Friday, October 24, 2003


CSL, the smelliest cat in Brunswick, died quietly in her sleep this afternoon a little short of 15 years old. Her spirit lingers on, somewhere, but a thorough mopping with Dettol will take care of that.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Parapraxis Watch

These archives are the richest source of documentation of settler attitudes towards indigenous people available in any Australian colony. Indeed, they constitute one of the best collections in the British Empire.
Keith Windschuttle, in that Quadrant Article, evidently having a little trouble with the literary present.


It's one year to the day since I started this blog. This is customarily a time to look back on what you've learnt since you started blogging and write a few tickets on yourself. Right now, I can't be bothered. It's not as if anyone needs reminding of exactly how brilliant I am, so writing a long, smug, self-congratulatory post about it would be a complete waste of time.

Update: thanks to everyone who's posted an encouraging (or at least non-disparaging) comment.

Bloody Arty-Farty Nonsense

With only 18 seats, the Liberal Party can hardly be said to have the numbers in Victoria's Legislative Assembly, however it's good to see that the Liberals' defeat in the last State election has left it with much of its Parliamentary talent and political acumen intact.

Opposition arts spokesman Andrew Olexander has shown the way forward for the Liberal Party on the arts front, with his call for the government to take responsibility for the program of the Melbourne International Arts Festival. The Age reports that Mr Olexander was not impressed by the Belgian theatre production I Am Blood, which features a lot of genuine nakedness and copious quantities of fake blood. Mr Olexander found the show demeaning to women. According to The Age:

The show, created by Jan Fabre, is based on the premise that modern society has not progressed since the Middle Ages when it comes to torture and the acceptance of women's menstruation.

This sounds a little grisly (and definitely like the sort of show where you might expect to find content which, however inadvertently, is demeaning to women) but reading on, it sounds like a fine excuse for a group of Belgian actors to get their kit off and have fun in public:

The climax was a naked bacchanal in which all dancers were drenched with fluid from wine bottles before skidding and sliding across the stage.

I'm not sure if Arts Minister Mary Delahunty has seen the show, but she definitely wasn't impressed by Mr Olexander's call for the government to take more of a hand in planning future Arts Festivals:

"This is not North Korea," she said. "Melbourne is a sophisticated and tolerant community and such interference would pose a threat both to the artists and their audiences."

She warned it would result in an artistic program designed to suit the personal preferences and the political leanings of a particular minister.

So it looks like we may have to wait for the re-election of a Liberal Government before Melbourne is the sort of city where the Government takes a more positive role in the Arts and provides a firm guiding hand to keep the Arts community in line with general community standards. As it did back in the days when the only dirty books in Melbourne were read by Arthur Rylah.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003


One of the things I've learnt over the past 364 days of blogging is that there are a lot of web-sites out there that do a good job of presenting the sort of information you need to make sense of the society you live in and the world around you. Then there are sites like The Australian Bureau of Statistics Website which just piss you off completely.

In their paper Australian Multiculturalism: Its Rise and Demise, Brian Galligan and Winsome Roberts assert that:

... in Australia, however, because migrants are for the most part geographically dispersed; they educate their children in English along with other Australian school children; and those children have a high propensity to marry out of their parents’ ethnic group. Australia does not have distinct cultural groups that endure in any significant way. Boxing up the cultural differences that first generation migrants bring and the declining remnants that endure to the second and third generations makes little conceptual sense.

It occurred to me that one way to check whether migrants are geographically dispersed would be to have a look at the 2001 Census data. Some of it is available for free here. And the data has been sort of mapped. That last link won't work in Netscape by the way; to view the page you need Adobe's SGV viewer which is only available for Internet Explorer.

So, having downloaded Adobe's SGV viewer, and started up Internet Explorer I got into the maps and started looking for data. Drill down a few levels, say to the Whittlesea South statistical division, and you can get into a "Community Snapshot" where, finally I learnt (by clicking on the Ancestry link) that in this statistical division:

In the 2001 Census, the three most common ancestries identified with were:

Italian: 18629 people (18.5%)
Australian: 18354 people (18.2%) and;
English: 13652 people (13.5%).

As a quick comparison, in Whittlesea North:

In the 2001 Census, the three most common ancestries identified with were:

Australian: 5028 people (38.6%)
English: 4024 people (30.9%) and;
Italian: 1578 people (12.1%).

I can't provide links to either of those maps by the way; the Adobe SGV viewer doesn't support normal browser navigation. To add to my current frustration, Internet Explorer just decided (despite all evidence to the contrary) that I'm not currently on-line. So I'm unable to provide any more examples right now.

That isn't what I want to do anyway. What I'd like to be able to do, without shelling out a shitload of readies that I don't have, is quickly get hold of the data you'd need to map the distribution of ethnic communities across metropolitan Melbourne. This would go a long way towards testing whether migrants are, in fact, geographically dispersed and their descendants more so. Walk down Sydney Road in Brunswick or Victoria Street in Richmond and you get the distinct impression that, while Australia might not have any migrant ghettos or enclaves, there are few places where they're a little more congregated than dispersed. If the ABS provided useable access to all that data they collected on us three years ago, I might be able to put that superficial perception to the test.

Spot the Petard

Between transcribing The Annotated Henry Reynolds and making a complete ass of myself at trivia quizzes (but that may just be the hangover talking), I haven't had much time to do much on the Gilligan and Roberts paper Australian Multiculturalism: Its Rise and Demise (link via Troppo Armadillo).

The paper is obviously part of a larger work, as indicated here:

Throughout this book we argue ... that Australian citizenship entails being a member of a particular political community that has a primary unanimity supported by a distinctive political culture. Being Australian involves sharing in both, albeit in limited ways by first generation migrants who retain strong identification with their original cultures and traditions. In the rest of this chapter we show how the policy of multiculturalism was extended beyond policies of humane settlement and modified integration to become a full-blown prescriptive account of Australian society that distorted the understanding of citizenship.

It's also very polemical in tone, which is why I was pleased to find the following paragraph. Can you spot the petard?

Multiculturalism was part descriptive and part prescriptive: it purported both to describe an actual state of affairs and to impose a preferred vision of what ought to be the case. That Australia should be a multicultural nation made up of distinct cultural groups, all of which are of equal value and should be equally valued, is a normative proposition. That Australia is this sort of nation is a factual proposition. Mixing up the normative and the factual is typical of ideologies, and invariably produces a confusing picture in which preferred normative vision colours factual appreciation.

By Request (Classic Links)

The Pygmy Shrew.

Just Not Cricket.

The Annotated Henry Reynolds (Part 2)

More from the Coburg Library copy of the Penguin edition of the The Other Side of the Frontier with annotations by anon.

Why was this idea so pervasive? To begin with it is important to stress that far from being an example of childlike fancy or primitive irrationalitythis view of the European was a logical belief premised on important and widley shared beliefs.

does not want this to appear stupid (which they are not) but says this so our opinion is not left up to us

Chapter 2, "Continuity and Change", p 31

... A contemporary scholar has written that:

Owing to the Australian kinship system everybody is - or can be - related to everybody else ... The unknown regions outside the familiar lands do not belong to the 'world' - just as unfriendly or mysterious foreigners do not belong to the community of men, for they may be ghosts, demonic beings or monsters.

does not trust us the reader to reach the same conclusions
Chapter 2, "Continuity and Change", p 31

... The anthropologists Elkin, Berndt and Reay discovered the amazing vitality of the Aboriginal view of the world while working with fringe and mission-dwelling blacks in New South Wales and Queensland in the 1930s and 1940s one hundred years after the initial dispossession.

why "amazing"? He really wants us to home into the poin
[sic] that we didn't understand them at all.
Chapter 2, "Continuity and Change", p 58

It seems probable that there were many stories like these ones. They were obviously important because they allowed the seemingly powerless and abject blacks to go on believing in the potency of their culture and in the ability of the 'men of high degree' to harm and humbel even the domineering white boss. Magic then was a crucial factor in the psychological resistance to the Europeans.

how do you know this for sure? I think that overall it would have "failed"

Chapter 3, "Resistance: Motives and Objectives", p 94

Once restored to European society Morrell appears to have made little attempt to shield his companions of seventeen years from the onslaught of the frontier settlers. Their attempt at negotiation was swept aside as being unworthy of consideration.

strong value judgement by Reynolds ... his opinion of what should have been ... tone is more than clear

Chapter 4, "Resistance: Tactics and Traditions", p 117

Between 1878 and 1880 the part-Aborigine* Johnny Campbell defied the police in a wide area of south-east Queensland during which time he was the 'sable terror of the whole Wide Bay District'.

* - use of offensive language

Chapter 4, "Resistance: Tactics and Traditions", p 119

... Discipline was maintained by the older men who managed both the pace at which the young were initiated and the bestowal of women and girls as they became available for marriage. While the fully initiated men controlled the only possible, or conceivable, passes on to the plateau of full adulthood their authority over the young remained unshaken. The Europeans, often unwittingly, challenged that dominance ...

was it really just the men who did this? Maybe the people just talked to the men expecting this to be the case & ignored the authority of women.

Chapter 5, "The Politics of Contact", p 130

Where the old men continued to exert their authority they were able to use their control over the bestowal of women to discipline the young men. F. J. Gillen reported the case of a young central Australian man who ... had missed out on initiation and the related operations of circumcision and subincision ... Gillen explained the circumstances:

One day he came to me and said 'I think I will go and get cut' ... and I said 'look here Jim, you are a fool to submit to that'. He said in reply 'Well I can't put up with the cheek of the women and children. They will not let me have a lubra and the old men will not let me know anything about my countrymen.'

it sounds like in this tribe clan at least, that the decision of marriage was not exclusive to the old men.

Chapter 5, "The Politics of Contact", p 133

Clearly the European invasion put great pressure on indigenous political organization and undermined traditional authority. But did the new patterns of leadership emerge as a response to the white challenge? It is by any reckoning a complex question and will take some time to answer. The problem is compounded because Europeans who provided most of the evidence often believed that either Aboriginal society had a system of chiefs or should acquire one ...

So too they could have ignored the authority of women.

Chapter 5, "The Politics of Contact", p 135

The idea that rogue Europeans were responsible for tribal resistance served two functions - like any conspiracy theory it could be used to explain away black hostility while at the same time confirming white belief in Aboriginal incompetence.

Reynolds does not entertain the possibility at all perhaps because of the unfavourable connotations.

Chapter 5, "The Politics of Contact", p 136

... The West Australian pioneer G. F. Moore was handing out Government rations to a group of blacks at York when one man came forward saying 'Give it to me, I, Darrama am the Governor among the Yoongar, as your Governor is among the white men'.

B so women's authority could have been undermined as it was in white society

Chapter 5, "The Politics of Contact", p 138

The case of the Tasmanian woman Walyer is even more interesting although the evidence is fragmentary ... She spoke English, could use guns and had presumably adopted other aspects of European culture ... She was ... 'at the head of an Aboriginal banditti' and was known to issue her orders 'in a most determined manner'.

if men were so dominant in traditional society how then could she have been so influential?

Chapter 5, "The Politics of Contact", p 139

It was difficult to persuade Aborigines to accept the inequalities of white society ... They do not 'understand exalted rank' wrote a Victorian clergyman, 'and in fact, it is difficult to get into a blackfellow's head that one man is higher than another'.

if men were in some cases superior to women how could this come about?

Chapter 5, "The Politics of Contact", p 151

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Things to Think About

Ken Parish has posted a couple of interesting musings on Multiculturalism and the personal and familial impact of historical events at Troppo Armadillo. There's inspiration for some interesting blogging in both; give me a couple of days to think about it and I might be able to come up with something.

The Annotated Henry Reynolds (Part 1)

I borrowed the The Other Side of the Frontier from the Coburg Library on Sunday. It's an interesting book. Reynolds is a very lucid and accessible writer but, just in case I miss any of the subtleties someone has been through it and provided helpful annotations on some of the more difficult passages, starting with the Foreword by C D Rowley (p vii - this reference and all page references which follow are to the Coburg Library copy of the Penguin edition):

Henry Reynolds has been a pioneer in Aboriginal oral history in Northern Queensland ...

Yes he has, he was unafraid to point out the racism & misconceptions that existed at the same time (e.g. Blainey)

As you can see, the anonymous annotator has a great deal of insight into Reynolds' work and its place in the complete corpus of Australian historical writing. It seems a shame that these insightful comments should only be available to patrons of one municipal library, so I propose to reproduce them for a slightly wider readership here.

... Yet the book was not conceived, researched or written in a mood of detached scholarship. It is inescapably political, dealing as it must with issues that have aroused deep passions since 1788 and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future. Many people may find it an uncomfortable book. It will challenge myths and prejudices embraced by both white and black communities and in so doing may please neither. I sought to put down as clearly as I could my vision of how the Aborigines reacted to the invading Europeans and to include as much detail as possible without needlessly clogging the flow of the text ...

It would also hold his own subjectivites
Introduction, p 1

... The fortitude and courage of Aboriginal clans which experienced the massive impact of European invasion demand our attention and respect. They may eventually earn as much, perhaps even more admiration from future generations of Australians as white explorers, pioneers and other traditional heroes of national mythology.

evidence of promoting his own ideologies

Introduction, p 2-3 (annotation p 3)

A good book but the experience of white women with Ab [sic] people is largely ignored, except when they're being tricked. Women did also exist on frontiers.
Annotator's introduction to Chapter 1 "Explorers and Before", p 5

This is one of a number of traditional Aboriginal stories recorded in North Queensland a few years ago. It probably dates from the 1860s or 1870s but it has not been possible to relate it to a known historical event and the detail may have been significantly altered during a hundred years of currency ...

does value oral tradition but does not recognise the difficulties with it's
[sic] reliability.
Chapter 1 "Explorers and Before", p 5

For coastal tribes the sudden and unexpected appearance of Europeans was often an awesome event but away from the sea white men did not arrive unannounced. News of them travelled inland well in advance of the encroaching wave of settlement ...

importance in proving Ab people weren't static*

* - shattering misconceptions

Chapter 1 "Explorers and Before", p 6 (annotation p 7)

But perhaps the most notable feature of such meetings [between blacks and whites] was less the terror induced than the courage displayed by people placed in situations of extraordinary tension. This was surely the hidden, perhaps the larger part, of the heroism of Australian exploration ...

Isn't this just the strength of humanity? Not Aborigines? I'd have thought this courage to be expected.

Chapter 1 "Explorers and Before", p 21 (annotation top margin)

by pointing it out were we meant to have assumed otherwise? I think this reaction to be as normal as fear.
Chapter 1 "Explorers and Before", p 21 (continuation of annotation down right margin)

But while the courage of the men who went forward to meet the Europeans was clear it was probably surpassed by that of the young women who were frequently dispatched by their male relatives to appease the sexual appetite of the strange and threatening white men.

why not say more about the women - men had more (a quote) on them?

Chapter 1 "Explorers and Before", p 21

There's many more equally cogent comments to get through, so this could go on for a little while yet.

Monday, October 20, 2003

History Wars? No, Thanks.

Ken Parish has invited comment on a recent Quadrant article, posted at Keith Windschuttle's blog "The Sydney Line". Like Ken, I've no real wish to revisit this topic at this stage. Perhaps the best thing to do is to recognise that the whole WIndschuttling debate won't be resolved here in Australia and get some overseas experts to fix up our history for us.

Reading Matters

Good writing can be inspiring, edifying, educational, uplifiting and generally good for you in all sorts of ways. It can also put a serious dent in your motivation to blog (this may be good for others). So I'd suggest you pass up Gunter Grass' My Century and Too Far Afield in favour of the latest Tom Clancy or John Grisham. If you insist on ignoring this advice, My Century is the safer of the two to read; it's only a couple of hundred pages so you can easily get through it in a couple of days but it will take at least a week to get over feeling that there's really not a lot of point when there are so many writers out there who are so much better at it.

Snob of the Week (with Bonus)

While I was poring over The Weekend Oz to find out the true state of the world and the nation, two excellent examples of intellectual snobbery caught my eye. First, here's Pearson, C arguing that while the Liberal Party has resumed its traditional status as the natural party of government, the Labor Party has reverted to its traditional role as the natural party of something else:

It ought to have been obvious to the dimmest in caucus that this [a standing ovation for President George the Second] is a salute to the office, not the man. It ought to have been equally obvious, having recently turned Labor's collective attitude towards the alliance into a problem for the Government to exploit all the way to the next election, that it is a symbolic, fence-mending gesture. The only constituents likely to get sanctimonious about it have no one else to vote for and are too few in number and possibly too stupid to worry about.

This is easily surpassed by Phillip Adams in his article in the Weekend Australian Magazine, which concludes with a magnificent dummy spit:

... We're dealing with a public that doesn't want to know. A public that chooses to ignore the truth about Tampa, the refugees, SIEV-X, the detention centres, the war in Iraq. A public that proffers the blind eye and deaf ear, preferring to live in the amoral world of blissful, wilful ignorance. Instead of being enraged by the lies of our leaders and the gutlessness of the Opposition, we excuse our failure as citizens by saying, "We're not to blame; they've made us cynical." Sorry that's not good enough. The public has to lift its game.

So there you go. Two old favourites in one; a Snob of the Week and a Dummy Spit of the Week. You can't get better value than that. Onya Phil.

What's True This Week?

Despite my own good intentions and the encouragement of others< I haven't found much to write about over the past couple of weeks. The Christian Science Monitor's Are you a Neo-Conservative test looked promising for at least long enough to write an opening sentence, especially if you combined it with the recent short-lived revival of the fad for on-line IQ testing.

In both instances the inspiration proved to be illusory. As far as the CS Monitor quiz is concerned, suffice it to say that I came out as a "Liberal". The most curious thing about the test is the number of Oz bloggers who take pride in being rated by it as "realists"; I'm not sure that a position that might be considered realist for a US citizen (surely the intended readership of the quiz) ought to be considered a realist position elsewhere.

To illustrate with an example from ordinary life, I have often thought it realistic, particularly when inebriated, to assume that the world is full of dangerous people and that the best policy to ensure personal self-preservation is to get them before they get you. Whether anyone else would consider this a realistic assumption is open to question, and they may well wish me to behave in a more moderate manner, especially in the matter of alcohol consumption. They might consider it more realistic to regard me as an aggro drunk, and someone best to be avoided. Unfortunately this is not as viable an option in global politics as it is in personal life.

As far as IQ testing goes, the first time I ever bothered to find out my IQ was back in the 1980s. One inebriated night I found a copy of that HJ Eyesenck Know Your Own IQ book. Although I was smashed out of my brains I managed a fairly respectable 130. Combining that result with the one I obtained on this test indicates that half a cask of Penfolds red produces a 17% improvement in IQ, while the result from this one indicates that it produces a 3% reduction in IQ (hopefully temporary) while according to this one the temporary IQ loss from excessive consumption of cask wine is 21%.

There's probably a test out there on the web where you can get yourself an IQ of 200, if not higher. Certainly there are plenty you can practice on and build up a score which will scrape you into Mensa. Here's a practice question to get you started:

Logically, "If Bill is up himself and Bill is a member of Mensa then all members of Mensa are up themselves" is:

* True; what else would you expect?
* False but logic isn't everything.
* Neither but it makes you think, doesn't it?

Now that the gratuitous realism and IQ jokes are out of the way, it's time to turn to the main purpose of this post, which is to catch up on the state of the world as it has developed over the past couple of weeks. To do this I bought the rainforest editions of both The Oz and The Age on Saturday. It's well known that whatever is reported in The Oz is reliably true (with the definite exception of anything written by Phillip Adams), while The Age as a Fairfax paper, only relates the half-truths and fabrications beloved by the out-of-touch latte left. Keeping these principles in mind it should be possible to build up an accurate picture of the state of the world as it was at the time the Saturday editions of The Oz and The Age went to press.

Some of the fabrications in Saturday's Age, while obvious, are a little puzzling. I'm at a loss to explain how the political agenda of the left is advanced by promoting the fiction that East Anglia is a predominantly flat area of England.

This assertion is made in an article in the Travel section of the paper. That it is a fabrication is obvious from the photographs which accompany the article which, tellingly, do not include any land features at all. Instead, they concentrate on man-made structures: Ely Cathedral, a "Fruit and Veg" shop which is alleged to be in Ely but could be in Southend for all we know and Cromer Pier. Not one photograph shows the Fens and marshes that feature prominently in the article's description of the East Anglian landscape, so I think it's safe to conclude that in reality East Anglia more closely resembles the Scottish Highlands or Cumbria in its land-forms and to take the assertion that it is a flat area of fens and marshland as an extreme and slightly misplaced enthusiasm for leftist levelling.

THe motivation for John Pilger's piece on Afghanistan two years after the war is much easier to penetrate. Typically, Pilger depicts Afghanistan not as a country flourishing after its liberation from the repressive Taliban regime, but a country in ruins where the people (particularly women) are prey for the US-sponsored warlords who have replaced the Taliban as the the scourge of ordinary Afghanis. It's a typical Pilger puff piece, complete with ilustrative photography as selective as that which accompanies the East Anglia travel piece and plenty of self-damning quotes from US officials past and present. Obviously Afghanistan now has a thriving democracy and free market economy, hence Pilger's consistently negative account of the current state of the country.

I'm not sure what to make of the upcoming visits of US President George Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao. Tony Parkinson's extended article in The Age suggests that this a historic visit and something of a political and diplomatic coup for the Howard government. The Oz' editorial says much the same thing which creates a bit of a quandary; it isn't possible for The Age to be completely wrong, in its typically off with the Fairfaxes fashion if it's saying the same thing as the editorialist at The Oz. This dilemma is easily resolved if we assume that The Oz editorial was written by Phillip Adams or Emma Tom, but the writing style argues against it. On this issue, the available facts are as inconclusive as the evidence (cited above) that all Mensa members are up themselves.