Rundle: worse than horse love
There is only one thing worse than be taken as an enemy of News Limited, St Oscar might have written, and that is to be taken up as their friend. Take the case of Bess Price for example. Price is an Alice Springs-based indigenous activist, about whom opinion tends to divide quite markedly. Some see her as a truth teller; others as someone who speaks for communities — such as Yuendumu — that she doesn’t live in.
She was a strong supporter of the Howard government Northern Territory intervention, and is much-feted by the Bennelong Society, the pro-assimilationist lobby group. She speaks several languages, holds a science degree and has worked in a wide variety of fields. Oh, and she’s also worse than having s-x with a horse.
Larissa Behrendt’s tweet, made at the time of Q&A, went to her 800 followers, and instantly disappeared down the twitter hole. The Australian’s story retrieved it, and presented it to far more than 800 readers (unless it was a Monday edition).
Indeed The Australian was so outraged at this slur on a noble activist that it repeated the story the next day, using Behrendt’s reaction as the hook, to talk of how shocking it was that Bess Price had been compared to horse love.
Then it went on to feature in the op-ed section, with an extraordinary article by Marcia Langton that, among other things, recapitulated horse-love comparisons, followed by another article by Chris Kenny, which reminded anyone who didn’t know, that Bess Price was associated with horse-love.
Today, it went after Behrendt from a different and even more spurious angle related to tertiary teaching — but still found time to remind readers (800 or so; it’s a Monday) that Bess Price had been compared to the passion between man, woman, and pony.
Quite possibly, at some point in this process, Price may have realised that The Australian did not necessarily have her best interests at heart. Amazingly, they were not overly concerned with an attack on her dignity in the borderline private/public space of twitter; indeed, they were utterly indifferent to it.
Whatever one thinks of her opinions, Bess Price has had some courage in saying what she thinks, and associating with groups — the Centre for Independent Studies, the neo-assimilationists — which would win her few friends in indigenous Australian politics, and which form part of the conveyor belt by which News Limited creates controversies.
For this she has been rewarded with the role of patsy. News Limited will continue to run with the story until all that people remember of Bess Price is the horse-love comparison. It did that, no one else.
The attack on Behrendt is doubtless a matter of newsworthy public controversy, doubtless, doubtless. Doubtless, it has nothing to do with the racial vilification procedure that is being conducted by Behrendt and eight others against News Ltd columnist Andrew Bolt; nor is it in any way connected with the defamation action that Behrendt and another leading indigenous figure took against Noel Pearson for two columns he wrote for The Australian a couple of years back; an action that was settled out of court by News Limited’s lawyers very quickly indeed. Doubtless, doubtless.
But even if one discounts these factors, it is clear that The Australian is prosecuting and playing host to an extraordinary war around indigenous politics. Hitherto, one thought that this war was formed along fairly predictable lines, with the right advancing a strongly neo-assimilationist line.
Rural Aborigines should abandon any idea that their communities could form the basis for an alternative path to modernity, mixing the new and the old in a new way; instead they should abandon much of what remained of their way of life as a “culture cult”, and simply melt into an undifferentiated modernity.
Quadrant editor Keith Windschuttle — who in the 1970s had written of the coming Aboriginal peasant revolution — was one such advocate; a more recent, and rational one, is Gary Johns. The left version of this is Noel Pearson’s idea that Aborigines can get six hours of ultra-programmed rote learning in the morning and the teaching of culture tacked on in the afternoon, as a separate entity.
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