October 15

Rewriting history: Captain Cook defamed

"200 years of white lies," proclaimed the large sign on the taxpayer funded Museum of Contemporary Art facing the Sydney Opera House and seen by thousands of tourists. This notice was not only provocative, it was insulting. I decided not to go in – it only encourages them, but the exhibition to which it referred was reviewed by Gerard Henderson in The Sydney Morning Herald, “Weird portrait by a spiteful mob,” on 18 August,2008. Apparently this was the 16th Biennale of Sydney. The website announced that theme is “For Revolutions — Forms That Turn.

The curator of the Biennale, Miss Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, said the website would correspond with a number of “curatorial comrades” who would be visiting Sydney during opening week and participating in a range of discussions and public events. Each comrade was to contribute an essay or text on the theme of revolution for the 2008 catalogue.

  …towards a Peoples’ Republic of Australia..  


 Gerard Henderson tells us what he saw when he went in. He found, hanging from the ceiling,  an artwork entitled “A civilizacao occidental e crista, “ (Western Christian Civilisation) by the Argentinian Leon Ferrari.

This depicts a crucified Christ attached to a US F-107 fighter aircraft, and is presented as a critique of Western civilisation.

As Gerard Henderson asks, what about the double standard involved?

“It is impossible to imagine the MCA would show an artwork which showed the prophet Muhammad attached to, say, an Iranian missile.”

Then there are photographs of where the leaders of the Communist Party of Australia worked. They of course wanted to turn Australia into a Peoples’ Republic on the East European model.

Apparently the exhibition referred to the Party being banned in the early years of the Second World War, but did not point out thta the Party was campaigning against Australia while Stalin and Hitler were allies.

Nor was there mention of the fact that the Party was funded by the USSR, to whom members demonstrated absolute loyalty during the war and for many years after that.

…extraordinary attack on Captain Cook… 

In the meantime, an apparently authoritative  book on colonial times published by Oxford University  Press “Australia's Empire, “ edited by Deryck M. Schreuder and Stuart Ward , opens with the most extraordinary chapter.

This is by Hobbles Da­naiyarri,  a stockman in the Northern Territory. He describes James Cook sailing into Sydney Harbour and proclaiming that he wants to clean the Aborigines "right up", give no medicine to the very sick and kill on a wide scale.

As Professor Geoffrey Blainey observes, such  accusations require a chain of footnotes, gentle warnings and corrections of fact from the scholar who taped this "saga", as it is entitled.

Writing in The Australian Literary Review, August 2008-08-06 ( Vol 3 Issue 7) Professor Blainey points out that this  book is part of an international series, it is published by a department of the University of Oxford, and it is likely to find its way into libraries across the world.

Other chapters demonstrate the quite extraordinary freedom and autonomy Australians enjoyed in the empire, and also, incidentally, how loyal and committed the Labor Party has been to the Crown for most of its life.

The Prime Minister may make the claim that he is a “lifelong republican,” – that is certainly not true of his party.

This seems an otherwise useful volume, although its treatment of the fall of Singapore can be criticised, as this column has:”Why Singapore fell: Paul Keating should apologise,” 11 August 2008.


But the inclusion of the unattributed attack on Captain Cook will make Australians suspicious of professional historians.

 Readers should  not be surprised then by the reservations about the national history curriculum expressed, for example  in an editorial  in The Australian on 14 Ocotber, 2008, “Factual narrative is the basis of history.”   

The editor is correct in his assumption, but the very notion of a centralised national curriculum goes against the spirit if not the letter of our constitution which leaves such matters where they belong – with the states.

One of the great advantages of federation is internal competition. If one state educational system falls under ideological influence, as Victoria’s did at one time, its excesses can be compared with those of other states.



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