I haven't commented on the unfolding nuclear events in Japan because I really haven't had anything to add to the discussion that was in any way useful. However, the thing that did puzzle me as it emerged was the failure of back-up power. That seems to be the single most important factor in the unfolding events. The answer here appears to lie in the failure to recognise the potential scale of possible tsunamis. The other major design flaw appears to be the unprotected containment ponds.
These things and possible answers will become clearer later. In the meantime, none of us can do more than watch and hope.
In a number of earlier posts, I discussed the history of the White Australia Policy, including its ending. One of the important issues there was the way Australian foreign policy interests affected the process. A second and linked issue was the Colombo Plan and the way that affected attitudes by bringing Australians into contact with overseas students. Here I used my own experience as an illustration.
Unexpectedly, I found myself looking at a different dimension of the same process. I say unexpectedly because White Australia was the last thing on my mind.
The social, economic and political changes that affected New England in the second half of the twentieth century reflected global as well as national changes. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the end of colonialism and the rise of the US Civil Rights Movement, the emergence of hippies and the counter culture movement, the rise of women’s liberation were all global and were signs of an interacting process of social and cultural change.
These changes may have been global, but they played out across the New England landscape in ways that reflected local conditions. For that reason, I was looking at some of them of as part of the preparation of my social change paper.
In February 1965, students from Sydney University influenced by the civil rights struggle in the United States, organised a bus tour of western and coastal New South Wales towns. Their purpose was threefold. The students planned to draw public attention to the poor state of Aboriginal health, education and housing. They hoped to point out and help to lessen the socially discriminatory barriers which existed between Aboriginal and white residents. And they also wished to encourage and support Aboriginal people themselves to resist discrimination
I decided to use this bus tour as an entry point to discussion because it has achieved iconic status. To do this, I needed more information about the tour, so started with Anne Curthoys’ Freedom Ride: a freedom rider remembers (Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 2002). I got more than I bargained for.
To begin with, it drew me into the world of the Aboriginal activists and of the overall changes that had taken place in Australia following the end of the Second World War. I already knew that I had to write something on this.
At the first census in 1971 recording the Aboriginal population, the number of NSW residents self-reporting as Aboriginal were heavily concentrated in New England. The total number of self-identified Aborigines was quite low, 23,101 in all. Of this group, 12,760 (55%) lived in New England. The proportion is quite startling, more so if the unknown but quite high proportion of New England ancestry Aboriginal people living in the Sydney metropolitan area is included. This means that the story of New England's Aboriginal peoples is actually quite important and not just in local terms.
I said that I already knew that I had to write something on this. I had been putting it off. I have written a lot on Aboriginal issues, and I keep burning out. This time I had no choice but to continue.
In turn, this drew me into the history of Abschol - the national university student Aboriginal scholarship scheme - and of the role that university students and staff had played in changing attitudes and approaches towards Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This was quite important. It also reminded me why I was so strongly opposed to the abolition of compulsory student fees. Without those, far less would have happened.
I will try to document some of this in a blog post, because it's actually quite hard to get a consolidated picture.
The students at Sydney University who ended up on the bus rise did not start by campaigning for Aboriginal rights. They were, as so many students were at the time, focused on the US Civil Rights campaign. It's hard to imagine now just how important this was, the way in which it attracted campus attention.
The students' problem in organising demonstrations in support of US civil rights lay in the international response; fix up your own house first came back. This stung. At Sydney University, this plus the evolving role of Charles Perkins and Gary Foley (both recipients of the first NSW university Abschol scholarships) switched focus from the US to Australia's Aboriginal peoples. The bus ride was a result.
I may seem to have come some distance from the ending of the White Australia Policy. I have not.
White Australia ended because the then Government knew that changes had to be made, even though individual ministers still supported the policy in principle. White Australia ended because the Columbo Plan helped break down prejudice in the Australian community. White Australia ended, too, because of student activism that was driven by causes elsewhere, but then transmuted into local issues. Australian student leaders going to international student meetings experienced considerable discomfort as a consequence of White Australia.
How one breaks all this up is unclear. To Aboriginal activists, their role was central. Then student activists focus on their roles. My own work has a broader focus.
In the end, it doesn't matter. Major changes in social attitudes and policy are always messy when it comes to looking at causes and relative influence. Most of the time, we simply can't know. What is important is the simple presentation of the varying influences involved.