Well, the team picked for the government’s one-day history teaching summit is out,
and one can only applaud their subtlety. Earlier hopes/fears that the group
would be a hardcore stack have not prevailed – no Windschuttle, no Bolt, no
Akerman. But nor is it a full and balanced representation of the views of
Australian history across the profession and its hinterlands.

A moment’s glance at the list of participants will
show why (Note: the designation refers to people’s public positions
– ie. I don’t know who Inga Clendinnen votes for, but her work doesn’t have
a clear political orientation):

Left-activist:
Jackie Huggins*

Left: Jenny Gregory*, Margo Neale*

Centre Conservative: Geoffrey Bolton*, Inga Clendinnen*, Kate Darian-Smith*, Tom
Stannage* , Tony Taylor*, Mark Lopez*

Right-activist:
John Gascoigne*, Gerard Henderson, Peter Stanley*, John
Hirst*, Bob Carr, Paul Kelly, Gregory Melleuish*, Geoffrey Partington, Geoffrey
Blainey*

Affiliation Unknown:
Andrew Barnett, Nick Ewbank, Jennifer Lawless, Lise Paul (DEST rep)

*professional historians

Several things are immediately obvious: first, even
if one or two people in the “centre” column shifted into the left, the damn
thing would still be skewed right.

Secondly, there’s a clear absence of other big left
names: no Henry Reynolds, Marilyn Lake, Humphrey McQueen, Patricia Grimshaw,
Mary Kalantzsis, Don Watson, Lyndell Ryan. Stuart MacIntyre was invited, but
was unavailable – in which case, if a genuinely pluralist approach was wanted,
someone else of a pinkish hue should have been chosen. I can’t believe they were
all unavailable. Gender and ethnicity-wise it’s skewed as well.

Thirdly, the right side is stacked with men on a
mission, three of them non-professional ring-ins. Henderson, Hirst and Kelly (journo, not
singer) need no explanation on this score. Melleuish writes for the CIS,
Partington for the IPA. Blainey will either be serene conservative or
penny-dreadful scrapper depending upon mood.

Fourthly, in a one-day conference, no-one is liable
to get a word in edgewise apart from the right warriors, who are practised at
this sort of thing, and would need balancing with equal and opposite
broken-bottle wielders if it was to be a fair fight.

So it’s a stitch-up – but by leaving out the most
high-profile nasties, the government will be able to present it as a process of
consensus. New direction etc etc. Following the conference, one presumes the process of
drafting a national narrative-based curriculum will begin – at which point the
fun will really start.

Any of the above who don’t like the team they’re on
see me at lunchtime.

Peter Fray

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