The lugubrious tone of history teaching in Victoria is shown in a second volume of the new four-part Cambridge University Press series Analysing Australian History – Power and Resistance, 1788-1998 ($49.95).
The book for the Victorian Certificate of Education course is by Ashley Keith Pratt , series editor and “passionate history educator”; Bill Lewis (history and geography teacher); James Jacobs (history); and Angie Pollock (history and English). Richard Broome, president of the Royal Historical Society (Vic) and a Bruce Pascoe fan, is also a series editor. The authors apologise that they are “mostly of Anglo-Celtic descents.”
The cover shows a naïve 2015 painting of the Port Phillip colonists in 1842 hanging two Aboriginals who speared two white whalers. It’s by Indigenous artist Aunty Marlene Gilson, a descendant of a “King Billy” and a “Queen Mary” around Ballarat, who explains her indigene philosphy in this YouTube clip. It’s repeated in soft format inside, and then with a miniature of it overleaf. There’s a close-up of the hanged men on page xiv, and we get the full version once again on page 24 with kids asked to answer a battery of questions. There ares pics of whites massacring Aboriginals on pages 11, 21, 22, 27 and 30 and a memorial on page 35.
By the opening page of Chapter 1 (“Timeline”) we get “1842: Kilroy poisonings”, repeated a few pages later. The place in Queensland was Kilcoy, not Kilroy, which doesn’t inspire confidence in the authors’ thoroughness. A further minute’s checking and one finds the poisonings are factually contentious, e.g. from an historian’s UQ honours thesis on it (1980): “The Kilcoy Massacre has been widely accepted as a fact; it is often overlooked that no convincing proof of its occurrence has ever been produced.” Maybe evidence has turned up post-1980 (or maybe not). 
Kids are stuffed with dire versions of slaughters (30,000) claimed by historian Henry Reynolds. They’re directed to the University of Newcastle’s contentious and half-baked Massacre Map  and told to use it to check out the nearest massacre site to where they live. The number of massacre victims blows out from estimates like 20,000 Australia-wide two decades ago, to recent “careful estimates by historians” of 60,000 — and that’s just for Queensland! (p11).
The other main groups assigned to noble victimhood and resistance in what the book editors call “these magnificent textbooks” are women and gays. For want of anything more exciting, authors Bill Lewis and Angie Pollock go to town about the two “barroom suffragettes” of 1965:
Areas of the public sphere closed to women included the public bar of pubs and hotels, which sparked one of the most iconic protests for women’s equality – the ‘barroom suffragettes’ Merle Thornton and Rosalie Bogner who chained themselves to the public bar of Brisbane’s Regatta Hotel in 1965. (p153)
Ms Thornton in 2020 recalled,
After another half an hour or so we left for home, glassy-eyed with exhilaration, to see it replayed on the evening news. It’s a wonder that any of us got any sleep at all that night … It was audacious of course, but our protest triggered a tsunami of responses that no one could have predicted …[i.e. press articles in UK, Russia and ‘around the world’]. The Regatta Bar demonstration was recognised as a leading activist moment in second-wave feminism. I couldn’t have been happier or more energised by what might now be possible. (p154)
Questions from the text:
♦ Explain what Rosalie Bogner and Merle Thornton were protesting against
♦ Describe the atmosphere in the Regatta Hotel. [Photo includes indifferent male drinkers].
♦ Explain how Australians reacted to the protest
♦ Why do you think people around the world would be interested in this protest? [From Alaska to Togo, I assume]
Four years later, a union activist, the smartly tailored Zelda d’Aprano (p174), chained herself to the doors of the Arbitration Commission in Melbourne, “over the injustice done to women in terms of equal pay, 1969”. In the opening Timeline we get the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King on “World events” matched locally with Zelda’s clanky protest a year later. Another amusing Timeline “World events” extract goes
1991: Soviet Union dissolves, ending the Cold War. 1991: Susan Faludi publishes Backlash; Anita Hill’s testimony and Riot Grrrl punk movement spark Third Wave Feminism. (p221).
Feminist politics takes centre stage, albeit “split by different goals and thinking”. Political scientist Verity Burgman (p205) tells kids about “liberal feminism, radical feminism and socialist feminism … liberal feminism strove for reform, working within the system … Radical feminists held that the source of all oppression was the structures of patriarchal society. Socialist feminists held that the capitalist system was the root of female oppression.” The identity grievances never let up,”The Constitution was made by white men and mostly voted in by white men.” (p93). We even discover that in the early 1990s, “racism was ascendant” in Australia (p240)!
The source selections leave me uneasy, e.g. “As Australia was a man’s country according to popular wisdom, so the 1950s seemed to be a man’s decade. The long tradition of male solidarity in Australia was reinforced by men’s experience as soldiers and prisoners of war and the postwar introduction of national service for eighteen-year-olds. Women’s difference – their distinctive claims and interests as women – had been eclipsed by their positioning in the family.” (p152. My emphases. Quote from Marilyn Lake et al).
Does the throwaway phrase about “prisoners of war” refer to Changi and the Burma-Thai railway? Is that experience of our captured men of the 8th Division somehow the counterpoint to eclipsing of feminist egos? And am I reading too much into this? In similar vein, I noticed in the Endnotes, (p260) that the above-cited feminist historian, Marilyn Lake, co-edited in 1995: “Female desires: The meaning of World War Two”.
Capitalism of course gets a bad rap, despite having lifted humanity out of nasty, brutish and short lives. Port Phillip pioneer, John Batman, and his crew are introduced (p18) as “capitalists” , with a helpful annotation
Someone engaged in business activities with the primary purpose of making money.
I guess the pizza shop around my corner is also run by capitalists, who are depicted in Analysing Australian History’s old cartoons as menacing fatties in top hats and, even worse (p69), as a horned and fanged devil grinding down a hungry working-class wage slave.
Tony Thomas: Comrade Pupils, Here Is Today’s History Lesson
AT THIS POINT At this point I’ll interrupt my narrative to describe how kids are reacting to this merciless conditioning. VCE Australian History enrolments are plummeting, down from 1245 students in 2014 to just 632 in 2019, or a tiny 1.27% of VCE students. Barely 50 schools offer it. There was a slight rise to 710 in 2020. This new set of four VCE history texts, believe it or not, is supposed to woo kids back into the history corral. As The Age puts it
The new version of Australian history will replace the current study design … with four deep dives into distinct themes, including Aboriginal land management, race and immigration, landmark environmental fights such as the Franklin Dam campaign and struggles for women’s equality. Topics including the fight for LGBTQ+ rights and the frontier wars between First Australians and colonialists will also be given more exposure.
Now let’s get back to our text. Discussing post-war anti-colonialism (p151-2), authors are cited such as “the Palestinian Edward Said” who “critiqued the underlying ideologies and racial inequalities of colonialism.” Research-minded kids can look him up, endorsing “that Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinians is rooted in a Judaic requirement for Jews to commit crimes, including murder, against Gentiles”. He also “praised the historian Shahak for describing contemporary Israel as a nation subsumed in a ‘Judeo–Nazi’ cultural ambiance that allowed the dehumanization of the Palestinian Other.”
As for gays, the book’s authors relentlessly group them as “LGBTIQA+”, as in “What struggles were faced by the LGBTIQA+ community in this period?” (p157). Fair enough, I thought, let’s be inclusive of Intersex and whoever those “Q” folk are. As the book educates
The nineties also saw a move towards more diverse understanding of sexuality identity, with the use of the term ‘queer’ encapsulating a desire to not be placed in a binary gay/straight dichotomy. Dennis Altman observed that ‘queer’ quickly took on a variety of uses, united by the desire to escape specific identities while retaining a sense of opposition to the dominant sexual and gender order. (p247).
But then I wondered, “What the heck does the ‘A’ in LGBTQIA+ stand for?” Dr Google advises, “A is for a-sexual, a-gender, a-romantic.” The history fails to cover the liberation struggle of a-sexual, a-gender and a-romantic folk against the patriarchy. I trust the omission will be rectified in a second edition. Meanwhile, the kids’ history authors are open (p156) to yet more initials being added to LGBTIQA+.
Indeed, while [the] current term for those who have identities different to heterosexual individuals is LGBTIQA+, and may continue to evolve over time, in the period we are discussing the words homosexuals, gays or lesbians were used. (My emphasis)
The book refers mysteriously to some connection of homosexual men with the Cold War, namely that gay-ness was “seen as both a perversion of ‘godless’ communist influence and a potential threat to national security.” (p1560.
Kim Philby’s Cambridge spy ring did immense damage (not “potential” damage) to Western interests and was strongly homosexual. Western officials who were homosexual in the “illegal” era were subject to KGB blackmailers. After failing to impart this key information, and calling the 1950s “the darkest decade of the twentieth-century for Australian lesbians and homosexual men,” the text authors harangue kids, “Why do you think ASIO attempted to stop employment of homosexuals in public service positions?” Incidentally, lesbian practices were never illegal here so I don’t know why they suffered that ‘darkest decade’ – lesbian partners could keep their public service careers while married heterosexual women were terminated.
The textbook sums up (p253)
However, the resistance against power and authority is never complete. Women, First Nations peoples and people of diverse gender continue to struggle to gain full equality in Australian society, as do all people of colour, refugees [do they mean ‘asylum seekers’] and those with diverse abilities.”
On the next page, headed “Continuities”, we discover, “Power continues to be predominantly in the hands of heterosexual people.” A bad thing, obviously.
Re this loaded question (p255), kids seeking high marks should avoid answering ‘Yes’: “Could Australia claim to have ever been an egalitarian society between 1788 and 1998?”
Returning to the book’s teaching about so-called “First Nations”, the authors cite the curious research of would-be First Nation stalwart and Melbourne University Professor Bruce Pascoe, whose shtick includes explaining the kumbaya peace-loving ways of pre-contact tribes (p28):
Indigenous traditional ideas of conflict were based on the notion of feud, not war, by which only those who had wronged you specifically were attacked, not the whole group. This approach to fighting led to a controlled conflict, which kept the numbers killed at a lower level than in an all-out war. The writer Bruce Pascoe explains:
Aboriginal populations were relatively low … probably 1.5 million for the whole country [What!!!]. Traditional warfare developed in accordance with this limitation and the death of one warrior was treated symbolically as defeat or the point from which the conflict was resolved through diplomacy. Strategies of war which countenanced large numbers of war dead could not be sustained.
First, the essence of Aboriginal pay-back systems and witchcraft was that any third party – man, woman or child – could serve for retribution. Second, from William Buckley’s account in the south to others’ reports from northern regions, black-on-black massacres could be as horrific as whites’. In Journey to Horseshoe Bend, anthropologist T.G.H. Strehlow described a black-on-black massacre in 1875 in the Finke River area of Central Australia, triggered by a perceived sacrilege:
The warriors turned their murderous attention to the women and older children and either clubbed or speared them to death. Finally, according to the grim custom of warriors and avengers they broke the limbs of the infants, leaving them to die ‘natural deaths’. The final number of the dead could well have reached the high figure of 80 to 100 men, women and children.
The Murngin (now Yolngu) in NE Arnhem Land during 1920s practiced a deadly warfare that placed it among the world’s most lethal societies.
Incidentally, the book says of the 1816 Appin massacre in NSW (p13) “some Europeans were killed in [lead-up] conflicts”, followed by the massacre of 14 or so Aborigines. The vague words “some Europeans” actually refers to about 17 killed in the previous two years, including mothers and children, along with an unknown number of Aborigines. I wonder whether the phrase “some Europeans” instead of “17 Europeans” was demanded by the Aboriginal reviewers with veto powers over the text (pVII).
Kids are even cross-examined to make sure they absorb Pascoe’s nonsense (p28):
♦ How does Pascoe describe the nature of war before European arrival?
♦ How does Pascoe describe the British view of First Australian’s attitude to war?
In a rare glimmer of common sense, the authors don’t describe Pascoe as a paid-up First Nations member. But they fawn over activist/poet \Bobbi Sykes as “Indigenous” (p181, 203).
Indigenous commentators such as poets Roberta Sykes and Oodgeroo Noonuccal [formerly Kath Walker] … all argued for Indigenous sovereignty, land rights, and greater respect for First Nations cultures by mainstream Australia.
Hey historians! Check wiki as first port of call:
Sykes was raised by her mother and purportedly never knew her father. Sykes says in her autobiography that his identity is unknown, and her mother told her a number of different accounts about her father; variously that he was Fijian, Papuan, African-American, and Native American. However, her mother has revealed that he was an African-American soldier, Master Sergeant Robert Barkley. Although she fought hard for Australian Aboriginal rights, she herself was not of Australian Aboriginal descent. She was sometimes criticised for not correcting the record when others assumed she was Aboriginal.
This Sykes error is small beer compared with the authors’ claim that “First Nations peoples have managed to maintain traditions in the face of violence and upheaval across the entire continent” (p34). As historian and Quadrant editor-in-chief Keith Windschuttle points out, the last traces of “High Culture” were dying out in the centre and north by the 1950s, and elsewhere long before. Windschuttle also dismisses the new history series’ main claim that the British “invasion” stamped out traditional Aboriginal society, i.e. that the invasion “created massive traumas, wrongs and human suffering that Australia is still addressing to this day.” P vi. He says, “We did not take the Aborigines’ land and their law. The great majority of them gave up their previous culture and beliefs willingly. They “came in” to the new white society and its economy.”
Venerated anthropologist W.E.H. (Bill)] Stanner wrote:
The blacks have grasped eagerly at any possibility of a regular and dependable food supply for a lesser effort than is involved in nomadic hunting and foraging. There is a sound calculus of cost and gain in preferring a belly regularly if only partly filled for an output of work which can be steadily scaled down. Hence the two most common characteristics of aboriginal adaptation to settlement by Europeans; a persistent and positive effort to make themselves dependent, and a squeeze-play to obtain a constant or increasing supply of food for a dwindling physical effort. I appreciated the good sense of the adaptation only after I had gone hungry from fruitless hunting with a rifle, gun, and spears in one of the best environments in Australia.
The book scores an own goal on the so-called “Stolen Generation”. It sets out the five main demands of the Aboriginal “tent embassy” in Canberra in the early 1970s (p176). None of those demands refer to any stealing of Aborigines’ children. If it really involved 50-100,000 stolen kids, the “embassy” members would surely have protested? Similarly, the 1970 ten-point “policy manifesto” of the National Tribal Council, and the 10-point demands in 1970 of the Black Panthers of Australia, make no reference to any “stolen” children. Smart kids should ask their teacher to explain this anomaly.
As retired WA Supreme Court judge Nick Hasluck has written (Book and Bench, Arcadia 2021), in criticism of Sir Ronald Wilson’s Bringing Them Home farrago (1997), Wilson was
tarnishing the names and reputations of many people of an earlier generation – the patrol officers, the nurses, the teachers, the missionaries, the administrators – who laboured in good faith with limited resources to confer benefits on those who might otherwise, at that time, have been left without a future. I cannot see that defamations of this kind are a necessary or desirable part of ‘reconciliation’ … it is a tragedy that as a consequence of [the Bringing Them Home report] so many Australians of goodwill now feel that this is a subject that is ‘out of bounds’ and can no longer be discussed.
Paul Hasluck, former Minister for Territories in the NT from 1951-63 and later Governor-General, wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald on March 11, 1999, that
an earnest effort was made to change Australian neglect and indifference towards Aborigines, to improve their conditions and raise their hopes for the future. We strove for full recognition of their entitlements – legally as citizens, socially as fellow Australians.
There is no use or time for such rebuttals in Analysing Australian History.
THE TEXTBOOK deals gingerly with the dismissal of the Whitlam government. The Rex Connor/Jim Cairns multi-billion “Loans affairs” get not one mention, with gallant Whitlam ostensibly grappling with “the end of the long post-war boom and an economy facing the pressures of higher unemployment, stagnant growth and inflation” (p197). Well, if you budget for a 46 per cent growth in government spending in a single year, 1974-75, don’t expect stability. It was only conservatives, the book believes, who saw the Whitlam era as “chaotic, wasteful and too left-wing” (p207).
Whitlam’s “legacy reverberated for decades” – in a good way, they mean (P197). He allegedly (according to Communist-friendly historian Stuart Macintyre) was “the last national leader to follow his convictions regardless of consequence, he rose and fell as the possibilities for a confident and expansive national government ended”, whatever that means. Another academic, Geoffrey Robinson of Deakin, blames Whitlam’s misfortunes on the “shrinking capitalist economy” (p198) which actually increased in GDP by 3.9%, 2.6%, 4.1% and 1.35% from 1972-75. The punchline to Robinson’s article in The Conversation (not quoted) reads, “We could argue that the 1975 version of Whitlamism remains a winning formula.”
Kids must then answer: “To what extent did the dismissal of the Whitlam government impact on the liberation movements?” (p217). Which liberation movements? They don’t say.
Volumes 3 and 4 of this series yet await me. I might crowd-fund for my mental-health counselling.
Tony Thomas’ latest essay collection “Foot Soldier in the Culture Wars” ($29.95) is available from publisher ConnorCourt.
 For example, the map says at least 20 and up to 50, were massacred at Risdon Cove near Hobart in 1804. This is based on bogus “eye-witness” testimony by a convict con-man
Edward White 26 years afterwards. The only contemporary evidence is of several Aborigines killed in a skirmish between troops and several hundred Aborigines.
 Sourced to Patricia Grimshaw, Marilyn Lake, Ann McGrath and Marian Quartly, “Crossing a Nation”, Penguin, 1996.
 Another factor in the decline is kids’ aversion to subjects involving complex essay writing.
 Somewhat embarrassingly for their argument, the authors show the dominance of female university students, 58% females vs 42% for males in 2016, and my updating shows no change by 2020.
 Windschuttle, K., in “The Fabrication of Aboriginal History Vol 111,” p65 lists the total 25 demands.