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Here at Byron Bay : History in Schools and Australian Patriotism

August 4, 2011

With Jenny Dowell, Mayor of Lismore addressing Wednesday's lunch at La Baracca

With students from Lismore High School at Southern Cross University

School day opens the Writers’ Festival here and I was privileged to talk about history, interviewed by Russell Eldridge, before an audience of students from local high schools.

We canvassed the decline of empires, assessing evidence about the US, working on the analogies with Rome ( well-worn as they are ) and covering China. The US is the revolutionary, interventionist force in world affairs, I argued, while China is the status quo power. I talked about the Middle Kingdom syndrome, drawing on Henry Kissinger’s latest book which canvasses the evidence of China’s cultural confidence and the longevity of its civilization and the influence of even its distant history on the behavior of its contemporary rulers.

I stressed the fun of history and the opportunities afforded by the NSW curriculum. We kept history and strengthened it, while other states abolished it and brought in weak substitutes like cultural studies.

I talked about the danger of over-emphasizing Gallipoli and drew their attention to the fall of Singapore in February 1942 as the darkest single day in Australian history. Don’t fall for pompous official patriotism, I warned them, for John Howard’s obsession with Don Bradman. Australian history has many narratives and it is more than sportsmen and war heroes. Make yours’ a gentle patriotism that stems from a knowledge of your country’s history and geography.

With students from Trinity Catholic College at Southern Cross University

Russell got me onto Shakespeare and I told the students to persist with the challenge of Jacobean vocabulary for the day when they might get to see a production of the Royal Shakespeare Company or the English National Theatre and see it as it is meant to be performed. A skeptical expression in the audience. “Listen,” I said. ” I gave you the best syllabus in the country and 13 national parks around this town. When I tell you to persist with William Shakespeare take it as an order!”

One student had reservations about too much Australian history being forced on them. She said she was learning about Australia’s role in war but not about the wars. Another student said he didn’t want to lose NSW standards in the new national curriculum. Neither do I, I said, but it’s out of my hands now.

Discussion later with students from Kingscliff studying Chaucer in Year 11 English.

  1. August 4, 2011 10:58 pm

    well your latest post answered my question on the BB festival!! is it covered on ABC radio? or maybe channel 648 on APAC? Enjoy, I find some recent analysis of how China responds or behaved re economy, capitalism etc rather a silly debate. I had the privilege of attending many weekly seminairs conducted by the Dept of Far Eastern History in the RSPAC at ANU Canberra and one of the old fellows there was Wan Ling who assisted Dr Joseph Needham in his work Science and Civilisation in China. Vibrant developments, a thriving diverse economy and a huge amount of internal competition characterised a strong economy a huge country producing an amazing range of products foodstuffs etc with a vast diverse geography.

    Some classical chinese novels also illustrate a rich life such a Hong Lou Meng, or Dream of a Red Chambers (available in Penguin) give a more rounded picture of powerful merchant families and like many British counterparts moving from trade to genteel nobility or a role in government. Some of you may have seena a special on BBC Knowledge where the general thesis was an attempt to explain why the West prospered with fierce competition as against a stagnating empire.

    Of great interest more recently is the projection of naval power by China into the Indian ocean building a new port in Pakistan, we may see a very slow but subtle shift in projection of power beyond a traditional view of the US patrolling the 7 seas. With projected defence cuts even old John Bolton’s moustache was twitching, he was interviewed on Fox about various issues and mentioned potential problems, I also note Paul Wolfiwitz was trying to defend the neo con record.

    Bob what impression did you get of the students general interest? I thought it interesting that many felt there was some lack of depth and context. It reminds me of the old science courses that built slowly and went over much of the same material. I think many students whither with the lack of intensity. I would like to thank you for engaging with the students and hope they and their teachers enjoyed your contribution


    If you get the chance the resturants in Bangalow are very good and a cute town!!

    • Bob Carr permalink
      August 5, 2011 6:59 am

      Local ABC, I think. That is, North CoaSt.

  2. nalysale permalink
    August 5, 2011 3:20 pm

    Australia has a great and very deep history.School students are studying about the history of Australia and the wars held in Australia.It is good since they have the full right to know about their country’s history

  3. Kerry Wright permalink
    August 9, 2011 9:22 pm

    I have taught at all the schools you met, and worked on the North Coast for 10 years.

    Like you I have a great love of History. But like the kids I am over the male history and war obsession, and Australia’s blinkers. As a teacher we should actually be reintroducing a new awakening for the students, of any age.

    Yesterday I was at the swearing in of the new Kalon Tripa (Prime Minister) of Tibet. His Holiness the Dalai Lama did what few people in the world could do, a great role model of leadership with integrity. No other nation in Asia has been able to democratically elect their leader, cleanly, without corruption of any sort, or any need for monitoring.

    As His Holiness achieved his dream (which took 50 years to fulfil and educate the Tibetans completely for) and did what few leaders can do (passed the baton to a younger generation, who also back unity, cooperation and respect) he commented on the obvious importance of education. What has been achieved here is a miracle.

    The dream of all Tibetans is logical and reachable (and even inevitable, if China wants to be taken seriously for more than its bullying) in a modern moral world. With the very real suffering of Tibetans, there is nothing to be proud of about being a China’s culture lover at the present time in History.

    The Burmese people can only dream of such an opportunity as the Tibetans have just had. Who even notices Burma, from Australia?

    Isn’t it time Australia took a much more humanitarian stance on world events, and instead of the current China sycophancy look squarely at the historical and current truths, and the global effects of what is actually happening on the Tibetan plateau? Isn’t it time we used our wonderful high standards of everything for the greater good, instead of just looking for more?

    I recommend to you a book called ‘Hidden Tibet’ by Sergius L Kuzmin, soon to be published in English. It answers many of your historical misinformation, and also covers all aspects of the true situation for courageous Tibet.

    There is something weird in being to complacent and self-congratulatory in Australia at this time. We (and our children) can do more, and more compassionately, to help the 80% of the world’s children who are FAR less fortunate.

    Byron Bay is a beautiful place and I still visit, often. But there is more to life than Paradise. Putting rice into the tiny mouths of thousands of traumatized children on the Thai Burma border with brave saffron monks gave me great pleasure, and moved me deeply.

    China has a lot to answer for, and with the massive dams may yet to reach its zenith of destructiveness, unless everyone looks closely and acts.

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