The backlash against Keith Windschuttle’s
appointment to the ABC Board appears to have provoked a change of tack in both
the government and the journalistic home of the Culture Wars, Chris Mitchell’s Australian. In seeking to put some flesh
on the bones of Howard’s traditional
Australian history agenda
, Education Minister Julie Bishop has
convened a History
Summit
. The spin is that attendees will be from the “moderate
centre”. Luminaries such as Gerard Henderson, Paul Kelly, Geoffrey Blainey and Howard
hugger academic
Gregory Melluish have been invited, but
Windschuttle will be a mere ghost at the feast.

Similarly, The Australian published an op/ed
on Friday
on the summit but, surprisingly, it wasn’t penned by
Windschuttle or Kevin Donnelly, the usual flag carriers of choice for News
Ltd’s History Wars. James Cook University academic Mervyn
Bendle
instead condemned “the sludge of self-imposed confusion,
doubt, guilt and apologetics” and decried “the postmodernist fallacy that the
time of grand narratives has passed”.

Bendle wasn’t entirely on message, though
he criticised schools for moralising political correctness. He thought that
history should encourage students to critically evaluate “the ideological
claims that are made about Western civilisation”. Further investigation of
Bendle’s background suggests this is not a surprise.

Bendle used to work as a Sociologist at
JCU, and is now shown on the University webpages as affiliated with the discipline of English. While he has numerous degrees, like Keith
Windschuttle, his study of history appears to have ended at Honours level. Yet The Australian described him as a
“Senior lecturer in history and communication”, presumably implying a claim to
expertise for his opinion.

More alarmingly for culture warriors, Bendle’s
publications
include papers with titles such as “Jouissance – ‘right
off the scale: Lacan, Sexual Difference and the Phallic Order”, ” “Foucault,
Religion and Governmentality” and “Teleportation, Cyborgs and the Posthuman
Ideology”, but seemingly nothing on the intrepid voyages of Captain Cook.

It’s possible to infer that Bendle is a
postmodernist in sheep’s clothing. But more importantly, two lessons can be
taught from his op/ed’s appearance. The first is that Ms Bishop may find it
hard to round up enough genuinely conservative academics to implement Howard’s
history dreaming in schools. The second is that Chris Mitchell might be better
off sticking to the usual suspects when he lobs his next Culture Wars grenade.
Though this might expose how limited the support for the white armband version
of Australian history really is.

Dr Bendle was contacted for comment on
this story, but had not responded in time for the publication deadline.

Peter Fray

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