor of colour a “lil’ monkey”….

After Clanton’s post, Wongutha-Yamatji actor Wyatt alleged he also experienced racism on set while working as a series regular between 2014 and 2016.

He said the incident involved the use of the “c—” slur, which he called out….

“It didn’t happen around me again. Though I did walk in on this incident? So I have no doubt things were being said behind my back,” he said on Twitter.

“It is disappointing but not at all surprising to hear that five years later racism continues to be present in that workplace. But what can you say, we are in Australia.”

Meyne Wyatt in Neighbours

What I posted then was this:

In our school newsletter I had been running a series of articles dealing with racism, leading up to the International Day for the Elimination of Racism on March 21 2001. I received the following anonymous letter from a senior student. I would be interested in your responses. I would not normally publish an anonymous letter, but behind the anger and some serious misconceptions, I feel there is an intelligence that deserves respect. I have slightly abridged the letter, but kept true to the author’s views.

On March 2 2001 I received another very polite letter enclosing an American White Supremacist article taken from the Web, I have linked a counter-article by sociologist Caleb Rosado. Please consider.

From 23 January 2006 and for the following two Mondays, ABC in Sydney showed the PBS documentary series Race: The Power of an Illusion. That site is worth visiting.

It could seem depressing that 20 years ago I was — and I remember it being a great meeting — at Bondi Public School for a gathering of local Eastern Suburbs and Botany District teachers looking towards that International Day for the Elimination of Racism. That hasn’t quite worked out yet, eh! We were particularly looking at a resource the Education Department had developed called Racism No Way. It still exists, but expanded.

The debate I had via the SBHS High Notes Newsletter back in 2001 follows:


Enough of all the double standards on racism…. In the quiz you ask whether “Overtly or covertly demonstrating that one believes one’s own cultural or ethnic background is superior” is racist, the answer is yes. Yet about a month ago you printed an article entitled “Asian Pride”. There has never been an article on “White Pride” as whites are obviously meant to feel shame about the so-called “stolen generation” and other instances where whites have colonised a country or done something similar. I mean, obviously the only people capable of being racist are whites, or so the double standard of racism seen today would have you believe.

RESPONSE: First, the term “whites” is an interesting one. The emphasis on skin color misses the point; this is the most superficial of human differences. “Race” as defined by physical characteristics is a dead concept, unscientific and archaic. The Human Genome Project has merely underlined how spurious it is. I take it the writer refers to Anglo-Australian or European cultural heritage. These are still quite rightly celebrated in many areas of the curriculum. Indeed all Australians need to take pride in the concepts of individual freedom, representative government, the rule of law–and so on–that spring from that tradition. I know I do. I also know that many people who come to Australia come here because those traditions are better served here than in many other parts of the world. On the other hand the Christianity that still helps many shape their values derives ultimately not from Europe but from the Middle East; it is good to remember that.

To quote from Norman Davies, Europe, A History (1996): ” ‘White’, ‘Caucasian’, ‘Aryan’ and ‘Europoid’ all reflect the protracted search for an exclusive and therefore non-existent common denominator in the racial make-up of Europe’s population. They form part of a wider vocabulary of doubtful terms including ‘Black’, ‘Asian’, ‘Semitic’, and ‘Hispanic’, where physical, geographical, and cultural criteria are hopelessly confused.”

Second, pride is something we all deserve, so long as it is not at the expense of others. No-one need feel ashamed of who they are or what their heritage is. I am not ashamed of mine, and I extend the same courtesy to others. We do not need to be clones of each other to be good Australians. Just as we differ individually, so can we nurture our cultural heritage so far as it is part of who we are. At the same time we subsume all that in loyalty to the community as a whole, in all its diversity. We are free to differ; that is one of the good things about this country.

Third, racism is not something any one ethnic or cultural group has a monopoly on. Europeans have not been the only colonisers either–ask the Tibetans, or the Ainu of Japan, merely to name two. In Australia, in my view, we have developed a healthy interest in our past that corrects the silence I recall hearing when as a child I wondered–but what did happen to the Aborigines?

No, I’ll tell you what’s racist. Any white person that speaks out and tells about the pride they have in being white is instantly branded a “hick” or “KKK”. Yet any Asian or person from a minority ethnic background who feels pride in their race is some kind of hero or pioneer.

RESPONSE: Any person who exalts their race above the rest of the human race is probably a fool, whatever their background. I am all for Human Pride myself! I also enjoy finding out about other ways of looking at the world, and exploring what they have to offer. Often this makes for a much more interesting life. For many writers and artists in Australia the traditions of our neighbours have been most fruitful; the poet Robert Gray, for example, thoroughly Australian, has nonetheless found Chinese and Japanese Buddhism provide a way of looking at the world that makes sense to him and permeates and enriches his work.

However, it is obvious why the school is willing to take this kind of action. As the school is majority Asian they must try to do everything in their favour and to make them feel special. As a majority they can speak freely about how great they are, whilst anyone that thinks otherwise is obviously from the Ku Klux Klan, a neo-Nazi, or some redneck hick with an unbelievably small IQ. However, the huge influx of Asian students into the school is meant to bring multiculturalism into the school and this multiculturalism can only be achieved when the minorities of society (Asians) are a majority at the school, which is the case now.

RESPONSE: The students in this school are the students in this school; everyone who pursues excellence academically, in sport, or in other activities will feel special. Hilbert Chiu (see below) has made this point rather well. Some may be more dedicated to the pursuit of excellence than others, but all have the opportunity to excel. “Multiculturalism”, as the word suggests, simply means that we have (and have had for years) people here from many different cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds. There is no barrier for anyone entering this school, except to achieve a certain academic standard. No-one asks what your socio-economic or ethnic background is; if you get selected you get in.

But of course this letter will never make it into the High Notes, as it is obviously and blatantly “racist”. However any Asian, or any other non-white ethnic background who wants to write about the pride they feel for their race and the downfall of other races will be praised for standing up and having their letter published because they are “heroes”. I am therefore issuing you, Mr Whitfield, a challenge to print this letter in the upcoming newsletter. You say you encourage everyone who has been victimised because of ethnic differences to speak out against the “racist bullying” they are being subjected to. Well, here’s my letter. It talks about the “racist bullying” I and other white students at the school receive every day. I dare you to print it so everyone can read about what really goes on at school. To do otherwise would just be totally and blatantly RACIST.

RESPONSE: Bullying, whatever its origin, is deplorable. Students are encouraged to report instances of it to teachers, their Year Adviser, the Deputy or the Principal. Instances of racism, whoever is responsible, should be drawn to the attention of Mr Codey, the Anti-Racism Contact Officer, who will investigate them. Feeling alienated or experiencing xenophobia may, however, be neither bullying nor racism. In that case the alienation and xenophobia would need to be addressed, in the interests of the individual and the harmony of the group. Perhaps education is the key to that.

As to the comments on Asian Pride and so on, I counsel you to read the original article [by Bob Li]. If you can find anything there exalting race, or about the “downfall of other races” I will walk backwards from here to Taylor Square! What I see is the story of a fine young Australian who has worked hard, overcome a few disadvantages, and is now happy with himself and where he is.

That’s Bob Li in 2000, to the right of the aging teacher!


Hilbert Chiu, Year 12 2000 (written 2001)

As with all forms of bullying, racially motivated bullying is based largely upon intimidation. The cause of this intimidation in my experience has been a lack of understanding for other cultural values and attitudes. For example a young boy of Asian background is often taught by his parents that bullies get a high out of any reaction he gives, so the best way is to ignore and to avoid a bully; a sort of passive resistance. However, a would-be bully often takes passive resistance as a sign of weakness, of helplessness and of ‘easy pickings’. This is where the trouble starts, as cultural differences turn what was only bullying into racial bullying. Of course, racial bullying is not always so ‘black and white’, and I believe that intimidation stems equally from all races.

I do not think that it is a severe problem in the school, and must be taken in perspective. If racism were rife, this form of bullying would be seen in a one-on-one basis, but in my time at school serious racial incidents only occurred when conducted by groups. It could be that individuals who would otherwise be respectful and friendly feel a need to impress their friends. Common excuses I have come across have been: “It was only a joke”, or “We didn’t know he would take it so seriously” – precisely the insensitivity which causes unwitting intimidation. Hard for a year seven student to see the joke when feeling physically threatened by older boys with that aggressive attitude. Respect for another’s feelings is no where to be seen.

As for solutions, I could only advocate greater participation of all races in all school activities. It fosters greater understanding and respect for all parties, and will eventually eliminate the barriers between the so-called social elite (who will find matters a little different at university), and those who just want to get on with their studies.

Hilbert Chiu remains a friend on Facboook. I am happy to say he gave a thumbs up there to my recent blog post on China.

Now to go back to my English/ESL blog, the heir to my Sydney High English and ESL pages:

Cross-cultural issues are part of an ESL teacher’s business

12 JAN 2007

There are times when this aspect of ESL teaching and support leads down paths some might see as controversial, but I have found most ESL teachers find themselves travelling together on this. On the old Tripod blog there were a number of entries that arose in my own practice. Most were also published as articles in High Notes, the SBHS newsletter. They were all read by the Principal before publication and addressed ongoing issues in our very multicultural community.

Today I am posting the most recent one, written Monday, 6 February 2006 and thus not in High Notes. There are links there to other entries; these will still work, as when I come to trim that old blog I will leave those entries untouched, or perhaps cross-link them here.

Here is that post:

Schoolchildren cast judgements on Muslims – National – smh.com.au

This is very unhealthy indeed, I would say.

MORE than half of Victorian schoolchildren view Muslims as terrorists, and two out of five agree that Muslims “are unclean”, a survey has revealed. Just over 50 per cent believe Muslims “behave strangely”, while 45 per cent say Australians do not have positive feelings about Muslims.

These are the preliminary findings of the survey, which aims to measure student attitudes towards the Muslim community. The research was conducted in the second half of 2005 and is based on responses from 551 year 10 and 11 students in Victoria…

One of the researchers, Abe Ata, of the Australian Catholic University, said the findings showed a need for educators to develop new ways of promoting multiculturalism among children. “There are very strong signals that there is a chasm between mainstream students and Muslim students,” said Dr Ata, a senior fellow at the university’s Institute for the Advancement of Research. “Educationalists and policymakers in education should take proactive steps to help create more racial harmony in the classroom and outside it.”

Waleed Aly, a member of the Islamic Council of Victoria, said the results were troubling. “What it demonstrates is that Muslims are being viewed in a way that is really subhuman,” he said. “The only way you can combat this kind of prejudice is on a personal level. It’s much harder to hate people when you know someone in that social group.”

Phong Nguyen, the chairman of the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria, described the survey’s findings as “a wake-up call”. “We cannot assume that our children who grow up in a multicultural setting will automatically be accepting of each other,” he said. “Adults need to do things to make sure that our impressionable young children have a growing, mature understanding of the world and other people.” Learning about other faiths and cultures was just as important to a child’s education as studying subjects such as maths or physics, Mr Nguyen said.

The Victorian Government’s draft new education laws explicitly permits the teaching of comparative religion in public schools, and enshrines values of “openness and tolerance”. However, according to the Australian Education Union, while some schools discussed issues involving Muslims within the curriculum, others are more hesitant to do so.

“Sometimes schools do shy away from such controversial issues because of the sensitivities,” said the union’s branch president, Mary Bluett. “There’s always the thought that you might fall foul of politicians or parents.”

But Andrew Blair, the president of the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals, said schools had a social responsibility to discuss such sensitive issues with students. “Just because it’s tough, you shouldn’t turn your back on it,” he said, adding that the task of helping young people learn about other cultures lay not only with schools, but also with parents. “The lack of understanding and generosity out of these (survey) results is incredibly disappointing,” Mr Blair said.

The survey results are not merely unfortunate; they reveal one element in a situation that actually makes our world a more dangerous place: the persistence of ignorance and prejudice. So of course I support the various statements in the article above, particularly the one I have highlighted.

… See also the search for “Islam” on Lines from a Floating Life.

To finish, some will remember this brilliant savage monologue seen on ABC’s QandA in June last year:

Videos following up on yesterday’s post: Mei Quong Tart and more…

Such a fascinating character, this Mei Quong Tart. There is even a public statue of him in the Sydney suburb of Ashfield.

And a rather special Uniting Church home for the elderly, located in what was his mansion in Ashfield:

And when Quong Tart died in 1903:

Quong Tart’s funeral procession along Liverpool Road Ashfield headed by a band from the Professional Musicians’ Association

That is from a memorabilia page from the Ashfield and District Historical Society. Given that in 1903 the Yellow Peril fever was at its height, this is remarkable. The following short history is fair enough for a 5-minute go, even if it is rather silly to use the Peoples Republic flag to represent the China of 1901! The speaker sounds Indian to me… Not that this necessarily matters….

You can research that one for yourself easily enough. Now to Quong Tart. There are some good video resources on him specifically, including this one showing his encouragement of the suffragettes through his tea rooms in Sydney.”2016 Diploma student Catherine Turner interviews City of Sydney Historian, Dr Lisa Murray, about the Loong Shan Tea Rooms at 137 King St, Sydney.”

And an overall look at his life:

On the subject of Chinese in Australia today, do watch this:

Jiawei Shen, interviewed above, ‘Self-portrait with GE (Chinese) Morrison’ 1996

On recent difficulties Chinese Australians are experiencing:

Many factors are at play, but among them must be the toxic rhetoric in recent years of one Donald J Trump. As plays out too in the USA:

Not everything in the “good old days” is good

I think I have mentioned before that at 77 I am totally into nostalgia at times — hence the last two posts, and this next one which again reaches back to 1955, my first year at Sydney Boys High, the year I turned 12, and incidentally the year my brother Ian married. This is Ian (right) on his wedding day:

The marriage lasted around ten years, four children ensuing. Interestingly, after 50+ years I have renewed contact with Aileen, the woman he married in 1955, who kindly sent me this painting a few months back. She is quite an artist.

I belong to several nostalgia groups on Facebook, the most active lately being Memory Lane – Growing up in Australia with currently 17.5K members. Mostly it is lovely stuff, and I have submitted a few things myself. But at the same time I have noted some there for whom the following quote from Carolyn Gold Heilbrun — an interesting person — is I suspect true.

Thereby can emerge what we may call “Hansonism” in Australia, but even worse and nastier things — and it is disturbing that hints of such dangers do emerge from time to time. Generally the administrators and bulk of group members crack down on such things. The majority of posts are just personal and loving memories, or quirkish bits of trivia, and so on. Many are excellent, really valuable social history.

Today in my trip down Memory Lane I am deliberately taking this path because while it is part of the zeitgeist of 1955, it is something I am now deeply ashamed of. Billy Ling, my old classmate, if you are out there I am very, very sorry!

Woodwork and Tech Drawing were taught in our day only in First Year at Sydney High, and to do them we had to cross Moore Park into what was then deepest Surry Hills to what was then Bourke Street Junior Tech. We were always warned never to go there alone, but always in pairs. The warning was serious! Today of course is very different.

Bourke Street Public School
A Woodwork Class at Hurstville Boys High in 1930, but Bourke Street 1955 was identical.

I was hopeless at Woodwork and messy at Tech Drawing, a bit embarrassing given my father and brother and grandfather Whitfield were all carpenters and builders.

But the memory that shames me concerns one afternoon when we were lined up waiting for Woodwork class.

Billy Ling was the only Chinese person in our entire year — Australian-born of course. I was not normally a bully — I lacked the physique or the inclination. But this day for some reason I got stuck into Billy Ling. Perhaps he had provoked me — I don’t recall. But I did make a totally obscene reference to his skin colour, in the racism scale beyond the usual Ching Chong Chinaman stuff. Yes I was 11 or 12, but I really did set out to hurt him, and looking back am not only ashamed, but realise that a great deal about the “good old days” is not good at all, that our journey towards a multicultural inclusive Australia has been the right journey to make and is a journey that we must never look back from.

1955 — after all it was still White Australia. By 1958-9 it was beginning to break down. In our senior classes at Sydney High we had some new students thanks to the Colombo Plan — with names like Oon Tat Goh. And one of my circle of best friends 1957-8 — before he went off to London and St Paul’s School — was Ashok Hegde. His mother made the best curries I had ever tasted — not hard given Oz curries then were made with Keen’s Curry Powder! His father was, I think, an Indian Trade Commissioner in Sydney.

Mind you the journey has not been evenly progressive. James Flowers recalls that in his time at Sydney High in the 1970s he was subjected to racist taunts — “yellow tongue” for example. He is now a Research Fellow at Kyung Hee University, Korea, in Traditional Chinese Medicine. He was born in Singapore. In the early 2000s he was Secretary of the Sydney High School Old Boys Union. His school experience appears in my book From Yellow Earth to Eucalypt (Longman 1995).

I have never forgotten Billy Ling, and am not even sure what happened to him. I think he may have left at age 15.

Wot about Winnie then?

Was he the moral equivalent of Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, Mengele, Mussolini, Stalin, Pol Pot….? The list could go on. And the answer is that the question is absurd.

But there is a responsibility on us to acknowledge the dark side of Churchill, which to some degree is the dark side of his times. See for example: Not his finest hour: The dark side of Winston Churchill. And there was the Bengal Famine:

On the other side,  see The Bengali Famine.

Martin Gilbert writes about the situation at the time: “The Japanese were on the Indian border with Burma—indeed inside India at Kohima and Imphal in the state of Assam. Gandhi’s Quit India movement, and Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army then fighting alongside the Japanese provided the incentive for a full-scale Japanese invasion. The Royal Air Force and the Army were fully stretched. We know what terrors the Japanese wreaked n non-Japanese natives in Korea, the Philippines, and Malaya.” If the RAF planes supporting India’s defense were pulled off for a famine airlift, far more than three million would have died. The blame for insufficient famine relief lies with those who prevented those planes from being used: the Japanese.

The case against Churchill collapses when we consider the war—just like the oft-repeated complaints that he did nothing for Australia after Japan attacked, or that he didn’t attend Roosevelt’s funeral out of pique or envy. There was a war on. More pressing military matters were at hand which governed his actions and decisions.

It is entirely appropriate to discuss such things, and more in Churchill’s career. But I have in mind too, not meaning a reductio ad absurdum, that in 1955 I was a racist myself. I was 11 or 12 at the time — but Billy Ling, if you read this mate, I apologise. It was a disgusting thing I said to you that day….



So on Facebook I considered THE statue:

Winston Churchill, Parliament Square, London

“Now I am going to tell you why there should be that statue of Winston Churchill in London — not because of his appalling views on Indians, Arabs etc., not because he was unfortunate enough to have had an aristocratic 19th century upbringing, not because of Gallipoli, not because he drank like a fish… No, because in that shining hour when everything was at stake he stood up to the Fascists and inspired victory, as no-one else could have, and I for one am grateful and don’t begrudge the bastard his statue — the imagery of which refers obviously to that time none of us should forget. Even if our PM Curtin had to defy him.”

And I’ll leave it there.