Saturday, November 29, 2008

Why did Luhrmann make Australia?

I wasn't exactly overjoyed when I found out that Baz Luhrmann was making an epic film set in Australia in the 1940s. When the Australian political class turns to our history, it's usually to follow a narrative in which whites feature as racist oppressors and Aborigines as noble victims.

It seems that I was right to be apprehensive. The actor Hugh Jackman let slip in a recent interview that the real purpose of the film was to highlight the "stolen generations", with other more glamorous parts of the film serving to bring in the audience:

But, Jackman adds, "Baz said if we made a very didactic and earnest story about the Stolen Generations, we'll have about three people watching the movie." Hence, the romance, the drama, the Japanese bombing of Darwin (an actual although little-known event) and a treacherous cattle drive through the desert.

Australian readers will already be familiar with the "stolen generations". For overseas readers, it is a controversial claim that racist white authorities stole generations of Aboriginal children, particularly half-caste children, from their mothers in order to bring them up as Europeans and to breed out the Aboriginal race.

It's difficult, though, to know how much truth there is to this claim, if any. When individual cases are investigated, a different story often emerges. For instance, in the case of activist Charles Perkins it turned out that his mother had begged a Christian boarding school to take him in to give him a better future (he went on to become the first Aborigine to head a government department).

Similarly, Zita Wallace grew up believing she had been stolen, but when she eventually returned to visit her mother it turned out that she had been abandoned:

Said Wallace: "It really hurt me badly. I thought, she doesn't want me, I won't worry about her. It was a really big thing to be rejected by someone who was supposed to be your mother."

Inquests conducted in Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory have found that there was "no formal policy for removing children".

So what is the evidence for the stolen generations? The only definite evidence I'm aware of is a note from A.O. Neville, who was a chief protector of Aborigines in Western Australia in the 1930s:

Every administration has trouble with half-caste girls. I know of 200 or 300 girls, however, in Western Australia who have gone into domestic service and the majority are doing very well. Our policy is to send them out into the white community, and if a girl comes back pregnant our rule is to keep her for two years. The child is then taken away from the mother and sometimes never sees her again. Thus these children grow up as whites, knowing nothing of their own environment. At the expiration of the period of two years the mother goes back into service so it really does not matter if she has half a dozen children.

This is the right-liberal, assimilationist attitude to Aborigines - a view which is still around today. For right-liberals what counts is not preserving ethnicity, but adherence to a set of universal liberal values. Right liberals generally support the idea of the European and Aboriginal populations merging together within a universal liberal culture.

Peter Howson, for instance, was the Liberal Party Minister for Aborigines back in 1971-1972. A few years ago, he wrote a newspaper article celebrating the fact that 70% of Aborigines had moved into towns and had married non-Aborigines. He wanted measures introduced to push the remaining Aborigines out of their own communities and into the mainstream.

If the right-liberal view has credibility it's because the separate Aboriginal communities aren't always great places for the raising of children. Levels of drug abuse, alcoholism and violence are high in some of these communities, which are often reliant on government welfare.

So even today there are large numbers of Aboriginal children who are removed from their families:

Welfare workers in NSW are removing Aboriginal children from their homes in numbers far greater than during the Stolen Generations, and the recruitment of Aboriginal staff has done nothing to stem the tide.

... The Australian can reveal that a staggering 4000 Aboriginal children are now in state care in NSW.

This compares with about 1000 Aboriginal children in foster homes, institutions and missions in 1969.

Black children are being removed at 10 times the rate of white children, despite a tripling in the number of Aboriginal welfare workers.

The total suggests that about one in six Aboriginal children in NSW is now a ward of the state.

The alternative to the right-liberal assimilationist policy has been a left-liberal separatism. Left-liberals often look up to the traditional Aboriginal culture and lifestyle and compare it favourably to Western societies. This has led to a policy of supporting separate Aboriginal communities, but to a lack of practical concern with how these communities might adapt and survive in the modern world. The communities are often left to survive on government welfare, which then encourages social breakdown - and the removal of children which the left is so outraged by.

In some ways, the idea of the stolen generations is part of the culture war between left and right liberals. The right-liberals use the breakdown of social norms in Aboriginal communities as an argument for assimilation; the left-liberals have countered by portraying assimilation as a racist attempt to force Aborigines to live as Europeans, up to and including stealing Aboriginal children from their mothers.

The evidence seems to suggest that Aboriginal children who were removed from their families were not stolen. There was no formal policy of removing Aboriginal children and when individual cases are examined the removal was usually for welfare reasons - just as still occurs today.


  1. More self-hatred from our establishment. What a brilliant technique in nation building.

    Can't expect much from a sodomite though - he's part of the perceived "other" and therefore has no reason to celebrate traditionalist history.

  2. Kilroy, is he homosexual? His interviews leave this unclear:

    "Is Baz Luhrmann the gayest straight man alive? "Well, I'm not sure how straight I am," cracks the Australian director of Strictly Ballroom, William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, and the multi-Oscar-nominated Moulin Rouge. Luhrmann may be married to his production designer, Catherine Martin, but the devout bohemian in him steadfastly refuses to be compartmentalized."

    Kilroy, although I agree with you that homosexuals can see themselves as dissenting outsiders, Luhrmann's film could have been made by any one of a large number of people on the left.

    For instance, I notice that he has chosen to portray the Aboriginal characters as having magical, mystical powers.

    Even a dour politics professor like Robert Manne has done the same unusual thing, praising traditional Aborigines for creating a world "soaked in magic, sorcery, mystery and ritual".

    Now there's something going on when members of the left praise something in a minority group that they would condemn in their own mainstream.

    Do they want to prove how open to the oppressed "other" they are, by portraying the other as something wholly outside Western norms?

    Or is it that it's a way of asserting their dissenting status within the West, by so admiring and identifying with something so wholly outside Western norms?

    Or is it, as others have claimed, a turning to the "other" to fill a cultural and spiritual hole left empty by the modern liberal West, whilst still holding on to their liberalism?

  3. The movie is going to be a flop. This sort of shit always is.

  4. This has got to be the worst movie I have ever seen.

    I was watching a free bootleg copy and i STILL wanted my money back

  5. They thought only 3 people would watch it?

    Sounds like they aren't doing much better than that anyway.

    It's a bomb.

  6. Note Luhrmann's recent comment that, had he grown up in Australia, Barack Obama would have been seized by the government for being a black child.

    Ignoring that his birth father was not an American nor by extension would have hypothetically been an indigenous Australian. And ignoring that his mother and her family seem to have done a pretty good job of raising Obama - without risk of a toxic family situation requiring child protection intervention.

    Nope - the chorus goes up - part black kid, off to the re-education camp.

    I put this down in part to the ongoing cultural cringe of the Australian academia/arts/media elite.

    They didn't have the anti-apartheid battles in South Africa; the civil rights campaigns in the US; the Solidarity fight in Poland or other deeply contested civil rights campaigns to claim as part of their cultural identity.

    So they pat each other on the back and go overseas to proclaim to the world that, somehow, they are the heroic resistance fighters in a regime so evil it makes Hitler's Reich pale by comparison.

    I mean, god forbid they could just sit in their parlors and seminars and say "Yup - up until the first mining boom and the Boeing 747 appeared, Australia was a bit monotone and unremarkably boring".

    Whether you agree with their campaigns or not - other countries have icons of the likes of Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

    The Australian radical Left has Germaine Greer, John Pilger and Clive Hamilton. No wonder the Luhrmann's live in a world of fantasy. It's just embarrassing.

  7. On a completely unrelated note:

    Mark, what's going on with The Independent Australian website?

    It hasn't been updated for some time.

    I think this magazine has plenty of potential as an outlet for politically incorrect commentary and ideas - if only they got their act together.

  8. I don't know whether "Baz" likes it off-side - but this chap I once knew that worked at NAIDA told me he was so inclined...

  9. Anon, I did receive a copy of the magazine not so long ago, so it's still being published.

    Yes, it's a worthwhile venture. I expect the problem you refer to comes down to a lack of resources.

  10. I received my copy of The Independent Australian just last week.

  11. Mr. Stove,

    As a fellow antipodean, let me just say, I was also a fan of the late Sam Francis - even if he didn't have any interest whatsoever in Australia!

  12. Hmmm, somehow I always had the impression that The Independent Australian was an anti-Semitic magazine like The Occidental Quarterly...

  13. Thank you, R. Drabik, for your kind words. Yes, I greatly admired Sam Francis even when I didn't agree with him. He was, apart from anything else, not only courageous but a master stylist.

  14. Hmmm, somehow I always had the impression that The Independent Australian was an anti-Semitic magazine like The Occidental Quarterly...

    What gave you that impression?

  15. Speaking of Sam Francis, the article which inspired Mr Stove's tribute - Peter Kocan's review of Shots Fired: Sam Francis on America's Culture War is unavailable on Quadrant's free online section although Hal G.P. Colebatch's review of John Hyde's lame doggerel is available. It's marvelous editorial decisions like that which make Australian Conservatism what it is today.

  16. Kilroy, I've never read anything antisemitic in The Independent Australian.

    It's not a magazine which discusses theory much. There are articles though criticising current immigration policies and multiculturalism. One of my articles on whiteness studies was also published there.

  17. I honestly don't bother with Quadrant anymore. It is neither intellectually stimulating nor relevant. I also have little time for Keith Windschuttle, especially not after his snearing dismissal of Professor Andrew Fraser's valid criticisms of Windschuttle's The White Australia Policy (Mr. Stove wrote an excellent article chronicling the Windschuttle-Fraser debate, entitled "Who Owns White Australia?").

    National Observer is probably the only thing published in Australia that is still worth reading.

  18. Thanks again, R. Drabik, for more kind words. I didn't even know that the article of mine to which you link was available on the Internet. It wasn't available the last time I looked. Whatever the situation in 2008, the magazine in question seemed receptive enough in 2006 to what I had to say (I'm a Steve-Sailer-style white conservative, not a white nationalist). The piece is now outdated in one respect: after its publication I met Professor Fraser, whom I had never met at the time I wrote it.

    About Mr Windschuttle's recent utterances and Quadrant editorship, which have repeatedly disappointed me, I have my own theories. I suspect (without being able to prove) that their shortcomings spring from a moral, rather than from an intellectual, failure.

  19. Perhaps I have been too hard on Quadrant and Windschuttle. But my hostility is not without reason. Rather it stems from a profound frustration with what can perhaps be described as their intellectual blind spot regarding all issues involving the "national question."

    Windschuttle's The Fabrication of Aborginal History is a refreshingly honest piece of work and nobody can deny the man's intellectual incisiveness. That's why I find his denial that the White Australia Policy was, in his own words, "an expression of British race nationalism" so difficult to understand.

    I believe Windschuttle to be, at base, an honest and morally upright individual. And he is certainly not the type to shy away from taking controversial, politically incorrect stances. So that leaves me with no other option that to conclude that he honestly regards the Australian nation to a propositional civic construct, bound by institutions and values, rather than an organic community defined by shared culture, ancestry, language, and history.

    I regard this to be an intellectual failure on his behalf.

  20. The piece is now outdated in one respect: after its publication I met Professor Fraser, whom I had never met at the time I wrote it.

    I always felt that Fraser made a grave mistake concentrating so much on IQ and race. It essentially gave the MSM a license to paint him as some kind of white supremacist.

    Focusing more on the gradual dispossession of Anglo-Celtic Australians as a result of massive non-European immigration would have been a far more effective way to convey his message.

  21. I thought Strictly Ballroom was pretty awesome. I was living in Atlanta and my downstairs neighbor nurse ("friends, but flirting) watched it with me. Afterwards, she literally put me down on the coach and screwed me. So it got her motor running. Well, I mean she liked me too. But then watching a movie like that, got her going at the same time.

    I remember backpacking around Australia in early 90s after getting out of the Navy. Had 90 days of leave saved up from the Gulf War. (Thanks for coming by the guys come to all our wars.) What a cool country. There is actually a fucking town called Surfer's Paradise. Like that's its name. Had a great time on the East Coast. Found the English girls on holiday much easier/friendlier than the Aussies ladies though. The Aussie girls had their defenses up.