Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Non Post

Short note just to say that I am not posting tomorrow. I need a chance to gather my thoughts.

Helen's UNSW Economic Development Course

I have just read the course outline of the first year intra-disciplinary economic development course that eldest is doing at the University of NSW. I roared with laughter. In fairness, there are some interesting items that should provide a basis for an interesting course. Still, I had to laugh.

Reason one is that Helen did not in fact know (I did not realise this) that in opting for development economics she was following a family tradition - no less than five of her immediate Belshaw relatives including her father have done some work in this area, all with a multidisciplinary focus.

Reason two was that the course was incredibly bogged in what I have rudely called on this blog the values of the previous "liberal" orthodoxy.

When I first did development economics all those years ago our core focus was simple. How do you increase the standard of living of the world's poorest? You could not do this without looking at cultural and anthropological issues, but beating poverty was the core.

Growing up in Armidale, then the location of the only Australian non-metro university, I had a privileged childhood in that most of the limited number of international academics and writers visiting Australia came to Armidale with many looked after by Dad.

One person I met was Gunnar Myrdal, the winner of the 1974 Nobel Prize for Economics. Myrdal had a remarkable career as academic, international civil servant, Government minister and writer. His 1944 book An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy is, I think, still an important book in the evolution of attitudes towards what was then called the Negro.

Now how does all this link? Myrdal's Asian Drama: An Inquiry into the Poverty of Nations and The Challenge of World Poverty. A World Anti-Poverty Program in Outline remains one of the most monumental attempts to bring a range of disciplines to bear on the question of economic development.

When I look at the reading lists there is no reference that I can see to any of the earlier work nor to the history of the subject. However, there is an entire long list of references to the Australian Aborigines.

I may be wrong in all this, I will go through the course in more detail later, but so far I find it all very interesting.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Water Restrictions and the Quality of Life

Back in January Leagle Eagle had a post on water restrictions in Melbourne, including the practice of neighbours dobbing in neighbours. I have been meaning to make a comment for some time.

To me, water restrictions combined with various approaches to restricting water usage represent a major drop in my real standard of living.

I grew up in an era of limited water. Armidale's dams were very small, so there were constant restrictions in summer including sometimes total bans on the use of hoses, more often fixed houses. Banning use of hand held houses in a town of gardeners was something that could be done only in the most dire circumstances. Then when brother David and I as kids went down to stay on the farm with its reliance on tank water, we shared baths with 4 inches of water. We also did not have a shower at home, although we could have a deep bath.

All this makes the long, hot shower one of life's most enjoyable luxuries, especially after physical work or if unwell. I am not saying that I had a long, hot shower every time, most times I don't have time, but in satisfaction terms it had great value. To me, the new water limited showers are simply not very pleasant. And so few places now seem to have the old full size bath.

We had an old system at home, so I could still get a proper hot shower when I wanted it. Recently, we had to replace a valve in the hot water system itself. This appears to restrict the flow of water. The problem is that the lower flow makes the system unreliable. The hot water is not as hot and also cuts in and out. The owners cannot afford to replace the whole hot water system, so we make do. We can get by on the shower side, but actually have to boil water to get the washing up water really hot.

As an aside, a little while ago we tried the new small fluorescents in the lounge room. Nobody told us that they don't work with dimmers, requiring something else to be fixed up.

I love gardening, especially vegetables. Back in October last year I carried a post describing the joys of the old home garden.

I gardened - you see the past tense - in a very water and time effective fashion. Time poor, I would take a small proportion of a bed and clear it, adding compost from my compost heap. I would then water it properly.

Where I was not planning to plant immediately, I would put down a thick layer of paper material with straw on top and then water again to bed the staw down and stop it blowing. Once that was done, I did not need to worry about the bed other than pulling out a few weeds until I was ready to use it. When I did come to use the bed I would find the soil still moist.

In other cases, I would plant and then mulch around the plants, again watering properly. This then limited subsequent watering.

Working this way, six or seven hours in dribs and drabs spread over the week progressively created a substantial vegetable garden providing a range of vegetables all the time.

When water restrictions first came in limiting use of hand held houses to certain times on certain days I had a real problem. Initially I ignored them to some degree, arguing that the small amount of watering I was doing at other times as part of the mulching process was insignificant.

Then, talking to other school parents, none of them gardeners, about this I found that they regarded what I was doing as anti-social. I tried carrying water, but this was too hard. So I stopped gardening. I now have a yard of overgrown beds and no vegetables!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Performance Pay for Australian Teachers

Following an earlier promise to Neil, I have now put up a story on performance pay on the Managing the Professional Services Firm blog.

Friday, February 23, 2007

End Week Reflections - Quong Tart and the Chinese in Australia

Note to readers: Because I have photos in this post I suspect that I am going to find serious formatting problems when I publish. I may be wrong, but I am adding this note now in advance of multiple feeds.

Photo:Mei Quong Tart's home Ashfield.

I am very tired, but thought that I should put down some end week comments.

Visitor 10,000 did arrive. As best I can work out, I counted back, visitor 10,0000 searched Australian Education System on Google and had an IP address including desm.qwest.ne. Whoever you are, welcome.

I am doing some work in Ashfield at the moment, one of the most ethnically varied parts of Sydney with a very strong Chinese presence. If I took a photo of the main drag from the right angle, I suspect that you would be hard pressed to locate it as Australian!

The staff reflects the mix. The kind and efficient HR lady who inducted me is from the sub-continent, a number of the staff are Chinese and so on. On Chinese New Year the Chinese staff, with the help of some drafted European people, put on a Lion Dance and morning tea to mark the start of the Year of the Pig. Today we went out to Yum Cha to continue the celebrations.

In all this I learned about Mei Quong Tart (and here). I already knew about Quong Tart as perhaps Australia's most famous Chinese, but I did not know that he was one of Ashfield's favourite sons.

I have always loved the complex mosiac of Australian life.

When I was studying Australian history early on, I got so bored with the standard sterotyped presentation and went digging.

I read about the history of Australian art. I looked at the relationship between art and changing Australian life and literature. I read every Australian written book I could get. I bought local histories when visiting places. Everywhere I went I found new points of interest, new patterns that had been concealed or at least not recognised.

I think that one of the reasons I got so cranky with what I saw as the Whitlam Government's little nationalism and then with the official approach to multiculturalism is that I saw them in some ways as an attempt to replace one set of blinkers and stereotypes with another, in so doing conflicting with my own work and thinking.

In fairness to multiculturalism, and this is the link to Quong Tart, it did lead to an increased focus on the history of different ethnic groups in Australia, thus filling in one gap that I had been looking at. But at the same time, entire topics and fields of study that I was equally interested dropped below the radar.

Photo: Quong Tart's Funeral Procession 1903

I suspect that many Australians still think of the Chinese presence in Australia as new. In fact, it is not.

As a kid, I used to play in the Armidale cemetry. There, in the "other denominations" section I found a number of Chinese graves. I was curious because I knew no Chinese. Later I found out that the Chinese had played a significant development role in New England.

Later still, I found out from Geoffrey Blainey's Tyranny of Distance that there were complex shipping and trading links between Australia and China from the early days of European settlement, links that facilitated the early movement of Chinese people to Australia.

I was surprised. I, too, had absorbed the stereotype of an isolated remote new settlement on the edge of the world.

I thought that I might tell you a little about the story of Quong Tart just to illustrate my point that Australia's past is a complex mosaic. This applies as much to Australia's Chinese people as it does to any other part of Australian society. In writing I am drawing from the links given above as well as the Australian National Museum's Heritage Scroll.

Mei Quong Tart was born in 1850 in the Hsin-ning (Sun-ning) province of China, south west of Canton to Mei Quong a successful merchant. He arrived in 1859 aged nine with an uncle en route to the Braidwood diggings.

The link between the Chinese and Australia's various mineral rushes is a deep one.

While Chinese settlers arrived in Australia quite early, especially after the ending of transportation to NSW in 1840 created a labor shortage. However, Chinese immigration increased sharply after the discovery of gold.

Chinese diggers quickly appeared on all new fields including Rocky River near Armidale. Those visiting Uralla should visit McCrossin's Mill Museum which has a major Chinese display, including the pictured Joss House.

Upon his arrival on Braidwood, Quong Tart worked in a store kept by Thomas Forsyth and his wife where he picked up a Scottish accent and love of Robert Burns which he kept for the rest of his life, reciting the poetry with a strong Scottish burr.

While working in the store he caught the eye of Alice Simpson who with her husband Robert Percy Simpson unofficially adopted him. As part of the Simpson family he was enrolled as a member of the Anglican church and was taught to read and write English.

In 1864 aged 14 Quong Tart was given his first mining claim by the Simpson's who also encouraged him to buy shares in further mining claims. By the time he was 18 he was a wealthy bachelor who was prominent in sporting, cultural and religious affairs on the gold fields. In 1871 he applied for and was granted naturalisation and citizenship. When the Simpson family moved to Sydney he went with them.

On all this, Quong Tart was luckier than many of his fellow Chinese.

I mentioned the rapid increase in the number of Chinese after the discovery of gold. By 1861, 38,258 people, or 3.3 per cent of the Australian population, had been born in China. This rapid increase caused tensions and resentments among the European population There was intermittent violence against the Chinese, including the famous Lambing Flat (now Young) riots of 1861 when, in the worst outbreak, 2000 European diggers attacked the Chinese, injuring 250 and destroying their possessions.

The pressure of public opinion against the Chinese caused the New South Wales Government to pass the Chinese Immigration Restriction and Regulation Act in 1861 to restrict the numbers of Chinese in the colony. Queensland introduced restrictions in 1877 and Western Australia followed suit in 1886. Anti-Chinese leagues appeared and there was a range of explicit discrimination.

Quong Tart prospered through all this.

Although now a part of the Simpson family, he had maintained contact with his family in China. In 1881 he visited them, opening his first tea and silk store in Sydney upon his return. This led to a chain of tea rooms, then an elaborate restaurant in Sydney's King Street and in 1898 a dining hall in the new Queen Victoria Markets in Sydney. This last became one of the most popular social centres in Sydney.

Now wealthy, Quong Tart married an English woman, Margaret Scarlett in 1886.This pattern of marrying local women was common in part because of the immigration restrictions on bringing brides from China. There are a considerable number of Australian families that can trace part of their ancestry back to the Gold Rush Chinese immigrants.

As his business interests grew he also became more involved in politics.

As early as 1883 he launched an anti-opium campaign and submitted a petition to the New South Wales government asking for a ban on the importation of opium. In 1887 he submitted a second petition to the government. Both were unsuccessful but paved the way for later anti-opium movements. He also appointed to sit on the 1891 Royal Commission into Chinese Gambling and Immorality.

He was a prominent member of the Chinese Commercial Association (1892-1903) and spoke on a number of occasions on their behalf.

In addition to his business and political activities, Quong Tart was also a prominent socialite in constant demand as a speaker at social and charitable functions. He also supported and organised many charitable functions of his own.

On 26 July 1903 he died of pleurisy, the outcome of an earlier savage assault by an intruder in his office in the Queen Victoria Markets. With 1,500 mourners his funeral, was a major ceremony. He was buried in Rookwood cemetery with a Christian service read in Cantonese.

An advance welcome to Visitor Ten Thousand

Some time today this blog will see visitor ten thousand.

While I started this blog last March, it was June/July before I really began regular posting. It's been an interesting ride.

I will not be here, so to speak, when visitor ten thousand comes, so my welcome in advance.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Geoff Robinson's South Coast blog

When I first started blogging I discovered Geoff Robinson's South Coast blog. I thought that it was great. Then over the Christmas period Geoff's posts dropped off.

I began to fear that the pressure of regular posts - all regular bloggers suffer from this pressure - meant the end of the blog. Now Geoff had redeemed himself with some great posts worthy of a much wider audience.

Geoff writes from what I, but not necessarily he, would call the old left position. His posts are thoughtful and researched. Just to mention a few of his posts.

On 12 February, Geoff alerted me to problems in the University of Phoenix, the mega size private university that has been seen by some as the exemplar of mass delivery.

A sense of history provides a useful perspective when thinking about international comparisons. Australia pioneered high quality distance university education starting at the University of New England. US universities were very slow to take the distance model up, opening the way for the rise of Phoenix.

Still on history, Geoff had a rather nice piece on 19 February entitled Wisdom from Keynes and Menzies. Geoff finished by quoting Lord Skidelsky's stinging attack on those, like me, who believe that we can learn from history. I feel another later post coming on!

On 20 February I referred to CDEP in my discussion on some of the issues arising from Government(s) policy towards our indigenous people. The day before in fact Geoff carried a short post noting that the Howard Government had flagged the end of CDEP, pointing to some other problems.

Geoff also pointed me to a research paper that I must read on discrimination against Aborigines in the job market.

I do commend Geoff's blog to you.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Performance Pay for Australian Teachers

I see that Neil has already commented on Julie Bishop's proposal for performance based pay for Australian teachers.

I will comment on this from a mangement consulting perspective when I have had time to read the details properly. I have some things to finish first.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Stocktake - Belshaw Writings on Australian Aborigines 4; Policy Interlude

My thanks to Lexcen for drawing my attention to an incredibly depressing piece written by Noel Pearson describing current problems in Hope Vale (and here), the Aboriginal community in which he grew up. I do recommend that you read it.

The article encapsulates some elements that I am trying to explore in my current stocktake series on my own writing and thoughts on the Aborigines, accepting that as a non-Aboriginal I am writing from an outsider's perspective.

Noel himself as an educated and thoughtful person is an example of the progress I was talking about. Hope Vale is an example of the problems.

I have not been to Hope Vale and cannot comment on the detail of the problems. Further, I do not have the specific expertise or knowledge on, for example, all the suite of Government policies and programs towards the Aborigines. You can find details of Federal Government programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders here. However, standing back, I would make a number of general comments.

First, and taking Hope Vale as an example, am I right in thinking that the conditions of some of Australia's indigenous peoples have in fact deteriorated over the last thirty years? I say some, because its not true for all. If so, where, how, why? Where will I find the statistical data and supporting policy analysis that I can use as a reasonably educated observer to understand the problems.

I pose all this as a question because such material may exist. My gut judgement, I stand to be corrected, is that available material is too aggregated on one side, too localised or fragmented on the other, to tell us what we need to know.Secondly, are the problems faced by Hope Vale an Aboriginal problem to be dealt with through Aboriginal policy or a problem for particular Aborigines to be dealt with through other mechanism or a combination of the two? If a combination, where is the dividing line?

To try to tease this question out, I did a number of web searches around the topic Cape York economic development. I chose economic development because this and associated jobs would seem to be a key issue from the viewpoint of the locals. I did not attempt a detailed analysis for time reasons, but formed three strong impressions.

1. There has been a lot of discussion, but it appears very fragmented, almost too hard.

2. The discussion appears strongly set in an indigenous frame. The bulk of the locals may be indigenous, but that does not mean that a Cape York economic development strategy is or should be automatically the same as an indigenous development strategy.

3. Cape York locals appear caught between a rock and a hard place, between their own needs including the right of indigenous people to manage their land and the externally imposed desire of the conservation movement to preserve Cape York as a heritage area. See, for example, the Wilderness Society Cape York campaign. I do not know what local attitudes are to this, but it certainly adds to the difficulties.

Now if you look at the detail of the case as outlined by Noel you will see an interaction between the three levels of Government, creating a very complicated pattern.

European settlement came to Australia in waves, creating a rolling pattern of impact over a long time period on our indigenous peoples.

This pattern varied between regions and was strongly influenced by the policies towards the Aborigines, in the case of Queensland Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, developed by the different colonies/states including the Federal Government in the case of the Northern Territory. These approaches were not uniform, creating varying impacts between and within jurisdictions.

The 1967 constitutional referendum gave the Commonwealth Government power to legislate on matters affecting the Aborigines. From this point, and especially after the election of the Whitlam Government in 1972 and its adoption of the policy of Aboriginal self-determination, Commonwealth involvement in Aboriginal issues grew rapidly as did Commonwealth spending. A time line on some of the changes can be found here.

All this is fine, but it means that communities such as Hope Vale have not only inherited the legacy of past policy, but now sit at the centre of interaction between ever changing Commonwealth and state policies.

Take CDEP (Community Development Employment Projects) as an example, one referred to by Noel. The official description of CDEP reads:

"Indigenous community organisations are funded by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations and the Torres Strait Regional Authority to run CDEPs in urban, rural and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

CDEPs relate to each community's needs. Activities develop participant's work and employment skills. CDEPs also act as a stepping stone into the mainstream labour market."

This sounds praiseworthy, but in fact CDEP appears to have become a long term Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander specific work for the dole program. Worse, CDEP appears to have become institutionalised into the support structures of particular communities. Take it away, and some community activities would collapse. I stand to be corrected, but we appear to have created something that combines long term welfare with underpaid work.

Here I was struck, in fact horrified, by a recent program on ABC Radio's Away. I only heard part and by accident, so I may have got things wrong.

According to the program, CDEP in northern Aboriginal communities has created some real skills that, in combination with supplied radio sets, make Aboriginal observers a key part of Coastwatch. However, CDEP has yet to create a single longer term job. The program asked why these Aborigines were not now being properly paid by the Government for their work?

I thought that this was a fair question.

Previous Posts in this Series

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Stocktake - Belshaw Writings on Australian Aborgines 3: Australian Prehistory

Note to reader: I have done a minor update on this post to strengthen focus and remove minor errors.

I began my work on the Aborigines at the University of New England in the 1960s as part of Isabel McBryde's pioneering team (photo).

I have mentioned Isabel many times in posts, far too many to list here. I will write a proper post on her at some point.

UNE then had a broad based history course that would, I suspect, put most university history courses today to shame. The first full year course was intended to provide base for late historical studies and so covered a broad expanse of time beginning with archaeology and prehistory.

UNE also had a powerful history faculty.

Mick Williams, later professor at ANU, was head of Department, while Russel Ward of Australian Legend fame was also a professor. Russell used to muse sometimes about the apparent irony that he should be blocked from a post at the University of NSW because of his one time Communist Party affiliations - yes, political correctness of various forms has been around for a while - only to be appointed to a university with strong Country Party affiliations. And with no objections raised!

There were close links between staff and students, as well as a strong focus on Australian and New England regional studies. This fitted Isabel's approach. With the backing of the History Department she gathered students around her, including myself.

Under the guidance of Professor Mulvaney, she had formed the view that the only way to understand the aboriginal past was by a series of regional studies. It was absurd to think that you could establish Australia wide cultural patterns in a continent of such size, geographical diversity and and length of Aboriginal past with a few geographically isolated digs. You had to focus at regional level first, and then build up.

Now here I want to point you to one conclusion in my post of 20 December:

This lead me to a simple conclusion. We should stop talking about specific aboriginal problems as though all aborigines were a uniform group quite distinct from the broader community, but instead should focus on disentangling the facts so that we knew just what we were really talking about.

This - the importance of disentangling the facts- is a theme I will be returning too, together with the importance of focusing on problems at a regional or local level.

Growth in UNE Studies

Under Isabel's influence, New England studies linked to the Aborigines increased rapidly.

If you look at the list of UNE archaeology postgraduate theses - there were other theses dealing in part with Aboriginal- European relations that I think are still listed under history - you will see that Sharon Sullivan's 1964 honours study on the The material culture of the Aborigines of the Richmond and Tweed Rivers of northern NSW at the time of first white settlement was the first.

This was followed in 1965 by Brice's Litt. B thesis (The interpretation of the art of the hunter societies of Europe and Australia) and then in 1966, the first year that prehistory was offered as part of the history honours program, by three honours theses including mine.

Helen Brayshaw wrote on Some Aspects of the material culture of the Aborigines of the Hunter Valley at the time of first white settlement in the area, Bryan Harrison wrote on The Myall Creek massacre and its significance in the controversy over the Aborigines during Australia's early squatting period, while I wrote on The economic basis of Aboriginal life in Northern NSW in the nineteenth century looking at the economic basis of aboriginal life as the time of European intrusion.

In 1978 Isabel published a book of essays, Records of Time Past (Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies) mainly written by her former students. It included an article of mine, Population distribution and the pattern of seasonal movement in Northern NSW, drawn from my original work.

By then, Isabel's students had written 22 theses on the Aborigines, 4 Litt.B's, 16 BA honours and 2 MAs. Isabel herself was awarded her PhD - An archaeology survey of the New England Region, NSW - in 1967. In all, a fair body of work for such a short period.

Aboriginal Studies in the Sixties

There is a current urban myth that Australians of the past did not know about the Aborigines.

I went to primary school in the 1950s. There we practised Aboriginal art. I also had family that gave me books about the Aborigines from Aboriginal Myths and Legends (still in print) to Charles and Elsie Chauvel's book. I do not remember the title at this distance. I knew about Jedda. I read the books of Ion Idriess. So I knew about the Aborigines from several different perspectives.

However, that view was a partial one, focused on the Aborigines' role as the traditional occupiers of the continent. I knew very little of current Aboriginal life, almost nothing about the history of the Aborigines since the coming of the Europeans. Now, looking back, I can understand the resentment of Aboriginal children at school at the time exposed to the European view of their people.

All that said, traditional Aboriginal life and history, however partial my view, was real to me in a way that is not true to my daughters today, although they know far more about the injustices done the aborigines and indeed know more people of aboriginal ancestry than I did at their age.

In some ways, I was lucky to begin my studies when I did. I came to them fresh, unencumbered by all the complexity that now attaches to Aboriginal Studies or discussions on Aboriginal issues. This was also a period of great upsurge in interest in the aborigines, the beginning of understanding of the wrongs that had been done, providing a counterpoint to my work. All this made it a voyage of discovery.

There was not a lot of existing material to work from when I came to start my research on the economic structure of traditional Aboriginal life in New England.

As I pointed out in my post, Malcolm Calley, Anthropology and Australia's Aborigines, on the New England Australia blog, it was anthropologists rather than historians who had pioneered aboriginal studies and who had also taken the lead in trying to raise community interest in aboriginal issues. Consistent with this, I found that there was very little historical research that I could draw from other than Sharon Sullivan's thesis and some local histories.

This did not worry me. I was very happy combining economics, anthropology and history in a way that had become something of a family tradition, working with anthropological and archaeological material on one side, historical records on the other.

In doing so I had to exercise some care. My focus meant that I was pushing the boundaries of the traditional historical form. In addition, I was also challenging some conventional perceptions including the idea common among left wing historians that the Aborigines were in some ways an example of primitive communism. I didn't worry too much, but it meant that there were some things that I could not do.

The Richness of Traditional Aboriginal Life

As I proceeded, I was amazed and fascinated at the complexity and sophistication of traditional economic life.

When in first year we studied prehistory, we did so in a frame set by concepts such as the the three ages - stone, bronze and iron - and the coming of the agrarian revolution. The Aborigines were slotted into this model as stone age hunter gatherers. In fact, the traditional aborigines were no mere simple hunter gatherers.

A few examples to illustrate my point.

In my post, Pilliga Fires, on the New England Australia blog I made the point that the Australia seen by the first Europeans was a man modified landscape. Our Aboriginal ancestors did not just sit lightly on the landscape leaving it unchanged, they modified it to better suit their way of life.

Fire was a key tool. Fire could be used to help drive animals to waiting hunters. Fire was also used to encourage green pick (the fresh shoots that emerged after the blaze) to attract kangaroos.

So when Europeans arrived they in turn changed the landscape not just through things such as land clearing, but by changing the incidence of fire and the harvesting of native animals. More recently, we have changed the landscape again through, among other things, the large scale creation of national parks.

I later found with real interest that there was substantial reluctance to accept that the Aborigines changed the landscape, especially among those supporting the conservation movement.

In another post on the New England Australia blog, The Poetry of Judith Wright - Bora Ring, I make the point that the Aborigines were sophisticated builders within the limits set by their tools, quoting Sandra Bowdler's description of the Bora Rings of New England and South East Queensland.

Aboriginal building extended well beyond the Bora Rings. The Aboriginal Fish traps at Brewarrina (photo) are another example. This was a major structure that survived for thousands of years.

I remember one interesting but mysterious field trip trip in which we went to investigate a stone path.

We knew from Isabel's work that the path could not have been built by Europeans. The path had only been discovered when a road was cut through the bush. No matter how hard we searched, there was only one substantial strip with no way of knowing where it had gone, why or when.

The aborigines also maintained a complex trading system under which things such as axes from the Moore Creek quarry could spread over very wide distances.

I was also surprised at the size of New England's Aboriginal population, especially along the rich coastal strip. To make estimates, I had to work from reports of gatherings, from estimates made at the time by European observers, relating this to what I knew of varying natural resources.

My work here along with others was later savagely criticised by Professor Butlin. I no longer have the reference here, but there was methodological justice in his points. However, I felt that the criticism missed a key point.

At the time I was writing there was a common perception that the total Australian Aboriginal population in pre-European times was around 300,000 thinly spread across a vast continent. My work showed that Aboriginal populations in one area were significantly greater than might be expected given the original perception. I was also able to show, as might have been expected, that the density of the Aboriginal population across New England varied very significantly.

European Perceptions, Aboriginal Responses

Writing an ethno-historical thesis meant that European writings of one type or another and especially early settler records and recollections were my primary source materials. Here my interest lay not in European perceptions of the Aborigines as such, although I necessarily formed views on this, but in trying to pierce the European veil to determine the patterns of traditional aboriginal economic life.

Midway through my work I came across Malcolm Calley's PhD thesis on Bandjalang Social Organisation. This was a revelation to me.

As I said in my post on Malcolm, there was a distrust among historians of oral history. There was also a common belief that modern Aborigines in Eastern Australia had lost their knowledge of the tribal culture.

Malcolm's work showed that this was not true. I had no idea of the extent to which oral history had been retained. I had also not realised the extent to which traditional languages were still known, if in some cases by a small and diminishing number of older people. Here I have spoken of the work of Bill Hoddinnott in trying to record details of remnant languages before they were lost.

I think it a national tragedy that our European blindness prevented us recording details of Aboriginal history and of the Aboriginal experience from elders whose life span bridged across from the traditional past to the then present.

However, all this was to raise another issue.

At the time I wrote my thesis, land rights were still in the future while the rise of black consciousness was still in its early days. I had no idea that my thesis and subsequent article would become cited references in various heritage studies nor of the minefield that Aboriginal Studies would become as people tried to balance conflicting interests and rights. I think that I would have been terrified had I known,

In my post on Malcolm Calley I quoted the words of Rod Hagen:

"Any anthropologist who has worked on Native Title claims, or similar activity, in south eastern Australia is likely to have come across the anger of indigenous groups confronted with "academic" interpretations of their rights interests, customs and traditions which differ from their own view of these important aspects of their lives ....

Indigenous groups, not surprisingly , are highly indignant about having their claims, and the primarily oral traditions on which they are based, judged against the writings of the initial colonisers themselves and on occasion react even more strongly against later "academic" interpretations of territorial interests."

This Aboriginal reaction is hardly surprising given the position I have described. However, it and the response to it and to broader Aboriginal issues by academics and writers can create real difficulties for objective analysis.

Previous Posts in this Series

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Stocktake - Belshaw Writings on Australia's Aborigines 2: Methodological Issues

Photo: Charles Perkins, Aboriginal Activist. From Film Australia's Australian Biography series.

Charles Perkins was born in 1936 at Alice Springs NT, dieing in 2000. Often a stormy petrel, he had a life of achievement as a soccer star, university graduate, Aboriginal activist and Canberra bureaucrat. In his 1998 Film Australia interview interview he gives his own account of the personal experiences that fuelled his great anger against white injustice and his determination to fight for Aboriginal rights.


In 1964 or 1965 Charles Perkins spoke to students at the University of New England. He made a simple point. There was no such thing as an Aboriginal problem, just a European problem, since the Europeans had created the problem in the first place through their invasion of Australia and subsequent treatment of the Aboriginal people.

In 1966 I read an article (I no longer have the reference) in Oceania, the pioneering Australian anthropological magazine that first seriously discussed Aboriginal issues, on the impact of stereotyping.

The article made a simple point. Adverse images of the Aborigines held by the white community were reflected in Aboriginal perceptions of themselves, regardless of truth or otherwise. That is, white perceptions fed back into Aboriginal perceptions as if (my words) the white perceptions were a distorting side show mirror.

I was struck by both points of view. They provide the entry point to this next post where I want to look briefly at some methodological issues. My comments are not profound, simply reflecting my own experiences.

Problems of Perception

In my first post I said that I wrote as an outsider simply because I was not Aboriginal. This problem is not unique.

All historical research and writing is written by outsiders to greater or lesser extent simply because the past is just that, the past. The historian's challenge is to find a way to overcome this problem, to tear aside the veil, to put aside her/his own preconceptions to understand the past. We can never do this perfectly because we can never fully understand the perceptual framework of that past time even when we sit in the same cultural stream.

When I first did prehistory we were taught to think of culture in terms of the complex of things we learn from birth, from nurture rather than nature. This simple definition, while correct, conceals this problem of perceptual understanding.

The world is a complex place. To simplify, we all construct mental models of the world, simplified abstractions that we can use to interpret and understand complex realities. These models reflect our understanding of the world including the culture in which we live.

I know that this sounds self-evident, but these models vary between individuals, groups within cultures and between cultures themselves. Every individual's model is different in some way from that of other individuals even in the same family. This leads too often subtle and unseen differences in perception.

Sense of Country

Photo: Gordon Smith, Yellow Scape. New England's Northern Tablelands can be very beautiful in the late afternoon light. As a child I loved late afternoon drives looking at the way the setting sun changed the familiar landscape, softening some features, highlighting others.

I have tried to explore some of these differences in perception as part of my work.

In Australia and its people - a funny upside down world, I talked about the way in which Europeans developed their perceptions of the Australian landscape, moving from a European to an Australian frame. In On Travel Time and our Sense of Space I looked at the impact of changing travel times on our changing perception of the world around us.

Both these examples are important because they bear upon our changing sense of country. By sense of country I do not mean abstractions such as Australia, although they can be linked to sense of country, but the smaller more localised world that we classify as our own in a personal sense. Sense of country is important to the Aborigines but is also, I think, important to all human beings.

My wife was born in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, an area where much of her family still live. While my daughters were born in Armidale, they have spent much of their childhood in the eastern suburbs. My wife and her family think of the eastern suburbs in just the way I am using the term sense of country. So now, too, do my daughters, although they still recognise Armidale as ancestral country.

My own sense of country is very different. I classify the broader New England as country, with the Tablelands around Armidale as my immediate personal country. "South of my days' circle, part of my blood's country," Judith Wright wrote of this area while living in Brisbane.

I know Sydney well and can enjoy its beauty and attractions, but still I live here to some degree as a stranger in a strange land, observing but not really sharing the view and habits of the locals. Worse, in my absence I see my personal country changing, creating a gap between my view of country and the evolving on-ground realities, including especially the deaths of family members removing personal connections. I have become the classic expatriate, not quite fitting in where I now live but not necessarily able to return to a changed home.

All this means that I have empathy with what I understand to be the Aboriginal view of country. But there is another point to the story as well.

What, do we do when differing views of country conflict or when another need is deemed sufficiently important to override some one else's sense of country?

We all react strongly when our sense of country is threatened. You can see this in Sydney, for example, in the fight that went on over the removal of old trees in Hyde Park or the Domain. The talk back lines ran hot. The issue was not really the trees as such, but the loss of familiar symbols forming part of country.

This type of conflict is common at local level. However, here I think we have a broader evolving problem, a decline in our understanding of country combined with a greater willingness to override or ignore other people's sense of country in pursuit of perceived broader community interest.

This is a slippery one, so let me try to illustrate.

Increasingly, metro Australians appear to regard the countryside as somewhere to visit, something to be preserved, not somewhere to live. We can see this in all sorts of ways, in the debate on water, in the creation and management of national parks, in the often expressed view that we would be better of ceasing to use certain types of land.

I am not debating the rights or wrongs of individual actions. My point is that there does appear to be a trend and that the outcome affects sense of country as well as community for those living in the affected areas.

Our Aboriginal people are an increasingly important part of Regional Australia.

In an initial post on the demographics of Australia's Aborigines I noted that in 2001 485,000 Australians classified themselves as indigenous. Of this, 346,506 (71 per cent) lived in Regional Australia. This means that action to improve the condition of our indigenous people must necessarily have a regional focus.

The indigenous birth rate is higher than the average in the rest of the Australian community. This in combination with out migration by non-indigenous young means that the indigenous proportion of the regional population is rising. Indigenous intra-regional migration to major regional centres such as Armidale, Tamworth or Dubbo in the case of NSW is further increasing the indigenous proportion of the population.

Unlike the metro centres where the proportion of the indigenous population was around 1.1 per cent in 2001 if higher in specific suburbs, the much higher percentages in Regional Australia makes indigenous development a central, not peripheral, issue to the broader community.

I will talk about broader policy issues here in a later post. For the present, I would make the point that resolution of conflicts over sense of country between the indigenous and non-indigenous communities and within the indigenous community itself is important in a way not seen in the metro areas.

To illustrate.

In January I reported on a major native title deal giving the Githabul people joint control of 19 national parks and state forests in Northern New England. I had no problem with this. But what happens when the original Aboriginal landowners themselves become a minority in the local Aboriginal population because of in-migration, leading to tensions and conflicts. How do we manage this?

Cultural Creation and the Process of Mirroring

In my opening to this post I referred to an article in Oceania, on the impact of stereotyping.

This made a simple point. Adverse images of the Aborigines held by the white community were reflected in Aboriginal perceptions of themselves, regardless of truth or otherwise. That is, white perceptions fed back into Aboriginal perceptions as if (my words) the white perceptions were a distorting side show mirror.

All cultures are affected by cultures around them. A current international example is the desire of the French to preserve the purity of the language by expunging English words. This impact is necessarily greater where the culture is a minority culture within a broader dominant culture. So mirroring and stereotyping should not come as a surprise.

However, there is a broader issue.

There was not a uniform indigenous culture in 1788. When I was studying Australian prehistory in the sixties, something that I will talk about in my next post, I certainly did not think of a uniform Aboriginal culture. We were concerned, however imperfectly, with patterns of cultural change and diffusion across the continent over time. Our focus was therefore on difference.

There is clearly not a uniform indigenous culture today. However, what we do have, I think, is a still evolving national Aboriginal culture sitting sometimes very uncomfortably on top of different already existing Aboriginal cultures.

This culture, a new construct created since 1788, is a joint piece of Aboriginal and European work in that it emerged as an Aboriginal response not just to the European invasion and dispossession, but also to changing Government policies initially at colony/state level and then, more recently, at national level.

As a simple example, take the decision to create ATSIC (while now abolished, the ATSIC web site is still available via the National Library).

A national government wanted a national body to talk to so, working on the principles that the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders were in some sense an entity as well as a belief in self-determination and democracy, they created the ATSIC structure.

This was, as I remember it, resented by some Aborigines at the time such as traditional owners in the NT who saw themselves as having little in common with southern Aboriginal activists. However, its creation in turn played a role in the creation of national indigenous linkages.

This issue of the creation of a national indigenous culture fascinates me, although I know so little.

When and how, for example, did the Aboriginal English I now hear on radio emerge and become so widespread? The Aboriginal activists of the sixties did not speak like this, nor did the limited number of Aborigines I came in contact with during this period.

These are issues beyond the scope of this post. So I will finish with two pleas.

First, recognising the way mirroring works, let's stop feeding in negative material about the progress of our indigenous people. This does not mean not recognising or dealing with problems. We have to. But let's also recognise and celebrate their achievements.

Secondly, let us recognise and deal with the enormous variety in Aboriginal culture and experience so that we actually target what we do.

Previous Posts in this Series

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Stocktake - Belshaw Writings on Australia's Aborigines: 1 Introduction

Photo: Archaeological excavation, Graman near Inverell, 1966. Led by Isabel McBryde, this was one of the most enjoyable digs I went on.

We stayed in an old farmhouse nearby, walking across the creek and up the hill each morning to the rock shelter site. At night, we played cards and word games in front of a fire, a necessity because New England's western slopes can get very cold at night.

As foreshadowed, this post begins a stocktake of my various writings relevant to the Australian aborigines. In doing so, I am trying to present an alternative view to what I perceive to be weaknesses and biases in current discussions.

Because it is a stocktake, the posts are quite long and can include a lot of built-in links. However, I hope that I have provided enough information so that you need not click-through unless the topic is of particular interest.

On 20 December 2006 I put up a post, Australia's aborigines - an introductory post, on this blog in which I outlined the evolution of my own views on the Australian aborigines. This post sets a context.

We all write from our own perspectives, drawing from our own experiences. In talking about aboriginal issues I necessarily write as an outsider simply because I am not aboriginal. For those interested in the aboriginal perspective, I refer you to Neil Whitfield's page, to the National Indigenous Times, to Koori radio.

Accepting this, the core of my charge in the 20 December post can be put quite simply.

I have been interested in the aborigines for a long time, since the sixties. By the 1980s I thought that the aboriginal people had come an enormous distance.

Starting from a base of deprivation and prejudice, they had clawed themselves up. From no graduates (I think that Charles Perkins was the first aboriginal graduate) there was now a steady stream. Aboriginal art was entering the global main stream, there were aboriginal singers and dancers, aboriginal theatre, aboriginal writers. In individual communities, major aboriginal families were becoming recognised as founding community families, providing a link to the past.

This is remarkable progress by any standard in such a short time period.

How then have we gone from this point of success, of achievement, to today's position where discussion on aboriginal issues is so overwhelmingly negative in tone? Have the aborigines stopped making progress? Clearly not, although this can be hard to discern in the midst of the negativity and constant discussions of problems. Then why has it happened?

I think that two linked things have been primarily responsible for this change in perception.

The first is the overwhelming focus among many in mainstream Australia on the wrongs of the past, a focus that has generated a response in both the aboriginal and broader Australian communities. Yes, past wrongs need to be identified and addressed. But the focus has been so powerful that it has swamped other things, twisting perception and discussion.

The second is the failure of official policy towards the aborigines. Central to this has been the perceived need to recognise and treat the aboriginal people as an entity and then to focus on aboriginal problems and needs.

Yes, there are times when we need to do this. But in the majority of cases policy needs to be localised. Australia's aborigines and Torres Strait islanders were not a uniform group in 1788, even less so today. There are huge cross-country variations. The perceived need to establish uniform national approaches guarantees, in my view, policy failure.

This problem is complicated by a further one, the distortions created by the attachment of the label "aboriginal" to specific problems.

The fact that an aboriginal community faces a problem or difficulty does not of itself make it a specifically aboriginal problem as compared to a problem faced by specific aborigines . The problem may in fact be a subset of a broader problem shared by others and needs to be addressed in that broader context.

Care needs to be exercised even where the problem is concentrated in specific aboriginal communities. Take petrol sniffing now, I think, established in popular perception as an "aboriginal" problem needing to be dealt with in an "aboriginal" policy context.

To what degree is petrol sniffing a problem just of specific communities needing to be addressed in the context of those communities? To answer this, we need to know how wide spread the practice is.

To what degree is petrol sniffing a subset of other problems in those communities that also need to be addressed? This is clearly the case, so we need to understand the problems and linkages.

Finally, to what degree have we turned petrol sniffing into a national problem by classifying it as a national issue? For example, has the practice in fact spread among rebellious aboriginal young people (and possibly others) because of the publicity? I have no idea, but I suspect that it might be the case.

In my next post I will look at some conceptual issues that I think are relevant to the discussion.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The "liberal" culture, Australia's Aborigines and the importance of personal experience

I did not expect to post today.

For reasons I won't bore you with at this point, I had to start work at 6.30am, dropping Clare off at school at 6.20am, a new early record for her. From 6.30 I moved wheelie bins, raked lawns, weeded, picked up papers, cleaned. Fortunately I finished what I had to do early, because I am incredibly stiff!

I see that Neil has invented a new word, hyperbolated. Neil, I love it. But you have to provide your readers with an OED style definition so that we can all use it in a common way!

In response to a comment from Neil on my post The Howard Government, Dissent and the Pattern of Change in Australia 2 - A personal explanation I made the following response:

My core plaint in all this is the way debate has become twisted.

Take the black armband thing. The focus on the negatives generated a response, so discussion gets squeezed into that frame. Other things get lost. I can't write more at the moment, but why is it that I can find lots on line about Aboriginal/European relations but very little about Aboriginal history post 1788 unless it's set in the relations frame? The most basic information appears to be lacking.

I now want to tease this comment out a little.


I had an entire post written, then decided to delete it. Instead, I have decided to do a stocktake post on my writings about Australia's Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. I thought that this might be of help to me while also showing how my views have been formed.

Just to explain.

The core of my complaint is that the dispute between the views of the "liberal" culture and the alternative "black armband" school has twisted the way we think about Aboriginal issues to the detriment of the Aborigines and the broader Australian community.

The post I had written focused on this complaint. However, the problem here is that I came to the view that in writing this way I was being trapped in the very trap I was talking about. That is, I was making the dispute between the two schools central to my writing when in fact my core objective is to set out a view independent of the two competing mind sets.

Now my evolving view may be wrong. Certainly parts of it are capable of being refuted by evidence. For example, my complaints about the writing of Aboriginal history may be wrong simply because I am not familiar enough with all the writings.

So if I set out what I have written, the often incomplete views that I have formed as a consequence, then people can address those views instead of focusing on the debate between the two schools. The fact that I think both schools are wrong and why then becomes a side issue, important but not central.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Howard Government, Dissent and the Pattern of Change in Australia 2 - A personal explanation

Rereading my first post on this topic, I think that I should make one qualification plus an explanation before going on in a later post to look at education.

I, too, believe in a liberal culture and liberal values.

I have put the words "liberal" in inverted commas to signify that I was referring to the liberal culture that David Marr referred to in his review, the culture and values imposed by the dominant intellectual elites especially in the late Keating period, a culture that (in my view) breached the fundamental principle of a true liberal culture by denigrating and squeezing out the expression of alternative views.

I do not want to mount too much of a soapbox here, and this post is a soap box, but I do want to make my personal position clear.

By the time of the election of the Howard Government in 1996 I no longer felt that I belonged in the Australia that was emerging. I was not alone in feeling this.

Part of the sense of loss, of alienation, came from damage done to things that I cared about, that my family had tried to build.

I had seen the university that my grandfather had helped found, that my father had joined as one of the first five staff, that I had attended and tried to work for, trashed by changing Canberra policy. I had seen the senior staff at that university compound the problem through poor management. I had seen those same staff reject, at least as I saw it, the university's past as simply irrelevant to current needs.

I remember going to the opening of the T C Lamble Building, the new administration block at UNE. Mrs Lamble had insisted, and she had to insist, that Tom's old friends, those with a long connection to UNE, should be invited. Denise and I were there because my parents were dead and we had known the Lambles for a long period.

We gathered at morning tea after the opening. Every person in the group had a long connection with UNE. Someone commented, and everyone agreed, that we were like shags on the rocks, that we did not belong. For the first time, and then aged 49, I felt that time had passed me by, that the dreams of the past were dead.

I was not alone in feeling this. What Governments and others fail to recognise when they change policy, restructure this, close that, is that (especially in country areas where individual contribution is so important) they are often invalidating past lives, past contributions. Individuals and families remember this and respond.

This trend linked with another, an apparent rejection of the Australian past, the desire to replace it with a new model. In part this was simply fashion, the way subjects for study reflect changing interest. But it also reflected the views of the now dominant "liberal" culture as to what was appropriate to study, to celebrate, to remember.

That's fine, but it is hard when the things you believe in cease to be discussed, become ignored. It's worse when the culture reflects back to you things that you are uncomfortable with, do not believe to be important, even reject. Worse still when the culture explicitly rejects things that you consider to be important, when you are not allowed to discuss things.

This last may sound extreme. How, you might ask, can you stop people discussing things? This is not a dictatorship. People are allowed to say what they like subject to the law. Yet the reality is that there are range of social suasions that limit discussion.

One part is access to the major sources of information dissemination and comment, the media. What gets run, the slant put on what is run, is determined by the attitudes of those making the selection, by those doing the commentary. With exceptions, these people formed part of and shared the views of the dominant "liberal" culture.

A second part linked part is the use of criticism and ridicule. Those perceived to be attacking elements of the dominant culture are attacked, parodied, cartooned.

This cascades down to a personal level. Here when I suggested at one point that the ethnic structure of Australia needed to be discussed I was criticised, attacked. The same thing happened when I suggested that multiculturalism as a term lacked meaning.

Those who read this blog will know that I am curious, that I like to discuss things, to identify trends. They will also know that I believe that Australia can accommodate a variety of cultures and groups.

Back in 1991 and 1992 I did a series of studies on change in Australia. This included a study for the Sydney South Western Institute of TAFE on future demand for TAFE courses. As part of that I looked in detail at the changing composition of Sydney's population and what it might mean for education demands.

At that time, I was still able to discuss these issues as well as my other conclusions relating to the dramatic changes taking place in Australia, changes that I thought were leading to the creation of a number of very different Australia's . By 1994 I could no longer do this without attracting criticism that I was being racist.

Repression breeds reaction.

The dominance of the "liberal" culture led to the Howard reaction.

Let me make my own position here clear. I like the ideologues of the Liberal Party and their associates as little as I like the previously dominant "liberal" school. At times I have watched with horror as the Government has dismantled things that I believe to be important.

Personally, I come from a different tradition to both dominant schools, the Country Party tradition. There is not room in this post to spell this out, although I have begun to articulate elements in that tradition in some of my posts such as my discussion on constitutional issues. Suffice it to say at this point that the Country Party tradition is informed by, coloured by, the struggles of the small man to survive in a world dominated by the large.

To my mind, perhaps the single greatest failure of the "liberal" culture and the response it provoked lies in policy towards our Aboriginal people.

If you look at public discussion here over the last decade it has really been dominated by two things.

The first is guilt, the need to atone for sins of the past. This is the "liberal" stream. Then we have had all the discussions about Aboriginal problems, about the failures, about the need for mutual responsibility, about the need to enforce national law. This is the Howard stream.

A pox on both their houses.

Where is the basic information that we need to inform public debate? Where is the discussion of Aboriginal successes, and there have been many. Where is the discussion about how we build on what has been achieved? Where is the basic information that we need to inform public debate?

Policy determined by ideology, and this is the fault of both schools, will not answer these questions or give us the broad vision that will ensure the Aboriginal people become, as I believe they should, a central element in Australian life and culture.

Australian Reserve Bank releases latest monetary policy statement - February 2007

For those of my readers interested in the Australian economy and Australian economic policy, the Reserve Bank has just released its latest statement on Australian monetary policy.

Many of the headline elements in the statement have already been picked up by the Australian media. However, there is a range of interesting material in the document that may not be picked up, as well as material that may be of interest to my international readers.

As an example, while I knew that there had been some depreciation in the value of the US dollar, around 4 per cent on the broad Trade Weighted Index (a broad bundle of currencies weighted by their importance to US trade) over 2006, I had not realised just how broadly based that depreciation was.

So far I have just skimmed the report. I will comment in more detail a little later.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Howard Government, Dissent and the Pattern of Change in Australia

Even when I disagree with him, I find Neil Whitfield's comments and analysis stimulating.

This is not blogging for the faint hearted. Some of Neil's posts are full blown intellectual essays that push the boundaries of the blog format to the outer limit and even beyond. Further, Neil cross-links his posts in a way that allows the reader to dig down, to see how Neil's ideas have developed.

Often Neil and I agree, but sometimes we come at the same issue from a very different perspective. This post deals with one such case.

In Considering Dissent, Neil writing as Ninglun reports on David Marr's review in the Sydney Morning Herald of the new book Silencing Dissent edited by Clive Hamilton and Sarah Maddison (Allen & Unwin 2007).

The book apparently argues that the Howard Government has been guilty of a systematic and systemic approach to the suppression of dissent across Australia. Here the Marr review says in part:

"Touted as a contest of values, this was really a party political assault on Australia's liberal culture. In the name of "balance" the Liberal Party agenda muscled its way into the intellectual life of the country."

Based on Marr's review, Neil states:

"It (the book) seems to distil so much that has disappointed and pained me during the long years of the Howard regime, so much that I have experienced in my own field of education and observed in field after field of what we might call our intellectual and moral life."

Like Neil, I have yet to read the book and cannot comment on it. However, I do want to comment on some of the ideas apparently expressed and in so doing bring together some of the threads in my own argument on this blog.

As will be clear from various posts such as those on David Hicks I, too, have reservations about the Liberal Party and the Howard Government. I believe that there has been a coarsening of public debate, a reduction of humanity in policy. Beyond that, I come at things from a very different perspective from that apparently held by David Marr, I think Neil and the book.

I believe that the attack on Australia's so called "liberal" culture, and there has been one, was both inevitable and necessary. I explored this in my post on Pauline Hanson. There I said in part:

"By 1996 there was a large group in society fearful of the future, concerned about the pace of change. Their concerns were exacerbated, their numbers concealed, by the intellectual lockdown imposed by the dominant intellectual elites. There were a range of views that were simply excluded from public discussion."

I wrote this from a very personal perspective, one who had experienced this exclusion at first hand. So I was glad to see things freed up. I also said in that post:

"The previously dominant intellectual elites have struggled to come to grips with all this, suffering from the same sense of isolation, of diminished relevance that they had previously inflicted on others."

Based on Marr's review, I suspect that the latest book is another manifestation of this sense of isolation, of dimished relevance.

At the time of writing that post, early December, I felt with a degree of hope that a new amalgam was emerging, one that I saw as positive, taking the word multiculturalism as an example:

"Change is continuous. Here I have been fascinated by the way in which the dialectic between the two schools - previously dominant, then suppressed, now dominant again to some degree vs the dominant now suppressed - combined with policy and political change is leading to a new amalgam."

I am less positive now because since I wrote that post both orthodoxies seem to have become more rigid, more polarising.

One of my problems in all this is the way in which discussion, at least as I see it, gets very muddied and confused. For that reason , I have tried in a series of linked posts to tease out the different threads in the varying debates and to put them into a historical context.

To explore all this a little, let's start with the Howard Government, beginning with public administration. Here I seem to have written an awful lot, but hopefully not too awful a lot, of posts.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Howard Government has presided over a further decline, a further politicisation, of the Westminster system. Further, that approach is in conflict to some degree to the approach set out in the future Prime Minister's headland speech on the role of Government in June 1995.

To get an indication of the scale of the change over time, you only have to look at one of my still to be completed confessions of a policy adviser series where I painted a pen picture of the Commonwealth Public Service at the time I joined it in 1967 and compare it with now. However, that change has taken place over time and at all levels of Government in Australia, so the Howard Government cannot be blamed for it. Instead, the change raises broader questions that need to be addressed independent of party or jurisdiction.

There also no doubt in my mind that the Howard Government has seen a further move away from a collectivist towards an individualist approach - the death of the old social contract.

Again, the Howard Government here is part of a trend - international as well as local - that has affected Australia since the mid eighties. I tried to explore some of the reasons for this in the migration matters series, as well as the public administration posts (especially here and here).

There is no doubt that Australians feel a sense of loss about the ending of the old ways as shown most recently by, among other things, the ABC radio discussions on the Wisdom of the Elders (and also here on Neil's blog). This sense of loss is presently affecting rhetoric and policy in both Government and ALP.

Now here I think that the Howard Government is in fact caught in an ideological trap of its own making, squeezed between the Prime Minister's populist rhetoric with its ordinary Australian and compassion themes, the increasingly unpopular harshness of its stances on migration and terrorism that seem so at variance with other rhetoric and ideological hangovers dating back to its first election.

Many of the Howard Government's ideological opponents attribute its ideological stance to American neo-conservatism. This is a misreading.

I do not know when the term neoconservative first came into popular use, although it was certainly used in the title of Irving Kristol's 1983 book Reflections of a Neoconservative. Further, there is no doubt that Australian thinkers and advisers were influenced by some American thinkers such as Friedman. However, while the stance did draw elements from US thinking, the Australian position falls solidly in the Thatcherite, New Zealand model.

Here we can trace the spread of ideas from Thatcherism (from 1979) through Rogernomics in New Zealand (from 1983) to the part adoption of the New Zealand model by the NSW Greiner Government in 1988. By the time of the 1993 elections, the Liberal Party under John Hewson fought and indeed lost an election on what would now be called neoconservative principles and policies.

So if we look at this pattern we can see that the ideology espoused by the Howard Government is in fact a creature of broader thinking dating especially to the 1980s and early 1990s, not recent American neo-conservatism as such. Further, this thinking is replicated to greater or lesser extent in all Australian jurisdictions and especially NSW. Here I looked at the current NSW Government's Ten Year plan in part as an example of the application of the New Zealand model in practice.

Now add in the "War on Terror". I have no doubt that the PM was deeply and emotionally affected by his presence in Washington on 7/11. I also have no doubt that this has affected the Government's response, adversely in my view, to the total range of issues surrounding the "War on Terror".

So the Government has a double ideological lock-in, to the economic ideas of the past on one side, to the whole complex of issues surrounding the "War on Terror" on the other. This is what I mean by an ideological trap of its own making.

The Government's opponents are, or so it seems to me, caught in a similar trap.

Those espousing Australia's "liberal values", or at least those values as they define them, are equally caught in past thinking. Further, driven by the imperatives of the political debate, they often attempt to apply international and especially US models to Howard Government thinking.

This links to one of my recurrent themes on this blog, the need for us to recognise and define our own Australian Way reflecting our history and culture. To do this, we have to disentangle issues so that we can see the different influences.

I was going to extend my analysis by taking education. This is an area of concern to both Neil and I, one that Neil gives as an example in support of the thesis of the Howard Government's attacks on our "liberal values." In fact, while Neil and I are in agreement on many issues here, I see education as a classic case requiring identification and separation of different thought streams if we are to have a sensible discussion.

Because of the length of this post, I will look at this in a separate post.