This is not the promised entry on how to teach the White Australia Policy to Year 10, but it is a contribution. It could even be a source of related reference material in approaching the topic in a way that does justice both to facing the unpleasantness squarely but without self-righteousness or ahistorical moral judgement — without the special pleading that people like Keith Windschuttle indulge in to prove, no pun intended, that black is white after all. (See for example Windschuttle’s essay Why Australia is not a racist country.)
I want to draw your attention not to a historian but to a writer — one some would argue is Australia’s greatest living writer: David Malouf.
In 2003 The Quarterly Essay (an excellent publication born out of informed resistance to Howardite orthodoxy but by no means blindly ideological) published Malouf’s extraordinarily perceptive and off-centre contribution to the debate about Australia and Australian values: Made in England: Australia’s English Heritage; the following issue had responses by Phillip Knightley (disappointingly perfunctory in this case), Morag Fraser, Larissa Behrendt, Alan Atkinson, James Curran, Sara Wills, and Gerard Windsor. Together these furnish a goldmine of thoughts. I found Malouf’s essay totally resonant with my own experience of Australia, even if one or two of the criticisms made by a few of the responders are well made. Most of the responders, including Aboriginal writer Behrendt, essentially confirmed the accuracy of Malouf’s deeply subjective but also deeply true reading of Australian life.
Sorry, none of these is online, but you can order back copies or go to a library. I recommend you do.
What you can read comes from Canada, where you may find the LaFontaine-Baldwin Symposium, a joint effort of John Ralston Saul and the Dominion Institute, an annual venue to honour two of Canada’s great political reformers and stimulate debate about the historical antecedents and future shape of Canadian democracy. The 2004 lecturer was David Malouf:
We sometimes assume that only in new societies, settler nations like Canada and Australia, is identity a matter of question and doubt. In fact these questions also arise in older places. I’m thinking of the united Germany and how, on a daily basis, whenever rights are under consideration or laws made, or an historic monument is to be restored or a bit of waste ground built on, there is always the need to take account of recent history; not in order to rewrite it — quite the contrary — but to see that the new thing continues some aspects of the past and makes a break with others.
Nations that have suffered defeat and occupation or have condoned or been the victim of tyranny, or of civil war or violent social division — England after 1649, the US after its civil war, more recently Chile, South Africa, Lebanon, Cambodia, ex-Yugoslavia and many more — have in the re-establishment of civil order within a unified and bonded nation to face bitter questions about crimes committed and rights violated before they can be reconstituted as ventures with a foreseeable future.
Australia too, I might just say, has a problem, still unresolved, with history and the need for reconciliation. Unlike Canada, we did not recognise prior occupation of the continent by indigenous people. Until very recently, we considered it, before we arrived, to have been terra nullius, no man’s land. We signed no treaties with native peoples, and till 1967, when a referendum settled the question, did not count them in the federated nation. They were, in 1901 when we drew up our Constitution, no more than an unhappy remnant. Their only chance at a life within the nation was to assimilate or get lost.
But with this admittedly shameful exception, our nation, like yours, does not have a past of violent disruption, of civil war or revolution or tyranny to deal with. Questions of identity in new countries such as ours are about who we are and what we are for, have to do with beginnings and ends. With the kind of worlds we have made through the give and take of daily intercourse, but even more through inventiveness and imagination, that might offer us a security and range of opportunities that are not common elsewhere…
Do continue reading that.
There are some relevant new videos in the VodPod on the right, varying in approach and seriousness but all interesting.
This is also interesting; I found it on the web but as a Word file; the only way I could refer you to it here was to save it as a PDF file: Review of “East by South: China in the Australian Imagination”.