Dumping down Australian history

As before, when confronted with the failure of millennial expectations, the left retreated into a nostalgic idealisation of national traditions.

Dumping down Australian history



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nard Smith's important autobiography, in which he describes how he wavered between the Catholic Church and the Communist Party before eventually joining the CP.

The striking thing about the British establishment's initial school of Australian historiography, represented by Ernest Scott, Arnold Wood, Arthur Jose and all the other Whig writers of school and university history textbooks, before the cultural revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, was the doggedly ruthless way they eliminated the Irish Catholics, the labour movement, and matters such as the battles over conscription and Langism, from their narratives.

In retrospect, the painful, moving and interesting way in which people like Russel Ward, Manning Clark, Rupert Lockwood and Bernard Smith came to terms with these past cultural developments and introduced into the story these major players was a big leap in Australian historiography.

Macintyre's historical revisionism, in which he reverts to the 19th century Whig elimination of major historical actors and currents in his historical story, must be contested in the interests of a comprehensive and balanced historical narrative.

Macintyre's modernised adherence to the Whig school of Australian historiography is demonstrated negatively by his elimination from his narrative of all the issues and individuals and events that I have enumerated above, and positively by his obvious animosity to the earlier school of populist democratic, leftist, Catholic Australian historians.

It is also demonstrated by his deliberate repetition of the bigotted, religiously based bias against Caroline Chisholm.

In my view, Macintyre's narrative represents the Whig school of Australian-British establishment history, modernised, with a dash of Stalinism, and one major progressive innovation, a lengthy and quite proper attention to Aboriginal history.

In my view, Macintyre's glib elimination of the Irish Catholic other in the 19th century, and his cursory treatment of the huge mass migration since the 1940s that has totally changed the ethnic make-up of Australia, are both unscientific. He treats these issues as if they were insignificant side-shows.

This is an almost terminal defect in any Concise History of Australia. Such a history can be any length you like (within reason), but I would favour a concise history about 100 pages longer, with the additions including a more lengthy and more balanced account of the development of the labour movement and class conflict, and major attention to the oppositional role of the Irish Catholics.

I would also include a celebratory and more detailed account of the development of mass migration from all areas of the globe, which commenced in the teeth of the British Australia racism of the 19th century and continues now, when all the other tribes beneath the wind are now a comfortable majority of Australian society, and multiculturalism, for all its defects at the official level, is now the thoroughly healthy prevailing ethos in Australian society.

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