James Cook under scrutiny

The adventurer Cook's landing at Botany Bay as depicted by Emanuel Phillips Fox

Why Captain Cook is lionised in London and on the nose in Australia … Magnetic Island revisited … Joe Hockey’s “US mateship” stupidity … NSW drought goes from tragedy to farce … Regime change becomes US domestic policy … Cricket as a history lesson … When schools taught manners …

Over in London members of the cultural intelligentsia are throwing themselves into a lather of celebration for James Cook who navigated the east coast of New Holland in 1770.

At the same time, Cook’s place in history is under intense scrutiny by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as well as compassionate white Australians. Their conclusion is quite different: they don’t like him one little bit.

The London celebrations mark the 250th anniversary of Cook setting off on his voyage of adventure from Plymouth on 25 August 1768.

The 32-year-old from Yorkshire was a lowly-ranked lieutenant and a social “outsider”. His handpicked crew on HMS Endeavour included botanist Joseph Banks and others with special skills in mapping, navigation and astronomy.

He carried with him a set of sealed instructions from “mad” King George III and the Admiralty instructing him to locate the fabled “Great South Continent”. And, presumably, to claim it as a British imperial possession.

In the event Cook sailed into Botany Bay where he named the ruggedly majestic landscape New South Wales and then sailed up the coastline to Cape York (after the Grand Old Duke). He believed his mission was a failure because he didn’t “find” the “Lost Continent”.

A year after his return, Cook again took to sea to circumnavigate the globe, travelling from the icy waters of the Antarctic searching for the elusive continent.

After returning home Cook planned a third expedition, this time to raise the Union Jack on islands across the Pacific to claim imperial sovereignty. (The American War of Independence, 1775-1783, was going very badly for the British; as a result, they were laying claim to possessions all over the globe to protect their trade routes and naval dominance.)

This year no expense has been spared to wallow in Cook’s seagoing adventures. The British Library is hosting James Cook: The Voyages, the Royal Academy is staging Oceania to showcase art from the Pacific region and new Cook biographies are filling the shelves in bookshops in London (and Australia).

Richard Flanagan at the Garma festival

At last weekend’s Garma Festival in Arnhem Land, award-winning author Richard Flanagan used his opening address to raise some points about the white mythology surrounding Cook.

Flanagan, a Tasmanian of Aboriginal descent, grabbed the attention of his black and white audience with an examination of white Australia’s amnesia over the violent suppression, dispossession and disenfranchisement of indigenous Australians.

“In recent years, the story of us as a nation has grown increasingly threadbare as the poverty of its original conception has been revealed as too thin to hold, as the warp and weft of our national myths have under strain torn apart, only to be covered up with rougher patches crudely stitched into the growing holes: war memorials, Captain Cook statues. It was, as they say, a bad day when the first blackfellas discovered Captain Cook.”

Magnetic Island: poles apart

For decades Australian schoolchildren have been learning that Captain James Cook “discovered” Magnetic Island, off the coastline of far North Queensland in 1770. But the island was never “lost”, so how can it be “discovered”?

Tens of thousands of years before white European sailors turned up out of the blue, the island was populated by the Wulgurukaba people. A small number of them lived permanently on the island and others crossed the waters of Cleveland Bay to visit on special days and for special ceremonies.

Magnetic Island / Yunbenun

Today there are no more than a couple of dozen indigenous Australians living on Magnetic and calling it home. Their grandfathers and grandmothers were removed from Magnetic in 1920 on the orders of the Queensland Government and sent to nearby Palm Island which became an isolated and stormy gulag for black “troublemakers” and “uppity Abos”.

On the mere word of police officers, magistrates, bounty riders, state “welfare officers” and station owners (land thieves), black men, women and children were forcibly taken to Palm Island, mostly in handcuffs and chains, and dumped there among rival Aboriginal tribal people from Cape York, Thursday Island, the Atherton Tableland, the Gulf Country, Charters Towers and Mount Isa.

It was like putting rebels from the tribes of Britain – English, Scottish, Welsh, Cornish and Irish – on the barren landscape of the Isle of Wight with meagre food and shelter, no electricity, gas or water supply, and surrounding the waters with sharks to prevent escape.

Among Aborigines and some good-hearted white folk there is a strong belief that Magnetic Island should be given back its original name of Yunbenun.

That would restore the island to its rightful place in indigenous history. Perhaps the island should be known by two names, its original Aboriginal name and Magnetic, its Cook name.

Locals and visitors could use either name; the two names should appear on all tourist maps, advertisements and brochures, as it already does on the ferry service from Townsville. Who could object to that? It would not be divisive, it would inclusively bind our shared history.

Hockey’s “mateship” stupidity

On July 4 this year, Joe Hockey, the Australian Ambassador in Washington DC, staged an American Independence Day party at his taxpayer-funded mansion. He called the celebration an exciting part of his “mateship programme”, invited the usual free-loaders and unveiled the embassy’s “mateship poster”.

The 15 white men Hockey selected as “mates”

Acclaimed Australian historian Professor Henry Reynolds wrote with unsuppressed anger: “It [the poster] featured the faces of 15 men. It was a strange collection of both Australians and Americans. They were all white and there were no women at all.

“Ambassador Hockey felt it necessary to issue an apology for the partial selection of the people who were called ‘patrons’. But the choice of participants was only one of the problems with the hapless poster. The embassy explained that it was part of their ‘mateship programme’ which was designed to ‘highlight Australia’s strong military alliance over the past 100 years’. The mateship has been ‘forged in battle’ and was ‘the bedrock of a unique contemporary relationship across many shared fields of endeavour’.

“It is hard to know where to begin. It is ridiculous to claim that there has been a military alliance for over 100 years. It is simply not true.

“Is it a case of ignorance of Australian history or shameless mendacity? And mateship? Whatever does that mean is this context? It is a rather silly attempt to equate the relationship of states with those families and friends. How could such a simple-minded, embarrassing piece of propaganda be released in Washington all places?”

I’ll answer that: because it was ordered by Prime Minister Goldman Sachs, aka Malcolm Turnbull, with the approval of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop whose grovelling to the Trump administration and other squalid regimes around the world (Duterte, Netanyahu, Aung San Suu Kyi, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman et al) has become a national disgrace.

NSW drought debacle

Just over a month ago I was alarmed to read the NSW Coalition government’s announcement that 50% of NSW was afflicted by drought.

About two weeks later the government announced the drought had spread to 90% of the State. Last week I reported the drought’s contagion was covering 99%, according to Berejiklian and her Ministers.

Imagine my terror when I turned on ABC radio on Wednesday this week (August 8) to learn that 100% of NSW was officially in drought.

My reaction? Climate change appears to be spreading at a faster rate than the climate scientists are telling us. I fully expect the ABC ( Slogan: “Get the Story”) to tell me next week the drought has taken a grip on 110% of the State.

The other drought story that caught my attention was the spread of “survivor guilt”. These are farmers who are suffering depression and guilt because they are not suffering from the effects of the drought and now deserve personalised psychological care and compensation.

A website called What’s Your Grief  has published a definition of the syndrome: “Survivor guilt or survivor syndrome is a mental condition that occurs when a person believes that they have done something wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not.”

Lambs in jumpers

While I was considering whether to apply for a “survivor guilt” grant, “Get the Story” radio spent 10 minutes recommending that people start knitting jumpers for lambs.

A “farmers’ spokesperson” said drought-depressed baby lambs cheered up when they wore tiny jumpers knitted by compassionate folk living in the cities.

A farmers’ “support group” had dressed jumpers on a couple of thousand lambs which still leaves several million that are chronically depressed by cold weather and no rain. How heartless is that! Perhaps “Get the Story” executives in the News and Current Affairs division can be encouraged to knit during their coffee breaks and fill the foyer of Ultimo HQ in Sydney with thousands of colourful lamb vests.

One other thing that I find monumentally confusing about the ongoing drought narrative is this: I have yet to hear one farmer, one politician, one journalist, one knitter or one psychologist call for drought relief to be paid to Australia’s first people, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. All of their wells, tanks, rivers and streams in Outback communities have dried up months if not years ago but their plight is not even mentioned. No cash, care, compassion or knitwear for them. Why not?

Will US vote for regime change?

One of Washington’s most brutal tactics after World War II was to conduct regime change in other people’s countries. In the post-war years the US has successfully deployed regime change in Greece, Italy, Iran, Egypt, Chile, Grenada, Nicaragua, Cambodia, Indonesia, Namibia, Angola and Libya, where rulers were overthrown to be replaced by more pro-American regimes.

Now Washington has abandoned regime change as a reliable arm of its foreign policy and it has evolved as a domestic objective.

Today’s regime-changers are aligned against President Donald Trump and they are demanding he be impeached and removed from office.

It marks a dramatic and historic change in US domestic policy. I can find no previous example of the Democrats (or the Republicans) using “overthrow the president” as the centrepiece of their election campaign.

A disparate coalition has been formed to carry out the regime change objective. It includes the Clinton-Obama leadership of the Democratic Party, thousands of website activists associated with MeToo, Avaaz and Black Lives Matter, the editorial boards of The New York Times and The Washington Post and a host of other local community groups, particularly those fighting the callous imprisonment of children and their parents from Latin America. (It is just like Australia but on a much larger scale and the refugees are not from South America but Western war zones in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Somalia.)

Having legitimised regime change as a foreign policy objective for over 70 years the question is: “Will Americans vote for it as domestic policy?”

Most Americans believe that universal suffrage, i.e. the ballot box, is the best weapon to dump Trump, and a majority appear to believe that voting Trump out of office is preferable to using force which will necessarily involve armed confrontation on the streets.

This makes the mid-term elections on Tuesday, November 6, to decide which party controls the Senate and the House of Representatives compulsive viewing.

Cricket from another angle

Arlott, Swanton and the Soul of English Cricket by Stephen Fay and David Kynaston. Bloomsbury 2018

This book covers the cricket reports, essays and broadcasts of two of England’s greatest exponents of this rarefied and arcane trade, John Arlott and E.W. (Jim) Swanton, from the 1940s to the 1990s.

The authors’ achievement is as gratifying as the original words of their two heroes. In some ways, the authors have ventured way beyond the boundaries of cricket; they have produced a social history of post-war England through the prism of cricket and the professional rivalry between Arlott, cast as a rough-edged roundhead, and Swanton, as the snobbish cavalier.

Their differences were never sharply contested. Arlott toiled for the liberal-paced Manchester Guardian (renamed The Guardian in 1959 when it shifted to London) while Swanton laboured on behalf of the Telegraph, aka Torygraph, and both of them broadcast for the stonily “objective” BBC as nervous producers looked over their shoulders.

While both held strong opinions on team selections, the choice of England captains, governing bodies such as the MCC and the Cricket Council, the game’s future and its rules, they held each other in high regard and soldiered on.

In that sense the two cricketing giants reflected post-war England itself: during the same period the Tories and Labor both had moderately successful innings but there was never any lasting bad blood. “Mutual respect” was the catchphrase de jour and any reference to “class struggle” was ridiculed and buried.

Players from both sides of politics went to the parliamentary bar after the adjournment for a drink and to review the day’s play. While cricket was awash with public school joviality, raffish jokes and alcohol, so was the Palace of Westminster.

Working in London from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, I became aware of Arlott and Swanton only during Ashes tours by Australia. On these occasions I read their cricket columns in The Guardian and The Telegraph with avid interest and I also listened to their BBC commentaries which were magnificently delightful though my own preference was the Australian broadcaster Alan McGilvray. The cricket-loving public followed the game on BBC Radio because in those far-off days wirelesses were in every home while television sets were not.

Cricket: not to everyone’s taste

Heartiest congratulations to authors Fay and Kynaston for bringing to life a slice of England’s post-war history and presenting it in a page-turning pace. It is brilliantly researched and written with loving care.

It’s not a book for everyone, however. Women will easily avoid it as their voice is rarely acknowledged. Non-cricket folk won’t appreciate it either. The Soul of English Cricket is for cricket tragics who live in a world of nostalgia and sentimentality. While their other-worldiness is touching, I prefer resolute materiality. During some of the decades covered by the authors, I lived in London but devoted only a passing interest in cricket and the beautifully crafted works of Arlott and Swanton. Instead, I was absorbed by politics, strikes by miners, teachers, nurses, doctors, local government workers, printers and car workers; demos against apartheid, the Vietnam war, the CIA coups in Greece and Chile, the US invasion of Grenada and the war of independence in Bangla Desh. Do I have any regrets? Not really. My passionate interest in politics meant that I also missed much of the soaring pleasure of new music, opera, theatre, art and ballet but I read profusely and political engagement kept me alive.

Today I can enjoy Arlott and Swanton at my own leisure and appreciate what they said and did 50 years ago. However, they still seem like after-dinner performers on a luxury passenger liner talking to elderly folk in wheelchairs about the “good old days” and repeating dog-eared anecdotes about chucking, batsmen’s helmets, rule changes and coloured cricket balls. Other old codgers like Michael Flanders and Donald Swann, when they were at the peak of their virtuosity, come to mind.

However, I must admit that the selection of exquisite quotations from the work of Arlott and Swanton left me teary-eyed on an embarrassing number of occasions. There are unsolved controversies, undecided questions and unfinished arguments on every page. I could not put it down.

I desperately wanted them to include a mention of the pernicious involvement of betting companies that now infest cricket (all sport, in fact) from top to bottom. With millions of dollars waged on professional cricket, the seduction of players with cash payments for “inside” information is out of control. Urgers, scam artists, crime figures, money launderers and game fixers should be banned from every aspect of sport … for life … and media advertising banned too. It was done with cigarettes, why not gambling which is a major source of marriage breakdowns, domestic violence, broken families and criminality? Maybe it is an idea for their next book.

Two Aussies book the Savoy

Two Australians landed in London in the late 1960s to overturn English history, tradition and culture – Rupert Murdoch, an old boy of Geelong Grammar where Prince Charles was educated, and Kerry Packer, an old boy of Cranbrook, a private Anglican school in Sydney.

Murdoch, aka “The Dirty Digger”, swept on Fleet Street newspapers like a seagull devouring fried chips at Bondi Beach, buying The News of the World, The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times.

Kerry Packer, left, with Tony Greig, taking the World Series issue to the High Court in London

Packer’s swoop was no less ravenous. He launched his own World Series Cricket, cherry-picked top players from county cricket clubs by offering them lucrative contracts and rolled out a whirlwind programme of “Super” Test matches plus a series of three-day games and one-dayers.

Cricket-lovers and crusty traditionalists at Lord’s and Yorkshire were horrified and enraged. They organised petitions, public meetings and demonstrations – but to no avail. Packer’s bandwagon swept on, scything his opponents off at the knees until they surrendered holding aloft a Chamberlain-style “peace” agreement. It was a rout and players, administrators and the media all knew it.

In retrospect, the only way to stop Packer (and Murdoch, for that matter) was for the government of the day to intervene and prevent their plundering ambitions. Swanton loathed Packer’s predatory assault on his beloved game and in his later years wrote that cricket’s “spirit was in mortal danger, chiefly because commercialism has been allowed to run riot.”

His warning was ignored and the results of “riotous commercialism” of the game are only now becoming obvious to all and sundry.

What drove the brilliant Australian captain and inspirational batsman, Steve Smith, and his equally talented vice captain David Warner to organise a career-trashing ball-tampering episode during a Test tour of South African? Surely it was winning the game and securing sponsors, extra match fees and lucrative media time. The “Packer revolution” transformed the modern game into winning at any cost and by any means; the result was an explosive mix of money, commercialism and greed.

Simultaneously, Murdoch’s bastardisation of journalism introduced celebrities and gossip, garnished with homophobia, xenophobia and sniggering prurience. The criminal culture of widespread phone-hacking made it possible. Fleet Street, the traditional home of English-speaking journalism for two centuries, was killed off and Murdoch banished the stodgy print unions from “Fortress” Wapping in London’s East End. Another reasonable price to pay for “modernity”?

Quietly flowed the Don

It is 70 years since Don Bradman ended his Test cricket career with a duck at The Oval, then owned by the English royal family, in Dickensian south London. On 14 August 1948 Bradman came into bat at No 3 late on the first day needing four runs to finish his Test career with an average of 100. From the commentary box, Arlott delivered a memorable description of play:

Bradman’s last Test innings: he walked

No runs, still 117 for one. Two slips, a silly mid-off and a forward short leg close to him, as Hollies pitches the ball up slowly. He’s bowled! (Cheers for the longest minute) Bradman bowled Hollies nought … bowled Hollies nought. Now, I wonder if you see a ball very clearly on your last Test in England, on a ground where you’ve played out some of the biggest cricket in your life, and the opposing team has just stood around you and given you three cheers, and the crowd has clapped you all the way to the wicket – I wonder if you really see the ball at all?

That night Arlott wrote in his cricketing journal: “After such a reception a man could hardly do other than score a duck or a century – and a duck did Australia no harm.”

In a post-match interview Bradman denied that he had tears in his eyes and that is why he misplayed Hollies’ googly.

“Eric Hollies deceived me and he deserves full credit,” said Bradman with his customary generosity.

When schools taught good manners

For more than 60 years schoolchildren at State schools in Queensland learned “Good Manners” from a chart based upon a set of “rules” developed by the “Children’s National Guild of Courtesy”.

Developed in the UK in 1889, it was issued to schools by the Queensland Department of Public Instruction in 1898 “as part of the systematic teaching of conduct and manners”.

When I went to school in the 1950s the chart hung on the wall of our classroom and teachers would read it out and some earnest-minded children actually memorised the words. Teachers urged pupils to put the rules into practice in the classroom, the playground and at home.

In 1899, after a year in operation, a school inspector wrote a report saying that discipline and “polite behaviour of the pupils to their seniors outside the precincts of the school” had improved and that “the lessons on conduct and manners and those from the ‘Good Manners’ chart … are apparently doing good.”

The “Good Manners” chart was withdrawn from Queensland schools in the 1960s. Two reasons were given: 1) the chart was old-fashioned and out of date, and 2) teachers demanded the right to teach more relevant and modern behavioural conduct because they resented the orders of educationists from the upper levels of the department in Brisbane.

School uniforms became a thing of the past; boys could have long hair (or American crew cuts) and girls could wear skirts or pants and wear jewellery or make-up.

By the 2000s fresh changes occurred; teachers were sidelined and parents were given the whip hand.

These days it is parents, assisted by “faith” educators, right-wing politicians and Rupert Murdoch media who appear to dictate what children wear to school, what they learn, how they learn it and what they aren’t taught at all. Parents have suddenly become “experts” on education, teaching, curriculum and all manner of things over which they have no knowledge whatsoever.

Personally, I can’t see why the old “Rules” aren’t simply updated and given a new title such as “Civic Studies” or “Good Citizenship”. And let everyone have their say before drawing up a sensible, practical, inclusive code of manners which recognises Australia’s diverse community of 25 million … and growing.

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