Sir: What is it with French intellectuals? Why are they fascinated by things Australian?
First they design a destructive monetary system and name it after our national bird, the European Monetary Union, or EMU for short. Then they double down and try to float a currency called the euro, and we all know that kangaroos can’t swim and have a propensity for crashes.
Now I read, in Michael Connor’s article of September 2020, that the latest French intellectual to take a serious interest in our country is Christophe Darmangeat, a lecturer in Economics and Social Anthropology at the “impeccably Left”, Université de Paris (Diderot). M. Darmangeat has posted on his personal blog a review article of over 6000 words on Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu. In his review, M. Darmangeat asks:
how can we explain that the progressive Australian camp, as far as I can judge from my computer screen, has chosen almost unanimously to sing the praises of a work [Dark Emu] that mistreats the facts so recklessly, promotes the supernatural as a moral guide and capitalist enterprise as a political perspective? And why are the main, if not the only, voices that speak out against the deception, those of reactionaries with the worst intentions?
These last, insulting words (in emphasis too!) have a hyperlink to the Dark Emu Exposed website, which I edit. Is M. Darmangeat accusing me (and presumably many other writers at Quadrant as well) of being an Antipodean Robespierre? Or is this “Jeannot-come-lately” just miffed that Peter O’Brien and other Quadrant writers and myself have put up a vigorous defence of the truth on this historical turf before M. Darmangeat and his progressive scholars could even get their boots on? The fictional Dark Emu was published six whole years ago in 2014 without a single peep of a serious critique from academia in Australia or elsewhere.
One is reminded of Somerset Maugham, born in the heart of Paris at the British Embassy, who observed, in A Writer’s Notebook:
Things are very different in France. There the literary life is a merciless conflict in which one gives violent battle to another, in which one clique attacks another clique, in which you must be always on your guard against the gins and snares of your enemies, and in which, indeed, you can never be quite sure that a friend will not knife you in the back. It is all against all, and, as in some forms of wrestling, anything is allowed. It is a life of bitterness, envy and treachery, of malice and hatred.
Perhaps M. Darmangeat, comfortably ensconced behind his Parisian computer screen, studying Australian history from afar, feels that now is the time to protect his patch and engage in a little back-stabbing of us, the forward, debunking troops in the trenches. Like Bruce Pascoe, M. Darmangeat offers no evidence to support his claim that we are “reactionaries with the worst intentions”.
But perhaps we should cut him a little slack. Maybe it is a burden many French intellectuals struggle with, constantly being history’s runner-up to the British and their diaspora. Or as my dad used to say, “Where in the world would the French be without the British?”
(Editor, Dark Emu Exposed)
A Voice for the People
Sir: It was with great joy that I read Joanna Hackett’s article “The Night the Leaves Fell from the Bullshit Trees” (October 2020). A wise man once said that “the silent majority in a liberal democracy is often lazy, but it is not stupid”—a saying our politicians should put on the walls of their offices. The representatives of the silent majority have, to varying degrees, abandoned it for the siren song of progressive ideology; the silent majority has had no voice for some time now. Yet, anyone with eyes to see, and ears to hear, can sense the growing discontent of most people in Australia. But the people have lacked a champion to give them a voice in a form, and a vernacular, that all Australians can understand.
I have often said to my wife over the last few years that the people need a satirist to arise, one who understands their priorities, their tolerant nature, their hopeful patience, and their good humour. And now, from the fertile soil of Quadrant, the magnificent flower of satire for the people has burst forth.
Pacific Pines, Qld
Penola’s Poets’ Corner
Sir: It was with interest and pleasure that I read Michael Wilding’s article “The Poetry of Adam Lindsay Gordon” (September 2020). I can assure your readers that Adam Lindsay Gordon and his poetry continue to be well-recognised and celebrated in Penola, South Australia. A bronze replica of Lady Kathleen Scott’s marble bust of Gordon in Westminster Abbey was unveiled at Poets’ Corner in Penola by the Dean of Westminster, Dr Wesley Carr, in 2005. It is now accompanied by two smaller bronze busts of Will Ogilvie and Penola-born John Shaw Neilson, both of whom appreciated Gordon’s poetry, which is certainly not under-rated here.
(Trustee, Penola District Cultural Fund)
The State of Sydney Anglicanism
Sir: Barry Spurr alleges that Sydney Anglicans practice an ecclesiastical version of cancel culture (September 2020). In this narrative, low churchmen have diminished (if not repudiated) their heritage by ditching inherited forms and common practices. Examples given by Professor Spurr include the renaming of parish churches and the thinning out of Prayer Book services.
There is some truth to this criticism; and, as an Evangelical with traditional leanings, I’m partial to his concern. In my view, time-honoured hymns are preferable to most “contemporary” songs, as is thoughtful liturgy to piecemeal informality in a church service. Sadly, Sydney clergy at times have been excessive in their anti-traditional rhetoric and imprudent in their innovation of church practices.
Yet for all that, I don’t have an issue with modernisation in itself, so long as it’s done with care. Tradition must be respected, but not always obeyed. The Church’s true vocation is to edify Christ’s body and go by His Spirit with the gospel into the world, to the glory of God.
This has always been the Anglican way, with culture subordinate to theology. Archbishop Cranmer strove for a Church conformable to “God’s Word written”, as he himself articulated. Pre-Reformation Church facets such as Latin Mass, Marian hymns and rood screens, whatever their aesthetic value, were suspicious on biblical grounds. The operative principle is one of cultural means to theological ends. No less an Anglican authority than Richard Hooker argued as much in his Lawes: “Our end ought always to be the same; our ways and means thereunto not so. The glory of God and the good of His Church was the thing which the Apostles aimed at, and therefore ought to be the mark whereat we also level.”
In the end, the real threat to Anglican identity today is compromise on its biblical and theological identity. Evangelicals long to see the Anglican Communion regain the fidelity to Scripture that is the true foundation of the Church of England. Our Lord said, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” For all their imperfections, Evangelical Anglican churches, by the grace of God, are orthodox in creed, outward in focus, and growing in numbers and maturity. Nihilism is the last thing that could be attributed to the Sydney Diocese in general.
Together with Professor Spurr, I wish to see unity in the Church and the preservation of robust Christian identity (together with growth). I humbly submit that the seam-splitting tension we see in the Communion has less to do with our disunity in culture than our failure to unite in truth. May God have mercy on us.
(Student, Moore Theological College)
Sir: The heading for Barry Spurr’s piece on Sydney Anglicans, “From Orthodoxy to Anarchy”, is possibly right in one respect and wrong in the other. Sydney Anglicans—and I am happy to identify as a recently retired Presbyterian minister—are nothing less than orthodox as regards adherence to orthodox Christian belief. Nothing unorthodox about them in that regard! But I agree anarchic to the extent of the loss of a uniform way of doing and being church.
I can think of two reasons for this.
The first is the Anglican polity. Despite the outward appearance of being a hierarchical body, in fact, at the local level, the minister operates as a pope, in contrast to Presbyterianism, where decisions on just about anything are taken by a body of elders moderated, rather than ruled, by the minister. With the freedom to follow personal whim, the Anglican minister becomes pivotal in most of the changes that bother Professor Spurr.
The second reason is that Sydney Anglicans recognise that if everything stays the same, the church shrinks in number, pretty much as is universally the case for Anglicans outside of Sydney. Apparently, changing church names and moving away from the Prayer Book is thought to make for better connections into local communities, and at the very least, stems the loss of people from the church. That, I think, is the purpose: living in the present, not the past. Still, I regret any loss of heritage, which I think is what concerns Professor Spurr.
(Rev.) David Palmer
Sir: In response to Patrick Morgan’s article (September 2020): Taiwan is not a province of China, in exactly the same way that South Korea is not a province of North Korea, and Australia is not a province of China.
Taiwan is a sovereign nation-state. Both Taiwan and South Korea are the reduced nations remaining after, and the refuges from, anti-democratic violent communist invasions and wars which split their countries into two. The Chinese government took refuge in Taiwan, which has its own democratically elected national parliament, justice system, foreign policy, national passports, national archives for the whole of China, central bank and currency, and exerts sole legal authority over all of its citizens to the complete exclusion of any authority exerted by the PRC.
Ocean Reef, WA
English Proficiency at University
Sir: There is a sobering but straightforward way to solve the problem of Australian universities’ unjustifiable dependency on foreign students, and this is to raise the required pass mark on the properly supervised and student-ID-verified International English Language Testing System, the IELTS. On the IELTS, the maximum score of 9 = expert, a score of 8 = superior, a score of 7 = proficient, and a score of 6 = competent, with any score below 6 considered incompetent. These scores have to be achieved in all four testing areas of the IELTS: listening (forty minutes), reading (sixty minutes), writing (sixty minutes) and speaking (eleven to fourteen minutes of continuous conversation). The IELTS should also be required of domestic applicants suspected of sub-competent English.
The leading universities in the US, Canada and England require a minimum IELTS score of 7 (proficient) but the leading universities in Australia—the ANU, Sydney, Melbourne and Monash among them—require only 6.5, even for master’s and PhD programs. And most Australian regional universities, perhaps because they have greater difficulty attracting foreign students, accept applicants with a score of only 6, that is, merely competent.
A score of 6, according to the IELTS, means only that you can understand English in familiar, everyday situations—not that you can understand English at a level sufficient to understand university textbooks and lectures.
An undergraduate or professional master’s degree student—foreign or Australian—should at least be proficient, a score of 7, and a science master’s degree student or PhD student should be superior, a score of 8. Having even a small proportion of students in a class with English comprehension levels lower than 7 means you have to use simpler textbooks and dumb down the lectures. Alternatively, you can do the morally right thing by sticking to your principles and being prepared to argue to academic administrators that a substantial number of students should be failed, in which case, in these days of staff cutbacks, you risk losing your job. Most university lecturers have taken the easier route and are simply hiding from the problem.
So, even though our university administrators won’t like this because it will shrink lucrative enrolments from foreign students, I believe our universities should raise the required minimum IELTS score to 7 (proficient) for undergraduates and professional degree master’s students, and 8 (superior) for all science master’s and all PhD students. Domestic students applying with low ATAR scores or mature-age exemptions should be screened with the IELTS unless they can provide good evidence of proficiency in written and spoken English.
John R. Rossiter