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Gadfly 38


Some of my best friends are English.

But honestly, what’s with our fawning over that marriage of a royal redhead to an American actor? And why, for goodness sake, did the Turnbull Government set aside $48 million for another memorial to James Cook?

We already have a perfectly adequate one squirting water in Lake Burley Griffin.

Unless it be thought that I’m racially (or rather nationally) prejudiced against all English, both my grandmothers were English and I have enjoyed my visits there almost as much as other foreign climes like Indonesia, China and the Philippines where we lived for almost five years. I often roar with laughter at the brilliant wit of Lee Mack and David Mitchell in ‘Would I Lie To You’; and ‘Vera’ is easily one of the best police procedurals on television.

But over the last six years I have spent countless hours and days researching Australian history for my books on the convict horrors of Norfolk Island (Dark Paradise), colonial exploration (Hamilton HUME), relations with China (Dragon and Kangaroo) and the frontier war in the soon-to-be published, Castaway. And I have to say that taken together it’s a chronicle of cruelty, actuated by English notions of race and class.

Perhaps they’re not exclusively English, but they are certainly not the hallmarks of the Australian ‘fair go’. And they are perpetuated by the conservative Anglo-Australians like Tony Abbott, Scott Morrison and apparently Malcolm Turnbull. Moreover, the seemingly endless stream of English migrants means that in some quarters such attitudes have become normalised, even celebrated.

The whole idea of a ‘Royal’ family is of course anathema to a country that prides itself on its equality of opportunity and the dignity of labour. Even though our daughters and granddaughters are brought up as ‘little princesses’, it does seem odd that we go to such lengths to toady to the ‘Royal’ nuptials.

But that’s pretty harmless compared to the Cook memorial. This new proposal comes just at a time when our First Australians are beginning to find their voice. And writers like Paul Daley, Peter Thompson, Chloe Hooper, Don Watson and many others, myself included, are taking up the cause of Australian history as opposed to the British history of Australia that was taught in our schools.

Cook, didn’t ‘discover’ Australia. The Aboriginal people did that at least 65,000 years before him. He wasn’t even the first European to set foot on the continent; that honour fell to a Dutchman two centuries previously. But Cook – bless his cotton socks – cruised up the East Coast, and after holing his ship on the Barrier Reef repaired it and headed off to an island of no consequence where he ‘claimed it’ for his king.

His Majesty’s Government was so impressed that they packed eleven ships with convicts and their jailers and sent them to rot on the other side of the known world. And that began a reign of genocide in Tasmania and mass murder elsewhere that almost destroyed the Aboriginal people.

It was a bad beginning. But while no one can deny that since then migrants from England, Ireland, Scotland, other parts of Europe and now Asia, have turned the continent into a financial bonanza, we have never accounted for the sins of our fathers (or grandmothers). Another big memorial to the man who started it all is a foolish slap in the face for real Australians of any stripe or colour.

robert@robertmacklin.com


Robert Macklin has carved out a unique place among Australia’s literary biographers and historians. He has won numerous literary prizes including the 2009 Blake Dawson award for business literature with Peter Thompson for their classic THE BIG FELLA – the Rise and Rise of BHP Billiton. His Kevin Rudd: The Biography was shortlisted for the ACT Book of the Year; and he has won three Critics Circle Awards for his military biographies and histories. He has completed a lecture tour of three Chinese universities based on his works and is presently writing a history of Australia/China relations over the last 200 years.Queensland born, he has been a journalist at the highest level, a confidant and biographer of two Australian prime ministers; a documentary filmmaker in 32 countries of Asia and the Pacific; and is also political columnist and commentator in the nation’s capital. He presently divides his writing time on fiction, non-fiction and screenplays between Canberra and Tuross Head on the NSW South Coast.

#Opinion #RobertMacklin #Weekly

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