The remarkable story of Australia’s pioneers should once again be treasured by Australians, argues historian and author Doug Morrissey.
God bless America. God save the Queen. God defend New Zealand and Thank Christ for Australia!
– Russell Crowe
The Australia of my childhood during the 1950s was a very different Australia from the country we live in today. It was a monocultural society, Christian in religion, priding itself on Aussie mateship, a fair go for all, and predominantly Anglo/Celtic. Within the democratic consensus and perception of national identity, divisions existed between the working and middle classes, Catholics and Protestants, the Irish, English and Scots, and an emerging post-war European immigrant population. There was a sense of future prosperity and assimilation on the national agenda that today’s politicians, with an emphasis on ethnic diversity and multiculturalism, tell us is still the goal of modern Australia.
In an era of Cold War politics, fear of communism and a general turning away from England towards America, unity not diversity was at the centre of Australian life. Prostitution was against the law. Homosexuality was morally shunned and illegal. Divorce required a courtroom trial of blame and shame. Abortion took place in backstreet venues. Equal pay for women and voting rights for all Aborigines were still to be achieved. Capital punishment was the law of the land for murder and heinous crime. In Victoria, due to a strong Protestant presence, gambling was illegal and six o’clock closing for pubs persisted until 1966. Censorship proclaimed what was considered acceptable behaviour and protected public morality. These things were taken for granted and were the community framework of everyday life. The internet, emails, and mobile phones were not yet the distracting focus of everybody’s attention. It was not, as some reminisce and others criticise, a conservative golden age. Nor was it a time of social, political, and cultural upheaval that the decade of the swinging 1960s was to usher in with a culturally unleashed vengeance. Australia was boundlessly optimistic, provincial in outlook, and feeling its way in a world recovering from the trauma of two catastrophic wars and a global depression.
It is fashionable these days to talk of the 1950s as an era of cultural cringe and national stagnation. To those who lived through this period, especially as impressionable young children, there was no sense of cultural inferiority, no feeling of apathy or indecision. The world and society were there to be explored and understood, not to be ashamed of or complained about. The negative feelings instilled in today’s young people who are told they should be embarrassed to be white and apologetic about the pioneering achievements of their ancestors was still in the future. It was a time of community hope and economic progress, where it was safe for children to walk to and from school, and play in the streets unsupervised until after dark. Front doors were rarely locked and neighbours knew and helped each other far better than they do today.
It was an Australia where the old country way of living was rapidly coming to an end. Within a decade it would be no more than a receding memory. For me it was the solid and steady world of childhood experience, neither questioned nor dwelt upon. A deep pride and appreciation of the pioneers was embedded in the national psyche.
SECTION 18C LICENCES WOKE BULLIES
From the 1950s to the new millennium, the times would change dramatically and we would change with them, sometimes for the better and sometimes not. We would embrace a view of ourselves that was more imaginary than real. A view we are told where truth is relative and there is no longer just one truth but many, and the differences do not matter. Our history is now broader in focus and multicultural, which has brought its own specific challenges and a redefinition of what it means to be an Australian. We are in the process of exchanging one national myth for another.
The old Aussie clichés and stereotypes no longer adequately describe the national psyche, though as a nation we are loath to let go of the past entirely. Australia Day is under attack as an outmoded celebration of oppressive colonialism. The April 2020, 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook’s landing at Kurnell Beach on the east coast of Australia on 29 April 1770 was portrayed by activists as the beginning of European tyranny.
History today is framed in terms of rigid political correctness.
History today is framed in terms of rigid political correctness, a constraint on what can be said and a revamped vision of the past demanding ‘Sorry Days’ for perceived historical injustice. National unity is something we give lip service; while being acutely aware of ethnic, religious and cultural divisions below the surface. The modern-day myth of white privilege is a political and cultural trope used by the socialist/green/woke partnership to declare Australia an irredeemably and deeply racist country. This is a false and exaggerated misrepresentation of Australia’s past and present. It reduces race relations to a discriminatory power struggle where Aborigines are always seen as the losers.
They came of bold and roving stock that would not fixed abide;
They were the sons of field and flock since e’er they learnt to ride,
We may not hope to see such men in these degenerative years
As those explorers of the bush – the brave old pioneers.
– Pioneers, by A. B. (Banjo) Paterson (1864-1941)
Senator Andrew Hastie said:
Political Correctness is a way of controlling people as a means to power. If you can control what people say you can control what people
think. Those with authoritarian instincts use political correctness as a way of shutting people up. Whether it’s the Chinese Communist Party or a group of people cyber-lynching you on Twitter it’s essentially the same means to power.
The UK’s Chief Rabbi for 22 years, the late Lord Jonathan Sacks, described multiculturalism as a …
… disastrous policy, misconceived and profoundly damaging to the social fabric of every society into which it was introduced. The first people to try multiculturalism, the Dutch, were also the first people to regret it. The Dutch favoured tolerance and opposed multiculturalism. When asked what the difference was, they replied that tolerance ignores differences; multiculturalism makes an issue of them at every point. Multiculturalism was meant to promote tolerance, but gave rise to new and dire forms of intolerance.
In 1995 the Keating Labor Government introduced an amendment to the Racial Discrimination Act (1975) known as Section 18C. The amendment has serious freedom of speech implications which are still being challenged today. The expansive language of the amendment is capable of such broad interpretation as to be well-nigh meaningless. Even an unkind word can be labelled as hate speech and declared unlawful. Part of the amendment reads, “the Act is breached if it is reasonably likely, in all circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people”.
In other words, offence of some kind by anybody in any situation can be subject to legal penalty. Section 18C is bullying coercive legislation which may have seemed a good idea at the time, but in practice has proven to be oppressive and acrimonious.
Section 18C is a regressive, discriminatory and stifling law which allows woke bullies to parade and posture as social justice warriors. Everything they dislike is labelled offensive and insulting. People should be able to openly speak their minds on every subject without courtroom litigation hanging over their heads. Penalties should apply to those who promote violence, disorder, and disharmony, but offence, insult, and humiliation is in the eye of the beholder and not a good measure to assess social or any other kind of justice.
Australia needs a Bill of Rights.
The abuse of Section 18C makes the case better than anything else that Australia needs a Bill of Rights. The right to free speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of religious worship etc, should be formally codified against infringement and curtailment. The American Bill of Rights (1789) is discussed in the following terms:
The Bill of Rights spells out Americans’ rights in relation to their government. It guarantees civil rights and liberties to the individual like freedom of speech, press, and religion. It sets rules for the due process of law and reserves all powers not delegated to the federal government to the people or the states.
Australia needs a Bill of Rights that limits government infringement, woke bullying, and spurious litigation. A Bill of Rights that enshrines in law the inalienable rights of the individual. Nothing is more important and necessary to the democratic health of a nation.
In December 2021, a small group of people gathered outside ABC headquarters in Melbourne protesting against the ABC’s biased news reporting. They shouted through locked glass doors, “Tell the Truth! Tell the Truth!” For decades, older Australians revered and listened to ABC radio and watched ABC television for instructive programming and even-handed news broadcasts. Today many Australians still watch and listen to ABC programs. However, they no longer trust the national broadcaster to report objectively.
The ABC prides itself on being a ‘Conservative Free Zone’ shutting down Aussie individualism, free speech, and defence of traditional values in its partisan programming promoting a socialist/green/woke agenda. In his memoir More to Life than Politics (Connor Court, 2019), Senator Richard Alston, Minister for Communications in the Howard government, wrote of a partisan bias of monumental proportions, describing the ABC as a “hotbed of the narrow leftist thinking of inner-city elites”. Senator Alston went on to write:
… the ABC Broadcasting Act is quite explicit, stating the national broadcaster has the statutory duty to gather and present news and information that is accurate ‘according to the recognised standards of objective journalism’. Whenever the subject of ABC bias arises, everyone defaults to the charter. But the charter is so vague and open-ended as to be virtually meaningless. The ABC seems to take its cue from what Humpty Dumpty famously said to Alice: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.”
For young Australians the instilling of pioneer guilt and self-hatred begins in the school classroom where they are taught that European settlement in Australia was divisive, destructive, and genocidal. Nothing good came from the British arrival in Australia, which is characterised as imperialist and a great catastrophe. Pioneers are racist caricatures, land thieves, killers of Aborigines, and dirt-poor farmers who resort to crime and support ‘hero’ criminals like Ned Kelly. A larger historical narrative of Australians working together with a grand national purpose is blinkered, held hostage by repressive political correctness and victimhood studies that distort and misrepresent. Yet despite this ideology-driven false view of Australia’s past, statistics reveal a patriotism and confident pride among young people in the nation’s achievements.
Wide-ranging opinion and open debate is the essence of democracy.
An Institute of Public Affairs survey conducted in January 2020 revealed that 71 per cent of Aussies believe Australia has a proud history and support Australia Day being celebrated on 26 January. The survey further disclosed that 68 per cent believe Australia has become too politically correct, while 83 per cent of those surveyed said Australia Day should be an opportunity to respect the contribution that everyone has made and continues to make. Even among Millennials, 57 per cent of those aged 18 to 24 agreed that Australia Day should not be changed from January 26 and 85 per cent said they were proud to be Australian. A survey conducted by the left-wing Guardian newspaper reported that only 35 per cent of Indigenous Australians wanted to change the date of Australia Day, while 70 per cent of all Australians were opposed to any date change
The then Director of Communications at the IPA, Evan Mulholland, said:
What we’re finding is that the younger generation are actually really patriotic. We’re having record numbers of attendance at things like Anzac Day parades, because people are proud to be Australians. 71 per cent are proud of our history. People acknowledge our shared history and the tragedies of the past, but also celebrate what is great about the British institutions that have made Australia great and what we have to celebrate about the future.
Quiet Australians, young and old, Indigenous and non-Indigenous deserve to be listened to above the noisy cacophony of those who seek racial division and tribal separation.
French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire (1694-1778) wrote “we should be considerate to the living; to the dead we owe only the truth”. The truth starts with acknowledging the past honestly and accurately, the good and the bad, by recognising the activist minority do not represent the viewpoint of Quiet Australians or speak for the majority of indigenous, migrant, and LGBTIQ+ Australians. Why shouldn’t there be complex diversity and a variety of differing opinion among these groups? Wide-ranging opinion and open debate is the essence of democracy. Only the left and those advocating perpetual victimhood think otherwise.
There is common ground to be found among all Australians outside the slogan shouting and cultural negativity, pursued by those seeking to profit from inciting national discord, mass generated fear, and chaos. The indomitable spirit of our bush pioneers, the undaunted courage of the Anzacs, the mateship and resilience of everyday Aussies who coped with wartime loss and the hardships of the Great Depression should be remembered and celebrated. These sturdy men and women were patriotic Australians first and foremost. To erase their sacrifice and heroism is to rewrite the past from the point of view of a fainthearted present by those who collectively have sacrificed very little.
More than ever before, we need an honest and informed public debate, not a politicised diatribe endlessly focused on skin colour, gender identity, and a host of other judgmental ideas. On being chosen as the Northern Territory’s Country Liberal Party Senate candidate in June 2021, Jacinta Price said:
Australians want to bring back common sense. We don’t want to be divided into different boxes. We want to be recognised as Australians, to support one another for a better country. Our Australian values are being eroded away by this woke nonsense we’re faced with, cancel culture, all those sorts of things. We need to reinstate our Australian values for the benefit of all of us and they’re the things I want to fight for while I’m in Canberra. To recognise that we’re Australians and we shouldn’t be dividing ourselves by the colour of our skin or anything else.
We’re Australians and we shouldn’t be dividing ourselves by the colour of our skin or anything else.
– Northern Territory Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price
The majority of Quiet Australians have had enough of the daily hammer blows of political correctness and government control that dictate what they should think, how they should feel, and in what prescribed manner they should live their lives. Before the uncompromising era of political correctness and the restrictive tyranny of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act took hold, decrying and diminishing the right of free speech and the older notion of Australian identity, people were not afraid to openly speak their mind and express an opinion that reflected badly on those in power or their neighbours down the street. It was their inalienable democratic right, courageously defended and selflessly fought and died for by previous generations of Australians.
The indomitable spirit of our bush pioneers should be celebrated.
Unfortunately for many Aussies this is no longer the case. Fear of retaliation from cancel culture has made them wary of exposing themselves to ridicule and condemnation. They fear losing their job, their reputation, and their social standing. Nobody wants to be called hateful names and singled out as a pariah. Nobody wants to engage in endless fights over words and past events. Facts do not matter, nor apparently does every life matter. The merits of rational argument no longer govern reasoned and informed public debate. Slogan shouting and breast-beating designed to stifle and silence contrary opinion rules the public square.
The 1950s was not a golden age, nor was it a shining beacon of a perfect society. It was however a committed time of law and order, respect for the individual, freedom of speech within the margins of moral decency, and national unity for all.
Growing up on a Gippsland farm during the 1950s, there was childhood naivety and a straightforward innocence towards the world lost to the modern generation of Aussie kids. Bush children celebrated nature free of dire thoughts of climate catastrophe and species extinction. The climate was the climate, changeable and cyclical. Teachers did not indoctrinate their students in identity, gender, or any other kind of politics. The pioneers and the nation were respected. Children and adults knelt before God and saluted the flag. Eco-anxiety, gender dysphoria, racial shaming, cancel culture, and virtue signalling were not in the community lexicon. Children felt safe and experienced life with genuine optimism, strong parental guidance, and a solid moral upbringing. For children who lived it without personal tragedy and heartbreak it was the best of times, playful and carefree.
In his 1977 classic song Now I’m Easy, Eric Bogle captures the raw essence, the struggle, and the stoicism of farming life in 20th century Australia. Reminiscent of the pioneers, Bogle’s words are a powerful testimony to the Aussie spirit of perseverance, endurance, and hardiness. Here is an abridged version of his famous bush ballad:
For nearly 60 years, I’ve been a Cockie of droughts and fires and floods I’ve lived through plenty. This country’s dust and mud have seen my tears and blood, but it’s nearly over now, and now I’m easy. I married a fine girl when I was 20, but she died in giving birth when she was 30. She left me with two sons and a daughter on a bone-dry farm whose soil cried out for water. My daughter married young and went her own way. My sons lie buried by the Burma Railway. City folks these days despise the Cockie. They say with subsidies and dole, we’ve had it easy. But there’s no drought or starving stock on a sewered suburban block. On this land I’ve made me home, I’ve carried on alone but it’s nearly over now, and now I’m easy.
Our pioneers have a remarkable story to tell: a sadly neglected story of decent, law-abiding, and freedom-loving people striving for a better life and a prosperous future for their families; a rewarding story of second and third generation descendants fiercely proud of their ancestors and their hard-won achievements. It is a true-life story of personal struggle and collective accomplishment suppressed in schools, universities, and the national consciousness: an inspirational story that young people and migrant/refugee Australians need to hear without the rancour of woke politics and a contrived rewriting of the past blaring in their ears.
Why shouldn’t Australia’s pioneers be acknowledged and commemorated? If not for their blood, sweat, and tears in building the nation Australia would be a vastly different place than it is today.
This article consists of edited extracts from Bush Pioneers and the Changed Face of Australia (Connor Court Publishing, 2022) by Doug Morrissey. In the foreword, former Prime Minister John Howard describes Doug’s book as “part social history and autobiographical … It is also systematic in its exposure of the false nostrums of much of today’s anti-Western cult, which has gripped educational institutions and much of the media.”
Doug Morrissey grew up on a dairy farm in Gippsland. As a mature age student he attended La Trobe University, where he researched land settlement in north-east Victoria and Ned Kelly. He successfully completed an honours thesis on Ned Kelly’s sympathisers in 1978, and was awarded a PhD in 1987 for his dissertation: Selectors, Squatters and Stock Thieves. Doug is the author of three books about Ned Kelly, also published by Connor Court.
This article from the Summer 2022 edition of the IPA Review is written by historian and author Doug Morrissey.