Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Since the Federal Government continues to behave like a sullen and solipsistic small boy on the question of an apology to the Aboriginal people for the way this country has failed them over the last 219 years, and since it's unlikely to change its mind between now and the end of Reconciliation Week, individual apologies while we wait are, I hope, better than nothing. So here is mine.

My own passage along the road of sorriness steers perilously between the all-encompassing Mea Culpa on the one hand and the cry, on the other, of Bunty from Seven Little Australians -- 'I never, it wasn't me, it wasn't my fault!' -- both of which I reject.

From within the pro-apology camp, I don't buy 'We're white, therefore we should feel guilty', but I'm not having 'We have merely to express our sorrow that something bad happened, it's not really an apology', either.

A note on the so-called 'black armband view of history': the meaning of Geoffrey Blainey's phrase, like that of Donald Horne's 'lucky country', has been politically appropriated and badly mangled in its transition to popular rhetoric, and, in both cases, not by accident. But black armbands, as any student of history knows, actually have nothing to do with 'guilt': they are about mourning and remembrance. Happy to wear one, on both scores.

For me at least, there are some fairly direct implications. The Narungga man in the photo a couple of posts back was probably -- nobody knows for sure -- my great-great-grandfather's son. From what I can make out, he stayed with the family because he wanted to, part of one of those loose and shifting constellations of single men that move seasonally round any farm. The patriarch in question, himself a penniless young Cornish immigrant who had worked eight years on the waterfront to qualify for a colonial land allocation, was one of the white men who took advantage of the colony's land policies to displace the Narungga people from Yorke Peninsula in South Australia.

I have benefited directly from that, in ways too numerous to count.

Last winter I stood in the foyer of the Adelaide Festival Centre looking in horror at a huge, brilliant, angry painting by a Narungga artist of dead bodies in the ocean being nibbled and chewed at by sea-creatures, with a little exposition alongside about the old stories of Aboriginal people on Yorke Peninsula being murdered and thrown into the sea, washed by the tide into rocky places where crayfish and crabs lay in wait to gobble them up and dispose of the evidence.

I don't know whether this story is true or not, but I hope to God it isn't. If it is, 'sorry' doesn't even touch the sides.

At that family level, I am sorry for the land-taking, which definitely happened; for the sexual exploitation of Aborginal women, which might have happened; for the murders that I want to believe did not happen -- or not, at least, at the hands of my family, 'not at all' being too much to hope for.

For whatever happened in that place, which for better or worse is also my place, that was exploitative, destructive or cruel; for whatever such activities my ancestors may have taken part in or done nothing to prevent; and for all the histories, all around the country, that are similar or worse: for all those things, on my own behalf and on behalf of my family and my country, I am truly and deeply sorry.

Cross-posted at Pavlov's Cat.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Mixed metaphor of the month

A crikey.com.au reader comments today on the departure from federal politics of Jackie Kelly:

'... she’s been used as the velvet glove to disguise the iron fist of dog-whistle race-politics ...'

Friday, May 18, 2007

Introducing 'Ask the Bronte Sisters'

(Posted last week at Pavlov's Cat.)

Yet again today, as it now seems pretty much every day, I am hearing more public talk of 'education' as though it were simply a buy-able commodity, rather than what it is in fact: an abstract and infinitely complex process of self-development, where responsibility for the process rests equally on student and teacher, and where neither the acquisition of knowledge nor the ability to process it can possibly be measured in money or in any other material equivalent.

And so, in protest against this drift in general, and in particular against the allocations in the Federal Budget for lavish university funding provided the universities in question teach what the Liberal Party wants them to teach, call it 'education', and commodify in it in such a way that its content becomes 'client-driven' and thus freed from all responsibility to truth, or indeed to responsibility -- in protest, as I say, I am starting YET ANOTHER blog.

The exclusive purpose of my new blog is to provide a free-of-charge advice and education service to aspiring writers.

At 'Ask The Brontë Sisters' you can put your questions about any aspect of writing -- characterisation, grammar, manuscript preparation, how to write your Creative Writing thesis exegesis, whatever -- to Emily, Anne and Charlotte.

All three worked as schoolteachers or governesses as well as writing Timeless Classics -- no Satanic postmodernist marxist cult studs relativism for the Brontës, I can tell you -- so they have experience in this area. Their patience with students is, however, limited, as is shown by the immortal words of Charlotte in a letter to a friend, describing her reaction to being interrupted by a small pupil needing help one day while she was in a creative daydream at her teaching desk: 'Just then a dolt came up with a lesson. I thought I should have vomited.'

And Charlotte is a pussycat compared with Emily. Sympathetic they are not. Nonetheless, they will respond to the best of their ability.

(If they feel like it, that is. They are all very highly-strung.)

I shall be available to provide a contemporary persepective on matters that they could not be reasonably expected to be up on. For example, I've supervised and/or examined quite a few MAs and PhDs in Creative Writing, so have a bit of an advantage over them in the How to Write Your Exegesis department, for example, though it's something of which I'm not sure they would approve.

For all your Advice to Writers needs, go here.