May 1, 2018

When applying whitewash to Captain Cook, hold your brush at an obtuse angle

A recent piece by Nick Cater in The Australian responds to a defence of graffiti on a Captain Cook statue in Sydney.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


Credit: Peter Shanks

Look, it’s usually tremendous fun to bait Nick Cater, the Exeter graduate and BBC/News Corp life, who pretends to be an Aussie. He’s the epitome of the British middle-class organisation man, cringing his way from new university to public megacorp, to Australian media monopoly – and then in his 50s, imagining that he’s Chips Rafferty riding his okaparinga, droving shiralees in the mulga or something.

Most times this doesn’t matter. He can tell us how the Australian spirit is evidenced in Phar Lap kicking the winning goal for St Kilda in the 1981 Stawell Gift etc etc, and we can nod along. But then, of course, he gets onto "white civilisation" :

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18 thoughts on “When applying whitewash to Captain Cook, hold your brush at an obtuse angle

  1. Nudiefish

    Mythology is a fine old Australian tradition. We used to produce wool and bullshit.

    Nowadays not so much wool.

  2. klewso

    Moral poddy dodging? The best way to get away with something is to rebrand it.

    1. klewso

      Convicts – in chains – allocated to colonists like draught animals – punished to various lengths for various misdemeanors?
      Aborigines – wages garnishee’d to pay for the building of the likes of Redcliffe hospital? Wave Hill?
      “Blackbirded” Kanakas?
      The “ownership” (control) of human beings by the state and other human beings?
      Tomater : tomato.

  3. zut alors

    I’ve read only a few pieces penned by Nick Cater &, with the above nugget in mind, won’t waste time doing so again.

    Does he think humans only qualify as slaves if they are auctioned off in a town hall/square? His ignorance of ‘classical liberal values’ & the influence of the Enlightenment attributed to our leaders is breathtaking. As reference Cater should read ‘White Cargo – The History of Britain’s White Slaves in America’ by Don Jordan & Michael Walsh. Several big names in Britain’s colonisation history appear to have missed the Enlightenment.

  4. Noel Turnbull

    I am not sure I have ever read a piece by Nick Cater and have no plan to remedy that. However, referring to a British Enlightenment is not totally stupid. Roy Porter’s Enlightenment Britain and the Creation of the Modern World gives due credit to Lockean, Protectorate and 1688 precursors of a form of enlightenment as well as emphasising the roles of those two great Scots – David Hume and Adam Smith in what we think of as the Enlightenment. David Hume’s critiques of miracles can even be used today to deconstruct claims about the benefits of company tax cuts Noel Turnbull

  5. The Curmudgeon

    Phar Lap, St Kilda and the Stawell Gift- priceless, although if St Kilda players had four legs, they may well have won more premierships than their solitary one.

  6. kyle Hargraves

    “Gosh, there’s a lot to unpack there”

    Really? You don’t seem to think that there is anything to “un pack or un pick” from your own submission.

    Let’s consider the quote that you have selected and your reply “We can’t even stop to remark that the Enlightenment was French and Dutch in origin”

    Quite so BUT (adding to Noel Turnbull) even Marx found England more congenial in the early 19th century than anywhere else in Europe. Interesting that there wasn’t a revolution (1789 style) in England although it was expected? Explanation – history buff? Well the Poor Laws for a beginning
    but there were other reasons. Then, for the sake of interest, compare (race) relations in the 19th century with those in the colonies of other countries. The Brits went to some effort to eradicate slavery in the Cape and Natal (for example). PERHAPS this trend as Cater’s point (which you apparently missed).

    Slavery : I doubt if you know the meaning of the word. I wonder if you have appealed to the phrase “death camps” to describe Manus Island.
    Rather like the recent ACTU document you use a mixture of half-truths and emotion to make it look as if you are arguing fact.

    As to the convicts (just look at the passenger logs) some convicts were transported as first-offenders but most were multiple offenders. The first offenders (even for political “crimes”) were given a Ticket of Leave early on when it was clear that the recipient was unlikely to cause problems for the colony (and might make a useful beginning as a settler).

    However, to complete your argument was the “situation” that you infer superior to the convict-free South Australia? Manning Clark says no in regard to (total) crime per 1,000 compared to any other state.

    Killings were few and far between. Direct prejudice was a 30s (read depression) phenomenon. Hitherto there was, most definitely, a “we & them” but such was the case in NZ and elsewhere too. Such attitudes existed with the abolitionists. Emancipation was in NO way intended to proxy for equality.

    “We can’t even pause to mention that in attacking the global scourge of slavery, he quotes Thomas Jefferson.”

    well, we need to see the passage Guy. Perhaps Cater is criticising the inconsistency of Jefferson in regard to slavery; while owning slaves he appeared supportive of abolition but, on the other hand, is nocturnal ventures (with members of his household) did contribute to increasing his servant/slave household. Without sighting the passage to which you refer I am unable to say.

    Lastly, (real question) do you (or anyone) think that the aboriginals (of any country) could continue of a state of (idyllic?) nature as the world, motivated and directed almost entirely by the Industrial Revolution entered the 19th century? I think not. Sentimentality : there is no place for it in history Guy; it only gets in the way.

    Postscriptum :
    Cook was killed in Hawaii. The inhabitants took him to be a king or god. That he had to return to his point of departure owing to the weather and other unforeseen events was sufficient for the inhabitants (chiefs) to turn against him. Except for “discovering” the country (we all know it was Tasman) he had f.all to do with how the British government responded to the acquisition and subsequent government of the new colony.

    1. Jim Egan

      Kyle, you should not waste your time educating Guy. He is a born provo and resistant to historical ‘facts’ unless they are made in a pink or red colour.

    2. Nudiefish

      Kyle, not sure where you learnt your history, but the killings of Aborigines were not far and few between. As for the rest of your post, you seem to rest upon legal twists loopholes. The convict system was slavery by any other name by a regime that was protecting wealth and privilege and its system of advantage against the poor and powerless. In the overcrowded city slums how do you suppose that you would support your family? As for me, I would thieve with the best of them.

      A little less John Howard in your viewpoints of Australian history would probably serve you well, but no doubt you would strenuously disagree. Some hate the “black armband” view of history, but our forefathers insisted that we wear it, not ourselves.

      1. kyle Hargraves

        “not sure where you learnt your history”

        The answer is rather lengthy but in regard to Australia : Clark, Bolton, Blainey, Stretton and a few others. Your understanding of history is obtained from .. ?

        > but the killings of Aborigines were not far and few between.
        Ok – you provide your evidence and I shall provide mine. Shall we say a week from today (on this page)?

        > As for the rest of your post, you seem to rest upon legal twists loopholes.

        Indeed no. The fundamental error that is made in Australian classrooms and 1st year varsity courses (indeed by Rundle come to that) is the tendency (or the obsession) to evaluate events that occurred some centuries ago in the moral context of the “here and now” – of these enlightened times. What OUGHT to occur is an evaluation of the events within the context of the period (ethos and world view) in which they occurred. Anything else amounts to a perversion of perspective.

        It is insufficient to state xyz occurred without a comprehension of the conditions in which xyz occurred and the motivations/contitions for xyz prevailing. Marx went to some trouble to make this point at the end of Volume 1 (of das Capital).

        I haven’t appealed to “loop-holes” (you need to show that I have) as you put it (indeed I’m unsure that such exist) but I accept that the perspective is at variance to the typical SJW which doesn’t make the SJW correct.

        “The convict system was slavery by any other name”

        Well that is your assessment (even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense) because slavery is/was an institution or a consequence of war (to about 1700) and not a sanction for wrong-doing or crime. Incarceration, by definition, was temporary; viz, typically for seven years but, in any event, for a finite period of time.

        “a regime that was protecting wealth and privilege”
        so – with all due respect : what has changed to date?

        “In the overcrowded city slums how do you suppose that you would support your family?”

        Dickens made just this point in a number of his novels. However Dickens also considered hard labour in prison as a justifiable sanction for stealing the property of others that others had earned by “dint of industry”. On the point, in any society crime is undertaken by 5% of the population at most. Such is a common factor in any text on criminology that has investigated the history. When crime gets to about 10% of the population (engaging in criminal activities) community bonds begin to break down and at 20% the game is over.

        As to circa the mid 18th century (and prior to) the majority of colonies had a system of “binding” for waifs, orphans and child-criminals. One could be hung (executed) in England and the Colonies for major offenses from the age of 8 and one was presumed (at law) to have the knowledge of an adult at the age of 12.

        The bound (that was the word) children served a master or household until about age 16 or in the case of the girls upon marriage (typically age 12-14) – when the girl became the property of her husband. Anticipating your proclivities might one conjecture that you would designate the system of indenture (described) as slavery. Well no. Let’s use the nouns correctly!

        Ditto, incidentally, for Mr Rundle who ought to have read sufficient history to appreciate the distinction – but distinctly absent from the nature and tone of the article.

        “A little less John Howard in your viewpoints of Australian history would probably serve you well, but no doubt you would strenuously disagree.”

        Frankly, (which might surprise some) I’m not much interested in the perspectives of Mr John Howard but I am interested in ensuring that the community doesn’t engage in chanting idiotic mantras that have more to do with a self-imposed perception of “bad buggers are us” than of fact as they occurred.

        1. gerald butler

          Look,we’ve kicked the shit out of aboriginals for over 200 years and still do in many respects. We don’t need any more smartarse lecturing from both sides of the arguement because the results are plainly there to see.

  7. Charles Richardson

    If you told an American audience that what we did to the Aboriginal people (or for that matter the convicts) was “‘not slavery’ only by quibbling legal definitions,” you’d risk being tagged as a white supremacist. (Have a read of this piece about the Irish: .) Chattel slavery really is something different: we never had it here, and the British empire, for all its many faults, really did lead the fight for its abolition.

    1. kyle Hargraves

      “If you told an American audience ..” Having regard to the trends in education following those (indeed emulating those) in the USA it is only a matter of time before an Australian audience becomes indistinguishable from an American audience.

      Ask any yank as to their understanding of transportation prior to George III and Earl, Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis making a money’s breakfast of the campaign their reply would be about the same as being able to identify Armenia on a blank map.

      Come to that, the film “The Madness of King George III” was renamed least the American audience (that word again) considered the film to be the 3rd version!

      Lastly, being identified as a white supremacist in the USA means about as much (or as little) as being identified as racist in Australia. It is approaching being a badge of honour.

      1. bref

        Unfortunately I think you’re right, Kyle. Maybe, just maybe Gonski 2.0 is a catalyst for change, but knowing Canberra they’ll F it up again, its just who we are now.

        1. kyle Hargraves

          I’ve offered my services to Crikey to blow Gonksk(2) out of the water but “I’m still waiting”. The first major PROBLEM is, Bref, that all the money is being directed to the dickheads at school and nothing (literally) to the capable students; go figure as the yanks say! Gonsky is nothing more than a glorified exercise in PR and PC (in about that order). Such is not a popular view but it is real and many (most?) teachers would agree – off the record.

          The second major problem is that the report messes about at the sidelines. IF .. if
          (1) classes were reduced to 8-12 students, (2) appropriate teacher training in modern technology occurred, (3) realistic regulation for academic progress was in existence (4) a “back to basics curriculum” was mandated (grammar, spelling, quadratics by year 9, redox reactions by year 10, angular momentum at yr 11) etc. and (5) guidelines for expulsion for extreme behaviour the bloody country just might be in with a chance to compete with the corresponding international best. The knee-knocking would begin when it became apparent that (only) about 30% of the year 8 intake would get into a year 11 class. But at least the year 11 class would look like a year 11 class of 40 or 50 years ago (rather than the barely literate garbage that it is now). However the cost of the above (and not the benefits) would come to be sufficient to “run the project off the rails”. Education costs would likely double.

          As the current situation is, spending and academic progress are NEGATIVELY correlated. I DO have the evidence. The MORE the government spends (under the current system) the LESS the progress! Gonsky(2), in its present form, is assured to make it worse! That will do me for now.

          1. bref

            I admit I haven’t seen the report and I’m no educationalist, but even I know we can’t go on the way we are. I myself had a fairly classical education in the Netherlands, but I don’t see any Australian schools ever teaching 3 languages in primary school, and maybe they shouldn’t. I don’t really know where we should look for guidelines, maybe northern Europe, but I’m damned sure we shouldn’t look in America’s direction.

        2. kyle Hargraves

          “I haven’t seen the report
          A search on the net will find it (after a few attempts) and you may be so fortunate as to encounter a sane commentary.

          “had a fairly classical education in the Netherlands
          good start!

          “I don’t see any Australian schools ever teaching 3 languages in primary school, and maybe they shouldn’t”.
          yeah; difficult; pros and cons here. Some exposure to language (1 Asian and 1 European) could be useful.

          > maybe northern Europe,
          or add our competitors such as Russia, China, HK. To the best of my knowledge only one university (Newcastle) was teaching Comparative Education a decade ago. Twenty five years ago most universities had such a course (comparing countries). Now – no idea but ought to look if only from morbid interest.

          > but I’m damned sure we shouldn’t look in America’s direction
          America can and always has “purchased from the shelf” If it needs skills the place can buy them. The strategy works for a country with the productive capacity that the USA does in fact have but not otherwise. As an aside, allowing for English comprehension and the use of jargon (wafted into {almost?} all MBA programmes around the world), its management schools are not bad.

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