Fear and Desire: history and national consciousness in Australia



Paper delivered to the Australian Psychoanalytic Society Annual Conference Open Day: Unsettling the Settlers, Sydney, 22 July 2006.

        I am honoured to be asked to speak here today. I think I was invited here on the basis of an essay I wrote several years ago called Whose Home? Expulsion, Exodus, and Exile in White Australian Historical Mythology. I want to start by outlining the context and argument of that essay, which was all about the unsettled settler. I then consider how the issues I canvassed then look in the light of subsequent events, notably the development of the Howard governments particular rhetoric of nationalism, and the debates on history which have occupied so much public attention. I conclude by asking questions about the place of history in public consciousness.

        I am a historian working mainly in Australian history. When Pauline Hanson came on the Australian political scene between 1996 and 1999, with her outright rejection of policies of multiculturalism and Indigenous rights, her popularity gave me, like many others, pause for thought. I was teaching Australian history at ANU, and writing about a mix of issues, especially feminist history, Aboriginal history, and also problems of truth and fiction in history. My main work at that time was writing a history of the Freedom Ride of 1965 in New South Wales, when a group of university students led by Charles Perkins travelled by bus to country towns, protesting against racial discrimination against Aboriginal people. I had been one of those students, and now I was wrestling with the problem of how to write about that event as both a professional historian and a former participant. (The book, I should say, finally emerged in 2002.)

        One part of Pauline Hansons maiden speech, made on 10 September 1996, struck me particularly clearly. This was: I am fed up with being told This is our land. Well, where the hell do I go? I was born here, and so were my parents and children..... I draw the line when told I must pay and continue paying for something that happened over 200 years ago. Like most Australians, I worked for my land; no-one gave it to me (Hanson, 1997: 4). I began pondering the meaning of this is our land, and the refusal to recognise Aboriginal prior ownership as having any meaning for the present. I realised Hanson was touching a deep chord in Australian historical consciousness. A few months later, I heard a speech by Garralwy Yunupingu which was just as important. In that speech, at the National Press Club in Canberra in early 1997, Yunupingu pointed to the irony of a situation in which Aboriginal people who stay on their own land as far as they are permitted, to protect it, become in white Australian mythology the wanderers, the nomads, on walkabout, while those inveterate wanderers, the European immigrants who have crossed oceans and strayed far from their homelands, and who continue restlessly to roam and wander within the continent, are named the settlers, those who stay at home (Yunupingu, 1997). I pondered the question of home as it appeared in both speeches, and the essay I wrote was eventually published in the _Journal of Australian Studies_ in 1999.

        The essay began by noting the contest over the Australian past as it was then, and this was before the much more savage interventions of Keith Windschuttle from late 2000 onwards. Yet when I look back at that essay, I see that the issues were much the same then as they are now. The contest over the past continues to be between positive and negative versions of Australian history, especially where the seizure of the land itself, and the subsequent treatment of indigenous people, are concerned. The positive view is the older and still warmly supported idea that the British colonisation of the Australian continent was a worthy enterprise, leading to the transplantation of European civilisation and peoples, and to various forms of political, social, cultural, and especially economic development where there had been little before. The negative account, dubbed by its opponents the black armband view of history, tells an alternative and profoundly discomforting story of invasion, colonisation, dispossession, exploitation, and institutionalisation. (McKenna, 1997). Aboriginal peoples, who rarely appear in the positive accounts, appear here clearly and unambiguously as victims of white aggression and racism. This is a version of history that has become increasingly well known in the last decade or two, in academic histories, school textbooks, and widely-read books such as Henry Reynolds series: _The Other Side of the Frontier, Frontier, With the White People, Law of the Land, Fate of a Free People, Aboriginal Sovereignty_ (Reynolds, 1981, 1989, 1987, 1990 1995, 1996). It appears also in a variety of popular cultural forms, such as television series, film, poetry, novel, song, and play.

         As these critical histories grew in prominence and acceptance during the 1990s, so too did their widespread rejection. Conservative politicians detest this version of Australian history, for it tends to locate them in a rejected past. So do many other non-Aboriginal Australians, who, in the 1990s were facing significant economic problems of their own, were in no mood to consider themselves as invaders or the beneficiaries of colonisation. Many do not wish to be told their whole society was built on a process of invasion and child theft; they want, instead, to reassert pride in their history, institutions, and culture. Prime Minister John Howard articulated this response in October 1996 when he said that he sympathised fundamentally with Australians who are insulted when they are told that we have a racist, bigoted past. In public debate on radio and newspapers, many non-Aboriginal Australians openly express a preference for returning to a positive understanding of Australian history, which assumed or argued explicitly for the rightfulness of colonisation, and emphasised colonists struggles and difficulties, processes of pioneering and settlement, and hard-won achievement of economic development, political freedoms, and social harmony.

        It is the cultural meaning of these defences of white Australian history, labelled by some opponents white blindfold history, that Im interested in here. The angry rejection of the idea that Australia has a racist past has, I argued, its basis in some deeply-held beliefs about white Australian historical experience. Many non-indigenous Australians have difficulty in seeing themselves as the beneficiaries of the colonisation process because they, like so many others in settler societies from the United States to Canada to Israel and elsewhere, see themselves as _victims_, not oppressors. In non-indigenous Australian popular culture, people see themselves as victims of large economic forces, middle class elites, and powerful nations overseas (Brett, 1997). Australian popular historical mythology stresses struggle, courage, and survival, amidst pain, tragedy, and loss.  There is a special charge associated with the status of victim in Australian historical consciousness, and it is notable how _good_ non-Aboriginal Australians are at memorialising their own sufferings. Looked at more closely, the contest over the past is perhaps not between positive and negative versions, but between those which place white Australians as victims, struggling heroically against adversity, and those which place them as aggressors and perpretrators, bringing adversity upon others.

        This attraction to a history of suffering, sacrifice, and defiance in defeat has already been noted by several commentators. Anthropologist Andrew Lattas, for example, has examined how Australian nationalist discourses emphasise a struggle in which the pioneer, the explorer, and the artist all suffer as they seek to possess the land: Their suffering takes on the epic proportions of a pilgrimage that redeems and heals the nation. White settler suffering, he suggests, becomes a means for conferring right of ownership to the land (Lattas, 1997: 234-5).          We can build on this insight of the attraction to failure and defeat as a powerful part of Australian national identity, and apply it more specifically to Australian _historical _consciousness. We can see the ways in which these victimological narratives take form in histories, novels, feature journalism, painting, film and television, poetry, theatre, popular song, and in public political debate. Such an investigation takes one into a cultural zone where the distinctions between history and fiction that so exercise professional historians and literary critics mean little, as the themes developed by journalists and historians become sources for novelists and film-makers and vice versa.

        My focus throughout is on foundational white narrative and mythology as created by and associated with those who came from Britain and Ireland, making up the majority of immigrants before World War II, and still the forebears of the majority of the population. There are of course many other migrant settler narratives in Australia - narratives of progress of the mainly European but sometimes Asian and Pacific communities that also memorialise the hardship and sacrifice of _their_ first generation. Such immigrants, especially those from northern Europe, may be quite easily incorporated into, made part of, the Anglo-Celtic narrative. Or they may, especially if from southern Europe or from Asia, have their own quite separate stories, of struggles and hardships that have less to do with the land and indigenous peoples and more to do with the ethnocentric and racist Anglo-Celtic majority itself. These non-Anglo-Celtic migrant settler narratives are a subject for further research.


        Australian popular historical narratives embody major themes of Judeo-Christian history - expulsion, betrayal, suffering, revenge, persistence, guilt, and love. The influence of biblical stories is profound for such a secular society.  This is not really so odd. As Benedict Anderson has suggested, nationalist thought rests on older religious dreams and ideals, and Regina Schwartz notes in _The Curse of Cain_ that sacred categories of thought have not just disappeared. They have lingered into the modern world where they are transformed into secular ones (Schwarz, 1997: 6). Schwartz draws attention to the continuing resonances of the Exodus story in the modern world. In it, the Israelites who had gone to Egypt to escape famine, grew to a great multitude, to the alarm of the Egyptians, who enslaved them. Under the leadership of Moses, the Israelites fled from their oppressors in Egypt, wandered through the desert, and came to the Promised Land, the land of Canaan which they then conquered and occupied. The original Exodus, fleeing bondage under the Pharaoh, becomes the moral justification for the later conquest of the Canaanites. The earlier victimhood warrants the later aggression.

        Several scholars have noted the way the story of Exodus is reworked to provide the foundations for both American and Israeli national historical narratives. In the American case, the pilgrims left Britain for America, a new Promised Land reserved by God for his new chosen people, liberating themselves from the tyranny of the British Pharaoh (Shohat, 1992: 140-1). The Puritans, identifying New England as the New Canaan, saw the worldly enterprise of colonisation as a mission to restore mankind.

        Deborah Bird Rose, an Australian anthropologist of American origin, argues that Australian historical consciousness has a different narrative:

Australia, in contrast, was from the first conceived as hell on earth, and its foundation owes more to the myth of Expulsion than to any myth or dream of liberation. In the first decades the majority of the people who settled here did so not to escape Pharaoh, but at the precise will and directive of Pharaoh. ... The Expulsion myth situates Home as Eden, the monarch as God, and the convicts as sinful fallen people doomed to a life of toil and sweat amidst thorns and thistles (Rose, 1996: 205).

It seems to me that in fact in the Australian case both stories sit together, the story of the Fall and expulsion from Eden, and the story of the exodus from Egypt for the Promised Land. We can see this uneasy mixture in the Australian Catholic Leader of 5 June 1988 to which Andrew Lattas draws our attention:

For some of us Australians, our forefathers forsook the green fields and teeming cities of Europe and beyond, setting out like Abraham and Moses to find a promised land. They knew Exodus and Exile, condemnation and chains, desert wanderings and struggle, inequality and injustice, the crucible of tragedy and suffering, the childbirth of a new people (Lattas, 1997: 235).

The Convicts

        Yet rose is right to stress our narratives of expulsion. Foundational in white Australian understandings of their own past are stories of the convicts, expelled from their homeland and motherland, people who, in the old saying originating with an English journalist, left their country for their countrys good. However, I would modify Roses evocation of an Australian expulsion myth in one important respect - the convicts were not, in Australian historical mythology, sinful fallen people. They did not, in these stories, commit much of a sin at all, and are held to have been more sinned against than sinning (Wilde, Hooton, and Andrews 1985: 174-9). The notion of convicts as true criminals is usually held to apply only to a minority; the vast majority are thought to be ordinary people transported for trifling petty crimes - iconically, the stealing of a handkerchief.

        The emphasis on the horror of the system, a product of the British Pharaoh, and the relative innocence of the convicts, has a long history. It was carried in both fiction and history. With little on the convict system included in most later nineteenth century histories, so embarrassing was the whole episode by then felt to be, it was in fiction that the notion of an evil system continued, as in Australias most famous nineteenth century novel, Marcus Clarkes _For the Term of His Natural Life_ (Clarke, 1874) and the popular stories of Price Warung (Warung, 1892). This popular tradition represented convict life as hell on earth, as, in the rhetoric of Robert Hughes in his extremely popular and internationally known _The Fatal Shore, _a wretched purgatory, relieved only by stretches of pure hell (Hughes, 1987: xiii).

        This belief in relatively innocent convicts caught in an evil inhuman system continues throughout the twentieth century, though not uncontested. It is an idea that remains popular still, in film, novel, and play, and especially in letters to newspapers, despite the heavy artillery of historians who emphasised the criminality of the convicts, or like John Hirst, the relative ordinariness and leniency of the system (Clark, 1956; Robson, 1965; Shaw, 1966; Hirst; 1983). Anne Summers best-selling _Damned Whores and Gods Police_, a foundational text for Australian feminist historiography, gave the popular version a new twist, focussing the experience of horror only on the convict _women_, victims of convict and free men alike (Summers, 1975).

The Pioneers

        The victimological narrative, protean, durable, and endlessly resurrected, involves, as well as the convicts, the free immigrants drawn mainly from Britain and Ireland who had to fight for New World freedoms as against the class rigidities and hierarchies of the Old. If the convict era has called up a strange fascination with a past almost too horrible to contemplate, much easier to remember have been the pioneers, a loose general category of early settlers, noted for their difficult victory in their task of settlement. Australia is not alone, of course, in memorialising these pioneers: they are common to all settler societies (Furniss, 1997-8). Australian pioneers have their own particular features, though. They are thought to have endured the harshest continent on earth, with its endless drought, fire, and flood, their struggle most poignantly signified by the near starvation in the first years of settlement, or in the story of the selectors later in the century who attempted to carve out a living from an often unforgiving land.           

As John Hirst points out, the pioneer legend was developed in poem, painting, novel, and history book, and continues still in these forms, as well as in reconstructed villages, re-enactments, and anniversary celebrations. It is popular because so inclusive for Anglo-Celtic Australia, crossing the serious social divides of class and gender, celebrating small and large farmers and men and women alike. Indeed the presence of women pioneers was particularly admired, since the bush and the outback were originally thought of no place for a white woman at all. Women were the symbol of the arrival of domesticity and civilisation where none existed before (Hirst, 1978: 322). Women were incorporated into the legend especially in the 1930s in the build-up to the sesquicentenary of 1938, in pioneer women memorials and gardens, and in histories and novels about pioneer women (Sheridan, 1995: 157). Feminist histories of the 1970s and 1980s also contributed to this tradition, though in emphasising the sufferings of white women, they added a new dimension. Womens foes were not only the same forces of nature confronting the men, but also the men themselves.

        Far less inclusive in terms of class and gender was the radical nationalist legend celebrating the itinerant male workers of the bush and the outback, a legend often taken to encapsulate the Australian character. Russel Wards popular history _The Australian Legend_  argued that from these workers came the characteristics that Australians like to think of as typically Australian - a fiercely independent person who hates officiousness and authority, especially when these qualities are embodied in military officers and policemen (Ward, 1958: 2; Docker, 1984). This Australian masculine type lives on, especially in film, from Chips Rafferty in _The Overlanders_ (1946), to Jack Thompson in _Sunday Too Far Away_ (1975), Bryan Brown in_ A Town Like Alice_ (1981), and most notably Paul Hogan in _Crocodile Dundee_ (1986).

        Yet these two enduring national myths, the pioneer legend and the Australian legend, are similar in both being silent on race and ethnicity. Both refer only infrequently to non-British immigrants, and both obscure the dispossession of indigenous peoples almost entirely.

        In the pioneer legend, the obstacles the settler-hero must fight are mainly the land itself. As Charles Bean put it in his book, _On the Wool Track_, in 1910, speaking of the far west of New South Wales: When the first white men pushed out from the fringe of the known districts into this outside region, each took his life in his hands, and knew that he did so. There was some danger from blacks - not a very great risk. The real danger was from the country itself. This sense of a hostile country is mythologised in the story of Burke and Wills. An all male story with tragic coincidences and bitter defeats in the struggle with nature, it is told again and again: on monuments and memorial stones, in popular histories, and in film and television. One of these story tellers, Alan Moorehead suggested that the Burke and Wills story quickly acquired the status of an Australian myth because it perfectly expresses the early settlers deeply-felt idea that life was not so much a struggle against other men as against the wilderness - that wilderness that made all men equal anyway. The quarrel, basically, was with nature... (p. 200).

The Quarrel with Britain and America

        Sometimes, however, the quarrel was with other nations. The USA appears in the myth as among other things the graveyard of Australian male sporting heroes. Les Darcy was a boxing champion who went to the USA in 1916, fell ill and died there, at the age of 21. Darcy became a folk hero, many continuing to believe for decades, erroneously, that he had been given dope on the night of a big fight in Memphis by jealous Americans fearful he might win (Davey and Seal, 1993: 347). Phar Lap, the racehorse who won 36 major races in Australia from 1929 to 31, died in mysterious circumstances in California in 1932, and again many Australians suspected foul play. The importance of both these figures is the pathos of their early death, their immense talent revealed at home but refused recognition in the rest of the world, their sad and lonely demise in the worlds most powerful nation. The two stories, of boxer and horse, are also often explicitly linked in popular memory.

        But of course, the principal victimological story that Australians tell themselves over and over and cultural analysts recurrently explore is that of Gallipoli, of the unsuccessful landing of Australian, along with British, New Zealand, French and other troops in 1915 on the Dardanelles peninsular, in that ill-fated attempt to open the way for an attack on Constantinople, to relieve the pressure on Russian troops fighting the Turks (Fiske, Hodge, and Turner, 1987: 137-62). The narrative has its power as the story of innocence betrayed, the fittest young men of the young nation giving their all for their country and Empire, and shot down cruelly, endlessly, the fault not so much of the Turks as of the brutal idiocy, the criminal foolishness, of the British command who sent them there.

        The importance of this story to the Australian imaginary can hardly be over-estimated, so bound is it with the trauma of the Australian experience of the First World War, marked by long absences of soldiers far away in Europe and North Africa, and extremely high casualty rates directly affecting the majority of families. The process of memorialisation is fostered both officially and unofficially, by the many thousands who march, pray, and watch on Anzac Day, and by the thousands of young backpackers who now visit the site of Australian graves at Gallipoli each year. It is not too much to say that in Australian popular political culture, commemoration of war displaces the political formation of the nation through Federation as the emotional locus of a sense of nationhood. The tellings of the Gallipoli story are endless, some notable examples including historian Bill Gammages _The Broken Years_, Peter Weirs film _Gallipoli_ (1981) and Roger McDonalds prize-winning novel _1915_ (1979), made into a television series in 1982.

The Quarrel with Indigenous Peoples

        In these settler historical narratives, indigenous people barely appear. Indeed, indigenous invisibility is part of their power. The conflict between settlers and indigenous peoples is displaced onto a more acceptable narrative of a direct conflict between the settler and the land itself (Otto, 1993: 545-58). The land is foregrounded, the people denied a place in history at all.

        Yet this indigenous invisibility was not always the case, and indeed the erasure of Aboriginal people from Australian historical narrative was more a twentieth than a nineteenth century understanding of the colonial past. Nineteenth century histories varied widely in their attitude to Aboriginal people and cultures, sometimes sympathetic, more often crudely racist, regarding them as savages and low on the scale of humanity. But they usually did exhibit an awareness of a history of frontier conflict, and worried over its moral implications. It was in the twentieth century that Aboriginal people disappeared from history books and historical consciousness. Franz Fanon wrote eloquently of the way the settler regards himself as the original inhabitant: He is the absolute beginning: This land was created by us (Fanon, 1973: 39-40). And so it happened in Australian historiography. The slaughter written about by nineteenth century historians gradually faded from public consciousness, written histories, and school texts (Healy, 1996: 106-29).

        In common with other colonial and settler societies, however, there have also been narratives of reversal, a placing of the indigenous people as the invaders and the settlers as the defenders of their land. Captivity narratives were one nineteenth century form of fictional representation of colonisation, in which the white woman, especially, is at the mercy of her Aboriginal captors (Darian-Smith, Poignant and Schaffer, 1993), the best known of these narratives being the story of Eliza Fraser, a white woman held in captivity by Aborigines for six weeks in 1836 before her eventual rescue. A particularly long-standing form of narrative reversal has been the idea that it is the white settler who belongs, who owns the land, who is at home, in contrast to the indigenous people, perceived as nomads, whose hold upon it is tenuous and undeserved. As I mentioned at the beginning of this talk, indigenous leader, Garralwy Yunupingu, has pointed out just what a reversal this is.

        In the history books right up to the 1970s, the conflict between settlers and indigenous people in the past was elided, suppressed, forgotten, or viewed as so long ago that we in the present have no connection with those people or those events. None of _our_ ancestors were individually involved in conflict with Aboriginal societies. In any particular place, violent conflict is denied - there were no Aborigines here, the people might say. The Aboriginal people simply disappeared, faded away, died out, at the hands of the mysterious forces of colonisation, not the agency of real people. As Deborah Bird Rose has said, white settler narratives continue to delete, white out, settler agency in the story of colonisation (Rose, 1997). To shift from a visual to an aural metaphor, anthropologist WEH Stanner spoke in 1968 of the great Australian silence on this history, and the role of historians in creating and perpetuating it (Stanner, 1968).

The Return of the Repressed: Aboriginal histories

        Yet this claim to the land, by right and history, did not go uncontested. Just when it seemed that Aboriginal prior occupation had all but disappeared from Australian consciousness, several developments led to a new interest. Political concern with racism in its local and international manifestations increased, along with a growing protest movement seeking equality and social justice for Aboriginal people (Attwood and Markus, 1998). Gradually, from the 1970s histories emerged which sought to restore popular knowledge of Aboriginal-European relations. Some well-respected writers identified the role of their own ancestors in this destructive history, notably Judith Wrights _The Cry for the Dead_ (1981), and later Cassandra Pybuss _Community of Thieves_ (1991); more recently we have Kate Grenvilles historical novel, _Secret River_ (2005).

        These new histories, in their enthusiasm for uncovering and naming a brutal colonial past, sometimes risked portraying Aboriginal people as outside history, as simply passive victims in a tragic narrative of destruction and despair (Broome, 1994). Some, such as Henry Reynolds and Ann McGrath in the 1980s, began to place greater emphasis on indigenous peoples perceptions, understandings, and active responses to colonisation. In addition, from around the middle 1980s, Aboriginal accounts of the colonial past were increasingly heard by non-Aboriginal audiences. Aboriginal people stressed in public debate their prior occupation, direct experience of invasion and racism, and struggles for survival. This counter-history was told especially through autobiographies, life stories, biographies, and oral histories (Curthoys and Moore: 1995: 15 - 16). The best known internationally of these narratives is one of the earliest, Sally Morgans _My Place_ (1987), a personal story, in the newly emerging mixed-genre life-writing tradition, of the discovery and recognition of Aboriginal identity (Morgan 1987; Ryan 1986; Docker, 1998).

        Aboriginal history came into national public consciousness in an unprecedented way in the context of the Bicentennial commemoration of 1988, which was in many ways successfully converted from a celebration to a renaming and a reconceptualisation of white settlement itself. Even more important was the historical understanding embedded in two legal decisions concerning Native Title, the Mabo decision of 1992, (with subsequent Native Title legislation in 1993), and the Wik decision of 1996, which ruled that pastoral leases did not extinguish Native Title. Aboriginal testimonial reached its maximum public impact and apotheosis in _Bringing Them Home_ (Wilson, 1997), the report of the government inquiry into the stolen generations. The report collected and reproduced hundreds of individual stories, whose power and effect in public debate was profound.

Fear of Losing Home, Again.

        It is this version of history that has been so attacked by conservative intellectuals and politicians and whose popular rejection Pauline Hanson articulated. Underlying this rejection, I would suggest, lies a fear of being cast out, exiled, expelled, made homeless again, after two centuries of securing a new home far away from home. Theirs is an attachment born not of centuries of occupation and attachment, but of relatively recent feelings of being securely located, safe, centred, belonging (Read, 1996). The feeling is_ I have no other home; I have nowhere else to go_. There is a fear that recognition of Aboriginal land rights will mean a symbolic loss of the legitimacy and permanency of the non-Aboriginal Australians sense of home. In this phenomenology, if we fully recognise indigenous claims to the land, if we have a sense of living in someone elses country, we are, in a metaphorical if not a literal sense, perhaps in danger of homelessness again, of having to suffer yet again the original Expulsion (Enzensberger, 1994: 104; Docker, 1996). Like Cain, the farmer, a tiller of the ground, who killed Abel, the shepherd, the nomad, we become morally dispossessed, doomed to wander, ethically homeless, without history: A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be on the earth. To counter this danger of vagabond status, to escape this marking, Cain must be refigured as not having tried to kill Abel, and as not responsible for Abels death. Cain has become a mere farmer, a battler, struggling to survive.

        In the rejection of indigenous claims to land, or any kind of recognition of a history of land seizure, we see here a white Australian version of _ressentiment_, Nietzsches triumph of the weak as weak, described by Wendy Brown as the moralising revenge of the powerless (Brown, 1995: 66). Brown argues that in late modern secular society, in which individuals are buffeted and controlled by global configurations of disciplinarity and capitalist power of extraordinary proportions, _ressentiment_ will abound. As unprotected yet individually accountable spectators in an uncontrollable world, white Australians see themselves as battling courageously against enormous odds. They construct for themselves a past which allocates the land as won through suffering, and therefore theirs.

        And so it is that in Australia, as in other settler societies, the trauma of expulsion, exodus, and exile obscures empathetic recognition of indigenous perspectives, of the trauma of invasion, institutionalisation, and dispersal. The self-chosen victim finds it extremely difficult to recognise what he or she has done to others. The legacy of the colonial past is a continuing fear of illegitimacy, and an inability to develop the kind of pluralist inclusive account of the past that might form the basis for a coherent national community. Reconciliation, fervently desired in some quarters and despised and rejected in others, consequently remains unachievable in a society which is so profoundly unsettled.

**The History Wars **

That, then, is my overall argument. Over the last seven years, since the essay originally appeared, it has become much clearer than it was then that the counter-offensive against critical history has been very substantial and in many cases quite successful. In his Australia Day speech this year, John Howard referred to a social attitudes report which found that fewer Australians are ashamed of this nations past than a decade ago, saying: I welcome this corrective in our national sense of self. It restores a better balance between pride in our past and recognition of past wrongs. In retrospect, Pauline Hanson in 1996 was signifying a shift which has gathered pace since then. There are many aspects to the shift, and Ill mention just a few.

One, of course, has been what are now known as the History Wars, by which I mean the attack led by Keith Windschuttle and more recently Michael Connor on those historians who have done so much to research the history of the nature and destructiveness of colonisation itself. I dont want to rehearse these history wars here, for it takes too long, and Bain Attwood has already given a detailed account in his book, Telling the Truth about Aboriginal History (2005). Many historians have looked at Windschuttles charges closely, and most have agreed that while he has picked up mistakes in the work of some historians, these are not of a kind to justify the conclusions he draws. The evidence of the destructiveness of colonisation for the indigenous peoples remains firm, though the details of the variety of colonizing processes across time and place deserve much closer investigation. Michael Connor has drawn attention to the late development of the actual phrase terra nullius, but otherwise has not really changed our understanding of the ideas and material interests underlying British colonisation of an occupied continent. The point I would make from all this today, though, is that both have been championed by right wing journalists, who are, I think, in touch with a deep desire within Australian political culture for our history to be as Windschuttle says it is, that is a history of justified and well-conducted colonisation and settlement, with little or nothing to regret.

One issue within the history wars has been the relevance or otherwise of the term genocide in the Australian context. Both Henry Reynolds and Keith Windschuttle reject the term genocide as relevant in the Australian case, though Reynolds does allow that there were occasional genocidal moments on the Queensland frontier, when the settlers decided the /Aboriginal people must be cleared from the land forever, so that settlement could proceed. However, along with some others I take a different view, and I would argue that if we think about the meaning of the term carefully, then its use, and comparison with other colonial situations where large scale destruction of indigenous populations occurred, can help us better understand our past. My argument is that the British settlement of the Australian continent was undertaken, in its very conception, with gross neglect for the rights and physical safety of the Indigenous occupants. While there was no consistent or conscious policy of genocide, of destroying a people, there was, over time, on the part of both British authorities and the settlers in the colonies, a consistent policy of taking the land whatever the consequences. This amounted to a genocidal practice, entailing as it did the widespread destruction of the foundations of Aboriginal life and society. It is as much a British past as an Australian one; it is one of the many legacies of empire.

The whole question of genocide raises larger issues. Public debate over the issue led John Docker and me to investigate the work of Raphael Lemkin, the Polish jurist who first coined the term in 1944. We studied first his published work, and later his unpublished work in the New York City Library and the Jewish Historical Museum in New York. From these investigations we realised that Lemkin had a much broader conception of genocide than has come to be recognised in Australia, where it is often equated with mass killing. For Lemkin, it meant the attempt by one people to destroy another, by whatever means. He outlined a wide range of means whereby a people can be threatened in its very existence, through attacks on its religion, customs, economy, food sources, security, and much else. He was indefatigable in pressuring the UN to pass the Convention on Genocide in 1949, and though pleased that it did was sorry to see his ideas concerning cultural genocide excluded from the final definition. It did, though, include the forcible removal of children as a form of genocide. At the same time, he was at work on his book on the history of genocide, in which he outlined his ideas on how to understand genocide. He thought it important to look at the following aspects: historical background; conditions leading to genocide, e.g. colonial expansion; methods and techniques; the psychology of the genocidists; propaganda; victim group responses, outside group responses; and aftermath in terms of population, economic, cultural, moral, and political losses. Though a lawyer by training, he had a deep interest in both history and psychology, and saw the human tendency to genocide as their sombre meeting ground.

Alongside the effects of the history wars we can note a second aspect of the shift in public thinking in recent years about our history and that is the return to a politics of assimilation and a rejection of ideals of self-determination, autonomy, and the need for a treaty. The assimilationist tradition places white Australia as the true Australians, and includes others only in so far as they adopt the values and habits of non-Indigenous Australians. Furthermore, the past must be separated rigidly from the present; anything bad that happened was long ago, and has nothing to do with us now. In this way of thinking, the notion of recognition of Indigenous rights by virtue of prior occupation is rejected. On the other hand, Aboriginal humanity can be recognised, and there is in fact room for empathy with the plight of indigenous people in terms of disadvantage. It is on this ground, the ground of empathy with Aboriginal people, that Keith Windschuttle has been least successful. Commentators as various as Ron Brunton, Robert Manne, Alan Atkinson and John Hirst have parted company with him for his lack of compassion, his assertion of the point of view of the nineteenth century settler in a battle zone, his refusal to recognise the point of view of the indigenous peoples of the country. It is this empathy with the Aboriginal people of the past that also, I think, underlies the warm reception of Secret River. What is more difficult, though, is acceptance of a language and a politics of rights.

A third development is the success of the Howard government in appealing to national pride, and enhancing and supporting a form of nationalism which sees the colonizing past as a minor blemish only. It restores support for British and European traditions. There is nothing new in Howards agenda here; as far back as his _Future Directions _statement in 1988, he said he wanted to see one Australia proud of its heritage. Under the Labor government, he said then, peoples confidence in their nations past came under attack as the professional purveyors of guilt attacked Australias heritage and people were told they should apologise for pride in their culture, traditions, institutions and history. After the loss of the unlosable election in 1993, Keatings success in positioning himself as the inheritor of what is truly Australian, and the conservatives as representing a backward-looking relic of the past, imbued with loyalty to Britain rather than to modern Australia, energized Howard and other Liberals to take history seriously. Howard became increasingly convinced that Keatings use of history was a real problem; in a speech in November 1993 he accused Keating of the unashamed use of his version of history to promote a modern day political argument. Paul Keating, he continued, is also intent on marginalizing the liberal/conservative contribution to Australian history and the Australian achievement. From the time of his election, and relying heavily on the writings of Geoffrey Blainey on these issues, he defended Australian history as a whole as something largely to be proud of, with the negative aspects a very small part of the overall story. These views, centred on the theme of balance, were reiterated in his Australian Day speech this year.

An important aspect of the Howard governments approach to history and the past has been to ensure that the emphasis in mourning the dead of the past is not on the Aboriginal dead but on Australian soldiers who have fought in wars. Stephen Muecke and others have pointed out that the Howard government is highly selective about what it wants people to forget, to move on from, and what it wants them to remember. Muecke has argued that the most memorable national historical events are associated with loss of life, grief on a national scale, and rituals that bring people together in common remembrance. The critics of what has been dubbed the black armband view of history therefore want 'to be selective about whose dead should be honoured in this kind of way.' (Muecke, 1997). In the last ten years, the federal government through massive funding of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Australian War memorial has actively promoted public knowledge and understanding of Australias military heritage and its importance in shaping the nation. DVA now spends million of dollars each year in the Saluting their Service program, inaugurated in 2002, which aims to: raise community awareness, educate younger Australians about our wartime heritage and its importance in the development of our nation, preserve war memorials and memorabilia in communities across the country, and ensure national days such as Anzac Day and Remembrance Day are commemorated in an appropriate manner. Far from offering reparation as the beneficiaries of colonisation, we have a reassertion of victimhood.


None of this is surprising. Given the deep psychic fears which underlie many non-Indigenous Australians sense of history, the story told by the critical historians such as Henry Reynolds was always going to meet stiff resistance. There are two main reasons why some version of the History Wars is likely to continue indefinitely. The first has to do with the nature of history itself, as a mode of understanding. In our recent book, Is History Fiction?, John Docker and I argue that history has a double character, being on the one hand the rigorous study of historical evidence and sources, and on the other a narrative form that partakes in the ambiguities and uncertainties of literature. It both claims to be a science about the past, and seeks to inspire, entertain, and captivate with its narration of past people, deeds, and events. As such, it is a divided practice, always subject to dispute over its truth value, and always open to internal debate and division. The second reason these debates will remain with us is that non-Indigenous Australians remain uncertain and fearful over the legitimacy of their claim to the land, and of to what extent they can be secure that Australia really is their home. This deep unsettlement is endemic to settler societies, who by definition cannot decolonize. For Pauline Hanson was surely right when she asked Where the hell do I go? The settlers cannot go back to their place of origin, they we must come to terms with our history, and our continuing relationship to the land upon which we now live. How we do that remains very much an open question.


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