Thursday, 10 February 2011

Post#170 Advance Australia Fair

I read an interview recently with Thomas Keneally in one of my history periodicals. The author of the Booker Prize-winning Schindler’s Ark, the basis for Stephen Spielberg’s movie Schindler’s List, last year he published Australians: Origins to Eureka, volume one of a history of his native land. I’ve not read this –yet – so I can’t comment, though I was beguiled and intrigued by some of the points he made in the discussion.

A lot of people in England have silly preconceptions about Australia and its history. If they think of it at all it’s really just as a dumping ground for convicts, undesirables of all sorts! But as Keneally quite rightly says, many of those sentenced to transportation were condemned simply for embracing radical causes, not welcomed in an England dominated by a reactionary aristocratic clique. It was their sense of social justice, their sense of determination that allowed Australia, conceived as a penal colony, to become something much greater;

One of the reasons why Australia survives was that there were many social protestors among the convicts. These were people who did not consider themselves criminals. They were people like poachers who acted in protest against the enclosure of estates. Then there were the Luddites, Swing rioters, Irish Ribbonmen and Jacobite martyrs. You had these fairly robust, stroppy people alongside the professional thieves and prostitutes.

These people were later joined by others simply looking for a better life, those who, for one reason or another, were unable to establish themselves in the Old Country. Here for me Charles Dickens’ Wilkins Micawber springs to mind, the genial and impecunious rogue in David Copperfield, always waiting for something to turn up. Well, it did – Australia turned up! It was there that he finally made a go of things after a lifetime of failure. What I did not know is that Dickens actually sent two of his sons there, despairing of their prospects at home. Anthony Trollope sent a son there as well.

So, the land was settled by people with a sense of grievance, people for whom England offered little or nothing. This seems to me, perhaps looking at things through rosy spectacles, to account for a quality I’ve always admired in Australians – a mood of egalitarianism and an almost complete lack of the finer forms of English snobbery.

All of the elements of a new consciousness were there; it only needed one spark to allow them to coalesce. This came in 1854 with the rising at the Eureka goldfield at Ballerat by a group of miners disgruntled by prohibitive fees levied by the authorities. In itself it was nothing, a revolution quickly squashed, an episode of seemingly transitory importance. But, as Keneally argues, it had an extraordinary impact in the long-term, beginning a process that helped turn an old penal colony into a modern democracy, the final harvesting of the progressive tradition.

So far a very positive story, but the writer finishes on a note of caution;

As a settler society Australia 1788-1860 was prodigiously successful. I don’t say this with a jingoistic glow in my cheeks because I don’t think I can say the same about the past 50 years, and ultimately I’m going to have to write about that period as well.

Alas, nowhere is perfect; not even Australia. :-)

Monday, 7 February 2011

Post#169 Faggots

On September 8th, 2010, this was broadcast on Channel 10 television, Australia:

The background to this was that Stephanie Rice had Tweeted the message: "Suck on that you faggots!" (directed to the South African rugby team after an Australian victory). She was leaped upon with ferocity by the PC Brigade and a sponsorship by Jaguar Motors was withdrawn.

A couple of days ago I read of the attack by Ruby Thomas and two companions on a 62-year old man in Trafalgar square.

Ruby Thomas (Image from
 Here's a quote from the article at the Guardian site:

"Thomas had been acting in a "lairy, mouthy way" and flirting with passersby before she turned on Baynham and his friend Philip Brown and screamed "fucking faggots" at them as they crossed the square.

She also smiled as she "put the boot into" an unconscious Baynham after Alexander [male co-offender] had knocked him to the ground and caused a severe brain injury.

Baynham died 18 days later at the Royal London hospital without recovering consciousness. Police found his blood on Thomas's handbag and the ballet pumps she had been wearing."

She was penalised with seven years in prison.

This incident occurred in september of 2009 and predates Rice's Tweet by a year. I thought the response to Rice was cretinous and typical of the manufactured scandals that attend and imperil celebrity. After reading about the use of the term in the context of kicking a man to death I revised my opinion somewhat. I'm sure Stephanie spoke without true malice, but if this word is taken by some as encouragement to commit murder by endorsing bigotry, I can live without it.