Update November 2005: Go to Bain Attwood, Telling the Truth about Aborigines for a thorough critique of Windschuttle and the “Howard intellectuals”. Attwood’s book is what I have long awaited.
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Two non-academic creative writers also stood out: the playwright Alan Seymour and the novelist Patrick White. Both were homosexuals who regarded themselves as outsiders and critical observers of conventional society. Seymour’s 1960 play The One Day of the Year portrayed the generation of soldiers who defended this country in World War II as a bunch of clapped-out, alcoholic sentimentalists whose ideal of mateship was a sham version of masculinity.
Perhaps more than any other single work, Patrick White’s 1961 novel Riders in the Chariot defined best the values of this emerging social class. The novel has four heroes, all heavily victimised characters: a wealthy but mad spinster; a stoic battered housewife; a sexually-abused Aboriginal artist; and a brilliant Jewish academic who escaped the Holocaust only to find in Australia that all he can get is factory work. They all live marginal existences in Sydney suburban society, which eventually overwhelms them. The mad woman’s grand mansion is destroyed to make way for the fibro houses of encroaching suburbia. A group of ocker workers, driven by ethnic prejudice, assault the Jew in the factory and literally crucify him. He finally dies on Good Friday. Any reader not already prejudiced against the suburbs would find White’s crucifixion scene so implausible as to be ridiculous. Nothing remotely like it has ever occurred in real life and, anyway, on the eve of Easter what most Australian workers would be thinking about is not persecuting Jews but enjoying the long weekend. Nonetheless, White’s novel injected the Nazi comparison into Australian cultural discourse, where it has been ever since.
That is about as ridiculous a reading of both texts, which I have read several times, as I have ever read. You take your ideology, rabid Right for Keith now instead of the equally feral Trotskyism of his youth, and you make the “facts” fit. Windschuttle’s revisionism of Aboriginal history and of the White Australia Policy (“nothing to do with race” apparently; yes, not only about race, I will grant) is a weird mixture of narrow pedantry — exclude all sources that might tell a different story on the grounds that they do not fit certain criteria which happen to suit “victors’ history” best — and finding what you want to find. Windschuttle remains a spiritual Stalinist; he has merely changed sides, not techniques.
Windschuttle is to the study or History what the Visigoths were to Ancient Rome. He is the hired assassin of the Culture Wars.
By the way, I didn’t even know Alan Seymour was homosexual, and I care even less; I do know that the depiction of Anzac Day in The One Day of the Year, which I saw in 1961 or 1962 and have taught many times since, has everything to do with social and generational conflict, nothing to do with Right versus Left, and shows the anti-Anzac Hughie as callow and judgmental; the real hero in fact is the old Anzac who is given one of the play’s best speeches when he recalls what the landing was actually like. Hughie’s North Shore girlfriend is a stereotype and a complete prat. The play is more about families than about Anzac Day or Australia — these are the occasion and the setting for the family drama — and the characters who are the centre of the play, the old Anzac and Mum, really are both above the father-son conflict that Alf and Hughie are caught up in; in fact, in terms of Anzac Day it has become quite dated. It never was an exemplar of “anti-Australianism” — anti-drunks, maybe, but also about callow youth judging their elders, a remarkable insight in such a young playwright as Seymour was when he wrote it.
I was seventeen or eighteen when I saw it, a devout and very conservative evangelical Christian and a Liberal Party supporter; I did not see it as anti-Australian, or even leftish, though “bloody” and so on did shock me a bit at the time… At the time it just seemed realistic, a theatrical breath of fresh air with characters and language we could recognise from our own families and neighbours. In fact, it made us proud to be Australian really. Why, we could write serious plays too! Incidentally, it was the first live play I had ever seen by myself, as distinct from with family or on a school excursion, and I was just amazed by the theatre: Ron Haddrick played Alf, the down-at-heels World War II vet and lift driver; I see that he played Wacka, the World War I veteran in the 2003 Sydney Theatre Company revival.
The play also made me understand my father and uncles better.
White, much as I enjoy his rich prose, was an old snob really. The Left hated him. It was the Marxist Realist Writers that he was consciously opposing when he tried to plumb spiritual issues in poetic, but overwrought, novels like Riders in the Chariot, with its references to the Book of Ezekiel and the Kabbalah. Leonie Kramer disliked White for his mysticism.
Yes, he had a thing about the suburbs, he hated plastic and dentures, and he liked inspired idiots.
Here is a more substantive, and fairer, assessment of Windschuttle at work than the admittedly throwaway bloggish rant I have just done; but I still see the man as a wrecker and a propagandist, a Howardite apparatchnik. And here on John Quiggin’s blog (yes he IS a Leftie) is a comment on Windschuttle and White Australia followed by ONE HUNDRED AND TEN responses!
Windschuttle has his own myth of the history of Australia, and this myth, a perverse reversal of the Spartacism that failed him, becomes a template which he makes everything fit. I lived through much of what he is talking about and I know he is talking out of his arse. And I fancy myself as a moderate, not a raving leftie. I regard John Pilger and Mike Moore as propagandists too, I should add.