The Arts in Australia

Sir: In response to Giles Auty’s “The Lost Virtue of Timelessness” (May 2020): the collapse he has noticed since arriving in Australia in 1995 was under way long before then. 

In the 1950s the Menzies governments were more interested in a roof over everyone’s head, food on the table and education, probably due to the situation here after the war. This was when our theatre chains collapsed, along with the radio industry. Television came, and went over almost immediately to making money and sport; there was no film industry, book publishing was dead, while painting and sculpture struggled in cliques in and around capital cities.

By around 1960 most arts practitioners had left for mother England. Those that remained became alcoholics and part-time practitioners. They lived a slow death bashing their heads against the brick wall, as Oriel Gray, Chips Rafferty and George Johnston have stated. Now we have arts administrators all over the world who push pens over paper supporting their governments’ philosophies. Only the select few can live a reasonable life now.

Bryan Niland
via email


Indigenous Whitefella

Sir: In Alistair Pope’s review of Bitter Harvest by Peter O’Brien (March 2020) he commented also on George Orwell’s classic novel Nineteen Eighty-Four:

Orwell also understood the power of changing the meaning of language to suit nefarious political purposes, a process he demonstrated in the language of “Newspeak”. Orwell showed that language could be controlled, changed and used to further the aims of revisionists.

As one who has read the full 1463 pages of Poor Fellow My Country by Xavier Herbert, I see myself as an indigenous whitefella. Then I consult my dictionary for the meaning of the term “indigenous” and find the answer to be “native”. I then consult my dictionary for the term “native” and find the answer, “one born, or whose parents are domiciled, in a particular place or country”.

As I was born in Australia, I must be a native, and thus indigenous. An indigenous whitefella. However, the ABC and others of that political bent have for some time been using the term to refer only to Aboriginal people and others who can demonstrate a percentage of Aboriginal heritage. It seems to me like Newspeak in action.

My question is whether we should support Newspeak, the ABC and the socialist “progressives” generally, by using “indigenous” when we mean “Aboriginal”. As an indigenous whitefella, I feel somewhat left out.

Les Cooper
Kellyville, NSW


More Equal than Others

Sir: Michael Detmold’s defence (April 2020) of the High Court’s majority decision in Love & Thoms v Commonwealth of Australia surely fails in its opening sentence, asserting that both appellants, neither of whom was born in this country, are “Australian Aborigines”. The granting of privileges to Aboriginal Australians has required that the state delimit this category of citizen in order to deny all others a seat at the table, hence the invention of a three-part test of Aboriginality, which Professor Detmold quotes.

I was born and grew up in Australia but some of my forebears were Irish. If I say that I identify as Irish, and if I could find someone in County Monaghan to say that I’m accepted there as such, then by this test I’m an Irishman.

John Bryson QC in the same issue of Quadrant decries the hostile tone of much criticism of the decision in Love & Thoms, when the judges of the High Court have unquestionably done their educated best to come to a legally sound decision. I would suggest that the hostility ultimately has its roots in the demonstration that although we’re all equal before the law, some are more equal than others.

Tony Nichols
City Beach, WA


Nolan’s Kelly Series

Sir: Patrick Morgan’s excellent review (April 2020) of Doug Morrissey’s two volumes debunking the myths of Ned Kelly as a hero and social bandit, points out that the front covers are adorned with Sidney Nolan’s contradictory images from his Ned Kelly series of paintings. Nolan depicted Ned Kelly as a fighter against injustice, a larrikin and a victim. His stylised depiction of Kelly’s black iron helmet with a slit for strabismic eyeballs has become perhaps the most famous image of Australian art. Nolan returned to this image repeatedly over thirty years and probably painted more than a thousand images of Ned Kelly, eagerly purchased by enthusiastic collectors. The images became sloppier and more perfunctory over time, eventually becoming almost parodies of themselves. They would have been good earners.

One can only imagine what serious critics would think if artists of similar stature to Nolan, such as Lucian Freud or Francis Bacon, had painted “The Robin Hood Series” depicting the antics of that English larrikin and social bandit “who robbed the rich and gave to the poor”, adorned in a green doublet. The possibilities are endless, including the “Robin Hood and Maid Marian Series” and the “Robin Hood and Friar Tuck Series”.

Fortunately Nolan did produce other major artworks which place him in the pantheon of the great Australian artists. They make great front covers too.

Ian Bernadt
Swanbourne, WA


Is Rape Avoidable?

Sir: In Letters (May 2020), Jill Fenwick wonders whether I am blaming the victim in saying rape is avoidable (“The Strange Death of Woman”, March 2020), and asks me to explain myself. In making her point, I notice she takes what I wrote out of context and puts quotation marks around text she has redacted for her purposes.

Fenwick provides dictionary definitions of rape, each predicated on a lack of consent, each assigning the woman the role of victim. She does not mention the significant proportion of cases where rape is defined retrospectively, once a woman realises sex hasn’t turned out how she wanted and doesn’t want to accept responsibility for her role in it. This is where the #MeToo movement has been caught out.

My point was essentially about human agency and free will in the age of sexual freedom and sexual politics. Before unwanted pregnancy there must be sexual intercourse, which takes a male and a female to accomplish.

If not all rape is avoidable, a significant proportion of it is. Sex always has consequences and abortion should never be a form of birth control.

Michael Giffin
Paddington, NSW


Modernist Achievements

Sir: I was unsure whether to respond to Christopher Heathcote’s diatribe on Modernist Britain (May 2020). There is no clear argument or serious informed discussion of Modern planning theory, in fact, finding a coherent argument at all requires patience. Heathcote ignores the bible of Modernism—S. Giedion, Space, Time and Architecture (1941)—and does not appear to recognise that its leaders in Germany, Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe, recognised Britain was infertile ground and swiftly moved on to the US. It fell to an expatriate Australian from Sydney, Raymond McGrath, to initiate the Brits into the mysteries of Modernism. He eventually gave up and retreated to Dublin.

Nor does Heathcote pause to consider its successes in Britain, the quality Roehampton and Barbican estates. Modern architecture-bashers like Charles Jencks in the 1960s, who selectively lampooned it to advance their own Postmodern careerist agendas, are forgotten critics. Since then, in the wake of a devastating Postmodern historicist failure, architecture has struggled to find a secure theoretical footing. Tossing indiscriminate theatrical and literary barbs at Modernism sixty years later is hardly a new sport, especially when it ignores the Weissenhofsiedlung, Cité de Refuge Paris, Unité d’habitation Marseilles, Notre-Dame-du-Haut Ronchamp, La Tourette, and many others by Le Corbusier, which we now look back on and judge great achievements in the art of civilisation.

Philip Drew
Annandale, NSW


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