December 18th 2004

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Dr Strangeloves' Brave New World

ECONOMICS: Australia's $403 billion foreign debt: hail the banana republic!

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Utter failure of the Latham experiment

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Where Labor failed itself - and Australia

SCHOOL EDUCATION: 'Fuzzy maths' doesn't add up

INTERNET PORNOGRAPHY: Telcos in bed with pornographers

ABORTION: Late-term abortion in Australia

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Eureka - we lost it! / The coming down of the wall / Favourite Books / Home alone

EASTERN EUROPE: Ukraine turns to the West?

PAKISTAN: Military corruption robs country's poor

UNITED NATIONS: Secretary-General Kofi Annan must resign

Long live Eureka (letter)

Kath and Kim land (letter)

Crusades re-examined (letter)

CINEMA: Japanese animation sweeping the West

BOOKS: D-DAY, by Martin Gilbert

BOOKS: THE DICTATORS: Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Russia, by Richard Overy

BOOKS: EPIDEMIC: How Teen Sex is Killing our Kids, by Meg Meeker MD

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Eureka - we lost it! / The coming down of the wall / Favourite Books / Home alone

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, December 18, 2004
Eureka - we lost it!

First thing, there is one initial worry I have about last week's Eureka Anniversary March's format. There is the dawn service at the shrine, the remembrance of the Dead, the subsequent march to town. This Eureka March has the flavour of a parody of an awesome and tragic event, and this year's linkage with Iraq and open attacks on a government at war, seems an insult to the shrine story, and also to Eureka.

If this really was a piece of Labor spin - yet another attempt to create a rival left counter-cultural artefact - then it deserved to fail.

This Eureka public relations fiasco at Ballarat has passed, only showing the perils of introducing gimmicks into an event of historical significance. The fact that this small, 15-minute-long conflict stands out in what has been an amazingly violence-free political system, indicates that this has not been a country simmering with discontent, let alone thoughts of revolt.

Over the years I have had to assure many middle-class members on the Left - Communists and Eureka League girls and boys especially - that the workers weren't going to rise. Nor have they. No need.

My German father, coming from a country where politics was Real, and basically sinister, said Australian would never support a regime or a revolution of either extreme Left or Right. In the Depression, he said if a government here simultaneously closed the breweries and the race-courses and footy, then there would be blood on the wattle.

The miners, in that 15-minute shoot-out, wanted an obnoxious tax removed and an abrasive bureaucracy chastised (like Victoria's land tax on caravan parks). They also wanted Chinese miners out. In both cases they took the law into their own hands - and won. The tax was removed, and so were the Chinese.

Should we really be identifying closely with this sub-culture, even thought the diggings were "swarming with disaffected Irish republicans"?

But the linkage of the celebration with Iraq and anti-terrorism undid the whole Heath Robinson contraption and wasted another $2 million of taxpayers' money.

Incidentally, these old stamping-grounds of Bracks and Brumby - Ballarat and Bendigo - how much more tourist money do they need? For it was about Tourism, and giving Labor a shot in the arm; but some mug broke the needle.

Although he did not highlight Eureka, Vance Palmer, author of The Legend of the Nineties (1954), to be followed by considerable Left historicising, gave the Eureka legend a big impetus.

The aim, to link Eureka with the foundation of the ALP in the 1890s, thereby suggesting a permanent and unbroken tradition of Australian radicalism. But ... the ALP came into being just as other Labor parties and union bodies were arising in many other parts of the world.

Keir Hardie was Britain's first Labour MP. The German SPD had been going since 1864, the Italian socialists were up and running, and so on. It was time.

But our 1890s boom and crash was a far more significant factor in lifting public consciousness here than any incremental excitement from the 1850s.

They say: "Blessed is the country without a history." But, alas, what happens when people set to and make it up? And feed it to schoolchildren and make dodgy documentaries?

In fact, as someone said, "Just as Gallipoli is not the property of the RSL and the Tourist Commission, neither is Eureka that of the Builders' Laborers and the ABC. They belong to us all, warts and all."

The coming down of the wall

At long last, the Berlin Wall of the Aboriginal Industry is coming down; ATSIC has joined the old Soviet Communist Party as a grimacing ghost, fated to haunt all subsequent gatherings and festivities, warning, complaining, throwing tomato sauce around the stage; as tedious in death as it was in life.

But a new, hopeful dawn may be approaching for our Aboriginal people. The Rights-based approach, represented by people like the Dodson brothers and entrenched under Keating, is now giving way to a responsibility-based culture stressing mutual obligation.

As the Weekend Australian said, "Aborigines want the same things as we all want: a job, a decent home and a good education for their kids."

Quite a few Victorians are still waiting for that too.

Noel Pearson pointed out a long time ago that the 1967 referendum, giving Aborigines rights as citizens, effectively priced their labour out of agriculture, thereby greatly reducing the role of indigines in our economy. Coming as it did with no-strings welfare and easy access to alcohol, the result has been disastrous for many Aboriginal communities. A number almost ceased to be communities.

Now that the Wall has fallen, many Aboriginal politicians, and many white lobbyists and interests who have prospered quite heroically from the old regime, are having to re-position themselves, as they did in Russia after the arrival of Glasnost and Perestroika.

We must make sure Aborigines don't, in a few years time, feel like Russians; so disappointed with the reforms that they start looking back to the good old days of sit-down money in an atmosphere of self-pity and resentment, fuelled by leader-demagogues - these in turn urged on by the usual, now shop-soiled, suspects from the Land of the White Man: the litigation lawyers, the rights entrepreneurs, perks-for-comment journalists and shifting clouds of carers.

Power must be successfully devolved to Aboriginal communities, and new alliances effected with private enterprise and philanthropic groups.

If a close eye has to be kept on the activists from the old system who want parts in the new play, so must new Aboriginal aspirants, popping up from nowhere with lavish press PR massaging, be monitored. We have a right to ask, are there people behind the scenes, and who are they?

The $2 billion a year federal Aboriginal budget is only one of the many revenue sources for this great Whitlamesque nightmare, which has deceived many and short-changed us all.

What Noel Pearson envisages is a new generation of educated and psychologically-literate indigenous citizens who can move in both traditional and contemporary Western society. We assume that our new migrants can do it, and should do it, as part of becoming Australians.

Why think that our Aborigines can't also do this? And want to? Just ask them.

Favourite Books

The ABC has conducted a My Favourite Book survey to which thousands of listeners/viewers responded. More than 5,000 books were nominated, but the books appealing the most by far to readers were the English classics, eg, Pride and Prejudice, Great Expectations, as well as War and Peace and Catch 22.

Familiar and long-established children's books, eg. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Wind in the Willows and the new phenomenon, the Harry Potter books (all five Potter books appearing in the top 100), dominated; and the Bible, the world's number-one seller, finished second.

The biggest-selling contemporary books finished, by and large, way behind. In other words, all the hype and expensive promotion, the exploitation of fashion, got people to buy them, but not to remember them with admiration or affection.

The influence of being read to by parents; the first appearance of many subsequent favourites in school syllabi, determined some of the respondents' life-long preferences.

Childhood is a time when the young imagination is often most open, and curiosity for new things most potent. Happy are the children whose parents and teachers understand this.

Last year, the BBC conducted a similar survey with similar results, with Tolkien and Jane Austen topping their list.

The manager of our ABC project said he hoped Australians would vote for something different. But these books seem to be enduring and timeless.

I suggest that such memorable books reflect universally shared feelings. They evoke the imaginations of all those who still possess imaginations. They satisfy the needs of all people, large and small, for tales of courage, friendship, magic and paradox, of loyalty and fortitude, of humour and hope. And news that the world and its people are still interesting, complex and can be beautiful.

They don't get that from the profane shambles that is contemporary society. And the mass-produced fairy-floss, or the chunderous, poorly written, life-hating, left-wing nonsense being pushed through our schools, impresses no-one.

The ABC respondents were very fortunate. How many children are now read to, especially now by their fathers? How many still have their fathers? How many are likely to meet sensitive, affectionate teachers who will inspire them or make them feel that life is good, and that they are good and count?

How many children now don't have the basic skills to read and to some extent appreciate these works which our ABC respondents list? Those children have been robbed of some of the most precious consolations in life, along with the prerequisites of gainful and possibly satisfying employment.

All this is a recent situation.

Home alone

I have just read that a third of English children spend most of their spare time (i.e. outside school hours) alone. Neither family members nor friends. What kind of emotional development or socialising skills might you not expect from that?

Neil Postman wrote a book (he wrote other fine books) called The Disappearance of Childhood (1982). That was 20 years ago, but this is NOW.

And, at the very time parents, teachers and the churches have moved away from children and ignored their basic, universal needs, the young are being exposed to the most systematic and incessant process of dumbing down, consumerism and adult vices and despairs via the media. And yet the children still know what is good and what they want/need. Otherwise Tolkien and Harry Potter would not have conquered the world.

Our ABC respondents - worthy people, I'm sure, and this is not sarcasm - have helped kick the ladder away from the children following them, economically, psychologically and culturally: by supporting those very characters advocating and executing the separation of parents and children in every possible way, by engaging in free-ranging consumerism themselves, while tut-tutting it, and allowing the trashing of their children's taste and innate common sense by the Happy Hour Troglodytes.

I'm not blaming the respondents - far from it - but suggest that they spend less time thinking of themselves, and share their culture (not their politics and New Age rhetoric) with their young.

  • Max Teichmann

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