The Weekly Notebook – on national symbols

National symbols – why they matter and how they change

Australia Day used to be called Empire Day and then Independence Day. Adding to the confusion the date has changed as well. Some people think it celebrates James Cook’s landing in Botany Bay in 1770 while, in more recent years, it is meant to mark the arrival of the First Fleet on 26 January 1788, some 18 years later.

In all these variations there has been one constant: the first inhabitants, the indigenous Aboriginal people, have been ignored. It is as if they never existed. And by completely ignoring their existence, white Australia has perpetuated the colonial myth of terra nullius i.e. that before the European settlers and convicts arrived from England, the continent was uninhabited.

Terra nullius, Latin for “nobody’s land”, was the legal pronouncement which enabled the English Crown, Westminster, Whitehall and the City of London to declare the whole continent as Crown land. With a stroke of the pen, they owned the lot and the Aboriginal people were stripped of their homes, communities and tribal lands. It should be recorded as the Greatest Land Theft in history because no empire has ever stolen a whole continent in one fell swoop.

When white settlers of good heart tried to right the wrong done to Aboriginal people they were condemned as “Abo lovers” and shunned. At the same time, supporters of colonialism were given platforms in academia and the media in Sydney and London to trumpet the cruel mythology of terra nullius.

Sir Walter Murdoch

One prime example was an article penned by Walter Murdoch (1874-1970), a leading Australian writer in the early 20th century: “When people talk about ‘the history of Australia’ they mean the history of the white people who have lived in Australia. There is a good reason why we should stretch the term to make it include the story of the dark-skinned wandering tribes who hurled boomerangs and ate snakes in their native land for long ages before the arrival of the first intruders from Europe. He [the historian] is concerned with Australia only as the dwelling place of white men and women, settlers from overseas. It is his business to tell us how these white folk found the land, how they settled in it, how they explored it, and how they gradually made it the Australia we know today.”

I doubt whether any of my readers will be surprised to learn that Walter Murdoch – given a knighthood in 1964 – was the great uncle of media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Walter Murdoch was from the small “l” liberal side of the Scottish Presbyterian Murdoch family. He vehemently opposed Robert Menzies’ plan to ban the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) in 1951 and wrote a widely published essay “I am going to vote No” which infuriated his nephew, newspaper baron Sir Keith Murdoch, Rupert’s father.

“The Government is asking the citizens of Australia to give powers which I do not believe that any government ought to possess,” wrote Walter Murdoch with exemplary logic. “The question turns on a very simple question: Have we the right to punish a person for his opinions? If we punish anyone for breaking the law of the land, or for conspiring with others to break the law, that is justice; if we punish anyone for holding opinions with which we disagree, that is persecution.”

What’s in a name?

Indigenous and white Australians have differing views on how to mark the atrocity of colonialism: with a “Survival Day” or an “Invasion Day”.

Both protest marches have become bigger and not smaller with the passage of time. And they now involve more white fellas than black fellas. In other words, the mood of the nation as a whole has shifted from amnesia to action.

Brisbane Invasion Day march 2018

For me, “survival” and “invasion” connote negative feelings. Both express victimhood rather than a spirit of optimism and confidence.

A century ago when Christians were at the forefront of Aboriginal paternalism, the penal colony’s proclamation in 1788 was called “A Day of Mourning”. When the Communist Party moved into the arena in the 1950s and 60s it became a more militant, anti-Menzies occasion and mobilised the left wing of the ALP as well. Then Anniversary Day changed its name to Australia Day as part of a consensus-making exercise which suited the post-Gough Whitlam era when class tensions were running high.

So you can see that the name evolved according to the social and political climate of the day. In repudiating colonial mythology, University of Sydney Professor G. Arnold Wood observed in 1922 that while petty thieves were transported to the colony Down Under the “great criminals remained to govern the empire”. How true!

The 1788 landing ceremony – soon mythologised

Marxist historian Humphrey McQueen, a noted contrarian, has pointed out that the formal proclamation of the colony did not occur on 26 January anyway. It wasn’t made until 7 February 1788 by Judge-Advocate David Collins. When a select band of officers and marines landed at Sydney Cove on January 26, they staged a well-rehearsed ceremony. They drank four toasts, gave themselves three cheers, hoisted the Union Jack and then rowed back to their ships.

Notably, the Union Jack was without the red diagonal cross of St Patrick, remarked McQueen in an essay. It was only added to the “butcher’s apron” after the slaughter of 30,000 Irish men and women during the Irish Rebellion of 1798 followed by the passage of the Act of Union at Westminster in 1801.

I would much prefer to march with indigenous Australians under a new flag which is freed from the symbolism of the hated Union Jack. The demo would celebrate the pre-1788 First Australians, the European and Asian Australians that followed, and tomorrow’s Australians.

At the conclusion of the march, participants should be invited to give the Digger’s Oath first heard at the Eureka Stockade in 1854 when miners from all nations staged an armed revolt against their colonial masters:

“We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties.”

The Irish are coming

For centuries Irish nationalists have been fighting for the independence of their nation. Under the Gaelic cry of Tiocfaidh ar la (Our day will come) they have sacrificed blood to achieve the right of all nationalities, self-determination.

How peculiar that the crazed plan by England’s Tory Party to quit the European Union (EU) has placed Ireland’s independence firmly back on the agenda.

Brexit sticking point

For centuries, the English ruling class has regarded the separate nation of Ireland as part of its backyard. They colonised it, stole its land, built castles on gigantic estates and turned the locals into poverty-stricken serfs. And along the way they banned the Irish language, songs, music, books and culture. But what they could not do was ban Irish nationalism, no more than they could ban nationlism in Scotland or Wales, Australia, or Palestine.

In a remarkably sour column, The Economist noted last month that the “Oxford chums” who rule Britain coast through life on “bluff rather than expertise”. The country is governed by “a self-involved clique that rewards group membership above competence and self-confidence above expertise”.

The magazine concluded that in Brexit the “chumocracy has finally met its Waterloo”. (The Economist, 22 December 2018).

Writing in The New York Times, author Pankaj Mishra was even more scathing. He accused Brexiteers in the Conservative Party of “pursuing a fantasy of imperialist-era strength and self-sufficiency” while repeatedly revealing their “hubris, mulishness and ineptitude”.

Mishra blamed the current fiasco on Britain’s “privately educated men, callow beneficiaries of the country’s elitist public school system. These eternal schoolboys whose weight is out of all proportion to their numbers are certainly over-represented among Tories. They have plunged Britain into its worst crisis, exposing its incestuous and self-serving ruling class like never before.” (NYT, 17 Jan 2019).

How poetic that the criminals who fought against Home Rule, created Ulster in 1921 from the Six Counties (Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone), sent the British army to Northern Ireland in 1969, imposed direct rule from London and set loose army assassination squads, the RUC and undercover police to kill Sinn Fein nationalists are now dependent on the dregs of Paisleyism, the Democratic Unionist Party, to cling to office.

For years the media referred to the Ulster civil war as “the Troubles”, as if it were a petty squabble between families on either side of the street. Now it’s all coming home to roost.

What’s wrong with The Guardian – 1

On 27 November 2018 The Guardian published a “world scoop” that Paul Manafort, chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, had met Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange in London on three occasions.

According to The Guardian report, Assange, an Australian-born journalist, met Manafort in 2013, 2015 and 2016.

The Guardian reports meetings that never happened

The story went around the world. It was published on the front page of The New York Times and papers across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and South America, as well as on all the major television networks.

There was only problem. The story was untrue. It was all a load of bollocks.

Serge Halimi, president and editorial director of Le Monde Diplomatique, has conducted a painstaking inquiry into The Guardian’s “fake news” and concluded that the story was a hoax.

The main author, Luke Harding, has a long-standing grievance against Assange and also authored the book Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money and How Russia Helped Trump Win.

Things moved quickly: One of the other Guardian reporters, Fernando Villavicencio, removed his name from the story’s by-line, then Villavicencio was “outed” as an opponent of Ecuador’s former President Rafael Correa (who had granted Assange asylum in the country’s London embassy). The online headline was changed to, “Manafort held secret talks with Assange in Ecuadorian embassy, sources say” (with the addition of “sources say”) and reference to the three meetings between Manafort and Assange was altered to say “apparent meetings”.

While public denials made by Manafort and Assange were ignored, the final nail in the story’s coffin was delivered by Fidel Narvaez, the Ecuadorean consul in London. He formally denied that Manafort had ever visited the embassy in Knightsbridge.

Halimi concluded his investigation saying: “There are no pictures of him (Manafort) entering or leaving one of the most surveilled and filmed buildings on the planet.”

What’s wrong with The Guardian – 2

The London-based Guardian and its Australian edition covered the terrible murder of Aiia Massarwe in Melbourne with dignity and sympathy. However, there was one horrific flaw. Ms Massarwe was always referred to as an “Israeli student” or an “Arab-Israeli”.

The fact is that she was Palestinian.

Aiia Massarwe’s coffin is brought home to her Palestinian community

The newspaper’s reporters and editors could not bring themselves to give Ms Massarwe her correct nationality. When one Guardian reporter used “Palestinian” in an article, it was removed and replaced by “Arab-Israeli”.

Other Australian media followed the same policy. ABC TV and Radio stole Ms Massarwe’s national identity, with Fran Kelly (Radio National), Leigh Sales (7.30) and News Radio the worst offenders.

Sydney journalist Jennine Khalik, a Palestinian, attempted to persuade the media to give the murdered 21-year-old her correct nationality. “It’s a lack of insight and understanding of the Palestinian identity,” she told

The Israel regime’s laws discriminate against Palestinians, she said, adding: “It’s one of the many ways of erasing Palestinians.”

Sydney writer Clementine Ford said she submitted an article referring to Aiia as a “Palestinian student” but it was removed and changed to “international student”.

Accident? I don’t think so. It’s policy, with the Israeli Embassy breathing down the neck of editors all over Australia.

Censorship? Of course, but with a racial and religious bias.

The Israeli media, without exception, turned Ms Massarwe’s murder into a story about an “Israeli” killed in Australia on a study tour. Not content with stealing her people’s land, homes and neighbourhoods, the Israeli regime stole her identity as she lay dead in a coffin.

What’s wrong The Guardian – 3

On 21 January 2019, The Guardian published a lengthy article saying that a teenage girl, Abigail McCourt, was the first person to offer first aid to Russian defector Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

Ms McCourt saw the “Red Colonel” and Yulia collapsed on a bench outside a shopping centre near Salisbury on 5 March last year.

The Guardian article revealed that the 16-year-old schoolgirl alerted her mother, Alison, and they administered first aid.

Curiously, the article wasn’t written by anyone on the paper’s reporting staff but by Press Association, the British news agency owned and controlled by the mainstream media.

The story was baffling because of what it DIDN’T say.

For example, Alison McCourt is mentioned as “an army colonel and chief nursing officer”. Her correct title is Colonel Alison McCourt OBE, Chief Nursing Officer of the British Army. She was appointed to the army’s top medical role one month before the Skripals’ poisoning.

Colonel Alison McCourt, Chief Nursing Officer of the British Army

The story of the McCourt family’s involvement only emerged after Colonel McCourt nominated her daughter for a hero award given by a local radio station, Spire FM, in Salisbury.

Interviewed by Spire, Ms McCourt said the whole incident was “a bit surreal”.

Craig Murray, a former British diplomat turned civil rights activist, told his internet followers that it was an “incredible coincidence” that Colonel McCourt was on the scene so quickly.

“For the Skripals to collapse on a bench from novichok just as the chief nursing officer of the British army walks past is as probable as my vacuum cleaner breaking down just as James Dyson knocks on my door looking for directions,” Murray wrote.

In its glorious past, The Guardian and its predecessor, The Manchester Guardian, would have set loose its own reporters to cover the Skripal poisoning.

They would have interviewed all “first responders” including the McCourt mother and daughter and discovered the British army links.

By using the Press Association article – which reads like a neatly combed Whitehall D-Notice – The Guardian has abdicated journalism.

This is a newspaper which is not responding to the demands of the era, it is living in its own bubble of hashtag smugness.

Behind the news

Warren Mundine

1.Warren Mundine has been placed on the Liberal Party ticket for the NSW South Coast seat of Gilmore for one reason and one reason only. He is married to the daughter of Gerard Henderson, head of the self-styled right-wing “think tank” known as the Sydney Institute.

The decision is another monumental stuff-up by Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s NSW division of the Liberal Party. In a reversal of the legend of King Midas, everything that Morrison touches turns to shit.

Mundine cannot win Gilmore where, I am told, the Aboriginal voters – whom he is relying on – regard him as a fraud, opportunist, sell-out and Uncle Tom.

Kelly O’Dwyer

2.Liberal Cabinet Minister Kelly O’Dwyer has resigned from Federal Parliament for the time-honoured reason – “to spend more time with her family”.

The real reasons are different: she could not possibly win Higgins again. Since the Victorian State Election last November the swing against the Federal Liberal Party has not abated – it has increased.

One more thing, when the campaign starts, expect to hear more exciting news about O’Dwyer’s “shock” resignation.

Julie Bishop

3. Liberal backbencher Julie Bishop has no chance of becoming Prime Minister.

She is so unpopular within her party she has only 10 backers in the party room. Nor was she ever regarded as the “greatest Foreign Minister in Australian history”. In fact, she was considered one of the worst, i.e. in the Alexander Downer class. But don’t believe me: just ask Australian diplomats or leaders of China, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Guinea, Fiji, Palestine, Russia, Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.

Do these countries matter? Not to everyone, but in world diplomacy they represent a sizeable majority.

Craig Kelly

4. Craig Kelly, right-wing lieutenant of Tony Abbott, Eric Abetz and Peter Dutton, has been preselected for his south of Sydney seat of Hughes.

At the very same time, Liberal chieftains preselected Melissa McIntosh for the Federal seat of Lindsay. It was part of a cross-factional deal between the Abbottistas and the Turnbullites. The ultra-conservatives got Kelly and the “wets” got Ms McIntosh.

When the Federal Election is finally held, I expect Kelly and McIntosh to lose if the current swing to Labor in NSW is maintained.

Kelly has been rescued from disendorsement because he is loathed by middle-of-the-road Liberal supporters – he is a rabid climate change denier, voted for Dutton to replace Turnbull, opposes renewable energy and co-hosts his own show, Outsiders, on Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News and is a regular guest on other rancid programmes.

Ms McIntosh is a local businesswoman with no political experience. Her Labor opponent is former NSW Cabinet minister Diane Beamer who has a formidable record as an election campaigner and a battle-scarred, performance-driven minister. Her NSW portfolios included Infrastructure, Planning, Natural Resources, Fair Trading, Western Sydney and Juvenile Justice.

Ms Beamer has the support of the trade unions and working-class families but she will have to overcome the unhappy record of the sitting Labor MP Emma Husar who is planning to stand as an Independent, which will harm Labor’s campaign and help the Liberals.



  1. Your article about Ireland and the bloody British Empire reminded me of my mother’s grandad, born on a troop ship returning around 1870, place of birth shows as Roscommon, a British camp in Ireland. His father had joined up in 1850 aged 17 from Charletown, co Cork, a common way to escape starvation in times of the potato famine. A nice Irish historian in Cobh told me in 2017 that it wasn’t all bad, the Army would manage taking a proportion of pay and remitting it back to the family at home through the Post Office networks the British set up all over Ireland.

    It would be nice if Ireland could be reunited bloodlessly. Even if as an unintended consequence of Brexit, that would be something good to come out of the almighty clusterf*ck that Brexit is turning out to be.

  2. Comrade, your political and humane insights nourish my spirit, yet expose the gaping holes in my knowledge of our country’ history and evolvement. Since Jo Faith lent me her treasured copy of COME THE REVOLUTION I have become a staunch fan.
    I was elected Chairman of the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Watch Committee ’84 to ’88.We fought for four years to demand a Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody, the outcome of which, after spending 40 million dollars of Tax-Payers monies, was that no-one was responsible. It was then that I understood what the Koori’s mean when they say, “There’s Justice.. and there’s Just Us”!
    More Power to you Comrade

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