The Free Syrian Army will sooner or later overthrow the Assad regime. The Islamists and the Sunni majority will then wreak a savage revenge on their old oppressors. Do not rule out Sunni genocide of the Allawites. This is the vision of Syria’s future as outlined by Daniel Pipes in his tour d’horizon of the Middle East at the Centre for Independent Studies during the week. Australia will be complicit in this infamy if it persists with the policy proclaimed almost daily by Foreign Minister Carr of supporting the abhorrent Islamist ‘opposition forces’ against the abhorrent Assad regime. Far better to keep our distance. Australia does not have to take sides in every conflict in the world.
The historian Mark McKenna told the story in the recent Annual History Lecture of the NSW History Council. Last year in Dublin on 26 January the mandarins of University College invited him to give a talk on the meaning of Australia Day, to be followed by a celebratory barbecue. They assumed that at least the 60 Australian students at the College would turn up to hear the acclaimed historian. In fact no one turned up — until it was time for the barbecue. The Australians were ready and willing to celebrate Australia Day. Some had painted Australian flags on their cheeks. They also had a good supply of Victoria Bitter. But they did not want to be lectured. There has been this tension between the formalities and the festivities ever since Governor Macquarie made 26 January a holiday almost 200 years ago. He fired off the cannon from Battery Point, arranged for an orator to salute British civilisation, and he rounded up a poet to compose an ode for the great occasion. He also turned on free rum for the convicts so that a good time was had by all. Succeeding generations maintained the Macquarie balance. But recently there has been a heavier emphasis on Australia’s problems and failures, on the official speeches rather than the free rum. The speech-makers seem to have been given instructions: don’t mention the British! Don’t mention the convicts! Above all don’t mention the Aborigines, except to stress their shameful mistreatment! The result is an Australia Day that has little connection with the grand historic event it is meant to recall. In one of the newspaper stories on Jonathan Biggins’ new comedy Australia Day, the headline read: ‘National day is always good for a laugh.’ McKenna’s conclusion is that we will not strike the right balance again until we find a way to reconcile our modernity with Aboriginal tradition. He is calling for a kind of rehabilitation of the Jindyworobaks. Small wonder that Australians turn to Anzac Day as the true national day. But it too is losing its historical moorings. It was originally a day of mourning for those who died for Empire, King and Country. Now it is a celebration of Australian nationality. But it is also marred, as McKenna sees it, by our failure to integrate the timeless land and indigenous people into our sense of nationality. Last year the Governor-General, paraphrasing Corinthians 1:13, even declared that Anzac Day is about love. McKenna may be asking too much. The gulf between European modernity and ancient Aboriginal tradition is almost unbridgeable. It won’t be bridged in a hurry. To force the pace damages both. For the time being we should continue to recognise our British heritage on Australia Day and our nationality on Anzac Day. Leave reform to time and tide. Or even to Corinthians 1:13.
Tony Moore — or Dr Anthony Moore, as he is known in academia (Australian Studies) — is a bohemian insider. Some 15 years ago he directed a documentary for the ABC, Bohemian Rhapsody: Rebels of Australian Culture. They were all in it — dozens of them, young and old, talented and untalented, windbags, celebrities, phonies. They were all confident of their mission: to liberate us. A couple of years later Moore turned to bohemian journalism and the magazine Strewth! Deliberately vulgar, he says, its target was ‘good taste, lazy orthodoxy, poseurs and cosy cliques’. In its pages he first published the critiques that grew into his well-received book The Barry McKenzie Movies. Then after a spell with Pluto Press, Moore turned academic. Now he has transmuted his doctorate on bohemians into his latest book Dancing with Empty Pockets. In the conversazione in the Ray Hughes Gallery the other night, he said his idea was to trace the Australian bohemian tradition back to Marcus Clarke’s Yorick Club in the 1860s and to ask whether or not the tradition is dead, killed by market success and government subsidy. He does not despair. There is always a need for dissenters. But he is more wistful and questioning than dogmatic: ‘Maybe bohemia is alive still?’ Dancing with Empty Pockets is comprehensive in range and detail. My main complaint is that Moore sees the great contest as bohemians versus philistines. In fact some bohemians are relentless philistines. The truly creative spirit will always confront both the philistine and the bohemian. The greatest bohemian of all was Ern Malley, a fraud from beginning to end. The trouble is that the ‘cultural commentators’ will still not acknowledge this basic truth about Australian culture. Another complaint is that Dancing with Empty Pockets carries too much of the baggage of a PhD thesis. Moore does not need his references to ‘ironic self-reflexivity about commodification’ or ‘the performance of authenticity, transgression, cosmopolitanism, creativity and identity play’. But his Dancing remains a useful and encyclopaedic guide — and for some, an aide-mémoire — to Australian bohemia, its rise and fall.Tags: iapps