John Pilger, ‘The British-American coup that ended Australian independence’, The Guardian, 23.10.14
In 1975 Prime Minister Gough Whitlam dared to try to assert his country’s autonomy. The CIA and MI6 made sure he paid the price.
Across the media and political establishment in Australia, a silence has descended on the memory of the great, reforming prime minister Gough Whitlam. His achievements are recognised, if grudgingly, his mistakes noted in false sorrow. But a critical reason for his extraordinary political demise will, they hope, be buried with him.
Australia briefly became an independent state during the Whitlam years, 1972-75. An American commentator wrote that no country had “reversed its posture in international affairs so totally without going through a domestic revolution”. Whitlam ended his nation’s colonial servility. He abolished royal patronage, moved Australia towards the Non-Aligned Movement, supported “zones of peace” and opposed nuclear weapons testing.
Although not regarded as on the left of the Labor (mw: note the American spelling) party, Whitlam was a maverick social democrat of principle, pride and propriety. He believed that a foreign power should not control his country’s resources and dictate its economic and foreign policies. He proposed to “buy back the farm”. In drafting the first Aboriginal lands rights legislation, his government raised the ghost of the greatest land grab in human history, Britain’s colonisation of Australia, and the question of who owned the island-continent’s vast natural wealth.
Latin Americans will recognise the audacity and danger of this “breaking free” in a country whose establishment was welded to great, external power. Australians had served every British imperial adventure since the Boxer rebellion was crushed in China. In the 1960s, Australia pleaded to join the US in its invasion of Vietnam, then provided “black teams” to be run by the CIA. US diplomatic cables published last year by WikiLeaks disclose the names of leading figures in both main parties, including a future prime minister and foreign minister, as Washington’s informants during the Whitlam years.
Whitlam knew the risk he was taking. The day after his election, he ordered that his staff should not be “vetted or harassed” by the Australian security organisation, Asio – then, as now, tied to Anglo-American intelligence. When his ministers publicly condemned the US bombing of Vietnam as “corrupt and barbaric”, a CIA station officer in Saigon said: “We were told the Australians might as well be regarded as North Vietnamese collaborators.”
Whitlam demanded to know if and why the CIA was running a spy base at Pine Gap near Alice Springs, a giant vacuum cleaner which, as Edward Snowden revealed recently, allows the US to spy on everyone. “Try to screw us or bounce us,” the prime minister warned the US ambassador, “[and Pine Gap] will become a matter of contention”.
Victor Marchetti, the CIA officer who had helped set up Pine Gap, later told me, “This threat to close Pine Gap caused apoplexy in the White House … a kind of Chile [coup] was set in motion.”
Pine Gap’s top-secret messages were decoded by a CIA contractor, TRW. One of the decoders was Christopher Boyce, a young man troubled by the “deception and betrayal of an ally”. Boyce revealed that the CIA had infiltrated the Australian political and trade union elite and referred to the governor-general of Australia, Sir John Kerr, as “our man Kerr”.
Kerr was not only the Queen’s man, he had longstanding ties to Anglo-American intelligence. He was an enthusiastic member of the Australian Association for Cultural Freedom, described by Jonathan Kwitny of the Wall Street Journal in his book, The Crimes of Patriots, as “an elite, invitation-only group … exposed in Congress as being founded, funded and generally run by the CIA”. The CIA “paid for Kerr’s travel, built his prestige … Kerr continued to go to the CIA for money”.
When Whitlam was re-elected for a second term, in 1974, the White House sent Marshall Green to Canberra as ambassador. Green was an imperious, sinister figure who worked in the shadows of America’s “deep state”. Known as “the coupmaster”, he had played a central role in the 1965 coup against President Sukarno in Indonesia – which cost up to a million lives. One of his first speeches in Australia, to the Australian Institute of Directors, was described by an alarmed member of the audience as “an incitement to the country’s business leaders to rise against the government”.
The Americans and British worked together. In 1975, Whitlam discovered that Britain’s MI6 was operating against his government. “The Brits were actually decoding secret messages coming into my foreign affairs office,” he said later. One of his ministers, Clyde Cameron, told me, “We knew MI6 was bugging cabinet meetings for the Americans.” In the 1980s, senior CIA officers revealed that the “Whitlam problem” had been discussed “with urgency” by the CIA’s director, William Colby, and the head of MI6, Sir Maurice Oldfield. A deputy director of the CIA said: “Kerr did what he was told to do.”
On 10 November 1975, Whitlam was shown a top-secret telex message sourced to Theodore Shackley, the notorious head of the CIA’s East Asia division, who had helped run the coup against Salvador Allende in Chile two years earlier.
Shackley’s message was read to Whitlam. It said that the prime minister of Australia was a security risk in his own country. The day before, Kerr had visited the headquarters of the Defence Signals Directorate, Australia’s NSA, where he was briefed on the “security crisis”.
On 11 November – the day Whitlam was to inform parliament about the secret CIA presence in Australia – he was summoned by Kerr. Invoking archaic vice-regal “reserve powers”, Kerr sacked the democratically elected prime minister. The “Whitlam problem” was solved, and Australian politics never recovered, nor the nation its true independence.
•John Pilger’s investigation into the coup against Whitlam is described in full in his book, A Secret Country (Vintage), and in his documentary film, Other People’s Wars, which can be viewed on johnpilger.com.
Natassia Chrysanthos, ‘Subjects on US slavery and fascism slated for cuts at Sydney University’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 11.06.20
History subjects about the making of the US, American slavery, fascism and anti-fascism are nominated to be cut from the University of Sydney’s arts and social sciences faculty due to budget-saving measures. …
It comes as the statues of slave traders are torn down in Britain and thousands worldwide protest against police brutality in the Black Lives Matter movement, after the death of George Floyd in the United States.
History student Annabel Pettit said she was hoping to study American slavery next semester.
“It feels like a vital time to be thinking critically, and learning as much as we can about what has led us to this particular moment in history,” she said.
“It’s disappointing news to hear as a student, and deeply concerning given the current global anti-racist movement and the upcoming US election.”…
Seventy history students have written to the arts and social sciences dean, Annamarie Jagose, petitioning to save the subjects.
“These are vital subjects to study in a world where the mass Black Lives Matter movement has been threatened by the US President with military action to disperse protesters,” they wrote.
Senior history lecturer David Brophy said students felt they were being denied the opportunity to study topics that were “really important at this point”.
“It’s not a good time for Sydney to be weakening its offerings in these areas,” he said. “We’re in the middle of a global uprising against racism centred in America, and we’re stripping away these units that speak directly to the current context.
“There’s also an intense discussion that’s sparked up again about the way we speak about history, the debate about the commemoration of figures involved in slavery. They would normally be expected to attract significant interest in a time like this.” …
‘falsity is the assertion that that which is is not or that that which is not is and truth is the assertion that that which is is and that that which is not is not.’
Aristotle, The Metaphysics, Trans and Introduction by Hugh Lawson-Tancred, Penguin, London, 2004, 107 (Gamma 7 1011b)
Austllink chairwoman Amy Mo, a Beijing education agent who has operated in the Australian market for 15 years, said the deteriorating relationship (between Australia and China) will bring “immeasurable economic losses to Australia”.
“If Australian politicians don’t regret and keep being the running-dog of the United States in the name of so-called values, Chinese tourists and students will not go there,” she said.
“I hope Australia can change its attitude toward China. If a country loves Chinese money but doesn’t like Chinese people, China surely is not willing to do business with it.”…
Luke Sheehy, executive director of the Australian Technology Network of universities, which include RMIT and UTS, said the sector had prioritised welfare of students during the COVID-19 crisis and campuses were “vibrant, safe and welcoming places”. …
Eryk Bagshaw, Fergus Hunter, Sanghee Liu, ‘Students “to be steered to UK instead”‘ The Sydney Morning Herald, 11.06.20
Brian Toohey, ‘A star-spangled spanner in the works: how US secrecy controls Australian weapons’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 25.05.20
The loss of Australian sovereignty within the American alliance is rarely raised amid the current alarm about whether the US is a reliable ally. Successive prime ministers have given the US a de facto veto over whether Australia can use its own weapons systems to defend itself.
At the same time, they have allowed Australian forces to become so tightly integrated into the Pentagon’s that it presumes Australia will automatically participate in a horrendous new American war, even when it’s an illegal act of aggression like the invasion of Iraq.
The erosion of our national sovereignty has not occurred suddenly. A Parliamentary Library research paper warned back in 2001 that American restrictions meant Australia could only use its advanced weapons for a short time before they became inoperable. Since then, Australia has become more reliant on complex weapons systems whose sensitive components have to be sent back to America for maintenance and repairs. Perversely, American secrecy prevents Australian personnel from learning how to perform these tasks.
The US also denies Australia access to the computer source code essential to operate key electronic components in its ships, planes, missiles, sensors and so on. Israel is the only country allowed even a partial role in repairing the electronic systems at the heart of the troubled-plagued F-35 fighter planes Australia is also acquiring.
Although there is nothing new about the possibility the US won’t always come riding to Australia’s rescue, President Donald Trump’s erratic behaviour has sparked a growing awareness that nothing is guaranteed.
Even more conventional US presidents will act in what they see as their own political interest and some version of the national interest rather than always committing American blood and treasure to defend Australia. Many otherwise hard-headed Australian politicians and commentators reject this reality, despite the lessons of history.
In 1963, Bob Menzies’ coalition government was keen to commit Australian forces to a cross-border war against Indonesia in Borneo. Menzies wanted an assurance from then US president John F. Kennedy that the ANZUS treaty meant the US would supply troops to support Australian forces. Archival records show Kennedy told Menzies that the American people had “forgotten” about ANZUS and no troops would be supplied.
In 1999, John Howard wanted president Bill Clinton to provide “boots on the ground” to help an Australian-led force quell violence sponsored by Indonesia in East Timor. Clinton refused.
Drawing on these lessons, an official National Security Update in 2007 stated it was the Howard government’s policy that we must be the “sole guarantor of our own security” and that it was “not healthy for a country to become dependent on another for its basic defence”. Although the defence minister Brendan Nelson wrote a supportive introduction to the update, no subsequent government has attempted to implement this policy.
A policy of greater self-reliance requires full access to all relevant computer source code. Resources would need to be devoted to beefing up Australia’s electronics industry to allow the defence forces to operate far more independently than presently. But this doesn’t mean all defence equipment has to be built in Australia – that would be prohibitively costly. Funds could be freed up by greater use of relatively low-cost drones and by scrapping mega projects such as the ludicrously expensive French/Australian submarine relying on US electronics. When eventually delivered sometime after 2035, the submarine will almost certainly be a financial and military disaster.
Meanwhile, there is no need to overreact to China’s imposition of an 80 per cent tariff on imported Australian barley. China began action in the World Trade Organisation in 2018 against Australia’s alleged dumping of barley.
The University of Adelaide’s Simon Lacey points out that currently Australia has anti-dumping action under way or proposed against Chinese wind towers, glass, electric cables, chemicals, herbicides, A4 copy paper and aluminium products, as well as steel.
China has now pointedly switched to buying more barley from the US to meet Trump’s demand that it imports a lot more from America.
Even hacked the Vatican. The Russians and the Chinese didn’t buy the machines. The Australians knew about it and took what their masters gave them – not to mention that Australian spies hacked the phones of the Indonesian President Yudhoyono, his wife, the Indonesian vice-president and other senior ministers (the response of the Australians when this was exposed is noteworthy) as well as bugged the offices of the East Timorese government during the ‘negotiations’ over the Timor Gap resources and then the federal government charged the ASIS agent who blew the whistle on this. The highly secretive case is on-going.
- Philip Dorling, ‘Arbib revealed as secret US source’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 09.12.10
Federal minister and right-wing Labor powerbroker Mark Arbib has been revealed as a confidential contact of the United States embassy in Canberra, providing inside information and commentary for Washington on the workings of the Australian government and the Labor Party.
Secret US embassy cables obtained by WikiLeaks and made available exclusively to The Age reveal that Senator Arbib, one of the architects of Kevin Rudd’s removal as prime minister, has been in regular contact with US embassy officers.
His candid comments have been incorporated into reports to Washington with repeated requests that his identity as a ”protected” source be guarded.
Embassy cables reporting on the Labor Party and national political developments, frequently classified “No Forn” – meaning no distribution to non-US personnel – refer to Senator Arbib as a strong supporter of Australia’s alliance with the US.
They identify him as a valuable source of information on Labor politics, including Mr Rudd’s hopes to forestall an eventual leadership challenge from then deputy prime minister Julia Gillard.
“He understands the importance of supporting a vibrant relationship with the US while not being too deferential. We have found him personable, confident and articulate,” an embassy profile on Senator Arbib written in July 2009 says. “He has met with us repeatedly throughout his political rise.’’
Other Labor politicians reported in US embassy cables as regular contacts include former federal MP and minister Bob McMullan and Michael Danby, the Labor member for Melbourne Ports.
A former secretary of the New South Wales branch of the Labor Party, Senator Arbib was a key backroom figure in the Labor ”coup” in June that resulted in Mr Rudd being replaced by Ms Gillard as PM.
He has been a senator since July 2008 and was made a parliamentary secretary in February 2009. Mr Rudd elevated him to the ministry in June 2009. He currently holds the ministerial portfolios of Sport, Indigenous Employment, and Social Housing and Homelessness.
Instructed to find out how decisions were made in the government, US diplomats were quick to focus on Senator Arbib as a “right-wing powerbroker and political rising star” who had made “a quick transition from the parliamentary backrooms into the ministry’’.
The US embassy noted that ”the New South Wales Labor party’s kingmaker” was integral in raising numbers for Mr Rudd to overthrow Kim Beazley as Labor leader in 2006, and that Senator Arbib was “a close adviser to Rudd and is his key conduit to the ALP factions’’.
“Arbib is an influential factional operator who has forged strong political connections with Rudd,” the embassy recorded. “We have been told that Rudd respects Arbib’s political expertise, and a contact noted that Arbib is brought into Rudd’s inner circle when politically important decisions are made.
“Arbib is said to be loyal to, but frank with, Rudd, and is one of Rudd’s closest advisers. Yet, publicly, Arbib has denied being part of Rudd’s inner circle.”
US diplomats also found that Arbib “is an astute observer and able conversant on the nuts and bolts of US politics’’.
Senator Arbib first appears as a contributor to US embassy political reporting while he was NSW Labor state secretary. In May 2006 he declared to US diplomats that Australia was at risk of becoming a ”quarry for the Chinese and a tourist destination for the Japanese’’.
He warned that it would be “a tough struggle for the Labor Party to win the federal elections in 2007”. But he thought Kim Beazley, because he was the opposite of the volatile Mark Latham, was ”the right man to lead the ALP at the present time’’.
However, he also told embassy officers that, unlike Mr Beazley, he supported Australia’s military commitment in Iraq “as well as the war on terrorism in general’’.
After the Rudd government’s election in 2007, Senator Arbib offered reassurance about then deputy prime minister Gillard’s political leanings, describing her as “one of the most pragmatic politicians in the ALP”.
He also confirmed Mr Rudd’s tendencies towards micromanagement and told the embassy that “Rudd’s staff would like to get their boss to spend less time on foreign policy and delegate more, but that they recognise that this is a hopeless task’’.
In October 2009, as Mr Rudd’s popular support began to sag, Senator Arbib openly canvassed emerging leadership tensions within the government, telling US envoys that Mr Rudd wanted “to ensure that there are viable alternatives to Gillard within the Labor Party to forestall a challenge’’.
Senator Arbib added that Mr Rudd still appreciated Ms Gillard’s strengths, while an another unidentified adviser to the Labor prime minister told US diplomats that “while the PM respects Gillard, his reluctance to share power will eventually lead to a falling-out, while Gillard will not want to acquiesce in creating potential rivals”.
In June this year, Senator Arbib and other Labor Right figures moved to depose Mr Rudd from the leadership, precipitating the events that led to Ms Gillard’s becoming Prime Minister.
Senator Arbib last night declined to comment on the WikiLeaks disclosures.
2. Daniel Flitton, ‘Explosive Wiki Rudd cable’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 06.12.10
Kevin Rudd warned Hillary Clinton to be prepared to use force against China ”if everything goes wrong”, an explosive new Wikileaks cable has revealed.
Mr Rudd also told Mrs Clinton during a March 24, 2009, meeting in Washington that China was ”paranoid” about both Taiwan and Tibet and that his ambitious plan for an Asia-Pacific Community was intended to blunt Chinese influence in the region. …
From the skirts of Mother Britannia to the coat-tails of Uncle Sam, from ‘I did but see her passing by…’ to ‘All the way with LBJ.’
In 1908 when Roosevelt’s ‘Great White Fleet’ came to Sydney, Pitt Street was renamed ‘America Avenue’ and the American sailors and marines marched along it.
‘Friday morning the 28th was planned for the parade. Initially the authorities expected the bluejackets and marines to parade without arms. When Admiral Sperry found out, he interceded letting it be known that it would be something of a clownish charter to have 2,500 men march through the city without arms. They would probably end up throwing kisses to pretty girls and raising high jinks despite the efforts of their officers. He won the day and sailors got their arms. Landing a naval brigade at Farm Cove and Woolloomooloo Bay the next day, sailors were mustered at the public domain, a short distance from the Government House and waited for the public reception to end. Upon which they were marched up Pitt Street, which had been renamed America Avenue during fleet week, and the leading thoroughfares of the city in the presence of a madly cheering crowd. No such enthusiasm had been witnessed by Americans in any parade since the day George Dewey came back and marched down 5th Avenue in New York City.’
In 1942, during the ‘desperate and vicious’ fighting of the Kokoda Track campaign in Papua New Guinea ‘approximately 625 Australians were killed…and over 1,600 were wounded. Casualties due to sickness exceeded 4,000.’
In 1957, the American title ‘Kokoda Trail’ ‘was adopted by the Battles Nomenclature Committee as the official British Commonwealth battle honour’. ‘Trail’ is the word used in article headings on the War Memorial website. http://www.awm.gov.au/units/event_247.asp.
Yet, in the article ‘The Kokoda “Track” or “Trail”?’ http://www.awm.gov.au/blog/2009/07/27/the-kokoda-track-or-trail/?query=kokoda+track it states ‘This use of “track” is reflected in the new maps that were produced by army survey units in September and October; on these maps, all routes across the Owen Stanley Range were referred to as “tracks”. The terrain study Main routes across New Guinea, printed by the Allied Geographic Section in October 1942, similarly describes the route from Port Moresby via Kokoda to Buna as a “track”.
The overwhelming majority of soldiers who fought the campaign also used “track”. In a survey of unit war diaries, letters and personal diaries written during the campaign, Peter Provis, a Memorial summer scholar, found that the word “trail” was used only once in a war diary, in the 2/31st Battalion on 11 September 1942. There were, however, also references to “track”.’
* * *
The Sydney Morning Herald, 17.10.12
‘Dobber brings down curtain on Belvoir’s take on Miller’
‘Popular theatre company Belvoir raises the ire of one of the biggest holders of theatrical rights in the world with ‘cavalier’ change.
Sydney’s Belvoir theatre company has been forced to reinstate the final scene of Arthur Miller’s famed Death of a Salesman after an anonymous tip-off to the US agent that handles the rights about changes made to the local production.’
‘Bruce Ruxton is right: we should embrace the legends of defeat,’ Richard Glover, The Sydney Morning Herald, 20.04.90
I arrived home to find my partner ashen-faced. The cat was wailing in the kitchen and the kid was clearly upset. The words came gushing out as soon as she saw me: “I don’t know what to do. I just found myself agreeing with Bruce Ruxton.”
Since she had confessed, I thought I could too. A healthy marriage, after all, is based on sharing such dark secrets. “Yep,” I said, “I agree with him too.”
The issue, you understand, wasn’t Asian immigration, gay rights, or whether environmentalists are all dole-bludging hippies. It was Anzac Day.
Ruxton, the Victorian president of the RSL, is currently doing battle with the journalist Phillip Knightley, who has expressed the view that next Wednesday should be Australia’s last Anzac Day.
It is absurd, argues Knightley, that the battle at Gallipoli should provide our key national image of war. Gallipoli, he says, was a defeat; and a defeat in a battle waged for British interests.
Better to celebrate, he says, the taking of Damascus by the Australian Light Horse, or the victorious battle by General Sir John Monash’s troops on the Western Front in the last months of war.
“Monash’s scientific breakthrough tactics,” he says, “were a powerful factor in the German decision to ask for an armistice and thus a real turning point in history. Yet the Australians who fought on the Western Front appear doomed to live forever in the shadow of Gallipoli”.
But Mr Ruxton replies that these triumphs, along with others, are already marked by Anzac Day, and that traditions, once established, carry their own weight and importance.
But we can take the argument further. Knightley is right: Anzac Day does mark a defeat. But as such it is in keeping with one of the most consistent themes in the Australian legend: the celebration (or at least worldly-wise acknowledgement) of failure.
Any country can make hoopla about its victories. What makes Australia unique is the way it has always preferred to remember the brave-but-defeated, the underdog and the loser.
Consider, for example, some of the subjects of Australia’s successful historical films: Phar Lap, the story of a horse with international promise who was poisoned; Les Darcy, the story of a boxer with promise who was killed; Breaker Morant, the story of soldier with promise who was shot.
And, of course, Peter Weir’s Gallipoli, the story of fighters of promise who were misled and misused.
Dad and Dave never expanded and made it rich, they just battled on against flood and rain – two steps forward, three steps back. The heroes of Lawson and Paterson were triers more than they were doers; just as the great national bards were humourists rather than battle-balladeers.
Waltzing Matilda, the real national song, is about a tramp who can only find freedom through suicide. The Dog on the Tucker Box comes from a poem reciting the multiple disasters of an accident-prone bullocky.
Oh, to live in a country that makes a national icon of a dog that relieved himself in a bullocky’s food hamper.
But not, it seems, for Knightley.
He wants Australia to follow every other nation: to edit the defeats out of history and concentrate on the victories; to puff itself up and worship the tall poppies.
His Dog on the Tucker Box would be straight from Walt Disney – a heroic pup who saved the bullocky’s life rather than spoilt his dinner.
But I rather like Australia’s curious traditions: I like being part of the land of the rising inflection, where every statement is turned into a question; I like a tradition that sees the grim absurdity of life and embraces legends of defeat with a wry smile.
There are many who have argued against Australia’s traditions: arguing our lack of self confidence has held us back; that we have driven away our talented by rejecting a culture of success.
There may be some truth in this, and certainly we face continuing battles to wean ourselves from cultural and economic cringes of various kinds.
Of course, we do need to wave the flag and be proud. But my problem remains: how can you be flag-wavingly proud when what you’re proudest of is the lack of a pompous, flag-waving pride?
All in all, it seems to me a perfect symbol. And that’s why Bruce Ruxton – just this once – is right.
‘The Cringe – new variants of the virus’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 28.09.95
This is the edited text of a speech Frank Moorhouse gave at a Herald-Dymocks Literary Lunch, which he abandoned after interjections from the floor.
As most of you know, until recently, I lived in France for four years and my new book, Loose Living, is a humorous expression of that experience. Fun and games with the French and the Australian identity.
Until my period in France, I spent most of my life living in Australia and I live here now.
It was then something of a perplexing shock that my last book, Grand Days, was rejected from the most Australian of prizes, the Miles Franklin Prize last year.
The poor old Miles Franklin Prize has been having a rough time of it, with the Demidenko affair and all.
But I believe that the actions of the judges have exposed a sad turmoil in Australian thinking in the wider population. Because the judges will not enter into public discourse about their decisions, we can only surmise and speculate about the nature of their reasoning.
This is what I surmise from their actions.
In rejecting Grand Days and the other two books last year, the judges were struggling with a mutation of the cultural cringe.
I wish to discuss this mutation later in this talk. But it is a desire to promote a narrow form of Australianness and to spurn anything which has the whiff of cosmopolitanism which is seen as an author turning his or her back on [his or] her native country.
With Grand Days we have a character, Edith Campbell Berry, who goes to Geneva to join the League of Nations in the 1920s and is consciously trying to be an “internationalist” in both the political and cultural sense.
She is self-consciously striving to be cosmopolitan. She is an Australian refashioning herself in many ways.
But Edith also represented Australia and its attempts to come to terms diplomatically with being a nation state.
The deeper irony is that the book is also about borders and the crossing of borders and the meaning of borders, national and other, and identity.
The judges of the Miles Franklin recoiled from this and disqualified the book.
Again I think the authorial context influenced them in my case, as it did with the Demidenko affair.
When the book was published I was still living in France, preparing to return to Australia and I was widely reported as living there at the time of publication of the book.
The most common question I had from people when I did come back was “are you going to live here or go back to France?”
Naturally, the Miles Franklin judges had this picture of me living in a chateau and eating my way through fine dinners, enjoying the finer things of life.
Not only was the book to be damned for its un-Australianness but the author was suspected of cultural treason as well.
The judges, I speculate, decided that this was not only a book about cosmopolitanism and not about Australia, but that the author was committing cultural treason.
The judges this year had learned something of a lesson from this media debate about what it meant, now, to be an Australian writer. Times had changed.
This year they must have decided that they had learned their lesson and that Australia was a multicultural and sophisticated nation and that they would show their own cosmopolitan tastes in selecting Helen Demidenko’s book, The Hand that Signed the Paper, because it was written from the viewpoint of a Ukrainian family living in Australia.
It was about this family’s history before them came to Australia in the Ukraine during World War II.
Only one judge has spoken out and she praised the book for its “authenticity” among other things.
Then of course, it turns out not to be by someone of Ukrainian descent but, in fact, a literary hoax.
The judges of the Miles Franklin were in even deeper trouble. With Grand Days they were tripped up by a variant of the cultural cringe that is the urge to spurn the cosmopolitan.
With the Demidenko affair they went in the opposite direction and were caught by what I would call multicultural cringe – they were transfixed by the exotic and foreign, held like rabbits in the headlights of a car; their aesthetics and their perception were blinded.
Some commentators raise the question of the possibility that multicultural art had become something of a fashion preferred above that of the older mainstream Anglo culture.
Whatever else was illustrated by this double disaster for the judges of Miles Franklin, it certainly showed that their judgement was seriously limited in the first case, then destabilised and erratic in the following year.
But the double controversy might tell us something about ourselves at present.
Since returning to Australia, I have come across an intellectual virus hitherto thought to have been eradicated in all but the most remote parts of Australia.
I have come across an unacknowledged resentment and suspicion of what might be described as cultural “treason” by Australians in the arts who leave Australia for significant periods and who write about matters technically outside the national border or who write about unacceptable themes.
As I have said, what we are witnessing is the reappearance of the dreaded cultural cringe, a virus thought to have been eradicated from the anatomy of the nation, together with the multicultural cringe.
The examples I have found are gruesome mutations of the original virus.
For those too young to have heard the term “cultural cringe”, it is attributed to critic A.A. Phillips, who said in 1950 that, “Above our writers – and other artists – looms the intimidating mass of Anglo-Saxon culture. Such a situation almost inevitably produces the characteristic Australian Cultural Cringe”.
We no longer admit to being awed into silence by the greater cultures and our English language heritage but there are other mutations of the same parent virus.
I have been approached by some writers of the younger generation asking whether the virus still existed, and what should they do with their lives if they think they have it.
A significant group of young Australian writers and thinkers now live in the US. People such as Joanna Murray Smith, writer Catherine Lumby, Fiona Giles, Susan Johnston, Peter Carey, and Lily Brett.
As some of these have expressed it to me, there is still an uneasiness which lies within those Australians who have global aspirations.
I have identified it as Virus Variant A, Agitated Expatriate.
The symptoms are as follows: the person who is contemplating living and working elsewhere (especially in the arts) experiences an immobilising dizziness accompanied by the recurring incertitude, What-dreadful-things-will-happen-to-me-if-I-don’t-come-back-to-Australia?
Will my creative well dry up if I stay away? Or will it, conversely, dry up if I don’t stay away? Or will it be contaminated?
This is not the pure cultural cringe but a new variant of it.
Phillips himself pronounced the term cultural cringe dead in 1983. “It is time,” he said, “to accord the phrase decent burial before the smell of the corpse gets too high…”
This new variant does not say we are not good enough. It says Australia may not be right for me (or not good enough for me) and if I say this, or even think it, I will be severely punished.
That Phillips should be alive today, to smell the corpse now as we stand in the graveyard of ideas, in the light rain, while gumbooted cemetery workers dig in the clay to exhume the stinking, twitching body, prematurely buried, still alive and thumping in its coffin, fuelled by rancid nutrients of a unidentifiable foul kind.
It is tissue taken from a recent study of Peter Goldsworthy by Andrew Riemer.
“The sense is inescapable,” says Andrew, “…that they (Australian writers) are dissatisfied by the limited scope the society (Australia) which they must reflect in their writings offers for the contemplation of the larger questions of existence and of the manifestations of good and evil…”
That is, Australian society is deficient in its capacity to supply good and evil in sufficient quality. Existentially lacking.
I am saddened to say that, on the surface, this is an example of the cultural cringe of the older parent strain identified by Phillips in 1950.
But, on further examination, it may be trickier than that and I will come back to it later.
Another recent specimen was from The Sydney Morning Herald where a columnist commented on the absence of David Malouf from a literary award presentation.
She says, “…the author is currently sojourning at his Tuscan home.”
The use of the words “currently” and “sojourning” are wink words used to suggest a leisurely occupation in foreign parts free of any considerations about what might be happening back here in Australia.
The use of the words “Tuscan home” also implicates David. The word Tuscan is redolent with exotic superiority. And isn’t “Australia” the only “home” an Australian can have?
The next specimen was from The Australian in a review of the book of Contemporary South Pacific Stories edited by C.K. Stead.
One Pacific writer, Ihimaera, had evidently withdrawn from the book, complaining about the integrity or whatever of the selection for the book.
In turn, Stead, the editor of the book, attacked Ihimaera for creating the “spectacle of…protecting Pacific values by fax from the south of France”.
Elizabeth Webby, in reviewing this book, comments that the implication is that Ihimaera is “an expatriate enjoying the good life in France”.
However, Elizabeth goes on to “excuse” Ihimaera from this charge with the defence that he is, in fact, in Menton as the Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellow, living that is, holed up in a little piece of New Zealand in France, so to speak.
Another specimen from Daniel Dasey in The Sydney Morning Herald. “Artist Arthur Boyd says while he may spend much of his time overseas, there should be no doubting where his heart lies. The Australian of the Year defended (sic) his long stays in Britain… ‘I do live here, I just like to go away from time to time,’ he said.”
The headline of the piece says “Boyd’s art is in the right place”.
This and the Ihimaera and Malouf specimens were identified by our laboratory as Virus Variant B, The Unhappy Ones Who Are Stuck Here.
The symptoms of this virus are as follows. The sufferer experiences a profound sense of disease on reading about expatriate fellow nationals.
Are they having a better life? Are they meeting famous and wonderful people who will advance their career and enrich their life while I am back here working away in the blazing Australian sun?
Further, the sufferer is then gripped by an uncontrollable rage that the absent fellow national, by living in a desirable foreign environment, is committing a cultural treason; the expatriate has escaped from the limitations of Australian life; that the fellow national, that is, is not back here putting up with the hell of it all on the frontier, is not helping to Build the Culture.
This rage I think shows up in my next specimen: an advertisement for the Australia Council’s Creative Arts Fellowships which has been changed to specify that the recipient “must spend most of their time in Australia”.
So now if you’re going to get any funding, there’s no way you’re going to go over and have the good life in France – so forget it.
Audience member: Excuse me Frank. I know this is a bit rude…I shared your disappointment of the Grand Days [being disqualified from the 1994 Miles Franklin Award]. I came to your last luncheon, I bought your book. I suffered as you did when you didn’t win [the Miles Franklin]. But I feel we don’t want to hear what’s going on. If you’re not happy to be in Australia…
(Applause from some members of the audience.)
Well, I think I would read this as touching a nerve…first of all, I’d like to say I live here and I’ve lived here 50 years; that I have to say this is just ridiculous.
What I was doing was teasing out and analysing some interesting examples of things that are going on in Australian cultural life which reflect in such things as the Miles Franklin.
But I accept the complaints from this table at least, and some of the others, that I have somehow lost your interest.
It’s certainly not a whinge, its a piece of analysis, which, as I think this rough interruption shows, I think has touched a nerve.
At this point, Moorhouse took questions from the audience. That part of his speech which remained undelivered is as follows:
This is Virus Variant C, You will Remain Seated: Do Not Attempt To Leave.
The sufferer experiences these symptoms: the dread that one by one anyone who is any good is leaving the country and that those who are left will be seen as second-rate, poor cousins in the cultural world.
In their head the sufferers hear someone saying, Will-the-last-to-leave-please-turn-off-the-lights.
In the Australia Council and other arts funding bodies there arises the possibility that policies can be developed to stop anyone leaving. “If we have our way, no-one will get out.”
These variants of the virus have created an atmosphere where those Australians who have chosen to live abroad and make their careers there, are, upon returning to Australia on a visit, made to swear loyalty oaths before they are received, applauded or rewarded.
As with the parent virus, all the mutations are spawned by the simple fact of being born in Australia, a country which, on the maps, is Stuck Down Here.
I want to sum up and return to the Riemer Case – that writers in Australia have to look elsewhere because the quality of good and evil is insufficient in Australia.
It could very well be an example of a benign strain. What could be teased out of what Andrew is saying is that Australian culture is historically deficient by being Stuck Down Here but that we can, without resentment or despair, and with objective cultural sophistication, now acknowledge our deficiencies and still get on with living a good enough cultural life.
That the cultivated life lies in the grace, art and entertainment we deploy so as to incorporate our deficiencies into our national personality.
Whether we would have been better if we had lived elsewhere, can never be tested.
This brings us next to the cases of Boyd, Ihimaera and Malouf. In this I see, obliquely, some faint hope of a cure.
More often these days, in interviews and at dinner parties, I hear people remark that ideally they would like to be able to say, “I share my time between my apartment in Manhattan and a humpy in the Flinders Ranges.”
That seems increasingly to be an acceptable sort of thing to say.
I have a warning. It is still not acceptable to say that as soon as I can arrange it I am getting the hell out of here for good.
While the parent virus may not be endemic, an assortment of strains are (many more than identified in this talk!) and that even being frequently conscious of the existence of these matters is a type of infection.
We must give those entering the arts the chance to develop either here or where they feel they need to go. Australia is enriched by their work wherever it is made.
The aim may be to turn the wound to a thing of beauty. But for as long as it is asked, it remains a serious question.
I can only advise that, as a general rule, all those in the arts practise Unsafe Art until further notice.
And remember that all successful expatriates are, in the end, possessively reclaimed by their mother country.