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The Drones and A Bit of Australia

I have been listening to the new Drones album, Gala Mill.

I like it, but it lacks the cohesiveness and rough, chunky sound that Wait Long by the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By has. (You can taste the sound by hitting the myspace page and listening to 'Shark Fin Blues' which opens the album.) In many ways, Gala Mill sits closer to their first album Here Come the Lies and the third, a collection of tracks that didn't make Wait... and Lies, The Miller's Daughter. But yet, it is, I think, the most accessible album that they have produced to date.

The track I like most on Gala Mill, is 'Sixteen Straws', one of the two on the album that are inspired by Australian colonial history--this one references a practice in which convicts would draw straws, and the long and the short in the sixteen decided the killer and his victim. Afterward, the killer would repent. Here's a sample of the lyrics, which is said by a prisoner found at the beginning of the song:

'I was a native of Erin's Ireland
Before I was brought
To this terrible place
They dragged me away
From my wife and newborn
And my ailing parents
I've been a prisoner
At Porn Macquarie
Norfolk Island and Emu Plains
At Castle Hill and cursed Toongabbie
At all of these settlements
I've worked in chains
But of all of the places of condemnation
At each penal station of New South Wales
To Moreton Bay I've found no  equal
The tyranny there makes all of the rest pale.'


Lately, I've got this thought with Australian history going. It kicked up a few weeks back, when the kids in my year six class couldn't remember the year Australia was invaded by Europeans and turned into a penal colony. One of girls who works with me didn't know either, and her reason, she said, was that Australian history was just boring. It is, of course, if it's presented in a clean, PG 13 way, without the orgies, cannibalism, revolutions, and sheer tragedy of invasion and ripping men and women from their homes to dump in chains, and then ripping the home off another set... then, yeah, it is.

That stalwart of the PG History, Prime Minister Howard, walks around talking up history, and what it means to be Australian. A few day days ago, he said this:

The Prime Minister, John Howard, said yesterday a discussion paper on the new citizenship test, to be released tomorrow with an accompanying advertising campaign, would propose quizzing aspiring citizens' language skills as well as their grasp of Australia's history, culture and values.

"You'll certainly need to know a good deal more about Australia and about Australian customs and the Australian way of life," he told Melbourne radio.

Asked if the history component would include questions on cricket, Mr Howard was prepared to consider it.

"You never know. I think to understand the history of this country I think you might have to do that," he said.

Any immigrant who was "fair dinkum" about becoming a citizen would pass the test easily, he said.


Later on in the article, Kim Beazley, the Opposition leader, is referred to as the man trying to get people to sign a pledge to respect Australia, its institutions, and values before they entered the country, thus proving that when it comes to the future of politics, Australia is fucked on choice A and B. I don't really need to go into the stupid, hypocritical nature of these statements, but lets just say that if a bunch of Aboriginal men and women beat the shit out of Howard with crickets bats some time during the week, there'll be a faint sense of justice. Though that, of course, would probably leave us with worse in the way of party figureheads.

It's frustrating to hear and read this kind of thing, really, and I guess that's what this post is about. The 'clean' history (and by this I mean both white and free from the badness) that is so easily presented in Australia is becoming more and more offensive, not the least because I am beginning to suspect that people are taking it at face value and viewing it as true. And when I see people write and talk against multiculturalism, and the loss of Australian ideals, without ever explaining what those things are, I tend to think that I am right in this assumption.

Comments

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girliejones
Sep. 20th, 2006 02:50 am (UTC)
I hope the campaign comes with a magnet
ataxi
Sep. 20th, 2006 03:10 am (UTC)
I agree, what a load of horseshit. It's cruel to people wanting to come here, already on a hiding to nothing if they aren't white and/or well-educated, and it's cruel to those of us here to would prefer to differentiate ourselves from the vision of Australia being put forward.

I'm as Australian-since-1788 as anyone (six generations of white boys on both sides, convict ancestors, gold-digger ancestors, soldier ancestors, I like cricket, I speak English, I was there when the word "mintox" was invented, I hate Collingwood, I know folk songs for fuck's sake etc.) and as such I have my own personal objections to my lack of a voice in this debate.

It seems being Australian today must mean having a tremendously well-developed sense of your own entitlement and a burning desire to disenfranchise everyone unlike you to the maximum possible extent.

And as far as choice A and B are concerned, until Beazley goes I'm not sure the ALP gets anything better than the Langer vote from me. His ratio of honest principle to pusillanimousness is the lowest in any ALP leader I can recall.
benpeek
Sep. 20th, 2006 03:55 am (UTC)
i don't think the problem is with beazley or howard. they suck, sure, but they're just figureheads for their party. everything beazley does speaks for the ALP, and if he's going round saying this kinda shit, then it's cause the party is for it.

ridiculous, really.

you know what really pisses me off? how much a contradiction to history this whole thing is for new people entering the country. it's not like the british came here for laughs and giggles to make a new promised land.
ataxi
Sep. 20th, 2006 04:04 am (UTC)
Nope. It's been widely reported that Beazley acted without caucus approval when he made this values-for-visas proposal, in cahoots with one other ALP honcho, Tony Burke the immigration spokesman. He's been slammed repeatedly by major figures since he opened his mouth.

And yes, rejecting new immigrants to Australia is a contradiction in terms. One baffling hypocrisy is the support Fortress Australia gets from relatively recent migrants - there are a lot of Brit and South African expats who love the idea.
benpeek
Sep. 20th, 2006 04:09 am (UTC)
well, that's at least a good thing then, regarding beazley. though still, visas aside, it's not like the party hasn't said or done a bunch of other stupid things. but if they want to contend in the government, they need him removed.

as for the other... well, people suck.
ironed_orchid
Sep. 20th, 2006 04:56 am (UTC)
When I became a citizen in 95 I had to say some pledge about respecting Australia and its laws and values and stuff. I might still have a copy somewhere. (I respected its laws by being involved in civil disobedience campaings in order to change said laws, on occasion.)

nd when I see people write and talk against multiculturalism, and the loss of Australian ideals...

Which is just so ridiculous anyhow, it's been a long time since being an Australian meant being anglo-saxon protestant monarchist. I can't help thinking that Howard would like to recast the population in his image, which is a truly scary thought.

Times like this I miss Keating (which is not to say he was wonderful, but I miss the days when politicians were trying to convince us that multiculturalism and identifying more with Asia and the south Pacific nations were good things.)
benpeek
Sep. 20th, 2006 06:13 am (UTC)
Which is just so ridiculous anyhow, it's been a long time since being an Australian meant being anglo-saxon protestant monarchist. I can't help thinking that Howard would like to recast the population in his image, which is a truly scary thought.

yeah, i imagine he wishes he could recast it, at least, as anglo saxon, prod, mono. there are days when i think that howard and his ilk believe the true australian desendants are the english soldiers who came over on the ships, and who dumped convicts here, and hoped to make money so they could return to the mother land as rich landed gentry. whereas to me, the people who began australia where all the innocents who got culture raped, and the unwanted, hated, disrespected, and sometimes downright bad people that were ripped out of one place. there was no going back, and nowhere to go for most of them.

and yeah, there are days i miss keating, for much the same reason as you.
ataxi
Sep. 20th, 2006 06:37 am (UTC)
Days? I miss Keating every time I remember Howard exists. Keating is a jerk but as PM he was a jerk with comparatively noble aspirations for Australia.

Keating called us the "arse end of the earth" and was slammed for it - Howard turned the country into a giant arsehole and has been rewarded for it.
benpeek
Sep. 20th, 2006 11:47 pm (UTC)
you know, i thought the arse end of the world description was really funny...
ex_chrisbil
Sep. 20th, 2006 11:45 am (UTC)
Y'know what? When I was in your part of the world (and I intend to be again) I found the culture and history sphincter-puckeringly entertaining, interesting and refreshing. It was completely different from the same old shit we get taught day in day out, and New Zealand's Polynesian history in particular is just amazing.

I didn't find the museums hid that much, certainly not as much as some New York museums' portrayal of slavery, but it could be I either got lucky with the ones I visited or still don't know what's missing...

What sort of history are you reading? I might pick up some books if you can recommend any.
benpeek
Sep. 20th, 2006 11:32 pm (UTC)
how long ago were you here?

i don't know why, but in recent years, it feels like the whole thing is getting worse. like it's regressing. every time howard gets up to talk about teaching the history, i can sort of feel the dirty side of everything slide away.

i'm not hugely up on history books--though i'll be returning to it soon, i think, for the next book. but most of my history comes from articles, websites, and that--sorta pecking at it,y uo know? but a couple of things i liked was tim flannery's THE BIRTH OF SYDNEY, and the robert hughes FATAL SHORE. there are interesting things out there, such as henry reynolds' aboriginal history, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FRONTIER, but reynolds isn't a very interesting writer, where someone like hughes is. (in fact, in truth, reynolds is really boring.) the birmingham history, LEVIATHAN, is fun, though it's gonzo side means that it has a lot of excess fat on it... peter carey's travelogue through sydney is interesting, but suffers from being written by a man who clearly doesn't live in the city, and never lived int he west...
mattdoyle
Sep. 20th, 2006 12:12 pm (UTC)
Agree with you about the history thing...really, it is quite boring the way it is taught, compared with say, Europe (just one bloody conflict after another really) and America. More blood! That's the answer. Kids love gore.

I also find it almost ironic that john howard used the word "fair dinkum," which is a word of chinese origin appropriated into the Australian vernacular.

And, while we're on the citizenship test issue...what about that colleague of yours? The one who said she didn't know the date of white settlement/invasion...she should so obviously be stripped of her citizenship and deported immediately! ;)
benpeek
Sep. 20th, 2006 11:36 pm (UTC)
And, while we're on the citizenship test issue...what about that colleague of yours? The one who said she didn't know the date of white settlement/invasion...she should so obviously be stripped of her citizenship and deported immediately! ;)

what? no! then i'd be stuck with all the people who knew! heh.

anyhow, man, haven't seen you round the blog before. welcome to it.

(Anonymous)
Sep. 20th, 2006 12:20 pm (UTC)
Curiously, do you or do you know anyone who celebrates Australia Day?

I don't know why people are not made to feel proud of this country. I'm not just blaming the Government, because they're elected by the people.

I wonder who's leading who. Politicians are arguably guided by opinion polls, by their electorate. Do you think it's the people leading the Government or the Government leading the people?

A passerby
benpeek
Sep. 20th, 2006 11:45 pm (UTC)
Curiously, do you or do you know anyone who celebrates Australia Day?

well, it is a national holiday.

i know a lot of people who do something on the day. i don't know anyone who has, like, a barbecue or something because of it. but that said, when i was at the big day otu this year, the sheer amount of people i saw wearing a fucking australian flag as a cape, was disturbing.

as for the government and the people, i currently think, sadly, that we have the government the people want. but i think when it comes to history, most people just don't think about it--it's nothing for their average day, you know?

mattdoyle
Sep. 20th, 2006 12:43 pm (UTC)
well, i tend to agree with oscar wilde that "patriotism is the virtue of the vicious." That said, i like living in australia, being an australian, but i don't "celebrate" australia day. patriotism tends to promote an "us and them" mentality which i find rather repulsive. the whole concept of "being proud" of a patch of land and what a bunch of people did and do while on said land seems a little strange to me.
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