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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ed as futile and too radical, and leftists who supported it are attacked for acquiescing in its alleged statism. But when you get to the Hawke and Keating governments, they are treated with fulsome and fawning respect.

Hawke, the Hawke Government, Keating and the Keating Government between them, are mentioned 26 times in about 20 pages, and this is in a narrative in which Jim Cairns isn't mentioned once, either in relation to the Vietnam Moratorium, or the Whitlam Government.

The Whitlam ministers Rex Connor, Clyde Cameron and Stuart West aren't mentioned once. That's the kind of elitist official history Macintyre has produced.

Macintyre eliminates the states in the modern period

A curious feature of Macintyre's book is that, attempting to be a concise history of Australia, it goes a long way towards eliminating state history from the modern narrative.

For instance, Neville Wran is not mentioned. Hawke 13 times. No Neville Wran, no Graham Richardson. Keating 13 times, no Laurie Brereton, no Wayne Goss, no Nick Greiner, no Peter Beattie, no Bob Carr, no John Cain, no Carmen Lawrence, no John Ducker, no Barry Unsworth, no Steve Bracks.

Important books about state politics, such as Robert Travers' wonderful deconstruction of Henry Parkes, Cyril Pearl's important Wild Men of Sydney, and David Dale's book on the Wran period, are totally ignored.


A very strange book


What I find really eccentric, is for Macintyre to have virtually abolished the states in a literary-historical way, when they have not been abolished in the material world. Macintyre's book has almost no discussion of the ebb and flow of political, social and cultural circumstances in the separate states in the 20th century.

To leave the state dimension out of a history of modern Australia is an absurdity because many of the important historical developments in Australia still proceed largely in a state framework. Macintyre can't bear to mention Country Party leader Black Jack McEwan. There are many areas in which, in my view, Macintyre's historical revisionism is inaccurate in establishing any useful context for Australian history, and is likely to mislead readers, particularly young readers and overseas readers, about the real thrust of Australian developments.

The writing out of the narrative of most conflict, most rebellion, and discordant and radical forces such as the Irish Catholics, produces a picture of Australia that I find very difficult to recognise. If Macintyre still regards himself as any kind of Marxist or popular historian, a history of Australia in the 20th century in which Black Jack McEwan is not mentioned by name, and the post-World-War-Two implicit social arrangement is dismissed, but the Hawke-Keating globalisation of the economy is implicitly endorsed as inevitable, is quite bizarre.

Politically, what Macintyre has produced is a thoroughly conservative history, but that's only one aspect. The other aspect, from a history teaching point of view, is that this kind of deracinated official history is rather boring.

If textbooks like this are allowed to predominate in contrast with a lively and interesting and, incidentally, quite radical, book such as Russel Ward's Concise History, in my view the audience for Australian history will probably decline, and the number of students studying it will probably drop.

Macintyre is exceedingly dry. There is very little social history. There is not much sporting history. There is no overview of modern Australian art. The speedy sweep through modern Australian society in the last couple of chapters is rather moralising in tone and written as from a great height or distance.

Macintyre seems to me to be a bit of a wowser and puritan, which are big disadvantages to anyone trying to write intelligently about Australian history. He doesn't really seem to like us much.

Why bother about Macintyre's historical revisionism?


In an irritated aside in the new foreword to the paperback edition of Macintyre's book on the Communist Party, The Reds, Macintyre dismisses, in a contemptuous way, a detailed critique I made of that book, ascribing it to "1960s factionalism", without making any attempt to address the major questions of historical fact and emphasis I raised.

I obviously run the risk of similar curt dismissal from the great man on this occasion, and I also run the risk of being accused by some of having an obsession about Macintyre.

Why should Bob Gould bother? Well, I must admit that for me these questions are rather personal. I object to my assorted tribes, ethnic, cultural and political, being abolished from the historical record. When I was a kid, I acquired an initial knowledge of the clandestine Australian historical stream, Irish Catholic, socialist and working class, from my father, and also from the Catholic historical counterculture taught by the Christian Brothers.

As a young man those streams came together for me, and I was greatly stimulated by the way they flowered into the mature historical work of Brian Fitzpatrick, Russel Ward, Eris O'Brien, Manning Clark, Robin Gollan, Ian Turner, and popular historians such as Rupert Lockwood, Cyril Pearl, Michael Cannon, Robert Travers and William Joy.

I was also stimulated by novels with a historical basis, such as Kylie Tenant's Ride on Stranger and Foveaux and Frank Hardy's Power Without Glory and The Dead are Many. I was considerably enthused when this rich historical literature began to be used to some extent in some university history departments and in some high schools.

Texts such as Russel Ward's Concise History, Terry Irving's and Bob Connell's Class Structure in Australian History, Manning Clark's Short History, and even Robert Hughes' relatively recent The Fatal Shore, began to be used widely in history education.

These texts are interesting and particularly accessible to students, and they go a considerable distance towards introducing those social groups previously excluded, the labour movement, the working class and the Irish Catholics, to the historical narrative.


Stuart Macintyre, Miriam Dixson, and the Australian "national imaginary"


Macintyre applauds Miriam Dixson's new book The Imaginary Australian, in which she tries to stake out a territory for a false historical construct she calls the "Anglo-Celtic core culture", as against the discordant historical discourse produced by Celtic malcontents such as myself. It's absolutely clear from Macintyre's recent historical efforts, of which the Concise History, intended as a text book, is clearly the culmination, that Macintyre is devoted to Dixon's "Anglo Celtic core culture" project. He even mentions, reverently, in his last chapter Dixson's book, along with Paul Sheehan's chauvinistic Amongst the Barbarians, as important books to be read about the Australian future.

,%20I%20take%20up%20her%20idea%20of%20the%20"national%20imaginary"%20which%20isn't%20intrinsically%20a%20bad%20idea.%20I%20just%20point%20out%20that%20my%20"national%20imaginary"%20(based%20on%20the%20historian's%20I've%20listed%20above%20and%20my%20own%20experience%20of%20life)%20is%20totally%20different%20to%20hers.">Dixson carries on somewhat about an Australian "national imaginary", which she does not spell out very clearly. In an argument I have written directed at Miriam Dixson <http://members.optushome.com.au/spainter/Dixson.html>, I take up her idea of the "national imaginary" which isn't intrinsically a bad idea. I just point out that my "national imaginary" (based on the historian's I've listed above and my own experience of life) is totally different to hers.

Well, we get from Macintyre's Concise History something of the possible flavour of the Macintyre, Dixson "national imaginary". The emphasis here must be placed on the "imaginary". Macintyre produces a conservative, Anglophile history of Australia by abolishing from the narrative, or dramatically diminishing in significance, whole categories, classes, tribes, and major historical currents and events.

These classes of people and events are mostly my people and events, my tribes, my class, my big social upheavals, and once again I record my strong objection to their exclusion from the Australian historical record.

John Howard, and the right-wing ideologues in some of the media are currently engaged in a wide-ranging exercise in rewriting Australian history. Howard and like-minded conservatives are making extravagant use of British-Australia Anzac symbolism to refurbish a reactionary, patriotic militarism, and to write out of the record past conflicts over wars and militarism, such as the referendum defeat of conscription during the First World War, and the ultimate rejection of the Vietnam intervention by the Australian people.

In my view, the general thrust of Macintyre's Concise History (with the exception of the completely appropriate detailed attention to Aboriginal history) fits in very well with this reactionary John Howard historical project.

The arena of history and history teaching is inevitably fiercely ideological. One is entitled to have whatever view one likes of events, social classes, religious groups, and other things. What one is not, in my view, entitled to do, is abolish them entirely from the narrative, whatever one may thin

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