I know it’s become hackneyed, overused, and almost now cliché, but the following political slogan—by ‘The Party’— from George Orwell’s dystopian classic, 1984, is just pertinent as ever:
Who controls the past, controls the future.
Who controls the present, controls the past.
Just consider the latest example of Newspeak, currently being taught—and subsequently enforced—by the University of NSW clarifying the officially approved use of “Indigenous Terminology”.
The sole reference work here is the truly Orwellian titled: “Using the right words: appropriate terminology for Indigenous Australian studies”, in Teaching the Teachers: Indigenous Australian Studies for Primary Pre-Service Teacher Education, School of Teacher Education, University of New South Wales, 1996.
Conveniently, words are divided into two categories of “appropriate” and “less appropriate” (if you thought the alternate category was going to be “inappropriate” then that just shows how out of date your edition of Newspeak is). Here’s a sample of what they suggest:
Appropriate Less Appropriate
Settlement Invasion / Colonisation / Occupation
Invasion history Pre-history
Creation / Dreaming Stories Myths / Folklore / Stories
Legends Legends (Torres Strait Islander People only)
The Dreaming Dreamtime
Seasonal occupation Nomadic / nomads / nomadism
Mobs / Aboriginal nations Tribe / clan / Moiety
Complex and diverse societies Primitive / simple / native
The list goes on, but I’m sure you get the idea. In case you’re confused, it’s basically this: Anything Indigenous is Good, whereas, anything to do with Western Civilisation is Bad (Sorry, I meant, “not-so-good”).
How did we actually get to this point of political absurdity? Well, once again, as Orwell rightly observed, Newspeak cannot function effectively unless you work hand in hand with those recording our past. That’s why Winston Smith’s—the central character in 1984—occupation was to repeatedly make all of the necessary “corrections” or “adjustments” to historical events that didn’t fit with the currently approved narrative.
Now in this regard, no one has had as profound an influence the history of Australia than Professor Manning Clark, commonly referred to as, “Australia’s most famous historian.” Significantly, Mark McKenna argues that when writing, Clark’s use of the historical method, “pushed beyond the particulars in order to write history that revealed universal truth — not historical fiction but fictional history”.
A good example of how history can be silently redacted can be seen in the early editions of his magnum opus, The History of Australia. Initially, Clark argued that the modern Aboriginal was not one of the original inhabitants of the land, but rather, a descendant of a racially distinct, third wave of immigrants, who had themselves invaded Australia and conquered those existing people groups who were here before them. As Clark explains:
So far there have been four migrations of people to Australia…The first…were the Negritos, who were forced to move south…by people with a superior material culture. They were followed by the Murrayians, a people related to the Ainu in Japan. They in turn were pushed further south in Australia by the Carpentarians, who were related to the Vedda in Ceylon…
The Negritos because the aborigines of Tasmania; the Murrayians were driven to the east and west coasts of the mainland…; the Carpentarians remained in the tropical fringes of the northern coast…The fourth [migration] …brought the Europeans.
However, Francis Nigel Lee, former barrister and academic, observed that that by the time Clark published his 1969 edition of the same volume—as well as subsequent ones—was that the increasingly politically incorrect paragraphs had suddenly been ‘expurgated’. The question is, why? Well, Lee argues that:
With the changing whims of left-wing political hacks and their academic hangers-on, the ‘politically-correct’…revised edition omits this material – and betrays subsequent concessions to the by-then world-wide and still-rising tide of Third-World Anti-Colonialism. Indeed, only much later would his deepening Marxist biases and Communist sympathies be brought to light.
(By the way, the work being cited by Lee—Dr A. Carroll, “Ethnology of the Blacks”, from the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Society of Australasia, April 1898—can be freely accessed online here.)
Clark was not alone in expressing the view of there being a series of conquests having occurred on this particular landmass. Based upon the ‘trihybrid model’ of the Joseph Birdsell—one of this country’s most brilliant anthropologists—Keith Windschuttle and Tim Gallin have persuasively argued for the same understanding of Australia’s indigenous past. Also, see the freely available thesis by Phyllis Turner, “The Colonisation of Australia Prior to European Settlement” and especially Chapter 1, The First Australians, in the book Australia: A Nation of Immigrants by Tim Dare, a former journalist with the Sydney Morning Herald (back when it was still really good).
All of which to say, as recently as 1993, Scott Plowman could write in The Sydney Morning Herald (June 10, p. 16)
These intruders migrated from Asia and Indonesia…hopping from island to island…They became the current Australian Aborigines. The little people, who were here first, were harassed and killed and continually driven south…The tall men…left the [Negrito] pygmies isolated…in Tasmania…It is not sustainable that our current Aborigines can claim first-use land rights…Did the current original [viz. Mainland Black] Australians pay as much respect and compassion to the pygmies’ sacred sites, and they [today’s Black Mainlanders] demand from the rest of us? No way!
As has become increasingly recognised, Orwell’s cultural insights were as prescient as they were profound. Because as Orwell understood all-too-well (pun intended), words matter. Words shape our perception of reality. And as such, they have a powerful effect in shaping how we view the world; of, in particular, where we have come from in the past, who we are now in the present, and what we are still yet to be in the future.
One of the great things about the internet (which was one thing that Orwell never imagined) is that the web never forgets. Winston Smith might have been able to ‘incinerate’ the past, but we have the ability today of being able to go back and retrieve it.
Mark Powell is the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.