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Last episode of SBS’s “First Australians” and a must see anthology

Last night The First Australians dealt with Mabo. I will confine myself to a positive note, having already blogged this very significant contribution to understanding the past of all of us in Australia. I thought I knew this episode’s material rather well, having read much about it at the time, but there is always something to learn. Last night I learned a great deal more about the particular culture Mabo belonged to, and I learned a great deal more about the man. All honour too to those elements of the Catholic Church that played such a vital role at that time, and continue to do so.

Nice to see that crowd of Indigenous Australians in Sydney in 1988 when many thousands from all over Australia descended on the city for the Bicentennial. I was in that crowd.


a memory of 1988

bookcover-sml An ideal companion to The First Australians is the recently published Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature edited by Anita Heiss and Peter Minter, with a preface by novelist Nicholas Jose. Check the link, as the site offers many extras.

A groundbreaking collection of work from some of the great Australian Aboriginal writers, the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature offers a rich panorama of over 200 years of Aboriginal culture, history and life.

‘This volume is extremely significant from an Indigenous cultural perspective, containing many works that afford the reader a treasured insight into the Indigenous cultural world of Australia.’  From the foreword by Mick Dodson

The cover picture is by Michael Riley, whose art I celebrated in August: Michael Riley: sights unseen.

In the preface Nicholas Jose writes:

This transformative survey of Aboriginal writing presents the stories and patterns of Australian culture and societies in new ways, foregrounding and celebrating Indigenous experience and expression. It introduces powerful and creative individual voices as it also reveals a history of struggle, suffering and strength. No doubt there are gaps and limitations. There are always more voices to be heard and other stories to be told. Yet in their gathering of literature the editors show that Aboriginal authors have created some of the best, most distinctive and most significant writing to come from this country.

That may seem hyperbolic, but to read this anthology is to be convinced of the truth of that, and to be encouraged that there is more to come.

I was taken with a final statement from the late Eddie Mabo, as reported in last night’s First Australians: the momentous events of the Mabo era not only set free Indigenous Australia, but also non-Indigenous Australia, because after that none of us ever again would be living a lie about who we are. That, I suspect, is the true spirit of reconciliation. Despite all the ups and downs of the last twenty years, despite all the problems that remain, that is, I believe, where we find ourselves and where we may find solutions for all of us.

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Posted by on November 3, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, Best read of 2008, challenge, generational change, History, Indigenous Australians, OzLit, reading, Reconciliation, Top read


SBS "First Australians" Episode 3: Coranderrk Aboriginal Station

Last night’s episode of The First Australians was a revelation to me, as I knew virtually nothing of the stories it told. (This had not been the case with episodes 1 and 2.) For this I am very grateful, because the story it told was illuminating, powerful, sad but also hopeful and uplifting, and utterly human. What more can you ask of a historical documentary, aside from essential accuracy, of course, and from the degree of fact-checking I have been able to do the episode passes rather well.

For the episode itself see the program website.

The threat of extinction hovers over the first Australians of Victoria at the time Wurundjeri clan leader Simon Wonga seeks land from the authorities. He soon gives up and leads his people to the banks of the Yarra River, claiming a parcel of land Coranderrk. With the help of a Scottish preacher, and inspired by the farming practices of the settlers, the community prospers – until the authorities step in and resist self determination.

For some related material, go to Coranderrk: Koorie Heritage Trust and Remembering Barak: Coranderrk.


It was also a Tale of Two Missionaries. On the one hand was Presbyterian* John Green, whom Bruce Pascoe [you MUST visit that] described as a rare person for his day, a man totally without prejudice. If ever Presbyterians took to canonising people, Green would be a fine candidate, along with such other Presbyterians as John Flynn, founder of the Flying Doctor service. On the other was an iron-willed German Moravian Pietist, who seems to have been everything you were afraid a missionary might be. There is of course a lesson here for all who lazily characterise missionaries and their connection with Indigenous Australia on the basis of prejudgement for or against religion. Look at individual cases and try not to generalise on ideological grounds one way or the other. I personally knew, in my youth, a Presbyterian missionary to the Wik Munkun in Aurukun who was a steady if unheeded voice for her charges against the depredations both of aluminium interests and the Queensland and Australian governments.

It was also a tale, not by any means meant to comfort creationists, of the pernicious impact of social Darwinism in the later 19th and early 20th centuries.

It was also a tale of the dead hand of bureaucracies.

It was in fact many tales, all of them worth noting.

Above all it was the tale of Wonga and then Barak, and the enthusiasm many had in the program for the right of these men to our memory and respect was, I think, quite unanswerable.  But is was also the tale of a wonderful Presbyterian lady in Melbourne, Mrs Anne Bon (1838-1936), who allowed Barak and his petitioners to camp on her front verandah and didn’t give the proverbial rat’s arse — though she would have never used such an expression — for what her respectable neighbours thought about it, making sure Barak had the ear of the Premier of Victoria.

It was also sadly a tale of opportunity not followed up, of what might have been. It is rather ironic, as I found via Wikipedia which has a little — very little — about all this that Coranderrk was eventually in 1950 sold up as soldier settlement lots. Now there was a well-intentioned but generally tragic story… But that’s another tale altogether.

Full marks, too, to SBS for making Australian History anything but boring. All these stories had life, passion, flesh and blood. Well done!

* Visit there for a list of great Australian Presbyterians. You may be surprised.

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Posted by on October 20, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, History, Indigenous Australians, TV


“First Australians” on SBS — “must watch TV” not a cliche…

Starting on Sunday SBS television begins a seven part series called First Australians. I have taken up related issues from time to time, notably here.

I have just viewed the free DVD from today’s Sydney Morning Herald which gives a very good idea of what to expect. I am very impressed, even if there will be some issues where, objectively speaking, I may not accept all I see, but that in no ways diminishes the significance of this very ambitious project. On the one hand there will be furphies such as that the disastrous smallpox outbreak early in Sydney’s story was “germ warfare”, though that is roundly condemned in the program by historian Inga Clendinnen. On the other hand, there will be a fascinating interview with a descendant of the Suttor family of “Brucedale” — a property I have seen — who were pioneers of the Bathurst district soon after the first European crossing of the Blue Mountains.

I was (and am) annoyed by the “Black Armband”/”White Blindfold” dichotomy that has bedevilled Australian historiography since the 1980s. Neither is true. One thing, it seems to me, is beyond dispute. There is no way that here and now in 2008 we can approach the subject as if it were 1958, 1938, 1898, 1858, or indeed 1788. Whatever one thinks of “postcolonialism” –and much of the theory I find both tendentious and opaque — the fact is we are postcolonial; we simply cannot exclude the voices of the colonised, nor should we, from our historical considerations. We cannot regard official written records as the only valid historical witnesses. Certainly, we need archaeology, and we need to regard many issues without, so far as is possible, ideological preconsiderations. We need to realise that the story is neither merely one of genocidal malice nor one of enlightened beneficence. One can find examples of both in the history, and everything in between. To pursue either extreme as the sole picture is to fall into the trap of apologetics or propaganda.

In sum, I think this important project is one that all Australians should watch. It will become in future an extremely valuable educational resource. It is an encouraging sign of our maturity that such a project has even happened. This is not to say it should all be accepted passively. That, I suspect, is far from the documentary team’s intention. We will be informed by the project, no doubt about it, and all the better as Australians for the experience. I believe too that in having this debate at all we project an excellent image to the world of what a free and open society is truly like — a society where truth matters and nothing is beyond criticism.


I was not disappointed. I think it is good, on reflection, that a number of rather bitter voices were included, as they cannot then complain of being excluded — and they do need to be attended to. History is about viewpoint and emotion, not just about :facts: as 1) the selection of which :facts: are salient is a matter very often of viewpoint, and 2) the reality of times past, as time present, is more than :facts: can ever capture. This is not to condone downright lying, of course, or to accept :facts: which are no such thing. Inga Clendinnen was a humane and binding voice through the whole episode. The material on Brucedale was just fascinating, and deserves to be widely known.

It is living up to its promise. It continues on Tuesday.


Louis Nowra “Ice” (2008)

star_icons25 star_icons25star_icons25star_icons25star_icons25 Ice That’s my rating; not everyone agrees.

I have to admit I had my doubts for a while, but once I had travelled a bit further with the novel I found myself increasingly bowled over by it. It is definitely up there with my best reads of 2009 – close to the top.

One dissenter from my view is Tim Milfull:

Malcolm McEacharn was one of those larger-than-life nineteenth-century figures: a self-made man who built up a massive fortune on the back of a Victorian-era obsession with industry and technology. He revolutionised refrigerated transport in a time when export industries were becoming large-scale, modernised Melbourne’s transport system, became mayor of the city, represented the region in federal parliament, and permanently changed the face of his adopted city. The man’s achievements were many, and his exploits and adventures similar in number—all perfect fodder for biography, especially given the reading public’s insatiable appetite for creative nonfiction. Why then, in his latest novel Ice, would memoirist, essayist, playwright and scriptwriter Louis Nowra choose to have a fictional character read a poorly-written, magic realist biography of Malcolm McEacharn to his comatose wife?

… When I read the blurb outlining the stories within Ice, I was immediately hooked by Nowra’s premise, especially after his superb work co-writing the SBS series First Australians: The Untold Story of Australia. I was prepared to invest myself in an epic love affair that spanned more than half a century, and drew in characters over an even longer time. Sadly, more than 300-pages later, I found myself more frustrated than sated by romance or transported to another universe.

A100257 Certainly McEachern – of whom I had never heard before (he is after all mainly Melbourne!) – was a fascinating character in real life.

Closer to me but with some reservations is Historical fantasy skates on thin ice by Andrew Riemer.

… Colonial society is pictured in vivid, at times compelling ways. There are memorable images of Melbourne’s nouveau riche magnificence – which soon peters out into muddy marshes and shanty towns. Nineteenth-century Sydney is vividly depicted, too. I was also impressed by Nowra’s sketches of the Victorian goldfields, particularly by a description of Bendigo’s splendid palaces of commerce lining a dusty, treeless road from nowhere, going nowhere.

A novel needs more than this, however, to engage its readers, to make McEacharn interesting, to give him an inner life. Nowra’s secret history of the colonial tycoon is filled with all kinds of ingenious though sometimes unhistorical conjectures and inventions.

The first of these, at the beginning of the novel, is a nice conceit. On a stifling summer day, a ship arrives at Circular Quay towing a gleaming iceberg. The iceberg was McEacharn’s first great adventure, an anticipation of his subsequent (and historical) attempts to develop ways of keeping meat frozen on the long sea voyage to London. How ice preserves flesh that would otherwise decay is a leitmotiv throughout the novel. The iceberg itself conceals a secret: the perfectly preserved body of a young seaman who died in the Southern Ocean decades earlier….

Ice transforms workaday history into an at times lurid romance. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t. Depicting McEacharn’s grand obsession leads Nowra into several traps from which he does not extricate himself (or his novel) very happily. A chamber of horrors fantasia played out in the basement of McEacharn’s mansion struck me as ludicrous. Nor could I see much point to the narrative surrounding this historical fantasy – except, that is, for a play on the word "ice".

It is the story of Beatrice, who sank into a coma after she was mugged by a man high on ice. At the time, she was working on a biography of McEacharn. Her grieving husband, a translator of scientific papers and articles, decides to complete the project, and tells her inert body about what he has accomplished. Unnecessarily, it seems to me, he insists on spelling out for her the connection between the two meanings of "ice".

Yes, I do share some of these reservations but I was prepared to go with Nowra I have to say – though not at first.

Finally, Maggie Ball is an enthusiast.

There’s a Dickensian grandeur to Ice which is made all the more powerful by the way in which Nowra twists time’s arrow. Those reading this solely as an historical fiction may be made uncomfortable by the way in which the reader is drawn into the story, placed in the role of the unconscious Beatrice; as silent confident. For those of us who like our fiction as rich, complex, and painful as possible, Ice is a tremendous story, and one which begs to be read more than once.

That is also my conclusion.

See also Louis Nowra on Ice from ABC’s Book Show.


June review catch-up 2

Some quickies.

star30 star30star30  1. Ed Gaffney, Enemy Combatant (2008)

A good courtroom drama with a strong post 9/11 twist. It may be improbable, but not so improbable as to not make you wonder “What if?” See also Thoughts On "Enemy Combatant" by Ed Gaffney.

star30star30star30star30  2. Susanna Gregory, To Kill or Cure (2007)

I haven’t read many in the Medieval Whodunnit genre. This one is sufficiently entertaining and informative. See also Euro Crime.

star30star30star30star30star30 3. 1945: The Year That Changed the World (DVD 2008)

This series (2 DVDs) is excellent. There are contributions from first-rate historians, one of whom, Ian Nish, taught me Japanese and Chinese history in 1962! Yes he is rather older now. If you check YouTube you will find it well represented.

star30star30star30star30 4. Frontier: Worse than Slavery Itself (DVD 1997)

Famous so-called “Black Armband” presentation of Indigenous Australia and European settlement 1830 – 1860, based on the work of Henry Reynolds. I was particularly struck, of course, by the NSW material which focussed on the Dangar family of the Hunter/New England areas, and on some of the better documented massacres of those years. The series still stands up well despite the reaction to aspects of it from the likes of Keith Windschuttle. It really is good on the role of evangelical thought as a conscience of the times.

It is interesting to compare the more recent SBS series First Australians (2008). Its episode dealing with NSW in the early to mid 19th century drew attention to another settler family, the Suttors of Brucedale, whose relations with the Aboriginal people were comparatively enlightened.

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Posted by on June 23, 2009 in best viewing 2009, book reviews, Crime and/or crime fiction, dvd, Fiction, film and dvd, History, Indigenous Australians, reading, Thriller


More top viewing, and the pity of war

I am sure you get the Wilfred Owen allusion there.

ABC1 is running documentaries of various vintages in the Monday 8.30 slot usually occupied by Four Corners. Last night we had the 2005 docudrama The Somme, using similar methods — biographies + personal documents + archival footage + reenactments — to those used in The First Australians. Done well it is an effective way to bring history to life.

World War 1’s Battle of the Somme, fought from 1 July to 18 November 1916, was a turning point in history. It was a modern battle of such prehistoric brutality that its horror is hard to comprehend. Brave patriotic men eagerly volunteered to fight for what they saw as a great and honourable cause, only to find themselves used as cannon fodder by their military and political leaders. Whole villages and communities marched to their deaths.

Narrated by Tilda Swinton, The Somme is a docu-drama which follows a group of young men through the first day of battle – a day when a whistle blow sent British and French soldiers ‘over the top’ and towards an almost certain death. Through reconstruction and historical records, the fates of several genuine officers and nurses who fought or served at the Battle of the Somme are followed. This was a battle fought by civilians on unfamiliar territory.

Private Cyril Jose, at the age of only fifteen, had lied on his conscription papers to join the swelling ranks of young men sent off to fight for their country. American heiress, Mary Borden, had left Chicago at the start of the Great War to work for the Red Cross, and by 1916 she had selflessly set up her own field hospital behind the British lines on the Somme. Captain Charlie May was only too aware of the impending slaughter and wrote a letter of farewell to his wife and baby just before going over the top. The planning of the battle was left to British General Rawlinson – a plan that would send thousands of men marching straight into the German machine gun posts.

Through the friendships and the fear, this moving film is told through the diaries and letters of men in the field – many of whom would never be reunited.

Jose survived and, we were told at the end, became a communist after the war. Not mentioned in the ABC summary above was the famous economic historian R H Tawney, whose story is also told: “During World War One, Tawney served as a Sergeant in the 22nd Manchester Regiment. He turned down an offer of a commission as an officer as a result of his political beliefs. He served at the Battle of the Somme, where he was wounded twice on the first day and had to lie in a field until the next day for evacuation. He was transported to a French field hospital and later evacuated to England.”

It is impossible to exaggerate how long a shadow was cast by World War I. You could say we are witnessing it right now in Gaza, since our current Middle East is entirely the product of the break-up of the Ottoman Empire at the end of that war, and of the arrangements made by the victors in its wake.

Personally, I recall visiting some maiden ladies in Shellharbour NSW in 1959 with my parents and grandfather, who that year was in Shellharbour participating as the then oldest surviving headmaster in the school’s centenary celebrations. The sitting room in that house was kept in darkness, and on the mantel were memorabilia of a brother killed in World War I. In the mid 1970s I had occasion to attend the Lady Davidson Home in Sydney, a veterans’ facility. There I saw men who had been institutionalised during World War I and were still there.

The pity of war indeed.

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Posted by on January 13, 2009 in 1950s, best viewing 2009, History, TV


Best reads of 2008

I notice I began the “best read of 2008” category this time last year, so anything from now will be a “best read of 2009” – and I do have one lined up. But today, in order of time from 26 December 2007, here are my 2008 choices. They aren’t always the latest books, as my choice is determined by Surry Hills Library and by what I may from time to time get at a bargain bookshop. Go to the linked posts for details.

1. Travis Holland, "The Archivist’s Story" (Bloomsbury 2007). Fiction.

2. Brian Leung, “Lost Men”. Fiction.

3. Conservative but informative and very entertaining: James Franklin on "Corrupting the Youth". Nonfiction.

4. Anita Brookner, “Latecomers”. Fiction.

5. Frank Welsh’s Great Southern Land: A New History of Australia. See also here and here. Nonfiction.

6. Anne Holt, “The Final Murder”. Fiction.

7. Gregg Hurwitz, “The Crime Writer”. Fiction.

8. Like a benign psychotic episode: East/West imagination in "Kafka on the Shore" (2005) – Haruki Murukami. Fiction.

9. When a blog is good enough to be a book – Riverbend’s “Baghdad Burning”. Nonfiction.

10. Denise Mina and “Tartan Noir” — “The Last Breath”. Fiction.

11. Sharp yet gentle satire in McCall Smith’s parochial epic: "The World according to Bertie". Fiction. See also here.

12. I like Norman Davies – essays “Europe East & West”. Nonfiction.

13. James Lovelock, “The Revenge of Gaia”. Nonfiction.

14. Anna Kavan, “Guilty”. Fiction.

15. David Day, “Conquest: A New History of the Modern World”. Nonfiction.

16. Let the Right One In, John Ajvide Lindqvist. Fiction.

17. A Life of Unlearning — a journey to find the truth — the book – Anthony Venn-Brown. Nonfiction.

18. ::: Alexander McCall Smith ::: “The Careful Use of Compliments”. Fiction.

19. Believe Me, It’s Torture: Politics & Power: Hitchens – an essay online. Nonfiction.

20. George Monbiot, “Heat”. Nonfiction.

21. River of Heaven by Lee Martin – Random House 2008. Fiction.

22. Rich Merritt, “Code of Conduct”. Fiction.

23. The Sourcebooks Shakespeare series.

24. John Dominic Crossan, “God & Empire”. Nonfiction.

25. Unheroic, super-intelligent gay fiction: Samuel R Delany’s "Dark Reflections". Fiction.

26. One of 2008’s top reads: Tom Perrotta “The Abstinence Teacher”. Fiction

27. Last episode of SBS’s “First Australians” and a must see anthology — the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature.

28. Adrian Murdoch, “The Last Pagan: Julian the Apostate”. Nonfiction.

29. But I have been reading comics… – Mike Dawson, “Freddie & Me”. Fiction.

30. Lawrence Potter, “This Book May Help You Understand the World”. Nonfiction.

31. My last Top Read of 2008: Damian Thompson, “Counterknowledge” (Atlantic Books 2008). Nonfiction.

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Posted by on December 26, 2008 in 2008 in review, Best read of 2008, book reviews, reading, Top read


2008 in review 11: what did I post about in October 2008?

As I have said more than once, I don’t have a memory but I do have a blog! 😉 Now to see what I can’t remember… I do note an avoidance of too much angst, partly a result of the awful attack on my blogs the month before.

Floating Life 

Boring geeky navel gazing etc 2 began the month celebrating a bit of a record; I also posted A different take on the current financial crisis – disclaiming any authority on the matter. On 2 October was Catching up on the October "Monthly" and a couple of other items. Australian poem 2008 series #21: Adam Aitken led 3 October, with response from the poet. Other posts were VP debate on now: depressing and Picture hunting in Surry Hills. Revisiting The Book of Laughter and Forgetting began the weekend, with Spelling on Sunday: found in Elizabeth Street and Another Sunday lunch at the Shakespeare… on 5 October.

A commendable lack of pontificating in all…

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Posted by on December 15, 2008 in 2008 in review, blogging


2008 in review 10: what did I post about in November 2008?

As I noted here, I am now going in reverse order, finishing in April 2008, and adding December in the new year. That way the months are published in a more logical order. Shame about January-March, but not a tragedy… Of course I now have three blogs to epitomise.

Floating Life

Saturday 1 November brings you The Howard Years on ABC; on 2 November Sirdan and his mum at Chinese Whisper includes one of my best photos, and in the afternoon I wrote Place and voice spot on: Peter Corris, “The Big Score” (2007).

Last episode of SBS’s “First Australians” and a must see anthology on 3 November reminds me what a good year this was for documentaries on TV; The Chemist’s Tale is a story from Redfern. New to read – local and national on 4 November is about the South Sydney Herald; The real education revolution… is among my better posts; Promoting Ninglun’s Specials… explains itself. 5 November was a memorable day: I believe something is happening right now in the USA…; Tribute; Meanwhile in Indonesia…. Next day began with A reminder we could all do with and then US election via George Negus, and the language of religion; the day after I posted On assignment! about a photo job I was given, and Trounced by Thomas! That brings us to the weekend. On Saturday I wrote The good oil on Barak Obama; Sunday was And that’s another thing that really gets on my goat… followed by With Sirdan and his mum at the Chinese Whisper again…

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Posted by on December 15, 2008 in 2008 in review, blogging


One year on this blog: looking back, looking forward

Yes, it is one year since this blog appeared, the material back to 2005 being imported later. In that time (to when I write this) there have been 73,385 hits according to WordPress.

This post will have the usual “what’s new” section for the coming week, and then I will bore you silly with the November stats for all my blogs, as they come in!*

What’s new on my blogs: Sunday 30 November to Saturday 6 December

Stats, stats, and more stats

I begin slightly prematurely with this blog, looking at the top individually visited posts and pages so far.

* UPDATE: Now (Monday 1 December) I am adding those monthly stats. Feel free to look. 😉

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Posted by on November 30, 2008 in blogging, milestones, site news, site stats


Week from Saturday 8 November to Friday 14 November 2008

What’s new on Ninglun’s Specials, English/ESL and Photobucket

For the previous week see October 2008 on Floating Life and English/ESL – and what’s new.

Pic of the previous week from Ninglun’s Specials

My pick, that is.

mon27 014

Photo by Neil 3 November 2008

… and Marcellous’s too, as it happens…

What was hot on my blogs in the past seven days

Though nothing compared with Deus Lo Vult!

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Posted by on November 8, 2008 in blogging, site news, site stats



October 2008 on Floating Life and English/ESL – and what’s new

What’s new on Ninglun’s Specials, English/ESL and Photobucket

Overview of October 2008

Floating Life sites and English/ESL have both exceeded 12,000 visits each in October, according to Sitemeter. Floating Life sites have achieved a second-best ever – 14,579 visits in September, but English/ESL has broken its former best by about 3,000!

The final Sitemeter counts were: Floating Life sites – 12,585 visits and 15,538 page views; English/ESL – 12,075 visits and 15,236 page views – best ever by over 3,000 visits.

WordPress counts at c. 9.00 am our time on 1 November – that is, with about two hours to run WP time.

  • Floating Life: 8,733 page views (best ever last month at 11,781)
  • Ninglun’s Specials: 2,440 views, the best since July 2008 which had 2,698. When the blog was “Oz Politics” the best ever was November 2007 at 5,209, which was of course the month of the election. Further details about Ninglun’s Specials are in a separate post.
  • Floating Life Apr 06~Nov 07: 4,238 views. The best ever there was November 2007 with 8,998.
  • English/ESL: This is the big one last month! 14,371 views. Best ever!

What was hot

The top individually viewed posts for the month, with the exception of Ninglun’s Specials, appear below the fold.

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Posted by on October 31, 2008 in blogging, milestones, miscellaneous stats, site news, site stats


TV lately, the Floating Life archive, Australian history

That will seem an odd combination! But bear with me.

The Floating Life Apr 06 ~ Nov 07 archive

This was in fact my first WordPress blog, now “replaced” by the Floating Life/Ninglun’s Specials pair. Top all-time individual visits there are as follows:

  1. Friday Australian poem #17: Bruce Dawe, 3,539 views
  2. Two Australian poems of World War II 2,680
  3. Assimilation, Integration, Multiculturalism policy and Practice in Australia since 1966 2,637
  4. On the awkwardness (and fatuity?) of discussing religion 2,506
  5. John Howard: bullying expert extraordinaire 2,055
  6. Bill Heffernan! 1,929
  7. Book and DVD backlog 1,907
  8. 3 — Indigenous Australians 1,764
  9. Does Tim Blair still do global warming jokes? 1,611
  10. Ian McKellen and Judi Dench in Macbeth and segue into Mardi Gras 1,468

TV lately, Australian Indigenous history

Note the two entries I have highlighted; I refer you to them rather than mount a detailed argument about last night’s episode of SBS’s The First Australians which took Pastor Doug Nicholls as its biographical focus and extended to the assimilationist policies which prevailed for much of the 20th century and the rise of an Aboriginal identity/reform movement. There were more issues raised than you could poke a stick at, and the presentation – especially from Marcia Langton – was sometimes confronting, even bitter. However, balance against that the fact the inspirational Pastor Doug was brought to the attention of a new generation who may well not have known about him. There is a critical paradox here too: the somewhat conservative Christian Aboriginal man as culture hero and champion – and that’s where I would leave it, as a paradox we all need to contemplate. He remains a great humanitarian and a hero of his people, and he is not the only one. The singer Jimmy Little comes to mind. Go back too to Episode 3.

It is a fact that assimilation as a policy tended to be a one-way street: THEY should assimilate; WE don’t have to. That was one of its great flaws. It is also a fact that we had more in common with South African policy than we currently find comfortable – except in South Africa the “Native Question” was even more pressing. “We” were no longer a minority here.

It is right to counter some of the thrust of some elements of last night’s program with counter-examples, no doubt. On the other hand those darker elements – no sad race pun intended – must be included in any honest portrayal of Australia in the 20th century. That is where I had no patience with the prevailing orthodoxy of the Howard years. I found it tendentious and dishonest. The whole “black armband”/”white blindfold” thing is a waste of space, I believe. A full picture includes both.

So provocative as some may have found last night’s First Australians, I welcome it for, in fact, being provocative.

A much more recent part of the ongoing history of Indigenous – indeed all – Australia is aired in a coming ABC program: Tom Zubrycki’s The Intervention is sure to attract praise and flack both, but should be worth seeing. It’s on Thursday night on ABC1 at 9.30.

TV lately: other

It has been a good season for Australian history, with the series The Prime Ministers going for a couple of weeks now. We have already had Harold Holt (and the unspeakable Billy McMahon) and now we have Menzies and Churchill, and next week Chifley. They are Thursdays at 8.30, despite what the linked page says!

Then there was last Monday’s Four Corners: Good Cop, Bad Cop on the Australian Federal Police, noteworthy for further revelations about the Dr Haneef travesty. Surely it was no accident that this was an election year…

Finally, coming up on Monday 17 November is The Howard Years. I will be watching, but not out of nostalgia I assure you, imperfect in many respects as the current Rudd government may be. Howard never made me feel relaxed or comfortable – more often the reverse of both!

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Posted by on October 29, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, culture wars, current affairs, History, Indigenous Australians, John Howard, Kevin Rudd, media watch, memory, multiculturalism, TV


If any doubted the rightness of the February 2008 Apology…

mp_adtrc_5 … they could have no doubts or reservations left after seeing tonight’s episode of The First Australians. I have mentioned this wonderful show twice before: here and here. Tonight we had stories from people still living who went through the trauma of forced separation, including Sue Gordon, who, you may recall, was close to the Howard government.

Tonight we were also told that a book of the series is to be published on the 1 November, and that the DVD will be available from Marcom very soon.