Taboos Decay in Australia
March 13, 2004, 04:00 AM
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Things have changed – a little - for the better in Australia. Debate is once again permitted on the role of immigration in Australia. The triumphalism of the open-borders lobby has been shattered, perhaps irrevocably. This happened in part because of the courage and honesty of our greatest living historians, Geoffrey Blainey. An account of the savage assault Prof. Blainey suffered from Australia's elites—and his recent, unexpected rehabilitation—permits an accurate cameo of how opinions are changing in my country.

Yes, we still have an immigration system that ignores our national interests, and responds to pressure groups.

Of course, we receive steady doses of government bromides touting multiculturalism as "the Australian way of life." Our public funds still support flamboyant swindlers, such as Kazi Zafar Ahmed. (This "refugee" is actually the former Prime Minister of a foreign country. Ahmed looted Bangladesh from 1989-1991, and now lives on an Australian disability pension in Sydney.) But at least now opposition to these idiocies can be effectively expressed.

It all began 20 years ago, on March 18, 1984. On that night, Geoffrey Blainey took the stage at a Rotary Club in the unremarkable town of Warrnambool—a pleasant enough metropolis (boasting 28,500 people) in southwestern Victoria—to speak the unspeakable. To speak about immigration.

Before I tell you what he said—and it was pretty mild stuff—you should know how important and respected Blainey was at the time of his remarks. Born in 1930, Blainey had made national literary headlines in 1954 with the first of his books (he has written 36 at last count): The Peaks of Lyell. His subsequent best-selling histories included The Rush That Never Ended (1963), The Tyranny of Distance (1966), and The Triumph of the Nomads (1975).

Blainey's writing was something new. He combined exceptional gifts in scrupulous primary research with a genuine poet's eye for desolate landscapes. See the following segment from The Triumph of the Nomads. Try to stop reading it once you have started:

"Fire grilled or roasted their [Aborigines'] meat and fish; it cooked some of their vegetables. In many regions fire burned the dead and raised the ornamental scars on the living. Fire deterred the evil spirits from approaching a camp at night. A flaming stick, it was often believed, would curb the wind or halt the rain. Smoke was the most popular insect repellant, and in parts of Arnhem Land smoking fires were kept burning all night under a kind of stilt but known as a 'mosquito house' in order to protect sleepers from mosquitoes. Near Cape York the smoke of slow-burning fires served the same purpose in igloo-like huts. Flames were used to drive snakes from long grass where nomads hoped to camp that night; and in parts of the River Murray hot ashes were used as a poultice on human limbs bitten by snakes.

Fire not only helped to manufacture spears and hafted axes; it was also used instead of an axe. If the camp lacked firewood, women would light a small fire near the base of a tree; and by carefully tending the fire they burned through the trunk until the tree toppled."

Blainey's work earned him the prestigious post of Professor of History at the University of Melbourne in 1977. He was a beloved writer and a serious scholar—someone with the credibility that say, Ken Burns, enjoys in the U.S. today. This made it all the more shocking to high-minded Australians when he registered his dissent from current opinion. What should shock –and anger—us is how viciously they responded.

Here, taken from The Age (Melbourne) of March 19, 1984 are some of the remarks that Blainey made on this occasion:

"The pace of Asian immigration to Australia is now well ahead of public opinion . . .

"Rarely in the history of the modern world has a nation given such preference to a tiny ethnic minority of its population as the Australian Government has done in the past few years, making that minority the favored majority in its immigration policy.

"It is almost as if we have turned the white-Australia policy inside out ... an increasing proportion of Australians, people who in the past 30 years have shown great tolerance, seem to be resentful of the large number of South-East Asians who are being brought in, have little chance of gaining work and who are living, through no fault of their own, at the taxpayers' expense."

Now you, gentle VDARE reader, might not be shaken to the marrow by these sentiments. But 1984 wasn't a good year for free speech in Australia—as Blainey would soon find out. He was immediately rebuked by Immigration Minister Stewart West, who chided him for failing to realizing (as he cheerily put it) that "increasing Asianization [is] inevitable." Foreign Minister (and future Governor-General) Bill Hayden rejoiced in the likelihood that "We will not just become a multicultural society ... we will become a Eurasian society and we will be all the better for it." (Many years later Hayden frantically backtracked from these sentiments.)

To re-read the magazine commentaries and yellowed press-cuttings of two decades back, is to be reminded of how monolithic "respectable" opinion was in Australia. There was no Internet, of course, and no heterodox bloggers. No intelligentsia which even pretended to be "right-wing." No Pauline Hanson. No contrarians such as Keith Windschuttle questioning the official victimology of the Aborigines. In effect, no one at all who had the ability to rally to Blainey's defense. So he took the heat alone—and it almost destroyed him.

By September 1984, 590 items had appeared in the Australian press on the subject of Blainey's speech. Rent-a-mobs thronged college campuses demanding he be driven from the academy and public life. His phone rang off the hook with death threats—and Blainey's daughter was physically attacked. One of his colleagues, activist Henry Reynolds, said of Blainey to The Weekend Australian on February 16, 1985: "What you've got to expect if you engage in that sort of public controversy is that you are going to be shot at ... you have got to expect to be clobbered and people will really jump on you."

Blainey's other colleagues produced an "open letter" denouncing him, signed by 23 academic historians, and a 1985 essay collection called Surrender Australia? Outbursts came from former cabinet ministers such as Andrew Theophanous, who bemoaned Blainey's apparent disrespect towards "a diversity of cultures [which] have a right to contribute to the evolving Australian culture." [PDF] (Theophanous later contributed to Australian diversity by becoming the first serving Federal politician to end up in jail, having been convicted of taking bribes from drug barons and seeking sexual favors from a gangster's Chinese moll, in return for arranging her visa.)

Blainey lost his job as a television commentator for the government-run Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Except for a few Sydney newspapers, and the Christian Science Monitor, most print media ignored him. Eventually, after six years of this war of attrition, Blainey resigned early from his Melbourne professorship. One of his chief attackers, a former Communist Party card-carrier named Stuart Macintyre, took his chair. The eminent Blainey found himself fobbed off with the chancellorship of Ballarat University, an obscure post where he was expected to quietly fade from view.

And now stand by for what Victorian actor-managers used to call The Transformation Scene.

Blainey's fortunes have turned around, and he has begun to be taken seriously again—after some 20 years of abuse. Undoubtedly the Soviet Union's downfall helped discredit the Australian far Left. Public opinion here has shifted thanks to events such as the Asian financial collapse, the crisis in East Timor, the terror attacks of 9/11 and the atrocity in Bali which killed so many of our countrymen. And , of course, more years of experience with more immigrants. Reality has a way of seeping through the most impermeable of intellectual defenses.

At any rate, Blainey received in his 70th year Australia's highest civilian award, the Companion of Honor. In 2001, the radio arm of a partially contrite Australian Broadcasting Corporation invited Blainey to give its annual Boyer Lectures. These six talks appeared almost immediately in book form, as This Land Is All Horizons. Ivan R. Dee publishers of Chicago reissued in May 2003 (with Jacques Barzun's imprimatur) Blainey's magnificent Short History of the World, first published by Penguin three years before. In 2003 there appeared another collection of essays, The Fuss That Never Ended, which summoned even his long-time enemies to treat Blainey's work respectfully. I wouldn't say that Blainey's critics have repented. But at least some seem to have entertained some second thoughts.

It would be impertinent to complete even the sketchiest account of Blainey's doings without emphasizing what all who have ever met him know: that he is far more modest than anyone of his talents has the right to be. Far too softhearted for his own good, he has never expressed the smallest public bitterness over the treatment he has endured. He speaks in a low, rather husky voice, which lacks all the adornments of a conventional orator, but which can and does reduce a roomful of impatient sophomores to pin-dropping silence by its sheer incantatory erudition.

The story of Geoffrey Blainey shows that nice guys don't invariably finish last.

R. J. Stove [send him mail] lives in Melbourne. He is a Contributing Editor at The American Conservative, and has also been published in The New Criterion and Chronicles. He is author of The Unsleeping Eye: Secret Police and Their Victims.