Wednesday, 13 February 2008


I was tear-sodden from the minute Bananas in Pyjamas ended. What really did it, though, was when Rudd turned his applause away from the parliament towards the people in the visitors' gallery. My sentimental blokality aside, all this talk of a "new chapter" (as if to say that the hurts of the old chapter are now, by decree, good and healed?) was ambiguous enough to make me anxious. It's not for me to declare what it would take to lessen those hurts, but my instinct is that though "sorry" helps, it only helps if it comes from a position of yearning to make amends. It only helps if we yearn in earnest, and try to make amends in practice. I think this is what Rudd meant - I hope so - and I hope that those who people this new chapter are conscious of and responsive to what has gone before.

Meanwhile, Dr Nelson distinguished himself with this fine specimen of moral logic: "There is no compensation fund, nor should there be. How can any sum of money replace a life deprived of knowing your family?" Too right, Horatio. And this is why I suggest we abolish the practise of awarding monetary compensation altogether: because how can any sum of money compensate for reduced life expectancy, or a lost limb, or a foreshortened stint in Hollywood. Gah. That spare $34 billion Rudd offered in tax cuts can't replace a life deprived of knowing one's family, but if it found its way into a compensation fund it would certainly be a sign of our sincerity. An in principle promise to see every Aboriginal four-year-old in preschool isn't enough; substantive equality for Aboriginal and migrant Australians is a minimum good, and the good we have to find to say sorry is more than the minimum.

On a semi-unrelated note, I was surprised to hear Nelson casting Australia's ecology as some kind of misanthropic wasteland: "Blah blah blah", he said, "combined to deliver a harshness exceeded only by the land over which each sought to prevail." And earlier: "In brutally harsh conditions, from the small number of early British settlers our non indigenous ancestors have given us a nation the envy of any in the world." That he was co-opting Sorry Day to eulogise British colonisation is in aggressively bad taste, yes, but what's with the land's "harshness"? Sydney's climate? Harsh? Try a London Winter, working-class 1780s-style. Time to move on, Dr N. This land is inhospitable(ish) to some exotic crops (and unfortunately not to others, viz. prickly pear and co.), but it's never been inhospitable to those who want to live with it, rather than prevail over it.


Martin Kingsley said...

Nelson showed off his keen fence-sitting skills today, I thought, since a lot of his speech seemed to consist of, "And both sides have excellent points to make! In case you haven't noticed, I'm walking a tight-rope! No, not very well, I agree, another point well-made!" I almost, almost, almost felt sorry for him. Just a little bit. Luckily, it turned out to just be a touch of heartburn, and sure enough, before long I felt not a skerrick of pity.

Kutcha Edwards, the Mutti Mutti folk singer, also spoke (I thought) very eloquently (in the fragment that I saw of his interview today) when it came to the matter of his father, Nugget Edwards, and his feelings on the institutionalisation of his children.

Anonymous said...

Ah well, Nelson just lived up to his evident lack of promise. I seem to recollect a fantastically insensitive remark to defence force families when he moved into that ministry and education got a much needed break. He is indeed the caretaker.

Apart from all the more obviously ill-advised things he said, this alone is the sort of thing that will generally send me into an apoplexy:

These generations considered their responsibilities to their country and one another more important than their rights.

Rudd's speech certainly much better than his election night speech gave one cause to hope.

Eyrie (doesn't want to have to start another bloody internet account thing-a-gummy).

alexis said...

It was bloody insulting is what Nelson's "apology" was. I'm sure the subtext of that ramble about child abuse in the Northern Territory was "You lot are obviously no good at parenting, so it's probably a good thing we took you from your parents, but [cough] sorry". I guess he was trying to establish some continuity with his predecessor, the unchanging and ineffable John Howard.

As for Ruddles, I'm probably being unduly suspicious, but I'd really like to see us making an attempt at reparations, not just doing what we ought to do anyway to rectify the disadvantage of other aboriginal people.

Eyrie said...

I hate to tell you this, but Nelson's speech seems to be garnering some approval in certain quarters of the talkback radio waste land. Personally, I get very cranky with this "they had good intentions/ we can't judge the past by contemporary standards" jazz- evidently, the "postmodernists" are not the only "moral relativists".

I agree with you on the reparations/compensation. It's interesting to see the number of vox pops where people say that they support the apology but not compensation. The apology obviously meant a lot to many people and that is not inconsequential, but I think the real proof is in what follows now.

Martin Kingsley said...

I have no faith in humanity, but most specifically in talkback radio callers, most of all. It seems to bring out the most appreciable fraction of the scum, somehow. There's a definite feeling somewhere within me that we need to build a nice sunny wall for them to stand against. They'd even get a nice complimentary cigarette. Just one, though.

eyrie said...

I have faith in humanity. In my experience, people find it very easy to say all sorts of things about what seems to them to be an abstract group, but it is very different when they are relating to someone on an individual basis.

Martin Kingsley said...

Ah, well, allow me to retort! That's a big mistake you're making, which will in future years come back to bite you. Humans are a shoddy and cretinous lot, as we all know.

Judging on past experience, I have no trouble believing a significant portion of Australians would happily let Adolf Hitler into power tomorrow, in exchange for, in the words of Dylan Moran, maybe one day seeing a photograph of a pot of jam.

These people, in my not-very-humble opinion, wander around sorely needing a knife in the throat. It'll keep 'em in check, restrain their baser and more bigoted instincts, and stave off infestations of gnats.

As always, my advice is sound, being that of a renowned medical doctor of good standing in the AMA (which is what I am).

alexis said...

No, I'm with Eyrie on this one, and a great believer in folks' redeemability (redemptability?). There are less efficient but more satisfying ways of persuading people that they've been mistaken than thrusting a dirk into their jugular. I think what we need, in general, is to enlarge people's sympathies, to enable them to understand more of what it feels like to be someone else. It's here that cinema and literature - and testimony - can have an enormously important rehabilitative role.

eyrie said...

Well, I guess it's a matter of personal opinion, but I have become generally more optimistic about people as I've gotten older (although, admittedly, I didn't start off with the rapier-impulse). Hitler was the product of a very specific set of circumstances.
I remember when this horrendous business was going on and there were people supporting it and I said to my mother (who is very conservative and with whom I disagree on a lot of political matters) "How can anyone support something so horrific?". She said that it was because they weren't thinking about precisely what it was that they were supporting. This is what I think- that what separates is often a failure of imagination and not something which can never be overcome.

This article in The Times Higher might interest you, Alexis, if you haven't seen it.

Martin Kingsley said...

You're all out to ruin my fun, I see. Here I am, with a perfectly fine stiletto clenched in my burly fist, ready to lash out at the nearest passersby with Bateman-like efficiency (I'm all about efficiency, unfortunately for them), and all of a sudden the tide of public opinion has turned against me.

What is the world coming to, I ask you? Just for you, because I like you so much, will I put down the knife.

In the name of compromise, however, I elect that we get some duct tape and some barbed wire, and a desk fan and three small chinchillas, and a rotisserie, Bah. Humbug.

In all seriousness, I find it very hard to be convinced as to the better nature of people unless I'm actually standing within two meters of the person in question. Granted, my criteria are probably more stringent than those of the general population.

Chief amongst them may or may not be a high probability of one day receiving some money from them, but I digress.

JahTeh said...

Martin Kingsley, Are you a 'stileto for hire'? I have several relatives and an ex that meet your criteria for extermination.

Martin Kingsley said...

I can be convinced to go where the work is, yes. I suggest you talk to our corporate division, since it looks like you're buying in bulk. =P