my latest column

Gary MacLennan g.maclennan at
Sun Jun 4 19:42:26 MDT 2000

Reconciling in the bin.

1. This has been a remarkable week for Aboriginal Australians.  The largest
demonstration in Australia's history and the largest demonstration ever in
Brisbane have shown beyond any doubt that there is an enormous longing
among white Australians for a different relationship with Australia's
indigenous population.  For me the week began when a friend phoned me to
urge me to watch the live coverage on SBS of the presentation of the
Reconciliation Document.

  I found this to be an enormously moving event.  I am aware of course of
the political and ethical problems associated with the whole concept of
reconciling the oppressed to the oppressor. I am also mindful that the
process has provided a field day for liberals like the priest Brennan and
the Governor General who personally advised everyone to be quiet. Moreover
amidst all the talk of reconciliation there has been precious little
mention of emancipation.  Yet this is what Aborigines need above all.
Nevertheless one would have to be a Christian or a member of the Liberal
Party not to be in tears at the spectacle of a most persecuted people
reaching for dignity and freedom.

However when the document finally reached the platform and was handed to
John Howard the Prime Minister of Australia I was surprised by my own
reaction.  There he stood - a man with all the cultural and spiritual depth
of a Sydney talk back radio host. Normally I feel only hatred at the merest
scent of a Tory, and I have a special loathing for John Winston
Howard.  But this time I felt a pulse of embarrassment and shame at the
sight of him.  I cannot understand my reaction.  I am a communist and would
have to be tortured to be got to vote for him or his. I swear I would be
prepared to lose at least three toes. But communist or not I was ashamed
that he was the leader of this country. Truly Australia has fallen on bad
times. He had no feeling at all for the gravity and dignity of the
occasion. Thus he grinned and shook like a baboon when the leader of ATSIC
begged him to take the small step of apologising to the Aboriginal
people.  This apparently amused him.

He was not so amused at the reception his own speech got.  This was truly a
time of revenge.  The oppressed confronted their oppressor and booed him
heartily.  The spectacle of hundreds standing up to turn their backs on
Howard was also encouraging in the extreme. Good on them all I say. Howard
looked frightened and tried to gallop through his speech but thankfully it
was a long one. Perhaps there is a god after all.

2.      True blue,
Don't say you've gone.
Say you've stepped out for a smoko,
And you'll be back later on.
My final lecture of the semester was on a favourite topic of mine. This has
to do with moving students towards reading texts from a multi-culturalist
perspective.  The aim is to break them from their Anglo bias. I decided for
the occasion to play John Williamson's great song, True Blue, and also to
read from Pauline Hanson's speech launching of One Nation. I wanted to make
the point that both texts were from different aspects of a once dominant
but now irreparably residual culture.  Williamson is of course a thoroughly
decent man while Hanson is a piece of racist filth. Nevertheless, while the
speech is hysterical in its stridency and the song is elegiac in tone,
underpinning both is a feeling that the dominant Anglo culture is dying.
The words of the song make this plain, especially the verse
Hey True Blue,
Give it to me straight,
Face to face.
Are you really disappearing,
Just another dying race?

I fairly launched into Hanson's speech, but first I warned students against
the facile mockery of the lady from Ipswich. She was above all to be taken
seriously as she spoke for thousands of Australians.  I gave the speech
everything I had.  It is in many ways a remarkable piece, full of metaphors
of strife, betrayal and calls to battle.  As I got caught up in the
rhetoric I was beginning to fancy my self at a Nurembourg type rally.  Then
I came across the paragraph where Hanson complains of the horrible
'heinous' new crimes that are being 'imported' into Australia.  She
specifies the 'extortion of shopkeepers'. I could not stop myself from
laughing out loud. I am not at all in favour of the abuse of shopkeepers,
but this land has seen the crimes of slavery and genocide.

What Ms Hanson does not know is that there have been four moments in the
history of Australian slavery (another imported crime by the way). Firstly
there was the exploitation of the convicts.  Then came the black birding of
the Kanakas. We must also count the unpaid labour of Aboriginal stockmen
and the domestic servitude imposed upon the helpless children of the Stolen
Generation. If we add to this the deliberate and explicit attempts to wipe
out the Aboriginal culture by taking away the children then attacks on
shopkeepers pale by comparison I would suggest.

My laughter made a nonsense though of my urging the students to listen
attentively to song and speech so they could hear the still sad music of a
dying culture. I did however try and rescue my lecture by impressing upon
the students that Hanson may be gone but the objective conditions that gave
rise to her movement are still with us and as a consequence right wing
rural populism is far from finished as a political force.

3. Apart from the demonstrations and my lecture the other event of national
significance has been the Government's pro-GST advertising
campaign.  Amidst the necessary outrage at the cost of this colossal
swindle of $410 million dollars we should all note that the only politician
to defend this robbery of the public purse was the leader of the
Democrats.  Yes, alone among all Australians that paragon of intelligence
and political probity, Meg Lees found that there was some educational and
informational value in the advertising campaign.

Of course the Democrats are terrified at the public opposition to the GST,
a tax which they gave us.  They are desperately hoping that we will forget
their treachery.  Before the last election they swore that they would
protect education.  They have pitched much of their propaganda at
students.  Yet now we know that apart from the rise in the cost of
textbooks that the HECS repayments will also cost $500 more. Here in Qld
the Reverend Senator Woodley and his colleagues should be aware that we
will remember their lies. We will always know them as the party that gave
us the GST. They will reap what they have sown at the next election.

The Filth and the Fury dr Julien Temple

The Dendy are showing a feature length documentary on the Sex Pistols by
the British film maker Julien Temple.  This is yet another 'must see' if
you are interested in popular culture, nostalgic for the 70s, or just want
to see a very intelligent film. The Filth and the Fury aims to put to rest
the legend spread by Malcolm McLaren that he made the Sex Pistols.  This
myth has it that the Sex Pistols were an early version of the Spice Girls,
totally manipulated, totally without talent and totally scripted by McLaren
playing the part of a contemporary Swengali or Henry Higgins.

Extended inter views with Johhny Rotten (Lydon) and Steve Jones form the
backbone of the film.  They emerge as original and intelligent
artists.  Rotten especially is very conscious of his place in the events
that created the Sex Pistols.  He speaks with the voice of the working
class.  But this is not the usual working class that wants above all to be
respectable and reconciled with the master class.  Rotten was and remains
unrepentantly militant and against the dominant culture especially in its
popular form.  For them much of what passes for rebelliousness in pop is
simply fake conformity.

This for me was the great discovery of the film I have been impressed
lately by how tame the rock bands of the 60s now look.  I cringe with
embarrassment at the sight of the early Rolling Stones videos.  Yet once I
thought they were the epitome of rebellion. This movie has put all that in
perspective.  The Sex Pistols remain untamed.  Theirs was and still is the
genuine voice of a special type of anger and hostility towards the
establishment.  There is indeed, as the film's promo material claims, a
kind of 'purity' about them.

  I was also surprised by how much I enjoyed the music.  I am an Anarhcist
is a great number and of course pride of place goes to the very brave 'God
Save the Queen'.  Issued in 1977 this was the lone voice against the orgy
of grovelling sycophancy that gripped Britain during the
JubileeYear.  Speaking with the ancient voice of the Carnival this song
told the people's truth that there was no future for the working class. For
the events that made the Sex Pistols story took place just when the English
working class was about to experience defeat after defeat at the hands of
the brutal Thatcher regime.  As always it was the Labour Party that
prepared the way.  The govts of Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan softened up
organised labour and the Tories under Thatcher did the rest. The film fakes
the background here.  It uses coverage of events in Northern Ireland to
suggest that there was widespread revolt among the English working
class.  There was not.  Genuine rebellion was confined as usual to the Irish.

The tragedy of the Sex Pistols was that there was not a genuine movement
among the working class that they could link up to.  They did do a benefit
for the striking Firemen and they rate this as one of their successes.  But
workers at EMI wanted to ban their records and Labour councils fell over
themselves to boycott the group.

A word about the language, many will find it offensive. This is a warts and
all portrait of the group.  Like most working class 'lads' their culture
evolved around beer and sex. The sexism of their language reflects
this.  Those of us reared on middle class sexism know how to avoid taboo
words, but any feminist will tell you that the sexism of the middle class
is just as deadly. I should also say that the film is very much against
heroin.  The tragic story of Sid Vicious is told with a great integrity. He
was destroyed by heroin and Rotten to his credit is still bitter and said
about that.

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