Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tony Abbott and the sorry question

It would be nice to think, if somewhat delusional, that Tony Abbott or his staff might read this blog!

I chose my words very carefully in setting out my own position on the stolen generation. I was writing for my account, but also for an audience who, like me, does think that there was a black arm band school of history (the original Blainey definition) and who sometimes struggles with the deeply felt views on the other side of the fence.

If you look at what I said, you will see that I directly addressed Mr Abbott's concerns. My core point is that there was a systemic difference between the treatment of indigenous and non-indigenous children. The Government's apology should focus on this.

Of course, individual non-indigenous children met similar experiences. Of course, some indigenous children were removed for the same reasons as non-indigenous children. We are not talking about cases, but an overall pattern. I do not think that anyone denies this.

We can address this without getting caught up in all the baggage that presently surrounds the issue.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The importance of quiet time

I have entered another busy period.

Much of the work that I am doing just at present is project based. Those who have worked in a project environment will know that work fluctuates. There are slow periods when you can only do so much, waiting on others for decision or input. Then, as is happening just at present, things become frenetic as the project rolls-out against ever shortening deadlines.

One side-effect of this is that I am going to have to cut posting on this blog back to perhaps three posts a week for the next few weeks, just to cut myself some slack.

I don't know about you, but one of the problems I find in our current life style is simply the absence of quiet time. Everything is not just busy, but noisy as well. We seem to rush through life.

Some people don't mind this. Its fits their personalities, or perhaps they are just used to it. I don't mind being busy. I have been for much of my life, and indeed get bored when I don't have enough to do. Yet in all the pressure, I have always found and valued quiet spots.

I need this at a personal level. However, it is also important in a professional sense.

There are some jobs in which the doing is all. See problem, fix problem. However, some work requires time and quiet to think things through, to sort the issues out.

My own nature means that I like to take the time to work things out properly. This can be frustrating for colleagues who just want to get on with it. Conversely, though, once I am ready to move I want to move fast. This where I can get frustrated with things like slow decision processes.

One of my greatest frustrations, although it has sometimes been quite a profitable frustration, lies in fixing up problems that should not have been problems in the first place.

A while ago I was asked at short notice to take part in an initial project planning session. By lunchtime, it was clear that the timelines imposed on the project were unrealistic. On behalf of the group I advised this, to be told that certain key timelines were firm, that we just had to make do, to cut our cloth.

In the afternoon, we worked out an approach that would allow certain things to be done that would meet the formal commitments that had been made, but yet still made sense in a project sense. However, the approach had a number of critical dependencies, including the availability of certain resources. These could not be made available, and the deadlines could not be met.

The problems could have been avoided if we had taken more time at the pre-planning stage just to think about the issues involved. This should have happened well in advance of that first formal project planning session. But nobody had the time!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Belshaw's position on the stolen generation

I am bit chary at the moment about talking on indigenous issues. However, I have done a fair bit of thinking on the issue of the stolen generation and have slowly worked my way through to a personal conclusion.

First, the comments that follow link just to issues associated with the stolen generation. Were these to become involved with other issues, then I would need to judge in the context of those issues.

At a past point I did a fair bit of work on the history of child welfare in NSW. When the stolen generation issue first came up, I wanted to know what the distinctive features were as compared to other elements of the treatment at the same time.

I think that the evidence is conclusive that indigenous, especially mixed race, children were treated differently.

This does not mean that their treatment whether in foster homes or institutional care was different from that experienced by other children. In many cases it was not. But the fact that their entry into the system was based in part on different criteria that led to different treatment as a group makes them different.

I do not feel in any way guilty at a personal level about the treatment afforded the stolen generation since I had no influence or control over the matter. However, I do regard it as perfectly appropriate for a Government, in this case the Federal Government, to apologise for past injustices carried out by its predecessors. Here there is a direct institutional link. This holds in the case of Germany and the Jews, or Japan and Nanking.

I make a clear distinction in my mind between past and current events.

History is littered with injustice. However, in the case of the stolen generation we are not dealing just with a past event, but with an event whose victims are alive today, are with us. This issue is not just a matter of history, but of current politics and policy.

To the degree that people now living in the Australian community have been affected by Government injustice, then they deserve compensation linked in some direct way to the injustice. This is what any Australian would expect.

I see enormous problems in compensating on an individual basis. For that reason I reject this, although my position here is not categorical. I prefer a collective compensation, one that is sufficiently large to have symbolic and practical value.

My proposal is that the Government should establish an Indigenous Education Endowment Fund with a starting capital somewhere between one and two billion dollars. The income stream would then provide between $300 and $800 for every indigenous child in the country.

I am not proposing that every child should receive a scholarship from the fund. Rather, grants should be merit based.

I recognise that some Australians would see this as positive discrimination. It is not, although some of the effects may be the same. It is a redress of past wrongs.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Saturday Morning Musings - historiography, web archives and the Australian people

These musings actually began last week, continued on Saturday but then spread over to Sunday. It seems easiest just to call them Saturday Morning Musings.

At the moment, I am on something of a historiographical trip, in part using my own PhD thesis as an entry point. I have a little more to say on this because I am using the posts in part to dispose of some unfinished business, I want to put the PhD experience behind me, more to get down some ideas on the historian's craft.

I know that all this is of limited interest to the general reader, but this blog is also my own journal of record, a device to consolidate and extend my thinking.

In a somewhat linked way, I have been thinking about blogs as a future source of historical evidence. This depends in turn on the degree to which they can survive in an ephemeral world.

In December, the Blog Herald carried two interesting stories (here and here) about the history of blogging. One problem referred to in the first article is simply that of survival.

Looking at the referral sources to my blogs, and this one in particular, I have noticed an increased volume of traffic from what we can think of as archival sources, caches and then in a very pronounced way from Google images. Technorati, too, is an archival resource.

Internationally, The Internet Archive collects pages at points in time, providing something of a blog snap shot. Try searching for your own blog.

In Australia, the Australian National Libraries Pandora provides a web archive of internet sites considered to be of national significance.

To satisfy my own curiosity I did a check on some of those in our immediate blogging world.

A search on myself, aren't we all egotists?, brought up eleven references. The key link here is Gordon Smith's photo blog. This is classified as of national significance - well deserved too - and consequently, through the vagaries of search engine mechanics, links through to some of my material. There was also links through Club Troppo, another archived site.

Ninglun gets five references. Again, there is a linking to Gordon that, presumably, came through me. There is one link through Palmer's Oz Politics, another listed site. Ninglun as Neil Whitfield gets six references. This adds in a couple of poetry sites.

I won't go through everybody, although I did run some more checks. I leave it to you to look!

On the subject side, I searched on "New England". Here the results were disappointing to say the least, with very little material indeed.

One thing that I did notice in the various Pandora results was the importance of Technorati material. The whole project would be greatly impoverished should anything happen to Technorati.

I find the topic of what should and should not be preserved an interesting one - the answer is sometimes far from apparent - and may make some comments on it as part of my current musings on historiography.

Australia Day. This was my second Australia Day since I started blogging, so looked back at what I was blogging on last January. It all seems so far away, now.

David Hicks was clearly on my mind, Neil and I were discussing poetry, thanks to Legal Eagle I found that I was now centre left in political terms causing a degree of mental confusion, Lexcen had introduced me to Kittlers, I was still pursuing the New England cause and musing on the nature of Australia.

During the week a Chinese colleague made me take a citizenship test that she had been composing because she thought that it might be a fun exercise at her local church group. This includes many new PR's. Took me a moment here to work out that she meant permanent residents.

One question I got wrong was a quote from Alfred Deakin. This referred to one people, one continent. I was about to pick this when another colleague said surely not one people. I changed my mind to one nation, but I was wrong.

I found this interesting because I do in fact use the term "Australian people" and do indeed use it to mean one people.

The concept of "the Australian people" is, I suspect, very anti-PC. How can you talk about an Australian people, note the singular, in this world where everybody is meant to be different and equal in their differences?

The first reference to Australian people as a distinct group came early after European settlement when visitors commented on the distinct accent and attitudes of the locally born. Later, there was a constant stream of references in English press and novels to Australians as somehow different. We were all lean and laconic, a new breed of antipodeans.

Now some modern urban middle class Australians might be uncomfortable with the way we were presented in the past. Yet there is a direct and clear line between the currency lads and lasses of early Australia and modern Australia.

To a degree, we Australians (and New Zealanders) have always defined ourselves as a counterpoint to the way others see us. This is inevitable in a still remote migrant community. We cannot see what we are until we see how others see us.

Each migrant group has added its own content to the mix that makes up the Australian people.

To take a modern example, we all know of the contribution of European migrants after the Second World War, or of the growth of interest in Vietnamese food at the end of the Vietnamese War with the influx of refugees. This type of admixture has been repeated many times across Australia's history.

All new groups have faced a challenge of adaptation to the new country. This has been a constant theme in Australian writing from the early days of European settlement to the present time.

If you look at Nevil Schute's Far Country, one of the most popular Australian books of the past, you will see the interplay between continental Europe, England and Australia. Schute was himself English.

Australians themselves sometimes find it difficult to see the sweep of acculturation and assimilation because they are so tied up in their immediate concerns.

A week back I went for a walk. I passed a Chinese family. The two boys on their bikes were chatting in a broad Australian accent. Dad was carrying a cricket bat.

About the same time, I started mowing my lawn. Tony popped his head over the back fence and offered a hand. Tony is, I think, Greek. He still has very limited English. Later his wife popped her head over to see the job. She said that Tony came from a farming village and still missed the work and life style after all these years.

One of my immediate work colleagues is a Bosnian Muslim women. She and her husband love the Australian countryside. They get out of Sydney more than most Australians born in Sydney. She worries about how she and her husband will cope with the attitudes of her still young kids when they grow up and absorb main stream Australian attitudes.

Rika, one of Clare's friends, is an orphan from the killing fields of Cambodia. She is presently going out with a country boy from my old school. Her step-father, a former UN official worries about her.

Clare's friendship group includes a mixed ethnic group from Sydney Boys High School. Most have played Rugby, including against my old school. So we have a common base.

The point in all this is that the concept of a people does not depend upon everybody being the same. People are always different. Rather, it depends upon the cross-links, the shared experiences, things that bind across divisions.

Two or more distinct groups living in exclusion from each other do not constitute a people, They become one when they start seeing themselves as the same despite continuing differences.

There are many other things that I might write on. But just at present I have a compost heap to move, a lawn to mow.


Compost moved. Lawn mowed.

I was going to extend this post with a few comments on the death of President Suharto. I hold what is now an unpopular position. I think that President Suharto was a good thing. I also thing that he would have been a better thing had he retired earlier.

I will say no more now except to add this. I wonder how many Australians, or Malaysians for that matter, know that 23 Australians died defending Malaysia during Indonesia's undeclared war on the new Federation of Malaysia?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Australia’s Productivity Commission staff paper points to weaknesses in the Stern Report

Australia’s Productivity Commission has released a staff paper critical of aspects of the Stern Report. I see that John Quiggan has been quick to put a positive spin on the analysis.

John is correct to point to the positive assessments in the paper. However, I must say that I found it disturbing that Stern combined the IPCC’s most pessimistic assessments with a very low discount rate. This essentially overstates the benefits, understates the costs, of action. This flowed through to the media treatment of the headline numbers.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Selection, perception and bias in the historian's craft

In my last post I used my own thesis to continue my discussion on problems and issues that can arise in the writing of history. I also took the opportunity to check back on some of the things that I had written linked to historiography since I began this blog almost two years ago.

I will do a proper consolidation post at some point, including adding labels to some posts that I have missed. In the meantime, I want to continue this historiographical phase that I seem to be in at the moment by looking further at problems of selection, perception and bias in the historian's craft.

A week or so back in a local bookshop, I browsed what appears to be a new history of NSW. I will not refer to it by name, that would be unfair since I only browsed it, but it does provide a useful entry point to discussion.

In a field that I know well, the first thing that I do with a new history book is to check the index, looking at topics that I am interested in. I then check those elements of the book. If they are either not there or are clearly deficient, I generally don't go much further beyond a quick cross-check scan to look at the book as a whole.

In the case in question, I was left wondering just what "NSW" this writer was writing about. It had some of the same locality names as the "NSW" I knew, some of the people were common, there were some similar Acts of Parliament, even a few common political events. However, many of the events, activities and conflicts that I was interested in had apparently vanished from the historical record.

Bias in historical writing begins with selection.

All researchers and writers select their topics, the things that interest them enough to write about. They then select the evidence, the historical sources that they will use. Finally, they select the questions they will ask of the evidence.

Bias continues with perception. Our perceptions of the world affect topic selection, they affect the sources we select, they affect the detailed questions we ask. They also, and this was a key point I was making in my discussion on the changing meaning of words, affect the meaning we attach to words.

You can see all these factors at play in my own PhD thesis.

I chose to write on my grandfather. I chose to shift the central focus from his ministerial roles to his role as a regional politician, so that the thesis became in part a history of New England. I chose the methodological tools I used.

I did not discuss my selection of evidence in my post, but again choices were involved.

I read very widely.

For example, I became interested in and explored changing attitudes to childhood and to crime and punishment because I saw this as important in understanding what had happened to Drummond, as well as the changes that were taking place in child welfare and public instruction as the education portfolio was then known. I also read everything I could get my hands on about the history of education in Australia, as well as background material on trends elsewhere in the Empire and Commonwealth.

On the other side of the ledger, because of my shift in focus I used less State Archival material than I might have, something that became important later on.

Drummond's ministerial letter books held in the Drummond papers contained copies of every memo he sent to the Department. Coming straight out of a public service environment, I was struck by the sheer volume. I had never known a minister to send so many memos. I also had Drummond's part completed manuscript autobiography, as well his various reports.

I cross-checked this material against other writings, pamphlets, Hansard, official reports and newspaper reports. I looked at all the somewhat fragmentary NSW Cabinet papers. I also checked selectively various school boxes, as well as particular sets of papers such as the inquiry into scandals at the Yanco Farm Home.

As another example of selection and some would argue bias, I did not rely on the Sydney Morning Herald, usually a main source of record for those writing on NSW politics.

Growing up, the SMH was to some degree the enemy paper, one that could always be expected to present a Sydney perspective on things. In its own right, the paper was a player with its own biases and perspectives.

Given this, I used SMH files in part as matter of record, more importantly as a source of alternative views. I needed to know what the paper said because of its influence on politics and public life, especially in Sydney.

In place of the usual reliance on the SMH, I used the Armidale Express and, to a lesser degree, the Northern Daily Leader as a source of local record. I also sampled other papers, although it was quite impossible to check all the hundreds of papers that then existed across New England.

I also used the now quite significant number of UNE theses that had been written on local politics and history in various parts of New England. Then, too, there were all the local histories that collectively provided a view of the past.

Now in all this, you can see how my own perceptions affected my overall approach. It also affected the specific questions I asked of the evidence, as well as the things that I chose to feature in my writing.

I did not, for example, discuss Drummond's changing views on racial issues, nor his role in Aboriginal education since I did not see them as germane to the main thesis. If I were to write the same thesis today I would still exclude the first as out of scope, although I would discuss it in a full biography. However, I would now say something about the second. I simply failed to realise how important the issue was.

I faced a particular challenge throughout the thesis in balancing my own knowledge of and love for the man with the need for objectivity. The thesis is not completely objective. How could it be? I am writing about someone who was a central figure in my life.

Biography as biography can never be objective. In seeking to learn about, to understand, to present a person, all biographers form personal views. The problem is more complex where there are direct personal connections.

What I think historians sometimes fail to recognise sufficiently is that no history is objective. How can it be when you take into account all the issues of selection and perception in the research and writing process? What's more, wouldn't the world be a much duller and less interesting place without differing individual perceptions?

To my mind, part of the joy of history is the way in which differing perceptions inform and deepen our understanding of the past.

That said, in managing my own biases the rule I try to apply with varying degrees of success is to make my own thinking, my sometimes biases, my sources, clear to the reader. To me, the distinctive feature of good history is that it should be capable of refutation.

Did I achieve this in my thesis? Perhaps, perhaps not. I think that I did, but I cannot be fully objective about my own work.

I want to finish this post by returning the examiner's comments on the thesis, again focusing on the issues of selection, perception and bias.

All history PhD students should know that selection of examiners is critical to success. This should not be the case, but is. Both I and my Armidale supervisor failed to recognise this properly.

Our first choice as examiner was Don Aitkin. We chose him because of his knowledge of the Country Party. He was also a biographer in his own right with his biography of Mick Bruxner, so had some understanding of the issues involved in writing biography.

I was actually a little nervous about this choice. I had a great admiration for Don, had used his work, but was presenting a story that differed in important respects from his work. I was not worried about questions of bias on his part, simply that I might have got things wrong.

The second examiner was Allan Martin. I had not met him, but had read some of his work. Again, he was a very good historian who was also a biographer.

As it turned out, both Don and Allan liked the thesis and for similar reasons.

Our mistake lay in the selection of Heather Radi as the third examiner. We chose her at Bruce's suggestion because of her knowledge of NSW politics of the period. This was a bad error of judgement, something that really should have been clear to me.

Heather was a well known left historian. She had written on and had admiration for the Labor Party and especially Jack Lang. I was writing on the Country Party, the separation movements. A significant part of the thesis dealt with the turbulent events of the Lang period, and not from a pro-Lang perspective. So now we were asking her to make judgements on a piece of work written from a totally different perspective to her own.

Let me be clear here. This is not an attack on Heather. I am talking about a dumb judgement on our part.

Take my own case. Asking Heather to be examiner on my thesis is like asking me to be an examiner on a thesis suggesting that Paul Keating was the central figure in positive change in Australia. Because of my gut reaction to Mr Keating. I would be sitting there with the red pen ready.

I am not suggesting that Heather's reaction to the thesis was equivalent to my own reaction to Mr Keating. All I am saying is that it is impossible to expect an objective judgement on quality when the argument that is put forward runs counter to deeply held views.

In Heather's case, she did not attack my core thesis. Rather, she suggested that the core of my topic should be Drummond's public life. Given this, the thesis failed because of, among other things, inadequate use of archival records.

Facing this split among examiners, the University sent the thesis to an adjudicator, one of Australia's most prominent historians.

You will note that in neither the previous nor this post have I mentioned his name.

Still alive, he is an an emeritus professor who has made a major contribution to Australian history. I prefer to regard what happened in my case as an aberration, something not to be featured in public, because I still regard it as an outrageous breach of professional standards.

I do not have his report in front of me. I hope that I still have it, I think that is is in storage, because one day I am going to publish all the examiners' comments in their entirety as an example of the difficulties in setting objective standards.

Accepting that I am working from memory, the good Professor's advice can be summarised this way.

He essentially accepted Dr Radi's definition of the topic, thus supporting her focus on State Archival information.

To support his point, he mentioned my failure to mention Dr Richard Arthur, someone he had written on. For those who do not know Dr Arthur, he was a medico and NSW parliamentarian who for a three year period was Minister for Health in the same Government as Drummond. Arthur and Drummond's interests overlapped, so my failure to mention him was a problem.

For the life of me, I still do not what the relationship was between the two. They must have met in the cabinet room. There were some common interests, so if I researched the relevant topics I might find connections. But in the seven years I spent doing the thesis, I did not come across a single reference to Dr Arthur in any of the things that I was interested in.

He then suggested that the thesis was the type of story that any grandfather would be happy that his grandson had written. Fair enough, but it ignores all my related arguments and hypotheses.

Finally, and I have mentioned this one, he suggested that there was a danger of Drummond being of insufficient importance to warrant a PhD thesis. Just what planet did this man belong on?

To begin with, the big man school of history died some time ago. The issue is, with any thesis, what the story tells us. Then, too, this is the story of a region, and remains (I think) the only broader regional history. And, just focusing on education, it is the story of the man who has been described as the outstanding Australian education minister of the twentieth century.

Obviously, I am still bitter. However, in these posts I am using the thesis as an example to bring out some of the issues in the historian's craft. In the next post, I will ask and possibly answer the question as to why historians are so frightened of methodology.

A final point. How can you judge something if you do not know it?

I still have a copy of the thesis on disk, somehow minus a few pages. If you would like a copy, email me so that you can make your own judgements. Just remember, it was finished twenty years ago. It is, I think, a reasonable read despite its thesis format.

Actually, Neil, you might like a copy. The material on the history of the NSW Education system might provide a helpful context to your own family material.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The changing meaning of words and the historian's craft

My last post discussed the way in which the changing meaning of words affected our view of the past.

I used three examples to illustrate my point. Two, time and distance, were neutral words. The third, assimilation, was deliberately chosen because in the current Australian context it carries a variety of emotional overlays.

Neil's post in response rather neatly illustrates the point. Neil's post also includes a link to an interesting US discussion on the meaning of the word assimilation. Part of the reason I like drawing Neil is that his responses usually contain interesting material that extends my own thinking. It's kind of like having a personal research assistant!

So still sticking with the word assimilation for the moment, this is clearly a word with a number of different meanings depending on the context. It is also a word where the emotional overlays attached to the word vary over time and between countries.

These varying and changing meanings create two quite distinct problems for the historian's craft. They can impede our understanding of the past. But they also affect the way our readers interpret what we write, because they impose their own meaning upon our words.

We know this, but we do not always understand it.

I first really became aware of the problem when I went back to the University of New England full time to try to complete my biography of my grandfather.

When I first studied history, I was living in my own society and culture looking out. In saying this I do not mean the broader Australian society and culture, but that holding in my own immediate world with its own history and rhythms. I took this for granted as a secure base.

I was 36 when I returned. The thesis topic I had chosen meant that I was involved in an exploration of my own past, of the society, culture and history of that world I had once inhabited. However, that world had changed and so had I.

Those who had remained in my past world were not really conscious of the scale of change.

While there can be dramatic changes, most social change happens in small incremental steps. People adjust to changes as they happen. New people entering the society take the society as is at the time they arrive, not as it was. They then add their own history and experiences to the mix.

To me as a returning expat, the scale of change in just 15 years was noticeable and quite profound. A very small example to illustrate.

I found that some of my younger History Department colleagues typed me as a member of the local gentry. I laughed. When I told my father he was appalled. When I told my mother and aunts, they roared with laughter.

This post is not an exploration of social class across the broader New England. The reality is that there were considerable variations from area to area in the way people perceived social structures.

The world of the New England Tablelands itself was marked by complex social structures in which the big grazing families formed one peak.

Within the University at the time I first went there, there was an old joke that on the Tablelands society consisted of the Whites, the Wrights and the Frights. Another variant said that Jack was as good as his master so long as they went to the same GPS (Greater Public Schools) school. You can get a somewhat jaundiced picture of all this from some of the writings of Judith Wright.

Now my History Department colleagues were placing me firmly in the top group of this now attenuating complex social hierarchy.

My father, the son of a Lancashire coal miner turned Primitive Methodist Home Missionary who had grown up in New Zealand before entering academic life, was appalled because the classification breached his deeply held egalitarian view of the world and of the Belshaws' place within it. He was even more appalled when I suggested to him that he, too, was now seen as a member of the local establishment!

Mum, my sisters and I all laughed because we thought that it was just funny. By accident of history we could mix across groups, but the very accident that allowed this meant that as a family we belonged to no single group.

Yet there was also a degree of truth in the classification in that time was erasing previous distinctions, merging groups. The fact that we were a well known family because of past activities with town, gown and country connections, was of itself sufficient to place us in the top group in the minds of my quite recently arrived colleagues.

If New England had changed, so had I.

Working in Canberra I had put aside some of my previous interests. I had also been working as a professional economist and policy adviser at reasonably senior level, so I returned to history and to the history of my family and area with a very different mind-set, as well as a new set of analytical tools.

All this meant that I ended up approaching the task of writing the biography of my grandfather in a very different way. This is where the link between the changing meaning of words and the historian's craft comes in.

I had intended and indeed was expected to write about the public life of my grandfather - politics and his role as a political leader and an activist minister for education. This was the conventional and indeed safe view of the world in professional terms.

If you look at much of the writing on the history of education, you will find a focus on the interaction between education and the broader environment. So much of the interpretation of Drummond's career as minister and of the changes in the education system focuses on systemic change as a response to ideas and events. However, because Drummond was such an activist minister, writers are forced to some degree to address his personal role.

In contrast to previous writing, my thesis was a biography, not a history of education. This meant that I was interested in what drove Drummond to behave the way he did, in the way this affected his public life.

This took me in a very different direction. Quite quickly, I formed the view that you could not understand Drummond nor his role if you did not understand the interaction between his disturbed childhood and his role as a regional politician. One created a need to belong, the second gave him a place in which to belong. In turn, this lead me into thinking and writing about the regional movements and the history of New England.

This was dangerous territory in professional terms because my core focus now was not on Drummond's public life, but on the interaction between the man, his history and area, and his public life.

I faced a second danger as well, one that I was not properly aware of at the time. I was in fact writing history as an economist. Obviously I was aware of using analytical techniques and approaches derived from economics. However, I was also using terms derived from economics.

An example to illustrate.

Just prior to returning to Armidale I had been working on issues associated with the decline and potential regrowth of Australia's manufacturing sector.

For reasons I set out in an earlier post, I had become completely dissatisfied with the inability of conventional analytical tools based on comparative statics to provide meaningful answers. This dissatisfaction led me to ask new questions, to try to develop new approaches focused on development processes themselves.

Then when I came to further research Drummond, I found that tariffs and fights over tariffs protection were one theme in Country Party politics. At the same time, I was trying to understand the causes of the rise of the capital cities, the decline in country areas, because this was one of the drivers of the activities and views I was concerned with.

All this proved to be two sides of the one coin.

Drawing from the economic theories of free trade areas, I suggested that the adoption of tariff barriers after Federation had redistributed income and hence people from country to city, from the smaller states to the industrial states of NSW and Victoria. This, while not the only cause of regional decline, was a major driver.

The analytical tools and concepts that I was using were not available to Drummond and his colleagues.

As a simple example, the 1924 Cohen Royal Commission on New States attempted to assess the financial implications of New England statehood. The concept of the multiplier, the way in which one dollar of spend creates further dollars of spend, had not then been invented. While the built in biases in the Cohen process might still have led to a negative conclusion, application of the multiplier would have significantly changed the outcomes because of the way in which transfer of certain Government spend from Sydney to New England would, through multiplier effects, have increased New England incomes and hence tax revenues.

While Drummond and his colleagues lacked the analytical tools to properly analyse or fully understand the dynamics involved in things like tariff protection, they could certainly see the results.

The movements that they were involved in were not simply reactions to change, but dynamic responses intended to address problems while also redressing grievances. While the movements had many positive outcomes, they also failed at some levels because they were responses to symptoms and did not properly address the poorly understood causes.

In looking at all this, I had to try to break through to understand the meaning not just of past words, but of the world views and constructs associated with those words.

I could use my own experiences and knowledge of the people and the area to inform my judgements about Drummond and his colleagues. But I had to go further than this to try to understand the views of people with related or different attitudes, some of them very different to my own, across a very wide canvass.

To some degree at least, I think that I achieved this. Where I failed was on the other side of the equation, the meaning attached to the words I wrote by the reader.

I wrote my thesis as a story, narrative history. I wanted the reader to understand the man and his times. I wanted to bring Drummond alive, at least the Drummond I had discovered, to the reader. The methodological underpinnings were there, but I was telling a story.

I knew that there were risks in this. I was writing outside the main stream, presenting an alternative view. I was writing biography, something not always well liked in an academic thesis. And I was using a range of concepts drawn from other disciplines.

I tried as best I could to compensate for this through external critique in the writing process.

As an external student for a lot of the time, I had two supervisors. Bruce Mitchell in the Department was my external supervisor. Externally, Grant Harmon and then Colin Hughes were my supervisors. They read every chapter through multiple drafts.

My father read the whole thesis before submission. A friend in the History Department read much of it. In Canberra two friends worked with me in the final stages. They checked and re-checked stuff, draft chapter after chapter.

For night after night we sat there. They would check and correct drafts. We wrote up hundreds of cards on individuals mentioned so that we could check factual consistency. We looked at consistent style. They asked me questions about facts and ambiguities.

In all this, the thesis failed. Don Aitkin and Allan Martin liked it. Heather Radi did something of a hatchet job on it. It then went to a fourth external person who came down against it on a whole different set of grounds, including the danger that Drummond was of insufficient importance to warrant a PhD.

Obviously all this is important to me in a personal sense. Years later, I am still trying to work through the issues raised so that I can finally put the matter behind me. However, I am really using it as an example in this post to illustrate some of the problems in the historian's craft.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

History and the changing meaning of words

I am starting this post with a statement that will seem self-evident. The meaning of words change with time. Now we all know this, that's why it seems self evident. However, the reality is a little different.

Each word is made up of two things.

The first is the formal meaning attached to the word. In modern times this appears in dictionaries.

The second is the emotional content attached to the word. This varies across time and space and between groups. We have to infer this from context.

A simple way of summarising this is to say that each word is a symbol to which is attached a bundle of attributes. As these attributes change, so does the meaning of the words. To pierce the veil of the past, we have to break through present symbols and associated attributes to past symbols and attributes. This can be very hard.

To illustrate this point, let me take three words - assimilation, time and distance.

Today in Australia, assimilation has taken on a very specific and negative meaning. When we apply these meanings to the use of the word in the past, we assume that those using the word actually mean the same thing that we think of we when we use the word. And that need not be true. This is in fact one element of my continuing dialogue with Neil Whitfield.

Time. We live in a time driven world marked by the clock and by agreed definitions of time. This affects our view of the world in all sorts of ways. Yet the past was very different.

Modern concepts of time depend upon agreed time structures set on a global basis. They also depend on the universal availability of clocks. In Australia of the past, there were neither agreed time structures (time varied between districts even within what we think of as common time zones), nor were their cheap and reliable time pieces. This affected every aspect of life.

Distance. The definition of a mile, for example, has been constant for some time. Yet the connotation, the emotional content, has shifted.

Consider this. Our modern view of the world has both shrunk and expanded. Shrunk, because we now move so fast from place to place, largely ignoring what lies between a and b. Expanded, because we now have seen so much more of this county as well as the broader globe.

A mile is not just a mile. It is also a distance that has to be travelled.

Too past Australians moving on foot or by horseback, the world was a vast place. To us, it is much diminished. Again, this has all sorts of effects on perception that can be unclear to us today.


I wondered if my selection of the word "assimilation" as an example might draw Neil, and it has! You will find his post here.

Neil noted that his post should not be seen as a critique of mine, and indeed it was not. We are just bouncing off each other as we so often do.

However, Neil's post does contain some interesting material that I can use to extend my point about the difficulties created by the changing meaning of words. I will have to do so tonight, because it is now the start of what will be a busy working day.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Smoke socials

I wonder how many Australians remember the term smoke social? I was reminded of it because I came across references to it in material that I was reading.

This was a term applied to organised social gatherings, often but not always dinners. They were held as celebrations, as organisation get to togethers, even fund raisers covering a wide range of activities. Sometimes the smoke social was added to another activity, such as annual general meeting and smoke social.

I could not find a history of smoke socials. However, a web search suggests that the term was strongly Australian, although it was also used in New Zealand. I could not see any references outside these two countries.

The earliest references I could find dated to the 1890s, the latest references to the 1940s.

The term indicates the importance of smoking as a social activity.

Smoke socials have vanished, but the period survives in the continued use in Australia and New Zealand of the term smoke-oh to describe a work break. This term, too, seems to date to the 1890s.

Smoke-oh itself has been in decline, killed not by the anti-smoking movement, but by the fact that so few of us now take structured work breaks.


David Nash said in a comment:

The Australian National Dictionary (OUP, 1988) has smoke social as an Australianism, with citations spanning 1901-1972. As "The earliest references I could find dated to the 1890s" the AND people presumably will be pleased to learn the details of your antedating.

This caused me as soon as I got home to try to replicate my web search. I should know better and have recorded details. A second search is always problematic because Google searches do not always give the same results. Worse, I started searching on the wrong term, "smoke socials" rather than "smoke social". This threw up some interesting historical material, but not what I wanted.

Finally, after some digging, I found the following from the Hawera & Normanby Star, 1898. Typos in the original reproduction plus those from copying!

(OWN OORRBSPONDBNT.) At Manaia last (Monday) evening a farewell smoke social was tendered Mr Hurley by the townspeople preparatory to his leaving for Wellington to take up his duties as secretary to the National Dairy Association, and an illuminated ' address presented to him, the text of which was as follows : — Manaia, September 1898. To G. A. Hurley, Esq., Dear Sir, — May we ask you, on the eve ' of your departure, after a residence of some • years to accept this as a slight recognition of your services to the town and district. Your name in connection with the Manaia Town Board, Domain and Cemetery Boards, the Forest Conservators, the Wanganui Education Board, and in fact everything of local interest in public business or recreation has become a household word. We; for ourselves and the people of Manaia and the Waimate Plains unite in wishing Mrs Hurley, yourself, and family, a long life of 1 health and prosperity, which, in endeavoring to benefit the community, you have so ■ honorably earned. — We remain, Dear Sir, yours faithfully, (Signed by Members Town Board, Forest Conservators, and townspeople.) Members of Local Bodies, Forest Conservators, settlers and townspeople were present. The Chairman, in presenting the , address, spoke highly ot the interest Mr t Hurley had taken in public matters in connection with tbe district during the past 17 years and of the loss the district i would sustain by his departure. v Everyone present spoke feelingly of Mr Hurley's many good qualities, both ' a3 a private and a public individual, > nnd expressed sorrow at his leaving ' Manaia. ! Mr Hurley retured thanks for the ■ kindness shown him, and was glad that j his efforts werb appreciated by the 3 public. Ample justice was done to Mr Steven' son's recherche spread, after which, ' smoke, songs, and toasting were freely ' indulged in, and everyone present voted the social an immense success. The illumination and engrossing of the address was done by Mr Norman 1 Benporath, and refleots great oredit on 1 that gentleman. It is really a work of i. art, and was very favourably commented 2 on by all. Among other things Mr Hurley's residence, the tower at the old ' redoubt, Mt Egmont, the Drill Hall, and tbe Court House were prominent. 3 " Auld Lang Syne " was heartily 1 sung, and a very pleasant evening terminated.

So we know that smoke socials were alive and recognised in New Zealand in 1898.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The joys and sometimes perils of country campaigning - beware of cows

I think that I am completely seriousnessed out on this blog. Just too many serious stories make Jim a boring lad. Time for a change.

That small band of somewhat insane readers who look at this blog on a regular basis will know that at one stage I was actively involved in politics and indeed tried for Country Party, National Country Party preselection. As a complete break, I thought I might share some with you some of the joys and perils of country campaigning.

The first key thing that you have to remember about country campaigning is that it involves driving, lots and lots of driving. This can be fun, can also be incredibly boring, and has its perils. Getting close and personal with local animal life is one of these.

I had been to a function in Barraba on the western edge of the New England Tablelands. It had been one of those very hot, still, days with a glimmer of heat haze and the smell of gum leaves in the air. It was now late afternoon, still hot, but with the western sun low in the west. I love this time of the afternoon because it makes the Tablelands a magical place.

Instead of taking the direct route back to Armidale I had decided to take the back roads. I was a bit bored with the same old drag, some of the back roads are very pretty, and I actually enjoy driving on dirt roads.

The road I was on climbed up the side of the hill with a sharp left turn at the top. There is an old bush saying, probably still is, drive slow on pot-holes, fast on corrugations.

This road was very corrugated and I was travelling quite fast. Sweeping round the curve I came upon a large mob of kangaroos. This time I was lucky because I was able to fishtail through the mob. Not skill. Pure luck.

I was not so lucky on my next livestock encounter.

This time I had been to a pre-selection meeting at Crookwell on the Southern Highlands of NSW. There was the usual gathering afterwards, and in this case it was after two in the morning before I left the pub where the meeting had been held to start the drive back to Queanbeyan where I was then living.

I really hate driving in fog. It was cold, visibility was low, the windscreen kept misting. This time when I came round a corner there was a bloody great cow in the middle of the road.

I was not travelling fast. Even so, the beast mounted the bonnet and attempted to come in through the windscreen! For obvious reasons, the car stopped. I got out shaking to see the cow hobbling off into the fog.

One key thing about country people is that they are hospitable.

Someone came along and gave me a lift back into Crookwell. I rang the branch president who was also the Shire President, and they put me up for the night.

Next day we reported the matter to the police The local constable was mildly annoyed that I had not reported it immediately, but came out to see the car and also found and shot the badly injured cow. A friend then drove down from Canberra to pick me up.

There was a sequel to all this.

The accident happened just over the boundary with the adjoining shire. This took the view that because I had killed the cow, I should pay the costs involved in the removal of its body. I took the view that since the animal had got out through a hole in the fence and was on a public shire road, I should not. In the end, and after longish discussions, I did not have to pay.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Not Saturday Morning Musings

Photo: Gordon Smith, Dingo.

For those who do not know the Dingo, it is Australia's wild dog.

I had not expected to find a personal connection in the Wikipedia story about the Dingo. However, one of the archaeological sites used to date the arrival of the animal in Australia is the Wombah midden in the Clarence Valley. This is actually a dig I went on.

Having just finished my post on Why I am not a conservative revisited - and now Saturday Morning musings I was going to let things rest there. But I could not resist a short tour of my immediate blogging world.

Lexcen, do not misread my last post. I am as opposed to unthinking application of all forms of PC as you.

During the week visitor 23,000 arrived on this blog. I missed him/her completely. Ah well.

Also during the week, Legal Eagle invited me to become her friend on face book. Quite a thrill really. I see that LE hates clowns. I do not share this phobia, although I see her point.

Oddly, I had to go out to buy some stuff. There was a very good clown at the shopping centre really entertaining the kids.

My thanks to AV for his latest post. Neil also picked the discussion up in An outbreak of civilised discussion. I wasn't quite so civilised in a response to a comment from jpw2040 on the on-line opinion post. He wrote in part:

I’m not an expert on what is or isn’t a conservative, though I suspect that Neil might have nailed it. Personally, I find it remarkable that you can call him an old friend while supporting a situation in which he is treated as a citizen second class. However that’s your business, and his.

Now this actually got under my skin because of the reference to Neil. I don't think that my reply was rude, but jpw2040 deserved a fuller explanation, one that would have encouraged discussion.

Staying with Neil for the moment, he had a post generated by the latest sad case of a person dieing alone at home and then not being found for a considerable time. Mike Allen, Director General of NSW Housing, has released an open letter discussing the Department's approach in trying to keep in touch with its 50,000 over sixty tenants.

Still no new post from Blonde Canadian - I begin to fear that we have lost her to her new job.

I really enjoyed Marcellous's Riding westwards - loved the photos. Can I pinch to illustrate stories, M? There was a sort of Thomas flavour at points.

Speaking of Thomas, he kindly explained the mystery of US Democrat Party super delegates.

After a short break, Clare has resumed posting on her new blog, Life post HSC. During the week we learned that she had been accepted into the Ancient History degree at Macquarie, so that's good too.

I suppose that I am biased. I also know some of the people she refers to.

If you look at Insane -Please we do this every day! (and can overcome the paragraph breaks) you will see the true story of how a group of girls that could have been lonely misfits came to be welded into a regular cohesive group with a recognised position and considerable influence in part because of their very eccentricity and unwillingness to conform.

I fear that I am going to have to cook lunch. So, with my tour really just begun, I will finish.

PS - a message from Clare

If you do visit, please do leave a comment!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Why I am not a conservative revisited - and now Saturday Morning musings as well.

In my last post I recorded my pleasure at having one of my 2007 posts, Why I am not a conservative, listed as one of the best independent blog posts of 2007. In response AV, while also congratulating me, took issue with some of my comments on gay marriage.

You will find AV's post here. Do read the comments as well.

The section of the post that drew AV's ire follows:

Take a question that I have not discussed on this blog, my views on gay marriage. I support civil unions for gays. I support legal recognition of the joint rights of gay couples. I do not support gay marriage because the term “marriage” carries very specific connotations linked back to our Christian heritage, so that the application of the term “marriage” creates tensions and problems among much larger groups in society.

This may change. But for the present, my view is that we need to find a solution that gives gays the legal and indeed symbolic things that they need, while recognising the views of the larger group.

I have a profound love of and respect for our core institutions. Perhaps I can be classified as a conservative in this area, although the views I hold are very much minority views even among those classified as “conservative”.

Now AV read thus last paragraph as an extension of my previous argument, whereas it is in fact the start of a new point. However, AV's response provides an opportunity to revisit that earlier post. In doing so, I want to try to tease out some further elements that influence my thinking on social, moral and political issues.

Time is very short just at present, making it hard to allocate large blocks of time for thought pieces. For that reason, I am going to treat the post as a work in progress.

Setting the Scene

All societies face problems in accommodating different values and changes in values. We can see a little of this in a later exchange on the gay marriage issue.

On 25 October 2007 in Murder, Mr Rudd & Gay Marriage - confusions about values in an an over-regulated society I returned in part to the gay marriage theme. This part of the post drew a strong response in comments and on other blog posts. Unfortunately I did not keep a full record, but you will get something of the flavour including some links from my own posts:

This is not a post on gay marriage. I am giving these posts as an example of the complexities that can arise in discussions about values, especially when those values are connected in some way with legal structures.

Out of time. I will return to this post a little later.

University offers out last night. Clare got offered the course she wanted, ancient history at Macquarie, so that's good.

Continuing my musings, all human societies have to find ways of accommodating different and changing values and beliefs.

As a social observer, I am interested in the processes by which this happens. But then as a person, I am affected by it because my own values and beliefs are involved, may be challenged. Like anybody, I can get very angry when this happens. So just as society has to have a process for accommodating change, so do I at a personal level.

The Influence of Anthony Downs

Many years ago I read Anthony Downs' An Economic Theory of Democracy. At this distance I do not remember the whole book, but there was one idea that I drew from it that I found very interesting and which has since become a key part of my intellectual armoury.

Consider this example.

Public opinion polling may show that a particular thing, say alleviation of child poverty, is seen as important, yet little or nothing happens. At the same time, money is spent on a variety of other things that society as a whole would regard as less important. We can see a manifestation of this in the supermarket or shopping approach to political campaigns that I have complained about so much. Here, for example.

All this comes about because there are a range of views, of perceived needs, in society. Different weight is placed upon those needs by different groups. In broad terms, a strongly felt need from a group within society is more likely to be met than a broader but more shallowly felt need. This holds so long as the action to meet the need does not create greater countervailing forces.

Something similar seems to happen in the social value creation, value change process.

If you look at major changes, you often find a minority group with strongly held views that set out to persuade the broader community. At first, their efforts seem to bear limited fruit. However, with time and sometimes circumstance, they build a sufficient coalition to force change.

Examples that I can think of here include the campaign against slavery, gay rights and, more recently, whaling. I am sure that you can think of many other examples. However, there is a corollary here.

Change occurs because society moves to accommodate passion. But go too far, push too hard, and resistance may form. Then the very passion that gained the first success becomes a problem.

The growing schism in the Anglican Church is an example. Whaling may well be a second example.

More whales are hunted today than there were five years ago. While the current Australian public response is largely anti-whaling and even xenophobic, for the first time local voices have emerged prepared to argue in favour of whaling.

I suppose that one of the things that I have tried to do in some of my posts is simply to warn that this can happen.

How one responds to all this depends upon one's own position. Here there can be something very satisfying in preserving the absolute purity of one's views regardless of the results.

Impact of Demographic and Social Change

To say that societies change is an obvious truism. Yet it is also a truism that has real content.

The mass migration program after the Second World War fundamentally changed Australia. If Australians in 1949 had known the full extent of the change, then they could well have actively rejected the program. Something similar is happening today.

There have always been many societies in Australia, another of my regular themes. I think that this is even truer today.

In Teasing Neil - but with a serious point, I said in part:

If we generalise this to Australia, the things that hold us together are our shared institutions including our political system, our shared experiences and our common culture. This is where I see a risk of things breaking down. Increasingly, Australia is marked by divides, by divisions.

Now my argument here is based on in part on my own examination of changing demographic structures across Australia, the social landscape. This shows divergences along many dimensions on a scale never seen before in Australia.

I am not saying that this is necessarily a problem, although I think that it is an issue that we need to consider. But what I have argued in the current context is that none of us should make assumptions about future values in the face of major social change.

I see no reason to believe that changes over the next thirty years will be any less dramatic than in the past thirty years.

I am going to have to break again.

Groups, Hierarchies and Globalisation

I have always been something of an outsider. This is partially a matter of personality. However, it also reflects the things that I have done, the extent to which I have been aware of, and to some degree involved in, many very different groups.

The need to find some way to fit in, to belong, is a deeply felt human need. We tend to mix with people that in some way share our own experiences, values and beliefs. We can see this in the way that groups form, evolve, developing their own cultures.

Each group tends to believe that it is right, that it and its customs and beliefs are the natural order of things.

As an outsider straddling groups, I quickly became aware of difference, of the need to fit in some way with often very different customs and views. My personal response to these differences depended on what I wanted to achieve.

In some groups I was just a visitor, accepted maybe, but without any great desire to belong, no desire to adopt views that I might in fact disagree with. Here I simply relied on politeness, avoiding areas and actions likely to cause distress. In other cases I took conscious action to achieve a better fit.

This is not a post about me. I am using my experiences, as I so often do, to make a point. However, if you are interested, you can see what I mean from the following, fairly random, selection of posts:

This sensitivity to difference, to the way that groups differ in culture and approach, has been quite useful in my professional life because much of this has been, and indeed still is, involved in one way or another with change and change processes. However, it has also made me very sensitive to, and indeed concerned about, the way in which we handle differences in views.

We can think of any society as a hierarchy of over-lapping groups, with the number of groups increasing as society becomes more complex. Each society has to find a way of accommodating difference. Fail, and you get a Kenya, a Somalia or an Iraq.

One of the reasons I write so much about Australia's core culture, about us as a people (example), lies in my concern that if we do not articulate and refresh some of the things that make us Australian the divides are likely to grow.

I am not talking here about things that I actually regard as silly such as the citizenship test, nor about attempts by all Governments and at all levels to tell us what we should think. And fear, another theme of mine. Rather, a much broader process of discussion and indeed enjoyment across the community.

In this context, I think that we face a particular challenge just at present because of our own growing national diversity, combined with globalisation, a process that requires us to accommodate different views whether we like it or not.

Globalisation and the need for a little humility

To illustrate the problem, take the growing schism (and here) in the Anglican Church. I am not an Anglican, by the way, it's the process I find interesting.

The Anglican Chuch is now an international organisation. Further, the majority of its 77 million congregation, but not yet its cash, can now be found outside the original heartland areas.

The proximate cause lies in the decision within the US Episcopal Church (2.6 million) to appoint the openly gay Gene Robinson as Bishop in 2003. I say proximate cause because many factors were involved beyond this, including fundamental differences in belief and values.

The Anglican Chuch has always displayed a sometimes remarkable capacity to accomodate differences in views, dating back to the need at its formation to accommodate both puritans and those still loyal to the forms and doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. However, the decision to appoint Bishop Robinson simply out-ran the capacity of the Church to accept change across a globalised organisation.

Now here there was a trade-off. The choice faced by those in the US was to push a change that they felt was right or accept that, at least for the present, the majority view was against them. They pushed, and the Church started to split.

I am not arguing one side or another. I am concerned about results. As I see it, one highly likely outcome is the emergence of an Anglican communion stripped of its more liberal elements who will come to occupy peripheral positions on the side.

Before going on, do try an experiment for me.

Draw up a table with two columns. Write down in the left hand column all the values you hold most dear. Then in the right hand column estimate the percentage of the global population that shares your view on each item. Do not worry about precision. This is back of envelope stuff.

I think that you will find that a proportion of your views, perhaps all of them, are in fact very much minority views in global terms.

I am not arguing that we should change our views to fit with majority positions. I am arguing that we should all exercise a little humility in the way we assert and express our views.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A pleasant surprise

I found out this morning that one of my posts, Why I am not a conservative, had been selected for the series being published over January by the e-magazine On Line Opinion of the best blog posts of 2007.

There are some very good posts in the series, so I feel flattered to be included.

My thanks to Neil for his congratulations. The selected post was in fact written in response to a comment from Neil. So Neil and, more broadly, all those in our little immediate blogging world who interest and stimulate me deserve a share of the credit.

A few days ago I was trying to explain to someone why blogging was so important to me at a personal and professional level.

It allows me, even forces me, to think, research and write in a way that exposes my views to criticism and discussion. My views change as a consequence.

One nice feature of the re-publication of the post is that it drew a comment from Don Aitkin.

I think of Don as an integral part of the New England tradition, the intellectual stream to which I belong. His writings from his original theses through books like the Colonel and the NSW Country Party to What was it all for? published in 2005 have always informed my thinking.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Rise and Fall of the White Australia Policy

Neil had an interesting post looking at ways of teaching about the White Australia policy. I thought that I would add a few comments, in part because Neil's post may in fact be difficult to understand for someone who has limited knowledge of Australian history.

In simple terms, we can think about the White Australia policy under three headings - genesis, operation, end.

Genesis covers the period up to the adoption of White Australia as a formal national policy by the newly formed Commonwealth of Australia after its creation in 1901. Operation covers the fifty year sweep from then until the early post Second World War period. End covers the progressive dismantling of the policy over the fifties, sixties and early seventies.

If we define racism as the explicit discrimination against people on the grounds of race, the White Australia policy was clearly a racist policy, designed to keep Australia white. I do not think that we can or should walk away from this, nor from the fact that many Australians including Prime Minister Alfred Deakin held explicit views about the superiority of the European and especially British race.

On the other hand, I don't think that we need to agonise too much about it. The purpose of history is to explain, to understand, not create a painful hair shirt for later generations to wear in misery.

In both the genesis and the end of the policy, we need to understand and form opinions about causation. Why did the policy begin, why did it end? In looking at the operation of the policy, we need to understand how it actually worked in practice.

Both the establishment and end of the White Australia policy were very major public policy decisions because they influenced the very composition of the Australian people.

The adoption of the White Australia policy ensured racial homogeneity for the next fifty years. The decision to abolish it meant that Australia was bound to become a multi-racial society. These are not small things.

In looking at the reasons for White Australia. we need to recognise that the policy came about because it represented the majority view of the then Australian population. We also need to recognise that racial views as such, while central, were only part of the mix. Economic considerations and plain fear were critical.

As a people, we modern Australians have a particular difficulty in dealing with the evolution of the White Australia policy because some of our most cherished and important icons - the Bulletin magazine, trade unions, the Labor Party - were passionately involved in its creation.

To my mind, this is silly. The fact that there were racist elements does not detract, destroy, the other elements in the story.

The story of the abolition of the policy is very different from that of its creation. Whereas the creation of the policy did represent public opinion, its abolition did not.

At the time we began unwinding the policy, majority opinion was still in its favour. It was the Australian Government that concluded the policy was no longer viable, that began its cautious unwinding.

This and its subsequent acceptance by the bulk of the Australian people is a remarkable story.

We had already launched in the mass migration program a major experiment is social engineering. Neither the Australian Government nor the Australian people thought of it in those terms, but that was what it was. Now we removed in a series of incremental steps one of the pillars of Australian official policy since Federation.

In all, its a remarkable story, and not one we should be ashamed of.


A few later reflections.

The Wikipedia article provides a reasonable overview of the history of the policy including the broader context.

Digging through the links Neil provided as well as other relevant material, one theme is the need to preserve social cohesion. This was, I think, an especially important issue in the minds of ministers during the dismantling of the policy.

In 1947 the partition of India saw mass migration and communal violence leading to the deaths of between 200,000 and a million people. In 1964 race riots in Singapore saw 36 people killed, over 500 injured. Then in 1969 there were race riots in in Kuala Lumpur in which at least 196 died.

Ministers were well aware of examples such as these. The policy had to go on foreign policy grounds if no other - Australia's growing engagement with Asia demanded it - but this had to be done without creating social and racial tensions.

In the ten years from 1957 to 1966 the policy was effectively abolished in a series of incremental steps. By the time, to draw an example from Neil, Sutherland High School debated the policy in 1969, the policy was to all intents and purposes dead. Yet I suspect that remarkably few Australians really realised this simply because it had been done in increments.

I will have to continue these musings a little later.

Later Evening 14 January 08

Neil posted a correction on the debate. He wrote:

Slight correction, Jim. Sutherland High School closed in the 1950s, its students going to Port Hacking High. The debate I mentioned was a Shire competition, in this instance won by Cronulla High, the team involved being peeved that they had to argue for "White Australia", a topic, as you say, somewhat anachronistic in 1969, hence the line they took.

While non-European migrants were still an exotic species then and the philosophy behind the WAP was still out in the public imagination (witness the degree of opposition on the far right and far left to the Vietnamese boat people in the 70s), the bright young people in my team certainly didn't want to argue for racism. I think the effects of Martin Luther King etc in the US and the controversy about South Africa had an impact here, as of course did our own Aboriginal movement in the 60s. Hence the perhaps too clever, but successful, line the team took.

Concern about balancing diversity and cohesion has been clear all through this, with the "pendulum" swinging perhaps too far in the direction of cohesion under the Howard government.

Thanks, Neil. I am sorry that I mis-remembered. However, your comment further stimulated my thinking.

The two things at the moment that I am most interested in my musings are the reasons for what was such a major change and the public policy positions and thoughts involved in managing the change.

I think that Neil is right that there were fundamental changes in attitudes among the young. In my migration matters series, I explored my own experiences here. I also think that he is right that things such as the US Civil Rights movement had an impact. However, it was more than that, for there were shifts among the older generation as well.

Those who read this blog on a regular basis will know that I was strongly influenced in many ways by my grandfather, David Drummond. This was the man who taught me to box when I was being bullied, who tried to educate me by giving me books to read.

In 1961 he gave me as a present J W Schulte Nordholt's book The People That Walk in Darkness.

Published in 1960, this was the story the Negroes of America, starting on the day in 1619 when the first twenty slaves were put ashore from a Dutch boat and then working through to the start of the civil rights movement.

At the time he gave me the book, my grandfather was 71 and coming to a the end of a long career as a Country Party Parliamentarian that had begun in 1920 with his election to the NSW Parliament. He was thus a Government backbencher during the period of Australia's initial post war engagement with Asia and the start of the end of the White Australia policy.

At the time he gave me the book in 1961 he was just my grandfather, a source of fascinating stories and a window into politics. It was only later, looking back after research into his life, that I could see the evolution of his views. That evolution mirrors many of the changes in Australia.

In first writing and researching about my grandfather I was not not concerned about his changing views on racial issues. They were a sideshow to the main story. Yet they are germane to the story that I am writing about now.

To a degree, Drummond's views mirrored the changing attitudes of the time.

In 1926 at a smoke social in Tamworth he spoke of the need for Australia to build its population to avoid conquest. If we failed to do this, he said, then we would become like the Aborigines, skulking on the outskirts of the land that had once been ours. No pussy-footing here. Just explicit recognition of a conquest that might later be repeated.

A proud nationalist, he saw no conflict between this and his support for Commonwealth and Empire. Here he became a member of the Australian chapter of the Round Table, the Empire group founded by Milner whose members included the writer John Buchan. Indeed, my grandfather loved Buchan's books - I do too - and met Buchan while he was Governor-General of Canada. There is an underlying anti-Jewish flavour to some of Buchan's books, a flavour to the words, that makes modern readers uncomfortable.

I suspect that Drummond shared this as measured by his intense personal response to Sir Otto Niemeyer (and here) recorded in later interviews with George Baker.

Then when we look at his role in Aboriginal education in the thirties when as Minister he had to try to reconcile the conflict between community attitudes, official rules and the needs of Aboriginal communities, we see that he personally articulated the concept of the Aboriginal people as a child race.

Now writing in a modern frame it would be very easy to type Drummond as racist. Yet his views were always tempered by a powerful personal awareness of injustice. Indeed, in modern "liberal" Australia some of his views would be seen as soft left indeed.

Drummond would not have thought in these terms. He would simply have concluded that some modern obsessions such as our civil controls and sentencing rules were outrageous.

One example to show what I mean in broad terms.

In 1936 Drummond went on an international trip to investigate technical education.

In Germany, Nazi officials turned a Jewish family off a ride to accommodate Drummond and his eldest daughter, my mother. Both were outraged. Drummond had read Mien Kampf, and came back convinced that war was inevitable. He and Mick Bruxner, the NSW Country Party leader, moved to put NSW onto a war footing well in advance of Commonwealth action.

So in all this, the views of the David Drummond who in 1971 gave me a book telling the story of the American Negro had clearly evolved from the earlier David Drummond. And this is my key point.

When we come to look at the evolution of Australia, we need to recognise that views do change over time. We also need to recognise that particular views are only one element in an overall tapestry.

In memory of good secretaries

During the week I needed to find out how to do something with frames and text boxes in Word. I used to be able to do this, but the Word version I was working from was a later one and the process had changed.

I started with on-line help, but could not find what I wanted to know. I then went to check if the office had a manual. No luck. Had I been working from my home office, I could have opened a document with the right formatting and used that as a template, but I wasn't going to spend hours travelling just to download a document.

I then spent time looking for a suitable template on the office system. No luck. I asked around the office. Again, no luck. Finally I downloaded a partially suitable document from the Ndarala intranet and used that.

This is an example of what I think of as the inefficiencies of modern offices.

I began my working career in a world that still had real secretaries. You know, people with fast typing or word processing speeds who knew what they were doing. For much of the time, I was fortunate to have secretaries who still knew shorthand. This was also a world in which administrative support more broadly was still available.

How things have changed.

Now, with rare exceptions, we all do our own word processing, saving on secretarial salaries. On-line self service intranets have replaced specialist administrative support resources, another saving. It all seems so cost effective, yet there are real hidden costs.

I really first became aware of these at a personal level some years ago when, working at that point as an independent consultant, I decided to do away with a secretary to save costs.

At the time my charge rate was $220 per hour, towards the upper end. Secretarial costs were counted as an overhead, not charged to the client, unless the secretary was making a direct input into the job. So I did not charge for secretarial word processing, but would charge out support time at a lower rate if the staffer was doing something like organising a series of meetings.

Boy did I face a shock.

I used to keep time sheets, I still do, allocating time units to different work categories. Now that I had abolished secretarial support, all the tasks that my secretary had done appeared on my time sheets. But how could I in all conscience charge a client $220 per hour for work previously done by my secretary that I was now doing, and far less efficiently?

I ended up doing two things. First, I used the lower charge admininistrative support code for that type of work previously done by the secretary. Then I wrote off time for my own inefficiencies in things like formatting.

My blended charge rate, the revenue actually achieved per billable hour, dropped from around $220 per hour to a bit under $140 per hour. The $80 per hour represented the revenue cost of the decision to forego the secretary.

Something similar happens in many modern offices. Comparing per head output in 2007 with that holding in, say, 1987 , output has dropped. It just takes much longer to do things.

These costs are hidden. Head count can be measured directly, whereas the inefficiencies are hard to see and measure. Staff can feel them and complain about them, but they remain out of sight.

There is no doubt that computerisation has aided efficiency. However, my feeling is that the hidden costs are now increasing drag upon organisations. A new approach to organisational design is required to overcome this.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Saturday Morning Musings - Multiculturalism and Blogging Imperfections

I am prone to errors of spelling and grammar. While I have improved from my first ever spelling test in primary school - a score of minus 10 out of 100 - the problem remains.

I also find that errors get worse as I get tireder. When I get very tired, my hand-eye coordination vanishes, as does my capacity to do simple maths.

I remember arriving at Heathrow from Germany to catch the plane back to Australia.

Over the previous week I had been to Yeovil by train, spent the day on a factory visit, back to London by helicopter, then to Edinburgh by plane, another factory visit, back to London and then from there to Munich for another factory visit.

Coming on top of an already exhausting schedule, I was absolutely wrecked by the time I arrived at Heathrow. Anything that required the capacity to think was beyond me.

I know my own weaknesses. When working on a job, I print out to check my English word by word, line by line.

This is hard to do when blogging or otherwise composing on screen. Yes, I use the preview, facility with my own posts. Even then I make errors, more so when I am commenting in those tiny comment boxes.

Another problem with blogging is simply keeping track not just of posts, but of comments on posts - mine and others.

I was reminded of all this this morning because I commented on a post of Neil's. I was trying to write a substantive comment, but found the comment format limiting. I also wanted to check material in previous posts and comments on both this and Neil's blog, but could not remember where they were!

Now how does all this link to multiculturalism? Well, this was the area I wanted to check.

I find it interesting how my own ideas have evolved since I started blogging. To set a context, two quotes. This one from Paul Heinrichs' obituary of Al Grasby, April 24, 2005.

It was to Grassby's eternal credit that, through political vision, his wit and some outrageous stunts, he turned this into a plus, helping to bury the discredited White Australia policy of the Menzies era ....

Grassby's policies began the transformation of an Anglo-centric, or at least Euro-centric Australia, to one that welcomed Asians and people from every part of the globe.

When they got here, they were no longer pressed into jettisoning every bit of their culture to "assimilate" into the mainstream Anglo-Celtic community.

Now this one from Keith Windschuttle.

All that social democrats contributed to Harold Holt’s reforms was to impose on them the doctrine of multiculturalism, that is, a government program to encourage immigrant communities to preserve the cultures of their old countries, no matter how irreconcilable they might be with Australian mores. Fortunately, apart from a number of publicity-seeking spokesmen and the members of Middle Eastern subcultures in a few urban areas, the great majority of immigrants have shown little interest in such backward-looking ethnic compartmentalisation and have opted to join the mainstream.

Heinrichs' comments are a historical travesty and represent the intellectual position that used to make my blood boil, especially when my kids came home from school with it.

Windschuttle's views come from the other side of fence and are a response to the type of position that Heinrichs articulated. To my mind, the Windschuttle quote is equally a historical travesty.

When I began blogging I was fighting against what I saw as the still overwhelming influence of the Heinrichs position. I have moved on from this. Now my interest lies not in debating the virtues or otherwise of different definitions of multiculturalism, but in understanding just how the different positions emerged.

To my mind, the best way of managing debates that purport to be based on Australian history is to look at the history itself.

You don't need to be an intellectual giant to demolish some of views that are around. Checking a few historical facts is often enough.