Barry Cohen records somewhere that one of the last decisions the Whitlam cabinet made before Company man Sir John Kerr dropped the boom concerned the fate of “Old Sydney Town”, the deathful 1788 theme park. If come November 24 John Howard is history, then history – specifically the new curriculum – will play a similar role. Labor would hopefully sling it overboard immediately.
Well it’s a fix, as we always knew it would be (and anyone writing in to point out that my last piece on this was headed “a win for the left” should remember we don’t write our own headlines). Despite being narrative it still has the same discontinuous form as the old curricula it criticised.
Much of the overview of each of the nine periods of history to study is boilerplate, with an emphasis on social and everyday life – opening of continent, movements for change, rise of leisure society, blah blah. The trick is in the 70 “milestones” and the “biographies.” Some of the milestones are whacky – I was joking last week about the Arafura Sea and the Don’s average, but there it is: 2) The seas begin to rise, and 19) First Australian cricket tour of England.
Missing as milestones: the 8 hour day movement, the war against Tasmanian Aborigines, the Lyons national unity government, the ’49 Hunter valley coal strike, the 50-51 Communist Dissolution Bill and the ’54 Split, among others.
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Included: The 1911 separation of NT from South Australia, the 1945 Evatt Sec-Gen of UN for eight minutes and in 1957 Australia-Japan commerce recommences
In the biographies, the cultural left has been bought off with sample biographies of a wide assortment of men and woman of all backgrounds – but key figures whose particular passions and leadership shaped the country in a way it would not otherwise have been, have been left out.
Those missing include: MacArthur, Archibald (Bulletin editor), Ted Theodore – shaper of Labor state government style, Baracchi, Communist Party founder (or any key Australian Communist), Jack Lang, Sir John Latham – anti-arbitration heavy, John Armstrong – hugely influential philosopher, Bob Santamaria, Gough Whitlam, Charles Perkins, Oodgeroo Noonuccul (Kath Walker), etc.
These events and people have been left out for political reasons. They make the “milestones” and biographies section an actual distortion of what happened here, how it happened, and the people who led the process of change and conflict at crucial times.
The thing about the old SOSE course was that it didn’t pretend to be a comprehensive narrative of Australian history. This one does.
As such it’s a betrayal of both those who will learn it, and the history itself.