Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sunday Snippets - Aboriginal historical perspectives, independent advice & a river

Gurindji History, Japanese Historian reviews Minoru Hokari's Gurindji Journey: a Japanese historian in the Outback(University of Hawai’i Press, 2011). I quote from Will's review:

Early in 1997 that brashness was evident when he roared into the Daguragu community on a motorcycle, a feat that certainly impressed and probably endeared him to some of its people.   He soon fell in with Old Jimmy Mangayarri, who was to become his Gurindji mentor and who would profoundly affect Hokari’s theories of history. ............

Hokari set out with ideas of “oral history” in his head.  He wanted to learn Gurindji history, including the story of the famous walk-off, from the Gurindji themselves.  And he was startled to learn that one of the precipitating events in the decision to stage the walk-off was a visit to the Wave Hill Station, in 1966, from the American President.  Kennedy wanted to know why the Gurindji were being treated so badly by the white bosses.  The elders explained, and “President Kennedy told them that he was the ‘Big American Boss’ and he would start a war against England and support the Gurindji people in their struggle.  And this is how the walk-off began, backed by a powerful ally, the Americans” (p. 38).

Hokari recognized, as a Japanese academic historian, that it would be “wrong” to assert that Kennedy came to Wave Hill three years after his assassinated.  But for the Gurindji, this event wasn’t a spirit-visit, nor was it a metaphor.  It was history.  This is the seed of a serious dilemma for Hokari, for he was unable to explain how he could say that the Gurindji, who have been passing down their “‘historical reality and tradition” for generations, could be “wrong.”

Hokari is pointing to a real problem, one that I have come across in conversations with Aboriginal people who believe things that I know to be "historically" untrue. Yet to those I am talking too they have become part of their history, immutable historical facts. At one level I want to correct, to point out the error. That's the outsider's view, what Hokari refers to as the academic approach. At a second level, I need to accept that I am dealing with a set of beliefs. If I want to understand Aboriginal history then I have to discover those beliefs and their influences.

In a way, this is not a new problem. The past is always a far country. To understand it, we have to get our minds around the people perceived their world at the time. It's more difficult with current history, however. At least I find it so.

Turning in a different direction, want to measure your risk quotient? Here's where you can have a go. My RQ score was 80, which is apparently quite high. Hat tip to Test your risk quotient for the lead.

In Would a citizen's jury produce a better policy outcome than a focus group?, Winton Bates extends my analysis on the rise of risk avoidance in Government policy making. Here I want to quote one point that I consider to be important:

Coming back to the importance of political leadership, I remember a conversation that I had with a wise person about 20 years ago. I made the point that Australia needed more courageous political leadership to pursue economic reforms. I expected the wise person to agree, but his response was that those who want governments to pursue economic reforms need to accept that governments don’t lead, they follow. The point he was making was that it is important to keep in mind that political leaders can never get far ahead of public opinion. The leader who prepares the ground for reform by attempting to raise the level of public discussion of an issue will often be more successful in promoting reform than the one who shows great courage in attempting to forge ahead ignoring ill-informed public opposition.

I think that's pretty right. Yes, sometimes you have to crash or crash through, but often you are better off preparing the ground. If you you look at Australia's role in the Columbo Plan, that was actually a courageous political action considering the political climate at the time in this country. Those involved justified it and sold it in terms of then geopolitics. In doing so, they laid the basis for what was to be the single most important Australian change in the second half of the Twentieth Century, the opening of this country to all peoples regardless of ethnicity.

Winton also refers to the role of the Productivity Commission, previously know as the Tariff Board and then the Industries Assistance Commission. Now Winton has a natural bias here given his previous role with the Commission! Yet he is right. I don't actually know many countries that have officially created bodies whose role is to provide independent objective advice on proposed policy changes, advice that Government must consider.

Winton's follow up post was What questions should citizen's juries be asked?. Within all my fulminations, in my sometimes role as a ponderous pontificator, I really do like the way that blogging encourages conversation!

Finishing this morning with a photo from Mark's Clarence Valley Today photo blog.

What a crowded river. This is the Wilsons River, once Lismore's main port. It's hard to believe today that Lismore was for so many years the largest population centre in New England outside the Lower Hunter.    


Michael O'Rourke said...

I did the risk test. It's deficent in that it doesn't transparently say how the score is added up.
Example: "Lincoln a democrat" (he was of course a Republican). If I say "75%" does that mean I get .75 of a point?
Also 'risk of what?' No big risk on getting it right/wrong sitting at a desk at home. Cf 'you die if you score under 50'. - what wd be effect and meaning of that?
- Michael O'Rourke, Canberra

Anonymous said...

Yes, Michael is right. What is the meaning of "risk" in this, and why (yet again) must we measure ourselves against a USA-centric series of questions? I mean, it's not as if they even matter much anymore.

Say a score of 95, or say 15. This "means" what? Whatever.


Jim Belshaw said...

Whatever indeed, kvd! You are both right.