Dumbing down Australian history and its teaching
The eminent person
in current academic Australian history, Stuart Macintyre, is the keynote speaker
at this Labor History Conference (held in June 2000), about Labor and Federation.
is emerging as the major figure in the current counter-revolution in Australian
history, which seems to be directed at restoring a kind of Anglophile official history,
modified by a few gestures towards the currently fashionable high theory, as the
dominant discourse in teaching the subject.
As this happens
to coincide in time with the dramatic collapse in student numbers taking Australian
history in schools and universities, it seems to me necessary to make a comprehensive
critique of this process.
Macintyre is the
Ernest Scott Professor of History at Melbourne University. Ernest Scott was the
practitioner of a Whig, British-oriented, official Australian history, which was
the first major academic school of Australian history writing, and commenced late
in the 19th century during the imperial heyday of ruling-class British Australia.
This general approach was dominant in history teaching in high schools and universities
until well into the 1960s.
There were some
early dissenters from this bourgeois British-Australian history. These dissenters
existed in two streams. Amongst secular socialist groups, J. N. Rawling, Lloyd Ross
and Brian Fitzpatrick challenged this ruling-class orthodoxy with a more populist,
Marxian and nationalist version of Australian history.
People like James
M. Murtagh and Archbishop Eris O’Brien wrote texts that embodied a critical anti-British-imperialist
narrative, which were the basis of an alternative version taught widely in the Catholic
school system as an antidote to the official British history, necessarily studied
in the same schools for the external exams.
The clandestine tradition in Australian historiography
In the 1940s and
the 1950s these two streams converged to some extent in the mature work of Eris
O’Brien, Ian Turner, D.A. Baker, Russel Ward, Vance Palmer, Brian Fitzpatrick and
ultimately, Manning Clark.
From the 1950s on,
this alternative, previously clandestine version of Australian history got a bit
of a toehold in universities and high school history teaching. Texts such as Russel
Ward«s the Australian Legend, Eris O»Brien’s 1937 book The Foundation
Of Australia, 1786-1800, Vance Palmer’s Legend of the Nineties, a number
of the works of Brian Fitzpatrick, Manning Clark’s major six-volume history, and
his Short History of Australia, became a major school of Australian historiography
with an emphasis on social, class and religious conflicts in the 19th century, popular
opposition to British imperial hegemony and a recognition of the emergence in the
19th century of insurgent democratic trends and a labor movement in opposition to
the British Australian ruling class.
In the 1970s this
left democratic, populist narrative was disputed by Humphrey McQueen and Stuart
Macintyre in what came to be called «the debate on class». McQueen and
Macintyre accused the practitioners of the populist Australian historical school
of exaggerating the democratic and popular trends in 19th century history and failing
to sufficiently describe the sexism and racism present in the labour movement at
In particular, Russel
Ward, who remained a very active Australian historian into the 1990s, incorporated
part of this critique into a broadened and improved populist narrative. The more
developed radical version of Australian history practiced by Russel Ward, Brian
Fitzpatrick, Manning Clark and others had a real battle to become established in
schools and universities.
The Sydney University
History Department remained, until very recently, a stronghold of British-Australia
ruling-class history. Fitzpatrick never got a university appointment.russel Ward
was blacklisted for a history teaching job at the University of NSW because of his
long-past membership of the Communist Party, but managed eventually to become a
university teacher at the University of New England at Armidale, northern NSW.
Manning Clark, who
was similarly banished from Melbourne to the ANU when the ANU was still a backwater,
only began to have a major influence on mainstream history teaching in the course
of the widespread cultural revolution in Australia in the 1960s.
Russel Ward’s Concise History of Australia
At the popular teaching
level one of the best examples, and the highest point of the radical populist stream
in Australian history and history teaching, is Russel Ward’s A Concise History
of Australia, which was reprinted in a large gift edition as Australia Since
the Coming of Man.
This book is important
because it incorporates that part of the criticism raised by Macintyre and McQueen
that was valid. In particular, Ward’s narrative in this book entrenched a comprehensive
and detailed treatment of Australian origins and Aboriginal history, along with
an emphasis on oppositional forces in Australian history including the mid 19th-century
struggles against transportation, and for respresentative democracy, continuing
with the campaign for free selection of land, and culminating in the 19th century
in the formation of the labour movement.
History also paid attention to the rather instrumental role of Irish Catholics
in this democratic struggle. The last version of this many-times-reprinted and set-course
book, the 1992 University of Queensland Press reprint, takes the narrative up to
the end of Bob Hawke’s time as Prime Minister, and is notable for its sceptical,
critical and unfawning attitude to the Hawke government and to Paul Keating.russel
Ward died soon after publication of the 1992 edition of this useful book.
The emergence of
the Russel Ward, Manning Clark, Brian Fitzpatrick, Eris O’Brien, populist school
of Australian history was a development of considerable cultural importance.
When I was a kid
at a Catholic school, the Christian Brothers at Strathfield in the 1950s, we history
students were subject to the interesting exercise of being thoroughly persuaded
by the Brothers to learn by rote the Stephen Roberts, British establishment version
of world and Australian history for the external examiners.
However, we were
taught by the same Brothers in religion lessons that this Protestant establishment
version was essentially false, and as an appropriate alternative the version we
should really believe was the clandestine Catholic, Eris O’Brien, James G. Murtagh,
Hilaire Belloc version of Australian and world history.
It heartened me
greatly in the 1960s and the 1970s when the modernised, Russel Ward, Manning Clark
critical Australian nationalist, somewhat Marxist, populist version of Australian
history, which incorporated the useful part of McQueen’s critique, replaced the
Roberts version in most Australian schools and some universities.
I thought that our
side had definitively triumphed in the field of Australian history and its teaching.
More fool me! Here comes Stuart Macintyre.
Abolishing the Catholics
I hope I’m not beginning
to sound a bit obsessional about Macintyre. I have written several other critical
articles about his historical work, but I«m afraid I can»t really escape presenting
I was first alerted
to Macintyre«s new book, The Concise History of Australia, by Jim Griffin»s
review in The Australian.
out that Macintyre’s new history just about abolished the Irish Catholics from the
narrative. As Australian Catholic history is one of my interests, my curiosity was
immediately aroused. I hurried over and bought the book at Gleebooks, and became
immediately fascinated by it in the same way that I am fascinated by Paul Sheehan’s
chauvinist Amongst the Barbarians, and Miriam Dixson’s The Imaginary Australian.
the same time I heard on the grapevine that Stuart and his conservative mate, John
Hirst had recently been appointed by David Kemp, Minister for Education, Training
and Youth Affairs in the Howard Government, as historical advisers to a body known
as the Civics Education Group, which then employed Kemp’s other educational body,
the institution with the amazing economic rationalist name, The Curriculum Corporation,
to prepare curriculum materials for history teaching in Australian schools.
In the context of
the high politics described above it seems reasonable to look very closely at Stuart
Macintyre’s new Concise History, because it is obviously written for a high
school and introductory university market, and Macintyre and his publishers may
well desire to see it emerge as the major university entry-level Australian history
textbook for the next period.
Let us, therefore,
carefully investigate Stuart Macintyre’s version of textbook Australian history,
and how it is organised and presented. The first thing is how strikingly similar
it is in format, and some aspects of presentation, to Russel Ward’s book of the
It is the same physical
size, although a bit shorter, and it even has a similar presentation, with both
covers being a work of Australian art. Even the periodisation in the book is, in
large part, roughly similar.
The two tables of
RUSSEL WARD 1. Black and white discoverers c.60,000 BC-AD 1770 2. Empire, convicts
and currency c.1771-1820 3. New settlements and new pastures c.1821-50 4. Diggers,
democracy and urbanisation c.1851-85 5. Radicals and nationalists c.1886-1913 6.
War and depression c. 1914-38 7. War and affluence c. 1939-66 8. Going it alone
STUART MACINTYRE 1. Beginnings 2. Newcomers c.1600-1792 3. Coercion, 1793-1821 4. Emancipation,
1822-1850 5. In thrall to progress, 1851-1888 6. National reconstruction,
1889-1913 7. Sacrifice, 1914-1945 8. Golden age, 1946-1974 9. Reinventing Australia,
1975-1999 10. What next?
As is clearly indicated
by the names of the chapters, the historical approach of the authors is quite different.
Ward«s approach is left democratic, Marxian and populist. Macintyre»s book is a
major move in the direction of restoring the official British-Australia history
that used to dominate the teaching of Australian history before the 1960s.
Macintyre’s is a
thoroughgoing counter-revolution compared with Russel Ward’s book. Ward celebrates
the struggle for democracy and the campaign for free selection. Macintyre adopts
a more critical and sceptical view of the significance of these developments in
a style reminiscent of the attitude pioneered by his conservative mate Hirst.
and describes the important oppositional role of the Irish Catholics and records
the sectarian conflicts of the 19th century. Macintyre’s only mention of sectarian
religious conflict is in relation to the schools debate.
the emergence of the labour movement as an assertion of working class independence.
Macintyre treats the emergence of the labour movement in a more sceptical way.
and discusses the defeat of conscription during the First World War and the radicalisation
in the labour movement that this produced. Macintyre plays down the conscription
struggle, omits the 1917 general strike and ignores the radicalisation of the labour
movement in the 1920s.
the popular labour movement mobilisation of Langism against the Depression and its
consequences. In his only mention of Lang, Macintyre succeeds in sounding like the
Governor of India deploring «unrest». Macintyre even ascribes the fall
of the Lang government to a split in the Labor Party, which is untrue, and thereby
airbrushes out of history Lang’s removal by Governor Game, the precedent for the
later removal of Whitlam by Kerr.
the popular upheaval against the Vietnam War, and mentions the initially instrumental
role of Arthur Calwell, the Labor opposition leader, in this mobilisation. Macintyre
treats the agitation against the Vietnam War in a much more low-key and sceptical
way, ignoring Calwell.
a sharply critical stance towards the Hawke and Keating governments. Macintyre has
a more reverent tone towards these governments and treats their deregulation of
the economy and turn to economic rationalism as a more or less inevitable response
to the global circumstances.
a generally favourable attitude towards mass migration. Towards the end of his book
Macintyre implicitly opposes further mass migration in a rather curious section
in which he first spends a lot of time criticising the thrust of government-sponsored
multiculturalism, immediately followed by:
After two hundred
years of overseas recruitment to build the population of Australia, a new voice
called for immigration control, that of environmentalists. Throughout the European
occupation of the country there had been efforts to conserve its resources and protect
fauna and flora, water and forest, from wanton destruction, but the developmental
impulse usually prevailed. The end of the long boom coincided with an enhanced appreciation
of the costs of development. The great triumphs of the post-war period turned out
to be illusory. The Snowy Mountains Authority had turned back the rivers from the
south-east coast to water the Riverina plains, and poisoned the soil with salt;
the Ord River on the north-west coast had been dammed, but infestations of insects
killed most of the crops; the government’s scientific organisation waged biological
warfare against the rabbit, but the survivors returned to compete for pasture.
This paragraph is
followed by a lengthy celebration of the importance of the conservation movement
in modern Australia, and read in context, it is fairly clear that Macintyre now
shares some environmentalists’ views in favour of reducing immigration, although
in his usual magisterial fashion he infers this position from the views of others,
leaving himself a possible let-out if challenged on the point.
There are many other
differences between the two books. Macintyre’s is a good deal duller than Russel
Ward’s. His illustrations, other than Aboriginal illustrations, are usually of conservative
historical figures, and there are fewer of them.
Russel Ward makes
extensive use of line drawings and historical cartoons of a radical character. Little
of that for Macintyre. And so it goes.
Macintyre’s selection of sources
In his important
book The First Ten Years of American Communism, James P. Cannon, the pioneer
US Communist and Trotskyist leader, prints an exchange of letters between himself
and the historian Theodore Draper, who was at that time writing his definitive histories
of the origins and early development of the American Communist Party.
Part of one of the
letters reads as follows:
Ira Kipnis’s book,
The American Socialist Movement: 1897-1912, published in 1952, gives some
interesting information about the evolution of the Socialist Party up to 1912. I
assume you are familiar with it… From what I have read I am inclined to be a bit
suspicious of Kipnis’s objectivity. There are some tell-tale expressions in the
Stalinist lingo which should put one on guard. His book is overstuffed with references.
They may all be accurate, but as you know, a history can be slanted by selectivity
of sources as well as by outright falsification. In skimming through the book for
the first time I was torn between my own unconcealed partisanship for the left wing
and my concern for the whole truth in historical writing.
It is well to keep
in mind Cannon«s view on this matter when examining Macintyre»s Concise History.
At the end of the book, Macintyre has a bibliography for each chapter. What is striking
is the books that he leaves out of this list.
For instance, he
abolishes the work and books of Rupert Lockwood, Michael Cannon, Allan Grocott,
Keith Amos, Colm Kiernan, Tom Keneally, Patrick O’Farrell, Margaret Kiddle, Malcolm
Campbell, Geoffrey Serle, Ross Fitzgerald, Cyril Pearl, Bob Murray, Michael Cathcart,
Robert Cooksey, Ray Markey, Jack Hutson, Lloyd Ross, Sandy Yarwood, Frank Farrell,
Eric Rolls, Portia Robinson, Denis Murphy, and many, many others.
He just about abolishes
the discipline of labour history, both from his narrative and from his list of sources.
Popular historians such as Ion Idriess, Frank Clune, William Joy, Wendy Lowenstein,
etc, are expunged. Public historians and local historians get very little attention.
Two local histories are mentioned, Bill Gammage on Narrandera and Janet McCalman
on Richmond. Yet Shirley Fitzgerald, our foremost urban historian, and her (and
her associates«) magnificent oeuvre on Sydney and suburbs, don»t get a guernsey.
As with Macintyre’s
Oxford Companion to Australian History, it appears that the further you are
from Melbourne or Adelaide, the harder it is to get recognised. After all his previous
discussion of it, Macintyre completely abolishes the debate on class from his new
The debate on class
in Australian labor history is discussed at length by Macintyre himself in the collection,
Pastiche 1 (Allen and Unwin 1994), and in his Oxford Companion. It
is described thoroughly in Australian Labor History by Greg Patmore. It is
discussed in the introduction to the second edition of Ian Turner’s Industrial
Labor and Politics, in which Turner replies comprehensively and persuasively
to McQueen and Macintyre.
The documents of
that argument include the wrongheaded, but enormously influential book by McQueen,
A New Britannia. This debate led to the production of the important book
by Terry Irving and Bob Connell, Class Structure in Australian History, which
was a synthesis of the predominant view that emerged from the debate, that a working
class of a particular kind had emerged in Australia in the 19th century, and that
the emergence of a Labor Party and a labour movement was a progressive development
for the working class.
Connell and Irving’s
book and Russel Ward’s Concise History were widely studied in universities
and high schools from the 1970s to the early 1990s. The seminal Australian Legend,
by Russel Ward, and The Legend of the Nineties, by Vance Palmer, were also
widely influential at high school and university levels.
of this important intellectual exchange and the influential literature from different
strands in this debate is to abolish it all from his new narrative. Connell and
Irving are abolished. Greg Patmore is abolished. Humphrey McQueen is abolished:
all his three important books, A New Britannia, the indispensable book about
Australian art, The Black Swan of Trespass, and his useful illustrated Social
Sketches of Australia 1888-1975, are ignored. Ian Turner is abolished: Industrial
Labor and Politics, Sydney’s Burning and even his books about sport.
Macintyre is left,
in his own narrative, as the only towering figure surviving from the debate on class,
dismissing contemptuously, as «neglecting racism» The Legend of the
Nineties and The Australian Legend, without even deigning to name the
authors, or list them or the books in the bibliography. What a superior man this
In the section on
the Great Depression, J. T. Lang«s own books, and Bede Nairn»s important Lang biography,
are not mentioned. None of the biographies of Mannix are mentioned. Patrick O«Farrell»s
important works on the Irish in Australia are not mentioned, and neither are Tom
Keneally or Keith Amos or any other writers about Irish Australia.
In relation to the
Vietnam War, Gregory Pemberton’s important book, Vietnam Remembered (Weldon
Publishers 1990), and neither are Sioban McHugh’s Minefields and Miniskirts,
on women during the Vietnam War or Greg Langley’s A Decade of Dissent or
Ken Maddocks’ books of oral history on the Vietnam conflict.
like Paul Barry«s biography, The Rise and Rise of Kerry Packer aren»t mentioned,
nor is Mates by Fia Cumming, or The Fixer by Marianne Wilkinson about
Richardson, or Graham Richardson’s own book.
books of autobiography are ignored, as is Bill Guy’s recent biography of Cameron,
A Life on the Left. In relation to the Communist Party, only Macintyre himself
survives as the recognised author and expert. Alistair Davidson, Robin Gollan, Barbara
Curthoys, Frank Farrell, Miriam Dixson, Tom O’Lincoln and even Beverley Symons,
the author of the extremely useful bibliography associated with Macintyre’s own
book, are all ignored in relation to their published work on the Communist Party.
with the Communist Party, of which good examples would be Hall Greenland’s biography
of Nick Origlass, Red Hot, Susanna Short’s biography of Laurie Short, Stephen
Holt«s biography of Lloyd Ross, and B.A. Santamaria»s useful autobiography, are
Given the Marxist
background that Macintyre asserts on occasion, it is rather strange that he omits
from any consideration, two major original and significant critical books about
Australian life from a Marxist point of view: Vere Gordon Childe’s important How
Labor Governs from the 1920s, and Egon Kisch’s Australian Landfall from
Macintyre’s historical method
is organised in a way that is quite consistent with his narrow British-Australia
approach. For a start, the predominance of so called theory is accentuated by the
abolition of footnotes.
The reader is told
that at the end of the book there is a listing of where quotes used in the narrative
come from, but they are not presented as notes to the source, and only one person
out of 100 will, in practice, laboriously work out where the ideas came from.
The net effect of
this device is to dramatically increase the role of the narrator of the book, and
de-emphasise the way in which he has been influenced by the research and ideas of
other people. Another effect is to make it unclear what part of the material is
quotes, and what part is Macintyre’s own view, leaving Macintyre with the perfect
out, if challenged on some point, that he was merely quoting the views of others.
This way of proceeding
is a very elitist writing device, presenting an enormous obstacle to the reader’s
understanding of the genesis of the ideas in the book, but it is a device that is
quite common in postmodernist circles under the rubric of theory.
feature of Macintyre’s dry writing style is the deliberate way he avoids naming
historical figures, or historians who he obviously regards as minor, and the effect
of this device is to make some important, named historical personalities, towering
presences over a landscape otherwise inhabited by the nameless.
Sometimes this device
becomes almost bizarre. Examples of this are:
48, where he names Samuel Marsden about five times, on both sides of this sentence.
As early as
1803 King allowed an Irish convict to exercise his clerical functions, though that
privilege was withdrawn in the following year when the Priest was suspected of using
the Mass to plan the Castle Hill Uprising. In 1820 two new priests came voluntarily
from Ireland with official permission to fulfill their compatriots’ religious obligations.
Three Catholic priests,
none of them named, but Samuel Marsden named four times in the same paragraph.
when discussing The Bulletin at some length, Macintyre manages to do it without
mentioning the important founding editor, J. F. Archibald.
the Second World War, he quotes a John Manifold poem and describes Manifold as
«another descendent of a pastoral dynasty» without mentioning either his
name or the fact that he was a Communist when he wrote the poem.
the same paragraph, when discussing Eric Lambert’s Twenty Thousand Thieves
he doesn’t mention either the name of the book or the name of the author.
This loopy device
recurs again and again in this strange book, a triumph of a supposedly theoretical
approach over any attempt at utility. It makes the narrative a very lordly document
In addition to this
problem, throughout his book Macintyre mentions far fewer secondary historical figures
and secondary sources than does Russel Ward, particularly secondary figures who
contribute radicalism or conflict to the historical mosaic.
No ballads for Macintyre
of Manifold’s war poem, without naming or identifying the author clearly, is serendipitous
in several ways.russel Ward uses another Manifold war poem, from the same anthology,
in his Concise History (naming Manifold).
My favourite Manifold
poem, from the same anthology, begins with the line, «Crazy as hell, And typical
of us, Just like that, «Comrade», On a bus», but I don’t think that poem would
be of much use for Macintyre’s purposes.
The other very important
literary contribution for which John Manifold is known is his useful pioneering
work, Who Wrote the Ballads (Australasian Book Society, 1961). This was the
first major work on rebel balladeers, mostly Irish, such as Frank McNamara (Frank
the Poet), and their important contribution to the Australian radical ethos and
Other people who
have done work in this area, and written books, are Hugh Anderson, John Meredith
and Rex Whalan.russel Ward made very extensive, almost instrumental use of this
kind of ballad material in The Australian Legend, in sketching out the deep
sources of the Australian anti-authoritarian and egalitarian ethos, which is possibly
why Macintyre regards Ward’s book as overly elegaic and misleading.
It was, again, curiously
serendipitious that Hugh Anderson’s book about Tocsin was relaunched in the
afternoon at the Sydney Labor History Conference where Macintyre spoke, and that
Anderson was present for the occasion. I find it very striking that the Celtic ballads,
which figure so deeply in the cultural mosaic of Australian rebellion, get no recognition
at all in Macintyre’s narrative or bibliography.
Fundamental flaws in Macintyre’s account
only abolish the Catholics, he just about abolishes religious history from the
19th century story. As Jim Griffin pointed out, Macintyre very nearly abolishes
the Irish Catholics.
the means by which he does this are in themselves rather startling. Not only does
he abolish the Irish Catholics, but to do this he has to just about abolish religion
as a whole from the story of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
There is no significant
mention of sectarian religious conflict. There is no mention of important institutions
such as the freemasons and the Loyal Orange Lodge, despite the fact that nearly
all Tory Australian prime ministers and governors were freemasons.
To avoid the conflicts
that had a religious form, in the interests of a bland narrative, Macintyre makes
the whole religious sphere just about disappear, which to me, as a Marxian materialist,
seems to be a completely unscientific and novel way to write about Australia in
the 19th century.
finds no place in his story for the interesting conflict in the 1930s between the
Labor Prime Minister James Scullin (in which Scullin ultimately succeeded) and the
British authorities in London, over the appointment of the Jew, Sir Isaac Isaacs,
as the first Australian-born Governor General, in which the endemic, vicious anti-Semitism
of the British ruling class was such a major issue.
Henry Mayer and the Sydney University Department of Government
In relation to the
sectarian Protestant mobilisation against the labour movement in the early 20th
century, which Macintyre systematically ignores, the most useful piece of evidence
is the several-times-reprinted monograph on NSW politics from 1901 to 1917, first
produced by the Sydney University Government Department in 1962, and last reprinted
in an expanded form in 1996.
This very important
source book chronicles NSW politics for each of the 17 years and each yearly entry
has a major section titled Sectarianism, so important a feature of NSW politics
was that subject in that decisive period, when the Labor Party first became established
as a party of government.
took place despite a constant Protestant mobilisation against the Labor Party, focussing
on Catholics, socialists, liquor, gambling and sport. Macintyre’s failure to use
the evidence presented in this monograph seemed to me amazing and then it struck
me rather forcibly that he nowhere refers to any of the historical work of the empirical
political historical school that developed around Henry Mayer, Dick Spann, Joan
Rydon, Ken Turner, Michael Hogan and others in the Sydney University Government
Department from the 1950s to the 1990s.
recognise any of the publications or books of this major school anywhere in the
Concise History. It seems a pretty tall order to ignore the seven editions
of the Henry Mayer Readers on government, which influenced tens of thousands
of students, but Macintyre succeeds in doing this.
Given his, selectively
asserted, past attachment to Marxism in the historical sciences, Macintyre’s book
has a very curious approach to the history of capitalist development and the conflict
between the classes.
His approach is
heavily influenced by the current «globalising» fashion, particularly
popular in cultural studies, but also advanced by capitalist ideologues who positively
applaud the decline of manufacturing industry in countries like Australia.
The effect of this
is that Macintyre concentrates on political history, of the generalised national
sort, and cultural criticism of popular social practices. The actual history of
Australian capitalist economic development is de-emphasised, and the spectacularly
piratical origins of Australian capitalism, particularly British imperial finance
capital, is considerably understated.
The sharply contradictory
and brutal, but very effective development of manufacturing capitalism in Australia
tends to be written of by Macintyre with the enthusiastic hindsight stemming from
its current decline, which he seems to favour. (Macintyre manages to write a Concise
History of Australia without mentioning Crick, Willis, W. L. Baillieu, W. S.
Robinson, Essington Lewis or Bully Hayes, for instance)
In writing about
the 19th century, sources such as Brian Fitzpatrick, Eris O’Brien, Michael Cannon
and Cyril Pearl, all of whom have a critical or muckraking approach to the development
of Australian society, particularly the economic origins of the ruling class, are
How is it possible
to write about the origins of Australia without reference to the work of Eris O’Brien?
How is it possible to write about capital formation and the slump of the 1890s without
reference to historians such as Michael Cannon, Brian Fitzpatrick and Andrew Wells.
But Macintyre does so and, as a result, his narrative is a dry as dust, bland, official
history, neglecting conflict and particularly de-emphasising the piratical origins
of the Australian bourgeoisie.
When you get into
the early 20th century, this curious style of history writing is even more pronounced.
When discussing the First World War, the whole emphasis is on «heroic sacrifice».
He manages to avoid explicit reference to the General Strike of 1917, to the release
of the IWW leaders framed in 1917, or to the assassination of Percy Brookfield,
the leftist Labor politician who procured their release by his use of his balance
of power in the NSW parliament.
The sectarian Protestant
mobilisation against the Labor Party led by the Tory murderer T. J. Ley in the
1920s is not mentioned. No mention is made of the adoption of the socialisation
objective by the Labor Party in 1921. The Seamen«s strike, and Bruce»s attempt to
deport the Seamen«s leaders Tom Walsh and Jacob Johnson doesn»t make it, and neither
does the Victorian Police strike.
and popular historical works about the period, such as Turner«s Sydney»s Burning,
Brown and Haldane«s Days of Violence about the police strike, and Lang»s
I Remember, are ignored. Important radical figures such as the Labor Federal
politician Frank Anstey and the then Communist secretary of the Sydney Labor Council,
Jock Garden, don’t rate a mention.
Macintyre abolishes Langism
When you get into
the 1930s, the narrative gets even wierder. The only mention of Jack Lang is in
relation to incident during the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, when a member
of the fascist-minded New Guard galloped up on a horse and cut the ribbon before
Lang could do so. All that Macintyre says about the popular mobilisation behind
Lang at the time of the Premier’s Plan, is the following:
The incident was
theatrical, but it came as the demagogic Premier, Jack Lang was defying the national
agreement to reduce public expenditure and street violence was building an atmosphere
of public hysteria. Only when the Governor dismissed Lang in May 1932 did the unrest
That’s the only
mention of Lang. No mention of the Lang Plan. No mention of the mass meetings and
the popular mobilisations around Lang on a national scale. This airbrushing of Langism
slides over into falsification in the untrue statement in Macintyre’s book that
the Lang government fell because of a Labor split.
This is dry as dust
official history, with one variation. Dopey nostalgia for Stalinism is introduced
into the narrative as a kind of alternative to describing the popular mass movement
of the time led by J. T. Lang. There is a lengthy account of the activities of the
Unemployed Workers Movement and the Communist Party, presented as if they were the
major actors, and almost the only actors, in the upheaval against the effects of
What an objectionable
way of using Stalinism as a left face for an essentially conservative official history
of the Depression. Even when discussing the Communist Party and the Unemployed Workers
Movement, which are mentioned many times, they remain disembodied, shadowy entities,
suspended in mid-air, so to speak.
None of the significant
leaders or colourful characters in the communist movement of the 1930s are actually
named: no Stalinist leaders such as Lance Sharkey, Richard Dixon or J. B. Miles.
No important Communist union leaders such as Ernie Thornton, Lloyd Ross, Orr and
Nelson, Jim Henderson or Jim Healy. No communist writers such as Katharine Susannah
Pritchard, Jean Devanney or, in a later period, Frank Hardy. Just the disembodied
entity of a totally idealised Communist Party.
My detailed critique
of Macintyre’s book on the Communist Party, The Reds, made the point fairly
sharply that this book was a narrowly institutional history of the Communist Party,
and tended to treat the CP as a majestic entity standing alone, outside the context
of its interaction with the labour movement as a whole.
This is, in my view,
a dangerous defect in a history of the Communist Party. This curious methodology
verges on the absurd when it is carried over from an institutional history of the
CP into a Concise History of Australia and the CP of the 1930s is idealised
during the Third Period and the later Popular Front periods, without reference to
its intersection and conflict with the rest of the labour movement, particularly
Macintyre and Vietnam
The 1960s and the
1970s are discussed in a curious way. There is a heavy emphasis on something Macintyre
calls the «New Left», but the enormous popular mobilisations against the
Vietnam War, spearheaded by Vietnam Action Committees, Vietnam Day Committees and
Vietnam Moratorium Committees, is presented in a very summary way.
The day after Macintyre
spoke at the Labor History Conference, there was a moving and interesting article
in the Sydney Morning Herald by political commentator Allan Ramsey. This
article commemorated events exactly 35 years before, when Ramsey had been a very
junior member of the Canberra Press Gallery.
On the day when
the Liberal Government announced the sending of troops to Vietnam, Labor leader
Arthur Calwell went into the parliamentary chamber and made a powerful speech opposing
the intervention, pledging a future Labor government would withdraw Australian troops
from Vietnam, a commitment from which Calwell never flinched.
points out, with some emotion, how far-sighted Calwell was on that eventful day
35 years ago. No sentimentality of that sort for our Stuart, however. His last reference
to Calwell describes Calwell’s removal from the Labor Party leadership by Gough
Whitlam in the following terms: «The Labor leader was Gough Whitlam, elected
to that position in 1967 after a long struggle with the old guard led by its gnarled
centurion, Arthur Calwell.»
You get no hint
from Macintyre that one of the main issues in Whitlam’s successful leadership challenge
to the «gnarled centurion», Arthur Calwell, was the proposition that Calwell
had been too radical in committing the ALP to immediate withdrawal of Australian
troops from Vietnam, and that Whitlam’s new policy in 1967 was a much more ambiguous
statement about Vietnam policy, involving reducing the number of troops, and negotiating
with the NLF, rather than immediate withdrawal from Vietnam.
Oh that we might
have a few «gnarled centurions» like Arthur Augustus Calwell, in the labour
The industrial explosion
in 1969 led by Tramways Union Secretary, Clarrie O’Shea, which destroyed the penal
clauses of the Arbitration Act, is not mentioned. The urban affairs activities of
the Whitlam Government are mentioned, but without naming Tom Uren.
The Whitlam Government
is effectively dismissed as futile and too radical, and leftists who supported it
are attacked for acquiescing in its alleged statism. But when you get to the Hawke
and Keating governments, they are treated with fulsome and fawning respect.
Hawke, the Hawke
Government, Keating and the Keating Government between them, are mentioned 26 times
in about 20 pages, and this is in a narrative in which Jim Cairns isn’t mentioned
once, either in relation to the Vietnam Moratorium, or the Whitlam Government.
The Whitlam ministers
Rex Connor, Clyde Cameron and Stuart West aren«t mentioned once. That»s the kind
of elitist official history Macintyre has produced.
the states in the modern period
A curious feature
of Macintyre’s book is that, attempting to be a concise history of Australia, it
goes a long way towards eliminating state history from the modern narrative.
For instance, Neville
Wran is not mentioned. Hawke 13 times. No Neville Wran, no Graham Richardson. Keating
13 times, no Laurie Brereton, no Wayne Goss, no Nick Greiner, no Peter Beattie,
no Bob Carr, no John Cain, no Carmen Lawrence, no John Ducker, no Barry Unsworth,
no Steve Bracks.
about state politics, such as Robert Travers’ wonderful deconstruction of Henry
Parkes, Cyril Pearl«s important Wild Men of Sydney, and David Dale»s book
on the Wran period, are totally ignored.
A very strange book
What I find really
eccentric, is for Macintyre to have virtually abolished the states in a literary-historical
way, when they have not been abolished in the material world. Macintyre’s book has
almost no discussion of the ebb and flow of political, social and cultural circumstances
in the separate states in the 20th century.
To leave the state
dimension out of a history of modern Australia is an absurdity because many of the
important historical developments in Australia still proceed largely in a state
framework. Macintyre can’t bear to mention Country Party leader Black Jack McEwan.
There are many areas in which, in my view, Macintyre’s historical revisionism is
inaccurate in establishing any useful context for Australian history, and is likely
to mislead readers, particularly young readers and overseas readers, about the real
thrust of Australian developments.
The writing out
of the narrative of most conflict, most rebellion, and discordant and radical forces
such as the Irish Catholics, produces a picture of Australia that I find very difficult
to recognise. If Macintyre still regards himself as any kind of Marxist or popular
historian, a history of Australia in the 20th century in which Black Jack McEwan
is not mentioned by name, and the post-World-War-Two implicit social arrangement
is dismissed, but the Hawke-Keating globalisation of the economy is implicitly endorsed
as inevitable, is quite bizarre.
Macintyre has produced is a thoroughly conservative history, but that’s only one
aspect. The other aspect, from a history teaching point of view, is that this kind
of deracinated official history is rather boring.
If textbooks like
this are allowed to predominate in contrast with a lively and interesting and, incidentally,
quite radical, book such as Russel Ward’s Concise History, in my view the
audience for Australian history will probably decline, and the number of students
studying it will probably drop.
Macintyre is exceedingly
dry. There is very little social history. There is not much sporting history. There
is no overview of modern Australian art. The speedy sweep through modern Australian
society in the last couple of chapters is rather moralising in tone and written
as from a great height or distance.
to me to be a bit of a wowser and puritan, which are big disadvantages to anyone
trying to write intelligently about Australian history. He doesn’t really seem to
like us much.
Why bother about Macintyre’s historical revisionism?
In an irritated
aside in the new foreword to the paperback edition of Macintyre’s book on the Communist
Party, The Reds, Macintyre dismisses, in a contemptuous way, a detailed critique
I made of that book, ascribing it to «1960s factionalism», without making
any attempt to address the major questions of historical fact and emphasis I raised.
I obviously run
the risk of similar curt dismissal from the great man on this occasion, and I also
run the risk of being accused by some of having an obsession about Macintyre.
Why should Bob
Gould bother? Well, I must admit that for me these questions are rather personal.
I object to my assorted tribes, ethnic, cultural and political, being abolished
from the historical record. When I was a kid, I acquired an initial knowledge of
the clandestine Australian historical stream, Irish Catholic, socialist and working
class, from my father, and also from the Catholic historical counterculture taught
by the Christian Brothers.
As a young man
those streams came together for me, and I was greatly stimulated by the way they
flowered into the mature historical work of Brian Fitzpatrick, Russel Ward, Eris
O’Brien, Manning Clark, Robin Gollan, Ian Turner, and popular historians such as
Rupert Lockwood, Cyril Pearl, Michael Cannon, Robert Travers and William Joy.
I was also stimulated
by novels with a historical basis, such as Kylie Tenant’s Ride on Stranger
and Foveaux and Frank Hardy’s Power Without Glory and The Dead are Many.
I was considerably enthused when this rich historical literature began to be used
to some extent in some university history departments and in some high schools.
Texts such as Russel
Ward«s Concise History, Terry Irving»s and Bob Connell’s Class Structure
in Australian History, Manning Clark’s Short History, and even Robert
Hughes’ relatively recent The Fatal Shore, began to be used widely in history
These texts are
interesting and particularly accessible to students, and they go a considerable
distance towards introducing those social groups previously excluded, the labour
movement, the working class and the Irish Catholics, to the historical narrative.
Stuart Macintyre, Miriam Dixson, and the Australian «national
Miriam Dixson’s new book The Imaginary Australian, in which she tries to
stake out a territory for a false historical construct she calls the «Anglo-Celtic
core culture», as against the discordant historical discourse produced by Celtic
malcontents such as myself. It«s absolutely clear from Macintyre»s recent historical
efforts, of which the Concise History, intended as a text book, is clearly
the culmination, that Macintyre is devoted to Dixon’s «Anglo Celtic core culture»
project. He even mentions, reverently, in his last chapter Dixson’s book, along
with Paul Sheehan’s chauvinistic Amongst the Barbarians, as important books
to be read about the Australian future.
Dixson carries on
somewhat about an Australian «national imaginary», which she does not
spell out very clearly. In an argument I have written directed at Miriam Dixson,
I take up her idea of the «national imaginary» which isn’t intrinsically
a bad idea. I just point out that my «national imaginary» (based on
the historian«s I»ve listed above and my own experience of life) is totally different
Well, we get from
Macintyre’s Concise History something of the possible flavour of the Macintyre,
Dixson «national imaginary». The emphasis here must be placed on the
«imaginary». Macintyre produces a conservative, Anglophile history of
Australia by abolishing from the narrative, or dramatically diminishing in significance,
whole categories, classes, tribes, and major historical currents and events.
These classes of
people and events are mostly my people and events, my tribes, my class, my big
social upheavals, and once again I record my strong objection to their exclusion
from the Australian historical record.
John Howard, and
the right-wing ideologues in some of the media are currently engaged in a wide-ranging
exercise in rewriting Australian history. Howard and like-minded conservatives are
making extravagant use of British-Australia Anzac symbolism to refurbish a reactionary,
patriotic militarism, and to write out of the record past conflicts over wars and
militarism, such as the referendum defeat of conscription during the First World
War, and the ultimate rejection of the Vietnam intervention by the Australian people.
In my view, the
general thrust of Macintyre’s Concise History (with the exception of the
completely appropriate detailed attention to Aboriginal history) fits in very well
with this reactionary John Howard historical project.
The arena of history
and history teaching is inevitably fiercely ideological. One is entitled to have
whatever view one likes of events, social classes, religious groups, and other
things. What one is not, in my view, entitled to do, is abolish them entirely
from the narrative, whatever one may think of them.
An ostensible historical
narrative such as Macintyre’s Concise History, which abolishes from the
story such diverse and interesting people as John Norton, Paddy Crick, George Reid,
the Tory free trader, Bruce Smith who opposed White Australia, Peter Bowling, Jock
Garden, Eddie Ward, Lance Sharkey, Black Jack McEwan, Laurie Short, Clarrie O’Shea,
Edna Ryan, John Anderson, Murial Heagney, Jack Mundey, E. G. Theodore, Albert Tucker,
Sidney Nolan, Johnny O’Keefe and a host of others, is in my view, rather farcical.
A history that
reduces the many facets of Caroline Chisholm and her activity to the spiteful
cliche that she was primarily a moral policewoman, is sectarian and bigotted.
A history that avoids the work of all the important traditional and popular historians
mentioned in this article, possibly because they introduce too much conflict and
excitement to the narrative, is both much too right-wing, and a definite obstacle
to keeping the students in history classes awake.
For the time being,
until someone writes a new and improved entry-level textbook, people setting texts
would be well advised to continue using Russel Ward, Connell and Irving, and other
such books, rather than this extraordinary new book.
A note to Stuart
Macintyre based on a discussion with him during afternoon tea at the Labor History
I am writing this
after distributing my response to your book following your address at the Labor
History Conference in Sydney in April 2000, participating in the discussion there,
and having an exchange of views with you in the afternoon tea break.
Your first argument
was that your concise history was not intended as a textbook. Your publishers must
have other ideas, because the second page of the book has this statement:
This is a new series
of illustrated «concise histories» of selected individual countries, intended both
as university and college textbooks and as general historical introductions for
general readers, travellers and members of the business community.»
Human beings have names. Australians like names
Your second argument
related to the curious method of mentioning secondary historical players but not
naming them. You re-emphasised the strange point made in your introduction that
proper names would only confuse overseas readers, and that their use would unreasonably
pad out the book. I think both of these arguments are ludicrous.
If you gave the
proper name of every minor character in front of the description of them, it would
probably increase the size of the book about half a page, which is hardly significant,
even for the most frugal publisher.
The argument that
the addition of the name of the person would confuse overseas readers is incomprehensible
to me. Most, if not all, humans on the planet, have names, and human beings are
quite used to names. Human beings like names. In bursts of creative cultural exhuberance,
humans, particularly Australian humans, invent colourful nicknames for people,
«Pig Iron Bob», «Cocky Calwell», «Black Jack McEwan»,
If anything, mentioning
historical players without their name is likely to confuse both local and overseas
readers, particularly if you assume that many overseas readers will be developing
an interest in Australian history, and are very likely to read at least one more
book about Australia than your book.
The absence of
names in association with historical figures is likely to reduce the utility of
your narrative, and incidentally contribute to making the story more difficult,
dry and boring for the reader, whether local or overseas.
Which Australian history books are really out of print?
In relation to the
fact that you eliminated from your references and bibliography a number of important
Australian historians, particularly populist and labour historians, you argued,
in the conversation at afternoon tea, that your bibliography consisted mainly of
books that are in print and accessible.
Well, I have a
fair amount of experience as a bookseller, both new and secondhand. I don’t particularly
like being the bearer of bad tidings, but going through your bibliography carefully,
more than half of the books you mention are currently out of print, many of them
If you had included
the significant works from the major Australian historians that you ignore, the
in-print, out-of-print ratio would, in my view, not be affected at all, as quite
a few of the books you ignore are in print.
The following books
are just a random selection from your bibliography, from the majority of the
300 books listed there, which are out of print: Gavin Souter, Lion and Kangaroo.
Australia: 1901-1919, The Rise of a Nation (Sydney, William Collins, 1976);
Bill Gammage, The Broken Years: Australian Soldiers in the Great War (Ringwood,
Vic, Penguin, 1975); Lesley Johnson, The Unseen Voice: A Cultural Study of Early
Australian Radio (London, Routledge, 1988); Avner Offer, The First World
War: An Agrarian Interpretation (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1989); Robin Gerster
and Jan Bassett, Seizures of Youth: The Sixties and Australia (Melbourne,
Hyland House, 1991); Jill Julius Matthews, Good and Mad Women: The Historical
Construction of Femininity in Twentieth-Century Australia (North Sydney, Allen
and Unwin, 1984); Greg Whitwell, Making the Market: The Rise of Consumer Society
(Fitzroy, Vic, McPhee Gribble, 1989); Philip Ayres, Malcolm Fraser (Richmond,
Vic, William Heinemann, 1987).
the out-of-print books above and more than 100 others similar, it seems striking
to me that you don’t list any of the books of Shirley Fitzgerald, any of the books
of Patrick O’Farrell, any of the books of Russel Ward, any of the books of Michael
Cannon, any of the books of Robert Murray, any of the books of Vance Palmer, any
of the books of Kylie Tennant, any of the books of Humphrey McQueen, Greg Patmore’s
book on labour history, Connell and Irving on class structure in Australia, Jack
Hutson’s important source books on the arbitration system.
Despite his infuriating,
excessive use of current academic literary-theoretical devices in his narrative,
in the matter of sources, Macintyre is absurdly conservative and narrow.
The only trade union
histories mentioned, out of the 50 or 60 that now exist, are a couple of books about
the AWU. No books such as those by Mark Hearn on the Australian Railways Union,
Braden Ellem on the Clothing Trades Union, Mary Dickinson on the NSW Nurses Union,
Brad Bowden on the Transport Workers Union or Margo Beasley on the Waterside Workers
Federation, etc. etc.
In the past 30
years there has been an explosion of major works about the history of various ethnic
groups in Australia. While I don’t go quite so far as to suggest that Macintyre
should mention such culturally significant, but possibly exotic books as Sea,
Gold and Sugarcane. Finns in Australia 1851-1947 by Olavi Koivukangas, or Edward
Duyker’s book on Mauritians in Australia, one would have thought that Macintyre
might have used as sources, say, some major books on Greeks, Italians, Germans,
Maltese and Asians in Australia. But nothing like this for our Stuart.
little sporting history, almost no music history, almost no art history, little
religious history, no history of Australian films or television, very little history
of Australian literature after the 19th century, and no books pertaining to the
history of the Communist movement in Australia except the one written by Stuart
I would have thought
that Robin Gollan«s book on the Communist Party might rate a mention, or Ed Campion»s
book, Australian Catholics, or Michael Hogan’s Sectarianism, or Bede
Nairn«s book on Lang, or Lang»s own ghostwritten autobiographies, or even slight
little books like Elwyn Spratt on Eddie Ward or Colm Kiernan on Mannix, or, for
that matter, major biographies by Bob Santamaria or Niall Brennan on Archbishop
Despite the Concise
History‘s emphasis on Aboriginal affairs, Macintyre neglects to even note
the important, ground-breaking three-volume epic about Aboriginal anthropology,
by Charles Rowley, which did so much to bring the question to the attention of
the Australian public in the 1970s. I could go on and on in this vein, but it would
Stuart Macintyre’s narrow, academic range of source books
Many of the books
that Macintyre lists are far less accessible than the Australian ones he ignores.
Closer examination of the bibliography tends to sharpen the above conclusions.
Drawing on my experience
as a bookseller, a thing that strikes me forcibly is that many of the books listed
in Macintyre’s bibliography are drawn from a narrow range of academic publishers,
such as Oxford and Cambridge, which publish short runs at highish prices, and Allen
and Unwin, which publishes slightly longer runs at somewhat lower prices.
Whether in print
or out of print, these books are often fairly inaccessible to people other than
academics, particularly now that, in these times of extreme economic rationalism,
libraries ruthlessly weed their collections very fast.
The older books,
the more leftist and popular books, and other books that were published by general
publishers as popular history, even if they are out of print, are almost always
reasonably widely available secondhand, because of their initial very large sales.
Good examples of
that phenomenon are Russel Ward«s Australian Legend and Vance Palmer»s Legend
of the 90s, which Macintyre dislikes so much that he doesn’t list them in
They are actually
more accessible in bookshops than many of the books he does list.
Macintyre’s geographical bias towards Melbourne and towards
current fashions in theory and cultural history
An examination of
Macintyre’s bibliography shows several pronounced biases. A striking feature of
the bibliography is a strong representation of what is now called «theory»
and «cultural history», and a sharp bias against popular history, public
There is also a
bias in favour of what I might call tenured university academic history.
There is a very
strong geographical bias towards Melbourne and Adelaide. The further history producers
get from these Agoras of the South, the less significance is ascribed to them
by Stuart Macintyre.
There is a strong
bibliographical bias against labour history, ethnic history (other than Aboriginal),
and religious history. The Catholics are eliminated from the narrative, most populism
and rebellion also.
What you get is
a combination of the aforesaid «cultural history» as the «left»,
and academic official history, as both the «left», and the «right»,
of Macintyre’s discourse.
All the populist
and Marxist participants in the, apparently now past, debate on class (other than
Macintyre himself) are airbrushed out of history, almost as systematically as
Stalin’s captive historians used to airbrush Trotsky out of Soviet history. What
we are left with is a very dull, Anglophile, official history of Australia from
which most of the Sturm and Drang, and other excitements and turmoils, have been
Stuart Macintyre’s intellectual odyssey
This argument with
Stuart Macintyre has, in fact, become a bit personal for me, based to some extent
on my intellectual disappointment in him. For many years I did not know Macintyre
from the proverbial bar of soap. I remembered him vaguely from a distance, at a
couple of radical conferences or assemblies in the 1970s.
I remember reading
self-confidently ultraleft interventions under his byline in internal Communist
Party discussion bulletins and leftist journals that came my way back then. I had
very little sympathy with the Left Tendency in the Communist Party, of which Macintyre
was a part, and its Althusserian rhetorical leftist ultimatism. Their standpoint
seemed to me quite remote from any realistic Marxism that could be applied to
the problems of the Australian labour movement.
Later on, I became
rather more aware of Macintyre’s historical work and I was excited by one of his
two early books, A Proletarian Science (Cambridge University Press 1980),
which was an intellectual history of the influence of Marxism on the working-class
founders of the British Communist Party. In this book, Macintyre uniquely developed
a study of the phenomenon of autodidact proletarian intellectuals and their encounter
with Marxism, and the extraordinary way that this encounter dominated the life of
the early British Communist Party.
It struck me at
the time how applicable this was to the Australian Communist Party, the early
Trotskyist movement in Australia, and indeed the Australian labour movement as a
whole, because similar working class autodidacts were the overwhelmingly dominant
ideological force in the Australian labour movement until very recently.
His other early
book, Little Moscows (Croom Helm 1980), a study of some isolated working
class communities in Britain, where the Communist Party had been uniquely influential,
I found also quite interesting, although Macintyre’s tendency to view those places
and events as a kind of Marxist antiquarian was already apparent in this book, and
in retrospect foreshadowed his later shift to the right politically.
His earliest Australian
book, written when he was getting his academic start in Australia, in Perth, his
very fine The Life and Times of Paddy Troy (1984), is about the quintessential
Australian Communist autodidact trade union official.
Some of Macintyre’s
later Australian books, such as A Colonial Liberalism: The Lost World of Three
Victorian Visionaries (1991, and The Labour Experiment (1988), Macintyre’s
own book on the early development of the arbitration system, are extremely useful.
One thing that
flows from my knowledge of his early work is that it does not seem reasonable to
pass over the thrust and orientation of his recent and more reactionary books, The
Reds, the Oxford Companion, and the Concise History, with the
ideological let-out that he may not know any better. Several historians with whom
I have discussed the book have agreed that some of my major criticisms of the Concise
History have merit, but they have contended that the more obvious explanation
for many of the omissions I have raised is that Stuart Macintyre may have written
this book in something of a hurry, largely with the assistance of research staff,
after possibly being approached by the publishers with the idea that, as Ernest
Scott Professor, it would be appropriate to produce his own Short History,
as a kind of seal of academic eminence.
Even if this were
so, I contend that the finished product represents Macintyre’s view of what a Concise
History of Australia ought to be, and therefore it must be criticised in detail
by those who have different ideas about what an accurate narrative would be in a
useful Concise History.
Macintyre’s political encounter with Stalinism
early work showed considerable evidence of the dramatic impact on him of the
1960s 70s radicalisation, which picked up this product of the important establishment
school, Scotch College, with his conservative background, and initial patrician
introspection and diffidence, and thrust him into an encounter with the left wing
of the labour movement.
that encounter was with the degenerate Stalinist and Althusserian wing of the movement.
In retrospect, in trying to explain why this bloke, whose early books were so useful,
has become such an intellectual obstacle to the practice of a popular Australian
history, I advance the following possible explanation.
that interacted with the more traditional Stalinism in the decaying Communist Party,
where Macintyre got his initial miseducation in Marxism, had some particular idiosyncracies.
The old Australian
Stalinist Party had developed a certain sectarian animosity to Catholics by reason
of its long conflict with them in the labour movement. It also had a rather Stalinist,
jealous hostility to all past labourite populism, particularly Langism, because
of its fierce competition with such currents, particularly when aggressive High
Stalinism was young, and populist Langism was at its peak in the 1930s.
to have taken over all of these Stalinist prejudices wholesale, and they appear
to have intertwined with his ancestral, conservative, Melbourne establishment,
British-Scottish prejudices, probably repressed but possibly still active in his
In recent times,
all these accumulated prejudices appear to me to have come into play as his political,
social and cultural views have shifted steadily back to the right in this period
of episodic cultural and political reaction (which won’t be permanent, in my view,
and will inevitably be followed by new radicalisations).
It seems to me
that in Macintyre’s current historical efforts, both his early Melbourne establishment
cultural formation and his middle period of Stalinist training, are involved. He
tends to adapt the historical story to the concerns of the Anglophile section of
the ruling class and intelligentsia, to smooth out all the past episodes of populism,
and gloss over the past rebellions.
He gets rid of
the past sectarian conflicts, presents a rather assimilationist perspective towards
recent migrants, introduces a few fashionable «leftist» cultural postures,
and drags in a bit of Stalinist nostalgia to represent the radical past.
All of this fits
in pretty well with his current situation as Dean of Arts, powerful figure in the
Melbourne University History Department, intellectual mover and shaker among the
more conservative sections of the Labor Party leadership, and ministerial appointee
to the committee overseeing David Kemp’s Curriculum Corporation in its revision
of the history syllabus of many Australian schools.
All his background
and experiences, both from his establishment origins and his middle period of encounter
with Stalinism, equip him rather well for these current roles. I wasn’t particularly
surprised, from this point of view, when he inferred in his lecture at the Sydney
Labor History Conference, that he had voted no in the recent Republic Referendum.
I’m angry with
Macintyre, because, as he has shifted to the right, he seems to have forgotten
the useful things he discovered writing the Paddy Troy biography and A Proletarian
Science, and it seems that the prejudice and cultural mystification built into
the establishment tradition from which he came, and the Stalinist movement where
he received his initial political miseducation in Stalinist Marxism, have come
together to profoundly influence his historical activity.
Stuart Macintyre’s grey armband history: «cultural history»,
very little human sympathy, and a general absence of dialectics
In the magazine,
Overland, of May 1989, there is a full-page review by Stuart Macintyre of
Russel Ward’s important autobiography A Radical Life. The tone of this review
is respectful and includes the following: «Finally, there is the story of
how Russel Ward came to write The Australian Legend, that seminal codification
of the national past… The Australian Legend distilled these experiences
and explored their historical genesis, establishing Russel Ward as a leading member
of what is called the Old Left. His leftism was real and passionate, and the scars
left by victimisation are apparent as he rehearses his experiences at the hands
of the cold warriors of the University of NSW. The book concludes with his appointment
to the University of New England; the radical life continues.»
It is useful to
consider the context of this courteous and intelligent review. Macintyre’s views
had obviously not evolved so far to the right on historical matters as they have
now. Macintyre then was more junior on the academic historical ladder, and Russel
Ward was regarded quite rightly as a major Australian left democratic historian,
at the height of his literary and historical powers.
In other articles
around that time Macintyre repeated this kind of positive appraisal of The Australian
Legend, which he had so harshly criticised in the 1970s. In the intervening
decade between 1989 and 1999, the intellectual climate in Australian historiography
has shifted to the right, Macintyre himself being one of the significant influences
in that shift. All the radical democratic leftist historians whom Macintyre so
condescendingly dismisses as the Old Left, except Robin Gollan, are now deceased,
and obviously can’t argue back without the use of a oiuja board, and Macintyre
no longer proclaims himself as the representative of the New Left, as he once did.
Sniffing this colder,
more reactionary atmosphere in Australian history, which he helped create, Macintyre
now returns to pretty much what he said in the 1970s, expressed in a more radically
conservative way. In his Concise History, on page 219, Macintyre writes:
As before, when
confronted with the failure of millennial expectations, the left retreated into
a nostalgic idealisation of national traditions. Its writers, artists and historians
turned from the stultifying conformity of the suburban wilderness to the memories
of an older Australia that was less affluent and more generous, less gullible and
more vigilant of its liberties, less timorous and more independent. In works such
as The Australian Tradition (1958), The Australian Legend (1958) and
The Legend of the Nineties (1954), the radical nationalists reworked the
past (they passed quickly over the militarism and xenophobia in the national experience)
to assist them in their present struggles. Try as they might to revive these traditions,
the elegaic note was clear. The radical nationalists codified the legend of laconic,
egalitarian, stoical mateship just as modernising forces of change were erasing
the circumstances that had given rise to that legend. While the radical romance
faded, the conservative courtship of national sentiment prospered.
The pompous tone
of the above speaks for itself. The authors of these influential books, Russel
Ward, Vance Palmer and A.A. Phillips, are neither named, nor are their books mentioned,
in Macintyre’s bibliography or index.
They are treated
by the overweening Macintyre as disembodied examples of a cultural trend, rather
than, as they then were, living breathing historians, with a point of view of some
importance. In retrospect, the working class solidarity that they «elegaicly»
celebrated wasn’t nearly as extinct as Macintyre claims.
1960s and 1970s were in fact a period of constant improvement in working class
wages and conditions, achieved, in the framework of the so called postwar settlement,
by the well tried, and long practiced means of working class and trade union agitation.
This involved sporadic use of industrial action combined with judicious exploitation
of the arbitration mechanisms by unions.
of working class living standards, which were quite spectacular, were also advanced
by the conflict and competition between left and right in the labour movement for
support, which resulted in both general factions, in their own particular ways,
pushing for and achieving steady incremental improvements for the working class.
The high point of
this process was a result of the elimination of the penal clauses after the O’Shea
upheaval in 1969, which led directly to the dramatic explosion of improvements in
wages and conditions between 1972 and 1982 (which infuriated the Australian bourgeoisie).
ignores this development, or even suggests it was not a good thing, in his implicit
proposition that the postwar settlement was unsustainable. The few times when Macintyre’s
own, rather dry, prose becomes anything like elegaic, are when he is implicitly
celebrating the end of the postwar settlement with the advent of globalisation,
accords and deregulation of the financial system during the period of the Hawke
and Keating governments.
«Cultural studies» meets and mates with conservative
academic history, to produce a kind of mule: grey armband history
Like many other
literate Australians I have gradually become enraged at the disdainful, dismissive,
half-smart, supercilious tone of much of what is called, these days «cultural
useful book, The Killing of History, (which Macintyre wisely ignores both
in the Concise History and the bibliography), expresses in its title one
of the main aspects of this cultural phenomenon.
The abstruse nature
of a lot of «cultural studies», combined with the contemptuous tone often
adopted towards popular culture and many other human activities, is a contributing
factor to a decline in the number of students studying disciplines such as history,
in which «cultural studies» is now so influential.
I don’t want to
go overboard in this criticism of «cultural studies» and «gender
studies», as a number of books and articles written in this idiom are both
civilised and useful, for example, Raelene Francis’s book, The Politics of Work
in Victoria, 1880-1940 (Cambridge University Press, Sydney, 1993), Peter Spearritt
and David Walker«s Australian Popular Culture, Bruce Scates»s A New Australia,
about the 1890s, and many others. Nevertheless, it seems to me that many books and
articles in this area are abstract and trivial and contemptuous of popular social
practices, and that unfortunately this mode is coming to dominate these two fields.
From the political
right (John Howard, Michael Duffy and others) there is another kind of attack on
Australian history, which deliberately makes an amalgam between cultural studies
and important critical historians such as Henry Reynolds, Robert Hughes and others,
and condemns all critical history wholesale: the very useful with the totally useless,
accusing them all of producing «black armband history».
This attack by
reactionaries such as Howard is assisted by the absurdist quality of much cultural
studies in the field of history. In the interests of intellectual clarity and re-establishing
Australian popular history in its proper critical role, I think it important to
make a new distinction between the important «black armband» historians,
such as Henry Reynolds, Robert Hughes, Manning Clark and Russel Ward, who make an
enormous positive contribution to Australian culture, and another, more negative
genre, to which I now officially give the title «grey armband historians».
The bloodline of
grey armband history is conservative British-Australian official history as the
stallion, with the most dismissive sort of cultural studies as the mare. Macintyre
is the obvious candidate for major eminent person and head of the field in this
significant new genre.
How grey armband history works
Concise History is a very instructive example of this new discipline, and
how it is organised and constructed. Its intellectual antecedents include books
like Ronald Conway«s The Great Australian Stupor and Jonathan King»s Waltzing
Materialism, which were best-sellers a few years ago.
These books’ unifying
feature was a wholesale assault on the cultural and social practices of Australians,
both working class and middle class, with an implicit standpoint derived from high
culture, eternal verities and a uniformly unpleasant carping tone in their attacks
on the allegedly fatally materialistic stream of Australian life.
Much of the cultural
studies idiom in Australian history has taken over the standpoint and style of
those two books in spades. The tone throughout Macintyre’s Short History
is, most of the time, distainful, grand and supercilious, particularly when discussing
ordinary people’s social practices and social life.
to this emphasis are when Macintyre is discussing, rather reverently, the unifying
nature of Anzac during the First World War, and the «modernising» activities
of the Hawke and Keating governments.
This posture is
adopted particularly sharply in relation to fields such as agriculture, the Snowy
Scheme, current mass migration, manufacturing industry, the postwar social and economic
settlement, «elegaic» attachment to working class solidarity in the
style of Russel Ward, and almost anything else that interferes with this Macintyre-Dixson
version of modernising bourgeois British-Australia, with its naturally hegemonic
«Anglo-Celtic core culture».
It is hardly necessary
to point out how well this historical style and construction fits in, generally,
with the perceived interests and strategic orientations of major fractions of
the ruling class in rapidly «globalising» modern Australia.
of conservative British-Australia academic history with cultural studies produces
an offspring in which the bad genes of both parents predominate.
Macintyre and racism
face of Macintyre’s construction is a constant stress on past racist and sexist
practices, particularly of the working class. In this way he makes ritual obeisance
to the mood prevailing in the currently fashionable and powerful cultural studies
and gender studies academic territories.
In discussing past
racism and sexism, however, Macintyre rarely notes the activities of many minorities
that have fought, often ultimately successfully, against racism and sexism. An exception
to this neglect is when he ascribes the only important past activity against anti-Aboriginal
racism to the Communist Party, which is really a quite unbalanced approach.
is peppered with all sorts of radical and religious groups and individuals who
fought against racism. For the 19th century this is documented thoroughly in Henry
Reynolds’ most recent book, This Whispering in Our Hearts.
airbrushing out of almost all of the minorities that fought against racism tends
to make the eventual overthrow of the White Australia Policy, and the legal removal
of the bars to many Aboriginal rights, mysterious and inexplicable in his narrative,
but it is entirely consistent with his dismissiveness towards most Australian popular
Macintyre and the struggle for women’s rights
treatment of sexism and the struggle for women’s emancipation is worthy of note.
He adopts the currently fashionable standpoint of some conservative feminists
by giving extended recognition and praise to the 19th century temperance movement.
He notes the fact
that Australian women got the vote in all states and the Commonwealth well before
the rest of the world, but he hardly notices the fact that this was a direct product
of the broad struggle in the Australian colonies for basic democratic rights,
spearheaded in this instance by Australian feminists but largely accepted and even
supported by civilised forces among Australian men.
and important political fact about women’s rights in Australia does not prevent
Macintyre from asserting a generally gloomy, rather inaccurate, but currently fashionable,
proposition that Australia was more or less universally sexist in the past.
Needless to say,
he pays no recognition to Portia Robinson’s The Women of Botany Bay, an important
work on convict women, and Grace Karskens’ useful book, The Rocks: Life in Early
Sydney (Melbourne University Press, 1997, ISBN 0-522-84722-6), both of which
illustrate the way many convict women managed to improve their situation and assert
their independence, and were by no means the totally hopeless, hapless victims
that many historical narratives present them as.
blandly ascribes the achievement of equal pay for equal work for women to a ruling
by the Arbitration Commission, ignoring the long popular movement, led mainly
by women in the trade unions, that produced that Arbitration Court determination.
The lifelong agitation
and effective organisation of trade unionists such as Muriel Heagney and Edna
Ryan for equal pay and equal rights for women is abolished from Macintyre’s narrative.
This long struggle of women in Australia for equality and full social and economic
rights, therefore tends to disappear against a backdrop of more or less universal
the past, it is obvious that a lot of people were racist and sexist a lot of the
time. What was significant and exceptional about the Australian experience, however,
was the earliness of major achievements, such as the uniquely early achievement
of votes for women, and the establishment of child endowment in the Lang period
in New South Wales.
Despite the culturally
prevailing sexism, material achievements such as this shifted the social norms
dramatically and laid the basis for further improvements in women’s rights and expectations,
which ought to produce a more favourable assessment of past gains for women in Australia.
Not so for our Stuart.
In the Concise
History, official history out of cultural studies produces a very gloomy version
of past women’s struggles, which precludes much optimism in his concluding chapter
about future improvements for women.
Macintyre isn’t too keen on explorers
In Quadrant last
year, there appeared an important and very detailed article on current educational
problems by the disenchanted leftist, and now rather conservative educational historian,
Alan Barcan. This article was an overview of the crisis in curriculum that has emerged
in Australian education, particularly the teaching of history.
Some parts of Barcan’s
critique are useful and correct. One of his points with which I agree is that omitting
from the history curriculum many of the basic historical facts that used to be
taught is a big practical mistake. For instance, the exploration of Australia was
part of the British imperial conquest of these colonies, but it was also an intrinsically
important part of the historical record.
In his careful,
ritual obeisance to cultural studies, Macintyre, however, follows the current fashion.
Many of the explorers are eliminated from his narrative. No Hume and Hovell, no
Edward John Eyre, etc, etc.
A populist or leftist
Australian history could easily mention Eyre’s discoveries and then make a point
about British imperialism by mentioning in passing the barbarous aspects of his
later career as governor of Jamaica, where he judicially murdered part of the population
of a rebellious village.
None of this kind
of thing for Macintyre, either the naming of most of the explorers, or the opportunity
for the exposure of British imperialism.
of Macintyre’s book is its careful middle-of-the-road character in its mating official
history with cultural studies. All the populist historians I have mentioned at
length here are left out, but so are the most extreme, but rather significant and
influential postmodernists writing in Australian history.
Debates about Australian
history don«t make it into Macintyre»s narrative either. Postmodernists such as
Greg Dening, who wrote Mr Bligh’s Bad Language, and Paul Carter, who wrote
The Road to Botany Bay, irritate me with their extreme cultural studies
style and analysis, but nevertheless there is no question that they are extremely
influential in current Australian historiography. To leave them and their books
out of the narrative and the bibliography, as Macintyre does, is almost as intellectually
unbalanced as leaving out Russel Ward, Brian Fitzpatrick or Black Jack McEwan.
Macintyre is clearly
trying to stake out an extremely conservative, centre ground, for his grey armband
history, consolidating the major recognised conservative academic historians in
a narrative and alliance with the more conservative practitioners of cultural
studies, to produce a new academic orthodoxy.
The problem with
this Macintyre academic orthodoxy is that it is almost unrecognisable as useful
Science. Macintyre ditches dialectics. Rather conservative politics, little
religion, and almost no sex
A close friend of
mine who was brought up in a middle-class, conservative Protestant family environment
often jokes, that in that social environment the basic rule of etiquette was that
politics, religion and sex were not discussed in polite society, and this social
code was quite frequently expressed explicitly in just those words.
In my view, Macintyre
has managed to observe a fair part of this convention in his Concise History.
Some politics are mentioned, but they are pretty, high politics with very
little radical dissent recognised. There is almost no religion in the narrative,
and I couldn’t find much sex.
suffers from a lack of robust dialectical juxtaposition of people and events. What
I mean by this statement can be illuminated by comparing Macintyre to a range of
other historians as diverse as Robin Gollan, Susanna Short, Robert Murray, Shirley
Fitzgerald and Michael Cannon. With different standpoints, Marxist, left liberal,
and conservative, all these historians produce powerfully interesting social history
by proceeding in what Marxists generally describe as a dialectical way. They treat
conflicting social groups and historical actors as important in their own right,
try to describe how those people saw the world, and describe, in a warm-hearted
way, the conflicts between these individuals and social groups.
and Michael Cannon, describing social developments, urban history and economic
developments from a generally left liberal point of view, often including a fair
bit of muck-raking, still ascribe, even to people that they criticise, a certain
integrity and autonomy, and even when they are discussing such chaotic events as
the pell mell development of Sydney, or the 1890s crash in Victoria, capture something
of the human enthusiasms of all the players involved, without too much moralism.
Susanna Short, in
her incomparable biography of her father, Laurie Short, gives a careful and interesting
account of both her old man’s outlook at each stage in his contradictory development,
and something of the outlook of all the different conflicting groups, the Stalinists,
the Trotskyists, the Catholic Groupers, the ordinary Laborites and Langites, etc.
These people really come to life in Susanna’s book.
In my view, Bob
Gollan’s book on the Communist Party, Revolutionaries and reformists: Communism
and the Australian Labour Movement (Melbourne University Press, 1975) is infinitely
superior to Macintyre’s longer Communist Party history. A Communist himself, Gollan,
as a vantage point for understanding the history of the Communist Party, counterposes
to the CPA’s own view of itself the standpoint of the Trotskyists and the Catholics
who were in conflict with it, which illuminates his narrative immensely.
Bob Murray, who
is a right-winger in his basic political outlook, has written three very important
books of Australian history, The Split, about the ALP split in the
1950s, The Ironworkers about the history of that union, and his delightful
book The Confident Years, Australia in the 1920s.
distances his own views from his account of the events he describes and goes to
considerable pains to describe the interaction between the interests and point of
view of all the players, large and small, in the historical dramas he is recounting.
It’s worth just giving the chapter headings of The Confident Years: Fit
for Heroes, The Political World of Billy Hughes, Post-war Labor,
The Big Fella, Packer, Murdoch, Fairfax and Co, Bruce-Page Australia,
The Golden Years, After the Bulletin, Workers and Bosses, Countdown
Robert Murray as a dialectician
though he may be, but Murray’s way of proceeding seems, to this Marxist, to be impecably
dialectical, and an extremely useful way to write Australian history.
benefits from a certain enthusiasm for Australian economic development and a knack
for writing entertaining social and economic history. He gives a very thorough account
of economic and social developments: how many cars were registered, how many people
went to the movies, the growth of manufacturing industry, that sort of thing, in
a way that meshes in very well with the overall thrust of the book.
Years is a very counterpoint to Macintyre’s cultural
studies approach to writing Australian history, particularly when you compare Macintyre’s
handling of the 1920s with Murray’s.
that Macintyre ignores is popular history. Macintyre’s historical scholarship might
benefit from a bit of research into the 60 year-old, seven-day-a-week historical
features in the reactionary Sydney tabloid, The Telegraph Mirror. These
historical features have often been a good deal more radical than the implacably
reactionary content of the rest of the newspaper and, particularly recently, they
have been a rather good example of how to present history in a popular and discursive
way for a broad audience.
The people and events
covered in these useful historical features almost never make it into Macintyre’s
dry account. Monica Heary, who frequently writes these features, recently wrote
a very useful article about the internal political conflicts in Australia during
the First World War, which left Macintyre’s account of these events for dead.
She used roughly
the same number of words Macintyre devoted to this topic in his book. Monica Heary,
the busy features journalist, writing to a deadline every day, nevertheless succeeded
in working into her narrative the General Strike of 1917 and the release of the
IWW frame-up victims thanks to Percy Brookfield’s use of his balance of power in
the Parliament. Obviously, this is partly because newspaper history writing involves
looking for exciting and important events to move the narrative along.
writing might benefit from studying this Telegraph-Mirror historiographical
school and going back through the historical features morgue of the Telegraph
In the 1970s we
had the «debate on class». In the year 2000 we desperately need the
«debate on Australian history».
In the introduction
to his Concise History, Macintyre proudly proclaims that the Australian
Research Council gave him a grant to write the book, and it’s clear from the considerable
power that he now holds as Dean of Arts, Ernest Scott Professor, member of the
Vice-Chancellor’s Committee of Melbourne University, and historical adviser to one
of Federal Minister David Kemp’s committees, that Stuart Macintyre is now an enormously
influential intellectual figure in the organisation and teaching of Australian
It would be naive
to think that, in the full plenitude of this power and influence, he did not write
this book in the expectation and hope of it becoming a kind of new orthodoxy.
The careful way
in which it is organised, drawing together conservative historiography and
«cultural studies» in a kind of grey Anglo middle ground, indicates
the kind of historical orthodoxy which Macintyre wishes to lay out for us and obviously
desires to predominate.
In the conversation
at afternoon tea at the Labor History Conference, Macintyre made a fourth point
to me, a point he has made on several other occasions.
He claimed that,
in his history teaching, he finds that undergraduates don’t seem initially to
know very much about past Australian history, and that because of this you end up
with a better teaching result if you do not overburden them with relatively unimportant
details, such as names, explorers and superseded conflicts.
to indicate that, as we live in a globalising world, we should dispense with many
of the past complications, and look boldly towards the homogenised future. He seems
to think this is what the young expect of us. He summarises this outlook in the
last, rather self-serving paragraph of the acknowledgements in the Concise History:
The book is aimed
also at a younger generation of Australians who are poorly served by a school curriculum
in which history has become a residual. I have dedicated it to my two daughters,
born in England, raised in Australia, who have too often had their father play
the pedagogue and all along have been instructing him in their interests and concerns.
In my view, Macintyre
uses the historical interests of his daughters as a surrogate for his own deliberate
and considered historical conservatism. In the course of running my up, middle and
down-market bookshop, in Newtown in inner-urban Sydney, I come into constant contact
with many of everybody’s sons and daughters, at least the sons and daughters who
come into bookshops.
I find the variety
of their historical interests and concerns far wider than those Macintyre encounters,
according to his description in the Concise History. Many of these people
are the children of migrants from many countries, or migrants themselves.
I recently had
for sale in my shop, as a cheap publisher’s remainder, a rather good book on the
history of Greeks in Australia. It sold extremely well and generated considerable
interest among younger Greek Australians.
Barry York’s book
on the Maltese in Australia sold very well also, often to people of Maltese background.
Eric Rolls’s book on the Chinese in Australia sells extremely well to young Chinese.
None of those books, or any other books about the history of non-British migrants
in Australia, got any significant recognition in Macintyre’s history or made it
into his bibliography.
Macintyre’s self-fulfilling prophecy about young people and
In my experience
as a bookseller, our robust Australian multiculture, and continuing mass migration,
about both of which Macintyre’s Concise History is so elegantly sceptical,
are generating considerable interest in the history of past diversity and conflict
these are just the elements that Macintyre tends to filter out of his historical
narrative, as they are, he seems to suggest, of little interest to the young.
In my view, the
opposite holds. If we don’t have a proper historical grounding in our past conflicts
and turmoils, how can we possibly understand the future? There is nothing quite
like conflict and argument to gain the attention of people reading history.
heavily on the unconvincing proposition that the young are not too interested in
history. Well, it is true that the numbers studying history at a secondary and
tertiary level have dropped. That is far more a product of unwise past decisions
and present practices in relation to curriculum in schools and universities, and
the way history is taught, than to any intrinsic lack of interest in Australian
to the teaching of history to the young is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Unless we
teach students about all the complexities of the Australian saga, in an interesting,
quirky and sympathetic way, of course they will be bored by Australian history and
won’t tackle it.
If you present it
to them in the bland and boring way that Macintyre tends to do, you will actually
accelerate the process of decline in scholastic interest in Australian history.
I believe strongly that the way to revive Australian history as a discipline is
to include a colourful and entertaining description and celebration of past conflicts
and diversity, and an intelligent observation of the contradictory and complex
present, to allow a colourful and interesting future history the possibility to
What strikes me
about Macintyre’s approach, both in the book, and summarised in the paragraph at
the end of the acknowledgements, is how old-fashioned his approach is. It is the
kind of historical approach that prevailed in Australian history teaching until
about the middle 1960s, and his Concise History could easily have been
written by a modern day version of Stephen Roberts.
My interest in Australian
history grew out of an encounter with the clandestine Catholic and Marxist versions
of Australian and world history that challenged the bland, triumphalist Anglo-British,
Stephen Roberts version of Australia of the 1950s, and if we have to commence again
teaching history in that slightly clandestine way, that’s the way the cookie crumbles,
and a new generation will have to learn how to effectively challenge the powerful
big guys like Stuart Macintyre.
and agressive way Stuart Macintyre feels he can present his conservative Concise
History as the basis for a new orthodoxy in Australian historiography actually
presents both a challenge and an opportunity.
Those who wish
for a more truthful, populist, Marxist, Catholic and radical Australian history
to expand and develop, and to be taught to the young at all levels, ought to grasp
this opportunity with both hands. We should broaden out the uncompleted, debate
on class of the 1970s into a fuller and broader debate on Australian history,
challenging the outlook of Macintyre, John Howard, Michael Duffy, Miriam Dixson
and their like.
In such a proper
debate, conducted in a sensible way among civilised writers and consumers of history,
both old and young, my money is on the clandestine and radical Australian historical
tradition, which I celebrate in this article, to prevail.
A further comment,
based on letters I solicited, criticising my document, from Stuart Macintyre and
I have corrected,
in this version, certain errors of spelling, formulation and fact raised in letters
kindly sent to me by the above, commenting on my piece.
I have left unchanged
several points to which they objected because their objections seemed to me to
not be soundly based. For instance, Stuart Macintyre says:
I do not attribute
the fall of the Lang government to a split in the Labor Party. Nor do I treat
the Hawke government with reverence. The question of reverence for the Hawke government
is a matter of opinion.
In my view, after
rereading the last section of the book, this reverence still seems clear to me.
The point about Lang is quite explicit. On page 177, Macintyre writes:
brought down State Labor governments in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
It could hardly
be clearer than that: the Lang government was the only state Labor government in
NSW in the period he is discussing. Bob Gollan and Stuart Macintyre both criticise
my piece for highlighting the question of Macintyre’s presence on the Government
curriculum committee. (I initially confused the Curriculum Committee with its subordinate
body, the Curriculum Corporation, and I have corrected this after Stuart Macintyre
brought this confusion to my attention)
I am not opposed,
in principle, to Macintyre or anybody else accepting an appointment on Kemp’s committee.
If I was offered a place on Kemp’s committee, which is unlikely, I would probably
accept the appointment on condition that I could fight vigorously on that committee
for the views that I hold, which is, of course, the reason that I’d be unlikely
to be appointed, although stranger things have happened.
I underline the
fact that Stuart Macintyre holds these various positions because it seems relevant
in the context of the views that he appears to now hold, and that having these
views he may well be a further force for conservatism in these areas of his extended
influence, which is sad.
Bob Gollan responds
on the question of sectarianism and the significance of the Irish Catholics, which
is to me one of the most important issues in dispute between me and Macintyre. He
But I am reminded
that my old colleague Jim Griffin, who first rang the church bells about this book,
has a fixation on the Catholic Church and community.
He also says:
I do find it difficult
to enter a discussion in which Manning Clark, Russel Ward, Brian Fitzpatrick, Ian
Turner and Eris O’Brien are put in the same basket. For example, one of the most
intemperate critics of Brian Fitzpatrick was Manning Clark.
of the above historians, as in retrospect clearly representing a populist, democratic
school of Australian historiography, is quite deliberate. Whatever the differences
that existed between them, they all eventually came to a relative commonality of
interests and preoccupations on many questions.
Among the key questions
that confronted them all eventually were the development of class and the emergence
of a labour movement, the discordant and oppositional role of the Irish Catholics
in relation to the British establishment in Australia, the enormous question of
race and genocide involved in the dispossession of the original Aboriginal nation
inhabiting the continent, and the question of racism, the White Australia Policy,
and migration in general.
Most of these historians
began their inquiry by confronting the bitter sectarian division that existed in
Australian society from the time of white settlement between the Irish Catholics
and the British ruling class (from whose ranks most of these historians themselves
given his establishment Anglican background, being a direct descendent of Samuel
Marsden, is obviously fascinated by these questions.
Russel Ward, in
his autobiography (he had a similar Protestant establishment background to Clark)
points out that these cultural conflicts dominated his early social and personal
evolution. (Ward’s autobiography includes a moving vignette describing a visit
to Australia by R. H. Tawney, the notable English Christian socialist who wrote
the ground-breaking Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, and the interesting
and useful cross-fertilisation that took place between himself, Manning Clark, Eris
O’Brien, R. H. Tawney and other historians during that visit. That vignette seems
to me to symbolise the drawing together of the left democratic school in Australian
historiography in that generation)
Rodney Hall’s biography
of John Manifold describes Manifold’s inquiry into the Irish origins of the ballads
and a painful and confronting element stemming from his Victorian Western District
The story is similar
with Rupert Lockwood, also of Victorian Western District establishment background.
Lockwood’s encounter with the oppositional role of Irish Catholics was clearly a
significant part of his development, along with his involvement with the Communist
Party. It’s not accidental that both these Communists, who came from the Anglo
ruling class of the Western District, and were converted to Communism in the upheavals
of the 1930s, were fascinated by the interface between Irish Catholic Australians,
the labour movement and socialism.
The Western District
of Victoria had a much higher concentration of Irish Catholic settlers than most
other parts of Victoria. In the early years of the labour movement, culminating
in the conscription upheavals, these Irish Catholics were in an extremely radical
frame of mind. They elected the Labor candidate, the Scottish socialist and poet
John McDougall, as the first federal member for Wannon, later Malcolm Fraser’s
stronghold, in the first election after Federation.
of Irish Catholics, and sharpened by the conscription struggle, the Western District
remained a Labor stronghold until the disastrous Labor Split of 1955, when many
Labor supporters of Irish Catholics descent shifted over electorally to the
DLP, and eventually to the Nationals.
During the White
Guard paramilitary mobilisation during the Depression, the White Guard in the Western
District was preparing to occupy all the Catholic churches and schools as well as
trade union headquarters to prevent revolution. This is all described at length
in a useful article in Labor History 10 years ago, and it’s also studied
from another direction, in Paul Adams’ recent study of the Communist novelist,
Frank Hardy, who was of working-class Catholic background and came from Bacchus
Marsh, in the Western District.
Nothing in life
and society is ever lost, and the seat of Mildura, in north-western Victoria has
recently come back into play, being lost by the Nationals to one of the three independents
who just put the Bracks Labor government into power in Victoria.
which neglects the complex and varied impact of the Irish Catholics on Australian
history and the labour movement, is very poverty-striken and narrow.
of the Irish Catholics in Australian life is also described in Bernard Smith’s important
autobiography, in which he describes how he wavered between the Catholic Church
and the Communist Party before eventually joining the CP.
The striking thing
about the British establishment’s initial school of Australian historiography,
represented by Ernest Scott, Arnold Wood, Arthur Jose and all the other Whig writers
of school and university history textbooks, before the cultural revolution of
the 1950s and 1960s, was the doggedly ruthless way they eliminated the Irish Catholics,
the labour movement, and matters such as the battles over conscription and Langism,
from their narratives.
the painful, moving and interesting way in which people like Russel Ward, Manning
Clark, Rupert Lockwood and Bernard Smith came to terms with these past cultural
developments and introduced into the story these major players was a big leap in
revisionism, in which he reverts to the 19th century Whig elimination of major
historical actors and currents in his historical story, must be contested in the
interests of a comprehensive and balanced historical narrative.
adherence to the Whig school of Australian historiography is demonstrated negatively
by his elimination from his narrative of all the issues and individuals and events
that I have enumerated above, and positively by his obvious animosity to the earlier
school of populist democratic, leftist, Catholic Australian historians.
It is also demonstrated
by his deliberate repetition of the bigotted, religiously based bias against Caroline
In my view, Macintyre’s
narrative represents the Whig school of Australian-British establishment history,
modernised, with a dash of Stalinism, and one major progressive innovation, a lengthy
and quite proper attention to Aboriginal history.
In my view, Macintyre’s
glib elimination of the Irish Catholic other in the 19th century, and his cursory
treatment of the huge mass migration since the 1940s that has totally changed
the ethnic make-up of Australia, are both unscientific. He treats these issues as
if they were insignificant side-shows.
This is an almost
terminal defect in any Concise History of Australia. Such a history can
be any length you like (within reason), but I would favour a concise history about
100 pages longer, with the additions including a more lengthy and more balanced
account of the development of the labour movement and class conflict, and major
attention to the oppositional role of the Irish Catholics.
I would also include
a celebratory and more detailed account of the development of mass migration from
all areas of the globe, which commenced in the teeth of the British Australia racism
of the 19th century and continues now, when all the other tribes beneath the wind
are now a comfortable majority of Australian society, and multiculturalism, for
all its defects at the official level, is now the thoroughly healthy prevailing
ethos in Australian society.