Poor bugger them

Former ARM President Greg Barns sallies forth into the History Wars today, but only to bemoan their pointless tedium in a way not dissimilar to most of us in the blogosphere (other than the committed ideologues on either side):

When Melbourne University history department colleagues Geoffrey Blainey and Stuart Macintyre first locked horns in the late 1980s, in response to the former’s controversial views on Asian immigration, it marked the beginning of a decade-and-a-half-long cultural slanging match that seems to have more to do with present government policy and personal feuds than with serious scholarship. …

Paul Keating, Don Watson, Robert Manne, Henry Reynolds and Stuart Macintyre are on one side of the tennis court, and Keith Windschuttle, Geoffrey Blainey, Peter Ryan, David Flint and John Howard on the other. And, as is the case in tennis, while watching veterans play can sometimes be delightful, unfortunately on this occasion the debate seems to have all the appeal of an interminable base-line rally. …

Why is this debate so fierce, so ad hominem and so repetitive? Because control of the high-ground Australian culture allows, at least in some respects, for control of government policy.

Barns somewhat overstates the case for the critical importance of controlling the agenda on weaving a national mythology/identity, but it’s a valid point. Undeniably most of the History Warriors are at least as concerned about influencing public attitudes towards contemporary issues like native title, reconciliation, treaties, approaches to social security and so on as with getting the facts right on what happened in the century following white settlement (or “invasion”, depending on which side of the Wars you’re enlisted in).

Beleaguered Aboriginal historian Lyndall Ryan demonstrated that point most clearly in her initial response to the publication of Windschuttle’s Fabrication …:

“The view of the past proposed by people such as Windschuttle absolves present-day Australians from making amends for the past because, according to them, the Tasmanian Aborigines had no social organisation that gave them a political connection to the land and they virtually destroyed themselves. However, the view of the past that I and many other Australians hold enables Aborigines to claim the return of land and an apology for the removal of their children.”

My own primary concern about the History Wars also relates to their contemporary impact, but involves the impact of the debate on current attitudes and behaviour of indigenous people rather than on the the direction of government policy per se.

Unlike southern cities, consciousness of contemporary indigenous issues is unavoidable when you live in Darwin. Last night we had dinner with an old friend now based in Nhulunbuy, where she works with the NT Education Department as the ESL (English as a Second Language) Co-ordinator for the whole of Arnhemland. Leigh told familiar stories of endemic alcohol abuse, family violence and sexual abuse; whole communities continuously terrorised by gangs of violent young males brain-damaged from years of petrol-sniffing.

In one of those communities the gang is led by one of the former stars of the movie Yolngu Boy, a cinema hit only a couple of years ago. The local youth hero-worship and follow him unquestioningly as he sets an example of destruction of a life full of promise by killing brain cells in search of the apparently seductive allure of petrol-fuelled nirvana. His mother, principal of the local school, blames the balanda (whitefellas). She might be right at least in one sense, but it’s an unhelpful observation.

In fact that attitude encapsulates the problem as I see it, and highlights the malign effect of the entire debate surrounding the History Wars. In contemporary terms it doesn’t matter a jot whether the death toll by violence for Tasmanian Aborigines in the 19th century was 118 (Windschuttle), 188-300 (Willis) or 700 (Ryan’s manifest fabrication). I accept, as any intelligent person of good will who’s studied the question must, that Australia’s history involved great injustice, oppression and dispossession of indigenous people, wholesale death by disease and significant levels of violent killing (though less than claimed by the most extreme “black armband” adherents). I also know from long-standing personal experience that indigenous Australians had an incredibly deep spiritual and proprietary attachment to their land, and that leads me to accept without question that they would certainly have fought the white invader as best they were able given their numbers, limitations of technology and fragmented social organisation, and the almost unimaginably devastating ravages of balanda diseases against which they had no immunity. Windschuttle’s characterisation of Aboriginal resistance as merely “criminal” acts by “primitive” people with no concept of land ownership is wrong, grossly ignorant and hurtful, and in itself merits the contempt with which his book has been greeted.

I think it’s reasonably important for non-Aboriginal Australians to have an understanding of these aspects of our history. However, I think it’s much more important to focus on the impact the debate about that history is having on contemporary Aboriginal society. In large measure, that impact is a pathological “poor bugger me” attitude of hopelessness and victimisation on the part of Aboriginal people, a belief that the Balanda bears sole responsibility for delivering money and salvation for the oppressed Yolngu, while they themselves bear no responsibility at all. The problem is that no government programs (however well-designed), no amount of money and no amount of Balanda goodwill and understanding will make the slightest difference while indigenous Australians fail to provide their children with adequate nutrition or hygiene; fail to send them to school most of the time; subject them to extreme violence and sexual abuse in huge numbers; and destroy themselves with alcohol, marijuana, kava and petrol abuse on an epic scale.

Of course, these behaviours are themselves in part manifestations of white oppression, dispossession and the hopelessness they engender. However, even that mostly isn’t true in Arnhemland, where Aborigines were never dispossessed in any meaningful sense (although they did have to put up with pesky do-gooder christian missionaries for a few decades). The point is that debating past injustices is mostly a counterproductive distraction for Aboriginal people themselves (as opposed to Balanda, for whom understanding it is important). The History Wars’ unintentional effect is to reinforce a pathologically dependent victim psychology among indigenous Australians. Transactional Analysis (about which I blogged recently) has some important insights into this phenomenon:

Many of us can readily identify with the Victim role: someone hasn’t respected an important boundary and we feel discounted, hurt, oppressed, ignored, abused, or taken advantage of. The Victim’s slogan is “poor me!” Sometimes, in search of love or attention, we may actively or passively encourage others to victimize us. Others who are playing either the Persecutor or the Rescuer role need to have a Victim to keep their game going, and they will have little incentive to change their ways voluntarily.

To get off the Victim position, you must change your own behaviour. Focus on clear problem solving. Think about your boundaries and what you need to do to enforce them. Figure out how to get what you need, ask someone to stop doing something hurtful or offensive, ask them to let you figure things out for yourself, or leave (or avoid) a dangerous or toxic situation. Associate with people who are mutually supportive and spend less time with friends or relatives who do not support you. Learn to understand that others do not have the right to define who you are, and that their opinions are simply that. If someone believes you are “bad”, that doesn’t mean you are bad! The clearer you can be about your needs and safe, effective ways to get them met, the sooner you will stop feeling like a Victim.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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wen
wen
2021 years ago

Ken,

You’ve probably heard about the ‘circle sentencing’ trials that have been so successfully conducted in Nowra & hopefully soon here in Armidale. This seems to indicate a move away from the assumption of victimhood & powerlessness into a recognition of responsibility and agency. Something positive, anyway.

wen
wen
2021 years ago

If you’re interested theres some info here

wen
wen
2021 years ago

oh – I tried to do it properly – why didn’t it work?
Sorry – have to do it the hard way.

http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/08/31/1062268471150.html

cs
cs
2021 years ago

What’s in the middle of the road?

Having read Barnes’ column last night, I was only thinking this morning what a pathetic lily-livered pius piece of patronising idiocy it was. OK, here’s Christopher Sheil on cue, but I leave aside Ken’s more substantive comments on contemporary Aboriginal affairs for another time. I’m only referring to Barnes’ characterisation of the wider debate, and his po-mo rotational relativism solution (“seek out new and younger voices” … no wonder we don’t have a Republic, no wonder this guy’s in the Democrats …who cares about seeking out the truth … doh!).

This idea that the argument is between a handful of established historians and their allies on either side is just a convenient relativist fantasy, to open the way for someone who knows nothing, such as Father Barnes, to know best. Stuart Macintyre’s book is not about History Warriors on both sides, but about professional historians versus the self-appointed History Warriors who operate mainly via the media. His book is not written on behalf of his ‘political’ side, but on behalf the discipline … as befits his position as our pre-eminent historian. There was never a case of Macintyre versus Blainey by any stretch of the imagination. Stuart beautifully, generously and fully acknowledges Blainey’s contribution to Australian historiography in his book, in a way that Blainey could only feel proud (as anyone would, if they had their work written about in such discerning terms). And way back then, Stuart was merely one in almost an entire department who were concerned about Blainey’s effect on the immigration debate. As Professor Charles Sowerwine put it in the Australian a couple of days ago:

Blainey was widely admired and warmly welcomed to the department. No one sought to vent spleen or, for that matter, criticised The Blainey View; indeed, we all admired Geoff for his ability to bring history to the public. Only when he undertook a political campaign on immigration which gained publicity because of his standing as an historian were we forced to take a position on this campaign, because of the licence it gave to racism, however inadvertently.

Nor is Macintyre seeking to argue about ‘left versus right’, no matter how the relativist History Warriors desperately want to paint it that way. In making his extraordinary attack on Macintyre, Gregory Melleuish cited Alan Atkinson as a conservative historian who has been ignored by the ‘Godfather’, in accordance with his nefarious political control over the profession, a point followed up in the editorial in the History Warriors’ broadsheet, the Australian. Atkinson has now replied:

YOU say in your editorial (8/9) that “there are virtually no conservative academics in our humanities faculties”. I am a professorial research fellow at the University of New England, thanks to Stuart Macintyre’s committee of the Australian Research Council. I have often been called conservative, a label which bemuses but doesn’t worry me. In his extraordinary article in The Australian, Gregory Melleuish mentions me as someone working in a minority tradition and he condemns Macintyre for not mentioning me in The History Wars. So, if anyone wants so-called “conservative” academic opinion of The History Wars and of Windschuttle’s book they might look at my review in The Times Literary Supplement, 29 August. In short, Macintyre wins.
Alan Atkinson
University of New England

Macintyre is not at all, as Ken puts it, arguing for his side to be able to influence “public attitudes towards contemporary issues like native title, reconciliation, treaties, approaches to social security and so on as [much as] getting the facts right on what happened in the century following white settlement (or “invasion”, depending on which side of the Wars you’re enlisted in).” On the absolute contrary, he is attempting to assert the discipline that binds professional historians, but which the History Warriors don’t abide by … that is precisely the point of his book. It is richly ironic that Macintyre should be subject to this whole ‘politics determines the discipline’ thing, which is the grossest possible po-mo slur on historians who are trying to respect conventions that sustain impartial searches for historical truth. It entirely ignores the fact that the most prized value in the profession is ‘originality’, which constantly ensures new perspectives keep emerging … and ignores the fact that ALL perpectives are permissable, provided they abide by the standards of the discipline. The History Warriors know no such standards. This is the point.

The brutal attempts of the History Warriors to characterise Whitewash as a view from one political side is also as appallingly unfair as it is undisciplined. It ignores, for example, the views of one of Australia’s most distinguished ‘conservative’ historians, John Hirst, who has observed:

Windschuttle’s book on frontier conflict in Tasmania exposed some errors in previous accounts, but his own version of events was quite unconvincing. The best essays in this book provide a complete refutation of his central claims, based on evidence he ignored and historical reconstructions beyond his imagining.

This underscores the ignorant/deliberate offensiveness of the egregious attempt by Windschuttle to paint a diverse profession into a single orthodoxy. The Australian public, Ken and Troppo’s readers may be heartily sick of people arguing about indigenous history, to the point where they have now abandoned any attempts to ascertain the truth, preferring instead to collapse the debate into a bog of Barnes-like relativist left/right opinions (how blogospheric!). But, as historian, contributor to Whitewash and occasional Troppo commentator, Cathie Clements said in an email (permission granted to reproduce) to me the other day:

One point needs to be made. It is obvious that neither Christopher Pearson nor the writer of the Australian editorial read Whitewash. If they had, they would not have followed Paul Sheehan’s lead and confused the contributors with right-wing columnists who “hunt in packs” and indulge in “character assassination”.

The statement that “19 of them launch into Windschuttle’s supposed failings as a historian and a human being”, brackets Mrs Peggy Patrick (a Gija elder and custodian of oral history) with the tertiary-educated scholars whose essays constitute the greater part of the book. Mrs Patrick contributed a statement (pages 215-217) that told of the hurt that she and her family suffered as a result of Keith Windschuttle’s repeated allegations that Aboriginal people lied, and are continuing to lie, about massacres at Mistake Creek. It would be hard to conjure up someone less likely fit your “left-wing academics” stereotype.

I challenge anyone who is ready to dismiss Whitewash without reading it to have the courtesy to read Mrs Patrick’s statement. I also challenge them to read the essay that precedes it. I admit to having written that essay but I like to think that I can be both compassionate and dispassionate.

I am neither an “academic” nor “left-wing” but, from where I stand, it looks like Jim Hightower was spot on when he came up with the book title “There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos”.

Dan
Dan
2021 years ago

Thanks for that, Wen, that’s interesting. I thought this was probably a tad optimistic:

“The circles – in which offenders are sentenced by local elders, victims, family members, a police prosecutor and a magistrate – have reduced recidivism and alcohol abuse and may have solved a 200-year-old problem, the review says.”

But like you say, any step in the right direction is a good step.

I hear what you’re saying, too, Ken (although your characterisation of Ryan’s estimate as any more fabricated than Windschuttles is, imho, not right. If anything, I’d say it’s less.) I actually think the debate in the books themselves (which I’m in the process of getting through) is healthy enough. It’s more the characterisation of the debate in the media (and particularly the televised “debates”, which are the worst of all possible worlds – maximising personal conflict while providing minimal opportunities to resolve the underlying intellectual disagreements). It’s the subjective images that peole carry away from sniping newspaper columns or media bytes that I see as problematic, particularly to the degree that they reinforce existing prejudices. At a time when we should be coming to a more complex understanding of the problems facing Aboriginal people, all this nasty noise might push people back into the dichotomous camps they came from – i.e., on the one hand the Aborigines are just lazy guilt-mongers who deserve all the disadvantage they’ve got and then some, and on the other they’re just victims living out the inevitable consequences of genocidal white oppression.

In the six months that I spent in Alice Springs where, like in Darwin, the problems are in your face, I struggled to come up with explanations for what I saw. In the end, all I could come up with was an admission that I didn’t understand, and I had no answers. The problems had become so complex, so intertwined and deep-rooted that it was no longer meaningful to argue about who was to blame. It’s quite certain that the arrival of Europeans set events in train which led to a continuing disaster, but the sequence has since taken on a life of its own, to the point where nothing Europeans can do, unilaterally, will help much. It seems to me that co-operative schemes like the one that Wen mentioned are positive but small steps towards untangling a Godalmighty mess. If such ideas can be fostered and supported and repeated and learned from, then maybe in a hundred years’ time debates about history can once again become what they should have been to begin with: academic.

EvilPundit
2021 years ago

Ken raises some interesting points. However, Chris obscures them with a lengthy rant in defence of Don Macintyre’s historical mafia.

It seems we will never get to the issue of what is best for today’s Aborigines while we fight over who did what to whom a hundred years ago.

Get over it, Chris.

Dan
Dan
2021 years ago

Chris: I feel your pain.

Dan
Dan
2021 years ago

Evil:

Have you read Fabrication, Whitwash or The History Wars?

Dan
Dan
2021 years ago

That’s Whitewash.

EvilPundit
2021 years ago

No, Dan.

I am not concerned with the details. I am fighting a political war in the present, not footnoting history.

Dan
Dan
2021 years ago

Just checking.

EvilPundit
2021 years ago

The Blaineys and the Windschuttles can dig through the original sources, as they are that way inclined.

I prefer to skip the tedious preliminaries and the hypocritical pretence of objectivity (see cs, above) and get straight into the head-kicking.

After all, that’s what it’s all about.

Dan
Dan
2021 years ago

Well, at least you’re honest about it.

EvilPundit
2021 years ago

Exactly. I’m sick of partisans who pretend to be objective.

Anyway, back to the topic.

I think there needs to be less of a hands-off approach to Aboriginal communities. I’ve heard of many cases where police and social workers won’t act to stop crime and abuse, because they are afraid of being portrayed as “racist”.

Perhaps conditions in these communities could be imnproved if they were subject to the same degree of law enforcement and intervention as other Australians.

That’s not to say that these government intervention mechanisms are perfect, which they are not. But at least some intervention would be better than allowing people to fester in lawless cesspits for the sake of political correctness.

Gummo Trotsky
2021 years ago

Evil,

Uncle Joe wants you for the Comsomol.

bargarz
2021 years ago

Jeebus and to think this started out as a case of some historians stretching the facts and/or making shit up – but that was many thousands of words ago and my patience has long since congealed into a confused anf frustrated mess. Just when did political accreditation matter more than getting the facts right?

EvilPundit
2021 years ago

Just when did political accreditation matter more than getting the facts right?

I think that attitude began to dominate universities some time between the 70s and the 90s. I suspect the media fell a long time before that.

Gareth
2021 years ago

CS: Norman seems to have disappeared of late. I’m sure this line from Cathy’s email:

I challenge anyone who is ready to dismiss Whitewash without reading it to have the courtesy to read Mrs Patrick’s statement.

… would have warmed his heart!

*runs and hides in the manner of a schoolboy who has just planted a penny bomb in a neighbours letterbox*

EvilPundit
2021 years ago

On rational debate and the reading of books:

… a colleague … offered to punch Keith’s lights out … I felt like marching straight down and physically doing the job for her on the spot …

What can we say positively about Windschuttle’s contribution to historiography … there’s one thing I now know for sure: I will never ever buy that book.

Gummo Trotsky
2021 years ago

Evil,

Check your dictionary for the difference between “buy” and “read”. I think it might be better if you preserved a “resentful silence” from hereon: when it comes to head-kicking you’re hardly Eric Cantena.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

Gareth,

Nice to hear from you. I’m guessing this goes to Prof Bunyip’s allegation in this post. Assuming this be so, the following applies:

1. The post was explicitly “based on my attendance at the Reynolds/Windschuttle debate at UNSW and the other material that has appeared on the web.”

2. I made the following explanation:

Given he [i.e. Windschuttle] has delivered his tome in a blaze of publicity, discussing the merits of the Windschuttle debate in blogosphere without having read his book is no different to discussing politicians and celebrities without having met them, to discussing legal decisions without having heard the cases, to discussing other countries without having visited them. If you put it out there, you cannot complain about the fact that debate will come. The reductio ad absurdum of the proposition that you cannot participate in the public debate without having read the book is that, by the same logic, it might be objected that you cannot participate unless you have checked out the rival claims in the archives themselves; to which a further reductio ad absurdum is that you cannot participate unless you were actually alive in Tasmania at the time; to which … ad infinitum. On the other hand, along with of course everybody and everything else, it obviously remains entirely open for those who have read The Fabrication to contribute material that it contains for those who haven’t read it to consider, or in order to add to, confirm or contradict other perspectives. Such interventions can clearly enrich the debate. But to suggest that you must read a book that is the subject of public debate before you are allowed to participate [please note, the word is “participate”, not “condemn”] in the public debate is a novel form of utter and complete nonsense.

3. In my second response to the comments the post inspired, I reiterated the position I believe I have consistently held from my very first post on this issue:

I’ve never said that he is wrong in his general thesis, preferring instead to note that I’m not a specialist in the area and to await the scholarly responses. He was soundly defeated in the public debate I attended, in my view … but, as I have often said, I haven’t read his book, much less checked out the archives. I’ve also predicted he’ll be soundly defeated within the discipline over time. But ‘wrong’ … not said by this little bear.

The only point on which I have been consistently critical of Windschuttle (and, yes, “condemned” may not be too strong a word for this) has been with reference to his historiographical approach (his assumptions and techniques as a historian). This is a much wider critique than what he evidences in The Fabrication, about which I haven’t specifically condemned himin this regard. Rather, it is based primarily on his lecture.

When I tried to explain what was wrong with his historiography, including citing authoritative sources with similar criticisms, I was accused of being either elitist or ad hom. Apparently it is intolerable for this to be complex. Nonethless, I’m still plotting ways to explain what’s wrong with his practice as a historian in general (not simply in relation to The Fabrication). As a start in this direction, I posted a sequence on Hannah Arendt’s famous essay on Truth & Politics, to almost deathly silence. So I actually doubt anyone is interested anyway, despite what they so vigourously insist.

Evil,
I don’t know how to help you. You evidence an enthusiastic totalitarian insistence on reducing everything to politics. Pray explain what is wrong with writing about one’s emotional responses? And while you’re at it, maybe you’ll tell me what’s wrong with not buying a book. Is that also compulsory in the EvilPunditgulag?

EvilPundit
2021 years ago

On reading books prior to refuting them:

As soon as Windschuttle’s book turns up at my local library, I’ll probably put it through the standard G Trotsky ballistics tests for books, just to see how the binding holds up. Same with Lyndall Ryan’s …

Posted by: Gummo Trotsky at June 11, 2003 10:26 PM

All of which means we can discerningly follow the secondary debate without paying a toll to Keith … while waiting for the library copies.

Posted by: cs at June 12, 2003 12:42 PM

It’s clear that the Chris Shiel/GummoTrotsky school of debate does not require one to read a text prior to condemning it and vilifying its author.

Hence, I do not feel compelled to read your idiotic dribble before dismissing it out of hand.

Sauce, goose, gander, etc.

cs
cs
2021 years ago

The trouble with that Evil is that I personally haven’t “condemned” The Fabrication, precisely because I haven’t read it (as distinct from Keith’s approach as a historian, where my baisis is his lectures and web postings, which I heard and read). Is this how things happen in Evilpunditgrad?

EvilPundit
2021 years ago

Chris, I condemn your approach as a critic, where my basis is your postings, which I have read.

I therefore conclude that anything you say is probably wrong.

Evilpunditgrad is a lot like Shielsville, only much more open about its agenda.

Gummo Trotsky
2021 years ago

Perhaps it’s time you published your agenda on your blog, Evil, since you’re prepared to be so open about it. As far as I can see it doesn’t go much beyond “When I hear the word intellectual I slip on my Blunnies”.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

I had naively imagined that this post might succeed in moving the debate along from the History Wars to more contemporary issues. It succeeded with Wen and Dan, but everyone else seems intent on doing an endlessly repeating imitation of a stuck vinyl LP record. But you never know; we might yet get a sensible debate going now everyone’s got all the bile off their stomach (again), but I won’t be holding my breath. I was going to post a scathing review of Germaine Greer’s stupid Quarterly Essay piece (which I just equally stupidly invested $12.95 in buying), but it’s pounds to peanuts that we’d just get exactly the same set-piece ideologically fixed rants that this post has generated. On the other hand, Greer keeps right away from even vaguely meaningful statements about history, so Chris Sheil may not feel so compelled to leap in and defend his colleagues’ slighted honour (even though my post of today only used the History Wars as a jumping off point for musings on a quite distinct topic).

Gummo Trotsky
2021 years ago

Apologies Ken. My goat slipped its tether, as it often does on the topic of the “history wars”. As to the contemporary issues, I’ll reserve my opinion until I feel I’ve got enough background on them.

EvilPundit
2021 years ago

I’m willing to call a cease-fire on the History Wars and discuss the topic, if others will do likewise.

I’ll kick off with a reference to my post above, in which I suggested that law enforcement in Aboriginal communities ought to be allowed to take place much as it does in non-Aboriginal communities. This would prevent much, though certainly not all, of the violence and substance abuse that contributes to the problem.

nardo
2021 years ago

Ken, I’m interested in hearing your views on what practical measures the government could take to ‘untangle this godalmighty mess’ (as Dan puts it)…

Our moribund democracy specialises in half-measures and fudges, but the Armadillo mob, not being so constrained, may have brilliant ideas from left-field.

(With the acknowledgement that EvilPanda’s missionary position – “what is best for today’s Aborigines” – is paternalistic and doomed to failure… as history shows.)

EvilPundit
2021 years ago

Nardo,

I think that history shows the “missionary position” was far more successful at providing quality of life for Aborigines than today’s “throw money at ATSIC bureaucrats and leave the people to rot” position.

If you can provide evidence to support your thesis that leaving Aboriginal child abusers, wife beaters, dope dealers and petrol sniffers unhindered in the pursuit of their ways is a superior course of action, please do so.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Nardo,

I’m tied up for the next couple of hours, but I’ll try to publish some thoughts later this evening.

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2021 years ago

Oddly, I have always considered the current mob of anthropologists, social workers etc to be be the inheritors of the missionary tradition , in the sense that while it is easy to criticise from the sidelines “do gooders” seem remarkably predictable when it comes to stuffing things up.

I did see the bit on the telly about the circle court and on the surface it sounded promising. Though it invariably does on the surface. I also saw that show a while back about the Pearson brother and what they were trying to achieve, I was quite moved, bordering on the emotional. Clearly I have issues. I argued against land rights (Pearsons and I part company there), I refused to apologise, I want no treaty and yet I think that where we are now with indigenous Australians is eating at our very souls. Germaine while always entertaining is loopy as all get out , if we can take so much as a grain out of her ridiculous idea it is that the two peoples (the indigenous and the rest) are linked tighter than we think.

mark
2021 years ago

I agree with James, for what must be the first time ever. Today’s social workers are the inheritors of the missionary tradition. ‘Course, they’ve no longer got authoritarian religion on their side, which is a point in their favour, but all that’s happened is we’ve gone from meddling (traditionally regarded as) right-wingers to meddling (traditionally regarded as) left-wingers.

It may be fun for the righties to scream about damn lefty do-gooders, and it may be fun for us lefties to scream about damn rightie Bible-mongerers, but it’s counter-productive, and as I’m getting preachy I think I’ll end the comment here before I doom myself to Ziggyland.

wen
wen
2021 years ago

Would very much like to hear what you have to say about the Greer, Ken. Read the extract in the Aus & was sadly underwhelmed. Have been sadly underwhelmed by Ms Greer (other than her lit. stuff) since the Female Eunuch took me by storm – at about 15, I think. Which is a while ago now.

nardo
2021 years ago

EP, one example prompted by reading ‘The Future Eaters’ and based on (very brief) time spent in arid wilderness…

A huge body of knowledge (reward of thousands of life-cycles) relevant to life on this nutrient-poor continent (its megafauna hunted to extinction by the earliest Australians) was lost soon after first contact with Europeans.

Looking at the environmental damage wrought in so short a time since…

How much better equipped we’d be if Europeans had recognised common humanity and intelligence. Questions that might have elicited answers to managing this land were rarely asked.

This is not to blame anyone or anything. Just a cautionary note to check arrogance about our ways of doing things.

So James, Mark: I think you are right. The missionary position continues to this day, in many guises.

And my point, badly made, is that it takes more than one to tango. Punitive and proscriptive measures may alleviate the symptoms in your eyes, EP, but – over time – will be as successful as the war on drugs i.e. not very.

It’s a holistic thing (man).

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Nardo,

I’m not sure what you mean by “punitive and proscriptive” measures. If you mean that indigenous Australians shouldn’t be subject to the same criminal sanctions and law enforcement regime as other Australians, I strongly disagree. Apart from the divisive aspects of special treatment, it would also be counterproductive by undermining responsible/accountable behaviour. As any parent rapidly discovers, setting boundaries and imposing sanctions (albeit lovingly and with enlightened flexibility) is critical. I’m not suggesting that Aborigines are children, simply that treating others as accountable beings able to make choices and experience the consequences of unwise ones is an important aspect of the growth and maturation of every human being.

Dealing with your earlier broad enquiry, obviously you could write a book on this subject and not even scratch the surface. As Dan observed, the problems are enormous and inter-related in an extraordinarily complex manner. Any set of solutions is likely at best to achieve only slow progress.

However, the key in my view rests with building/rebuilding structures of accountability at all levels. That may well involve government policies that are prescriptive if not proscriptive. One example would be to tie the receipt of social security benefits for parents (and not only Aboriginal parents) to their children’s maintaining designated high levels of school attendance. That way at least the next generation might have the education and skill levels they’ll need to survive in modern society.

Community health and other programs should certainly be locally-controlled, but with strong central bureaucratic/regulatory oversight to ensure effective service delivery. That means supervision by an agency other than ATSIC, which is a pathetically inadequate bureacracy.

Although spending on Aboriginal programs is reasonably respectable (State and Commonwealth combined), there are still important areas where much more is needed. Remote community housing is a prime example. If you divide the number of residents of Maningrida by the number of houses in the town, you discover that there are around 15 people for every house. It’s an especially extreme example, but chronic overcrowding (and poorly designed housing for extended family groups) is a major problem in many if not most remote communities. That in turn feeds into a whole range of other problems, including hygiene, nutrition and family violence. Given the low value of land in remote communities (even if it wasn’t held on inalienble and therefore unmortgageable title) and the fact that just about everyone is on welfare means that private sector-based models for increased housing construction are unlikely to be viable.

‘Circle sentencing’ schemes of the sort Wen mentioned may have some promise, although they would need to be carefully evaluated over a long period. Most such initiatives in the past have eventually proven much less effective than appeared at first glance.

Lastly, I think we need to remove the taboos from speaking honestly and openly about these problems, for fear of being labelled racist. Just as we feel free to analyse and criticise the pathological aspects of western capitalist culture, so it should be with indigenous cultures. Seeking to put such questions off-limits by using tags like “missionary position” and “arrogance” is unhelpful and contributes to ensuring that problems remain unaddressed and sometimes unrecognised. I’m strongly of the view that the fundamental collectivist nature of traditional Aboriginal society lies at the core of the intractability of just about all the problems we’re discussing (just as the extreme individualism of neo-liberal capitalism lies at the core of most of what we find unsatisfying about modern western society). Collectivism is very good at equitably sharing scarcity and surviving adversity, but very bad at creating wealth. Whether fortunately or otherwise, most young Aboriginal people aspire to the material possessions generated by modern capitalist society, but remain trapped/torn in a society that engenders values inimical to surviving and prospering in that society. There are no easy answers to that cultural conflict, but the key lies with education, training and jobs rather than attempting to perpetuate Rousseau’s Noble Savage. Only Aboriginal people themselves can make the choices and adaptations that are needed, but that shouldn’t stifle analysis, discussion or advocacy by the rest of us.

nardo
2021 years ago

Cheers Ken, my waffle just got in the way. I wasn’t suggesting that we shouldn’t analyse, discuss or advocate – you’re right, that taboo is a killer – just be aware that our input can only form part of the whole… (I was led astray by temptation to have a flail at EP.)

EvilPundit
2021 years ago

That’s the flypaper theory at work.

nardo
2021 years ago

EP: Policing – on its own – is unlikely to improve things for black or white (or red and yellow, for that matter)… needs to be a part of a bigger action… or is the status quo acceptable, just needing to be tweaked?

And, if my environmental reverie suggested Rousseau’s noble savage, that wasn’t my intent… just an example of how cultural difference can result in miscommunication, even when everyone thinks they know what is being discussed.

Looking at Aboriginal spirituality as ‘superstition’ AND ‘religion’ AND ‘cultural practice’ still kept hidden from us the fact that some sacred sites were environmental oases designed to protect the critical mass of certain animal populations, maintaining a resource (hunted outside those areas) for centuries. Biologists like Flannery came to this conclusion from their own observations and fieldwork. Often too late.

(Don’t know how relevant to this discussion, but as an industry it’s worth promoting… I reckon we should aggressively farm and market our natural resources, such as roos and camels, and extend that even to the smaller mammals… has it worked for native plants?)

Alright, back to the topic at hand…

EvilPundit
2021 years ago

I didn’t ever suggest that policing on its own would be a solution to everything.

I merely pointed out that some reasonable degree of policing would make a large contribution to reducing the crime prevalent in many Aboriginal communities.

As for solving the bigger problem … I’m not sure that a solution is even possible. However, it’s crystal clear that the “blame whitey for everything” policy has been a miserable failure.