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Helen Razer on Stan Grant’s ‘Australian Dream’

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Like all the world’s most horrific complexes, racism is a difficult thing to describe. You may know it very well when you see it, and, if you’re a person of colour, you will see it vividly and often. But, this does not by necessity mean you can trace its historic origins, or plot the way it is likely to adapt over region and time. This labour is one we must demand from our intellectuals—these are the only people with the time to do it. In a new Quarterly Essay The Australian Dream, journalist Stan Grant obliges. He takes the time to chart a part of that horrific complex as it has played out, and continues to play out, in our nation.

Let it be plainly said: Stan Grant must not be charged by critics, particularly white ones, with the sole responsibility for saying everything ever about Indigenous Australia. He is one guy, no more a representative of “his people” than I am of mine. So, first, any criticism of Grant’s essay here—and, being me, I will make some—must not be mistaken for a criticism of blackness itself. Second, and more importantly, Grant’s noblest goal is for us not to understand Indigenous culture as an undifferentiated mass. “There is no adequate understanding of the full range of the Aboriginal community,” he tells me by phone.

Too right. There is the dreadful tendency in the dominant, overwhelmingly white culture to accept Aboriginal wisdom not just one message, but one voice at a time. Even today, we can see that shift take place. After years of slavish admiration for Noel Pearson, Australian media have turned on him. Not for his open devotion to the privatisation of public good—which can hardly be claimed as a black thing—but for the allegation that he called a white woman politician a dirty word. Frankly, I think politicians should accept being sworn at as part of the job. So should white people, come to that. But in a present with its mania for “anti-bullying”, saying something mean is the worst tyranny we in media can imagine.

“The old construction of Aboriginal identity no longer has authenticity,” Grant tells me.

Pearson’s days are numbered for his crimes of disrespecting a white politician and a white ABC. Seems unfair, really, as I make a living out of doing the same. But, this is a racist country and the former designated One Aboriginal Intellectual has, apparently, had his turn.

Stan Grant is smart and perfectly conscious, I imagine, that this is the racist mechanism of Australian public life. He is explicitly asking for a bigger conversation and is not seeking to take Pearson’s place at all. Even as his ideas are, in my view, an elaboration of Pearson’s, themselves owing a debt to liberal thinking, he urges from the start of his essay for dissonance, not a chorus. This, as you have likely read, is his entire deal: change the conversation. Allow a fuller description of Aboriginal life and theory. “The old construction of Aboriginal identity no longer has authenticity,” Grant tells me, and he urges for a new building site in the essay.


After reproducing his famous speech from the Intelligence Squared debate, Grant directly addresses another important voice. That of Amy McQuire, who, in New Matilda—the only outlet in the nation with a true commitment to tell non-Indigenous Australia about Indigenous Australia—questioned not the content of Grant’s speech, but the way in which it was received. Grant said, “other Indigenous people have delivered speeches similar to mine, frankly more courageous and enlightening”, and McQuire acknowledges that, agreeing but interrogating, as Grant does, the profound need white Australia has for a single acceptable Aboriginal voice.

McQuire and Grant agree that the conversation and the terms of identity it uses must be broadened. Where they differ, however, is in what constitutes a broadening. Grant thinks it is in giving voice to an emerging Aboriginal knowledge class, one that still, he says, inauthentically defines itself as injured, beaten, oppressed. McQuire, who is not especially besotted by the identity politics Grant describes, thinks it lies largely in describing complexes.

Grant gives McQuire half of her due. (Probably less than that—I remind you again: McQuire is the best, young print journalist we have, and I have personally reprimanded her for daring to have a baby, thereby selfishly ignoring my needs as a reader.) But, then, he then tries to drown her out. Or, rather, insists that she herself makes it difficult to be heard with her radicalism. He doesn’t out-and-out accuse McQuire of upholding victimhood—this would, in any case, be a difficult thing to substantiate for a writer like McQuire, so rarely fuelled by personal story and most often by reporting. But he does say her life experience is different to his, and claims that his experience of international reporting makes him a better judge of relative oppression.

This, for mine, is plain what-abboutery. That there are people who endure drone strikes on the planet does not and must not obviate the need to “close the gap” at home. While we can affirm that there have been some gains for Indigenous Australians in the professional class Grant seeks to describe, we cannot say that writers, such as McQuire, have no business focusing on the Aboriginal majority who live in the shit left, and maintained, by white leaders.

What, Grant wants to know, can be achieved by continually overlooking the material success stories of some Indigenous Australians who allow themselves to be cast in rags while wearing couture?

Grant is absolutely right, and principled, to describe the life of upward mobility he and other Aboriginal people have enjoyed. It is, I understand, diminishing to ignore the middle-class experience of people of colour. Author Alice Walker copped it enormously from all critics for daring to write about class within black American communities in The Color Purple. Kanye West still cops it for having money and a college education. Some persons find the idea of black people with money politically inconvenient, others find it morally intolerable. Stuff them. What, Grant wants to know, can be achieved by continually overlooking the material success stories of some Indigenous Australians who allow themselves to be cast in rags while wearing couture?

In describing a life of material riches, Grant, inter alia, wants to point to his resilience, and those of his mobile fellows. “It’s something that goes unnoticed,” he tells me. “There is stratification in our own communities.” And, he reminds us, there are those who occupy the top-tier. He is annoyed that these persons, who, for obvious reasons, have the greatest opportunity to speak, continue to engage in poverty cosplay.

Grant is a good person who is grateful for his life. He does not blindly think he is “self-made” and does not explicitly repeat Pearson-type allegations about the “damage” of welfare. I imagine that over the course of his career, he’s met sufficient recipients of high-end welfare to know that one can be very happy while still receiving benefits from the state, hey, Gina Rinehart. But, Grant is less about money than he is about culture. He acknowledges that economic class exists, and that it does within Indigenous Australia is an essential part of his essay. But he seems to see this largely as an effect of “identity politics” handed down by bourgeois Aboriginal Australians.

Sure. Identity politics is a diminishing business. If you speak continually from a static place, you tempt stasis in speech. If you allow the suffering wrought on you by others to define you, it will continue to define you and, again, we have that situation which permits one kind of voice.

But, there is something that Grant doesn’t consider in his critique of identity politics. In assuming his fluid, liberal identity, he’s engaging in it, too.

The colour of one’s skin and even the tortures of one’s childhood—and Grant had it rough—provide no immunity to the idea that you can think your way into equality in a fundamentally unequal system.

As others are starting to write, “identity politics” is not just the preference of those in culturally disadvantaged categories. Without wishing to diminish Grant’s intellectual rigour at all—the man is an erudite liberal—I propose that the “fluid” identity he claims for himself is another identity. Grant says often in the essay that he is free to speak any language, enjoy any theory, eat any food that he wishes. Even setting aside that these are currently privileges of a class that demand the existence of a class that doesn’t have them, the thing is, Grant speaks a particular theoretical language and swallows a particular truth. His truth is: liberalism will save us all.

“Fluidity” is a stable identity category. It is the latest mutation of the eighteenth century Man of Reason. And, no, I am not suggesting that Grant has been seduced by historic whiteness. I am saying, however, that liberalism is a very seductive, very adaptable set of ideas. The colour of one’s skin and even the tortures of one’s childhood—and Grant had it rough—provide no immunity to the idea that you can think your way into equality in a fundamentally unequal system.

Grant offers the question posed by Warren Mundine, “Name a revolution that was started without your middle class?” Well, you know, I tell him in interview, there was that little skirmish in Russia in October 1917. Sure, some middle-class guys helped it along, studying Hegelian logic in Swiss caves and writing an account of capital in London hovels. But those peasants and workers had something to do with it, right?

Stan laughs when I mention this and says that change is not always down to the well-to-do. But, he says, that it is essential to honestly document the experience and consequent thinking of knowledge and professional class Indigenous Australians.

And, yes, again, yes, we must not obfuscate thinking for the future with recourse to the indignities of the past. But, I do suspect that Grant, who has made some substantial contribution to both discussion on identity politics generally and Indigenous identity in particular, would prefer that everyone, including Amy McQuire, came to the same conclusion. Which is, that liberalism is fine. We just need to think more positively, about it and ourselves. It’s still identity politics. Just a more upbeat style.




96 responses to “Helen Razer on Stan Grant’s ‘Australian Dream’

  1. Sheer rubbish. Stan Grant, or ‘Suntan Stan’ as he’s being called, is on a hiding to nowhere with his manipulation about aboriginal history, desperately striving to carve out a place for himself in an area of fast declining criticism and disinterest. As our population growth relies more and more on immigration, new arrivals couldn’t care a tinker’s cuss about aboriginals and their grievances. In fact, this weekend’s news about Baird giving $75 million to ‘victims’ of the ‘stolen’ generation just stirs resentment against the political climate of appeasement in this country. Those ‘victims’ would quite probably never have been alive if they or their parents hadn’t been saved from neglect and abuse. We’re still witnessing the same today! Grant will soon have to find another little earner for his pitiable efforts to continuously wring tears out of us.

    1. A predictable reaction, so typical of this country. Back in your box Jon. You aren’t funny or clever or insightful. Just racist.

    2. Jon . I was going to comment about the difficulty I have with Stan Grant as a person to speak for aboriginal people. He certainly has the skills but there sits in the back of my mind that he was once one of the celebrity journalists fronting that monstrosity Sixty Minutes and perhaps he was seeking celebrity again. A gentler but parallel view to your own.
      However , the vicious lies in the rest of you comment made it necessary for me point out that , whilst some of the children were neglected the reason they were taken was that they were aboriginal. That was the policy. That was the evil.
      In Queensland in 1842 there were 250,000 aborigines . White expansion from Moreton Bay began and in 1914 there were 20,000 left . 50,000 were killed directly half by settlers and half by the governments own native police. There rest died because of dispossession and disease. Aboriginal women were regularly stolen from their people to be used for sex and work . The policy , in the name of assimilation was a gentler continuation of what had preceded it.

      1. Hi John, you make some astounding claims: can you produce evidence to back them up ? For example, with drought always the limiting factor, population in Queensland was more like fifty thousand, pre-contact. Fifty thousand killed would amount to a hell of a lot of massacre sites, perhaps a couple of thousand: can you cite any ? Surely there must be some. Hyperbole can be comforting but without evidence, it tends to be counter-productive 🙂
        Drought ? Yes, a four-year drought like the one just broken in S. Qld, would mean the death of all children under three or four, and the older women, and no babies born until well after the drought was over. So a eight- or nine-year demographic gap would knock the daylights out of the population. And droughts were occurring pretty much all the time, somewhere or other. Drought ruled between 1892 and 1904 down here in SA.
        Ironically, during that drought, the ration system meant that nobody died of starvation. Nobody had to scatter to look for food, but could gather near ration stations for the duration, and pass on the culture unhindered. History has many surprises. Check out my

        1. My sources are “Conspiracy of Silence -Queensland Frontier Killing Times ” By Historian Timothy Bottoms and a paper delivered by adjunct professor Raymond Evans to the Conflict in History and prepared by Him and Robert Orstead-Jensen Of the University of Queensland to the 33rd annual conference of the Australian Historical Association.
          I recommend the Book to you as it deals with not only the deaths but also the concealment of what occurred and the criticism and ostracizing of those who dared to speak up at the time and the ongoing campaign which continues to this day viz. the attacks on the competence and integrity of Henry Reynolds in Quadrant and the Murdoch press when he advanced what now appears to have been a very modest estimate of the numbers of aborigines killed .

          1. Hi John, Do those ‘sources’ do much besides cite other ‘sources’ ? Do any of them detail actual sites, forensic investigations, i.e. evidence ? I apologise, in this ‘post-truth’ era, for asking for evidence, but I’m too old now to try to keep up with touchy-feely.
            Of course, there were killings, probably far more out beyond the frontier of government control, on both sides, but evidence of at least some massacres would give an initial foundation for making solid claims.
            As for people being killed by cyanide, yes, when I was a kid my mum told me about a farmer’s wife who had poisoned four thousand people in one go, somewhere around Dubbo. I believed it for decades, then thought, ‘Hang on, you would never get four thousand people in one place, and why should they go to a stranger’s homestead instead of the local ration station ? And how could she dispose of four thousand bodies – by burying them or burning them ? She would need a huge bulldozer OR four thousand tonnes of wood.’ And the evidence would be still there. Now. Today. If someone looked.
            But it’s easier to believe bar-fly rumours, hearsay, if it all fits the ‘narrative’.
            Sorry, no, I’ll suspend belief until there is at least some evidence. Not just Chinese whispers.

          2. Ok Joe, read them and see. The authors are historians. They used the recognized methods to produce their work.
            I see you call for evidence and divert with irrelevancies elsewhere in these comments . I see no indication that you have considered the works to which you are referred. I tried to consider the website you referred me to but I found it impenetrable and full of links to nothing.

          3. Great sources John.
            John Pilger made a documentary years ago called the Secret Country. It should be shown to every student.

          4. When I worked in Kilcoy, in the late seventies, children were still finding bones and skulls from the 1842 massacre in the paddocks near Kilcoy Station. I wonder if that is enough evidence for Joe. Unfortunately I can’t reply to him directly.

        2. 50,o00 between 1842 and 1914 would hardly require massacring to be home without much trace… just natural attrition from disease of poverties forced upon them by us…
          Google: Deebing Mission…

          1. *and sorry, John’s claim of 250,000 in QLD 1842 then down to 20,000 by 1914 is what I was referring to- these figures do not require a single massacre to have occurred (they almost definitely did, is what the best evidence suggests), so your call for masses of evidence is wrong… that was all.

          2. Hi Mark, Yes, quite likely. Check out any very old cemetery and you’ll notice a huge number of very young people, children, babies too, who died early. Many common diseases then didn’t have cures until after the War. Fortunately, as it happens, there wasn’t much birth control either, so Aboriginal people, especially in missions, seemed to have large families.
            Another factor was that, until the last twenty years or so, Indigenous numbers were drastically under-counted: not at missions or government settlements, but in environments, on stations, in towns and cities, where they sort of ‘flew under the radar’. They were there all right, but were careful not to get counted, at least as Indigenous. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it ? But that’s for another, longer, post.

    3. Translated from the original racist:
      “I prefer unqualified historians elevated by the nation’s two least scholarly Prime Ministers to things that actually contain facts”.
      The information is there in the national archive. You can jump up and down like the rest of the Quadrant prostariat that it isn’t true and you only got your lot in life thanks to hard work. Whatever. Everyone knows you’re full of shit.

          1. The website is genuinely terrible. I have no objection to amateur history. So lng as it has a relationship to history.
            It reminds me of a conversation I once had in a Victorian country town.
            I was on a semi-vacation in a rental house and I had something due in to The Age. I didn’t have a wi-fi device, so I went down to the local internet community centre to file. There was a bloke next to me who was friendly, as people often are in country towns, and we got chatting. When he learned that I was a journalist, he offered the observation that “Obama is a Muslim, not that I mind” and then showed me how to Google “truth”.
            I did point out that he was still using Google, and wouldn’t this terrible liberal (of course, he thought it was Jewish) lie machine he despised be masked by that giant? This made him uncomfortable for a minute, but he just went on to show me the places you could find “truth” on the internet.
            These persons, who are very often anxious atheists, need some sort of organising first principle, because they really miss God. So they build websites full of “truth” as their own gods.

          2. Yep, I’m not much good on modern technology. What I have tried to do over around thirty years is type up old documents (the nine thousand letters of the SA Protector, 1837-1913, for example; royal commission transcripts; missionaries’ journals; conference papers; etc.) to put it all on a web-site,, and let readers view what they like and make up their own minds. Four hundred files, fifteen thousand pages, all up.
            I’m sorry if it’s hard to find stuff but I don’t know how to make it more readable. Actually I find it fascinating, I’ve learnt a vast amount compared to what I thought I knew before, some of it very traumatic. Everybody should risk it 🙂

        1. Being full of shit is not the exclusive province of old white men. Old white women, such as Clinton, are pretty good at containing it. And as I have said, the colour of one’s skin or the experience of oppression are no safeguards against an unfortunate understanding of power. I would also say that I think Jeremy Corbyn, an old white man, is hardly full of shit.
          But, yes. Being an old white man appears to be a risk factor of shit-filled-itis.

          1. Yes!
            I concede that I was probably just mistakenly talking about the actual, everyday, walking and talking, average white supremacist (like Jon and Joe above are, I’d say)!

    4. Jon,
      you would surely benefit from actually reading Stan’s essay, or his book Message to My Country. He is prepared to talk to you, even if you don’t appear to wish to listen. I promise you will find it surprising, and much of it you will end up agreeing with, I’m sure. Stan has spent a lifetime dealing with your type– the bravely ignorant, never backwards at displaying their dopiness for all to see. Stan doesn’t want or need your tears. But he does challenge you to at least test your assumptions and see if they stack up. Are you brave enough to get a second opinion?

        1. Hi Helen, I think jon might benefit if he would be a white trash person living near/with a ‘black trash community, like I did in Kuranda, FNQ, – not that I though I was a white trash, – I ran a business, Renewable Energy Design Supply Install, made a bit of money, lived in a small concrete block 8*16 room at the bottom of a rainforest gully, had done this for years, – buying a beer at the local drive-in, a young black woman jumped into my car, grabbed my, hhmm, said buy me a wine, and I bought her a wine on the condition no sex but tell me your story, the which she did, and gruesome, – her mother vomiting her life blood away in front of her from alcohol, dieing, much gruesome stuff, – I had not got to know the aboriginal, (black as they prefer to be called) in Kuranda, living in my tiny oasis, trying to save the world from global warming, but this pugnacious over the top young woman introduced me to all her friends, family, etc, (even succeeding in the original aim, though stealing $50;) so I met the local community, Hey, community, got to meet all these folk, got adopted by one family, 4 sisters, and one brother, ( meant initially that I lent money without expecting repayment, so what) the parents were my age, didn’t matter, really like the father now, but I became a part of the local community, black folk are about 1/3rd of Kuranda’s population, every where I went the local black folk waved, yelled hello geoff, but no one,(almost) asked me for money because they all knew I was part of this family that had adopted me, I had parties at my little place by the creek, 80 people, all black, huge amounts of alcohol consumed, no problems, nothing stolen, a great time had by all, – I had a computer set up to record music on CD’s, a constant stream of mainly black girls (half my age, no stuff there) came down to record CD’s, I enjoyed their children (my white family far away) I would go to their places, – drunk or sober, always welcome, – if dinnertime I got fed no question, if late always a bed, we had cook fests, at my place and theirs, for Sunday Feasts, so much fun ,even big gatherings, as long as my family were there, I had nothing to fear from young agro white haters, my sisters would shout them to shame, really the best people to hang out with, the black people in Kuranda, – and Why, because despite all the damage their community has sustained, they are still a community, – everybody is welcome, kids parents might be drunk and no money, the kids would go to another family and be loved and fed, a couple of times I slept at my second eldest sister’s, there were 20 people in the lounge room, mainly kids, same they come to my place, – even here in Malanda, everyone sleeps in the lounge room, they like, and I like, feeling that community.
          This, is what I believe the aboriginal people in Australia have to offer to the white people, an experience of non-judgemental open and warm, community, the white people don’t have it, can’t do it, and suffer from the lack of it, even if they don’t admit it.
          I realise it is from an earlier time, we now have very individualistic tendencies, but need to connect back to that embracing acceptance and caring, to be really whole.
          My sisters tell me, Geoff, you are not like a normal white person, you eat. shit and sleep in our houses, that is very important.
          Now, when I go back to visit my Kuranda family, 80 kms away, the men, particularly the men, cry to see me, it has been too long, we all end up crying, it is very moving, I tear to talk of it, we blocked up white people can not be so open and caring, mostly.
          I could talk of my experiences for hours, but I have to give a talk on “Living Money” tomorrow, the which still reqires preparation, but my family were are definitely no Black trash, despite the local police attitude, they despite all, have still a gift to offer all us arse clenching isolated white people, Community, – they can do it, we can’t, pray they forgive our forbears for ruthlessly destroying their culture, they have preserved the Gem, community, we can only get that gift by being/getting much closer to these loving humans, our black brothers and sisters, if we had only the sense to realise it.
          Anyway, my youngest sister, her husband and ( thankfully) only two of her 5 children are coming to stay for a week this Sunday, and I am hanging out for it.

  2. Wow! Our $25 reader contribution paid for in the first two words. Thank you Helen. I guess what I admire most (apart from your wonderful prose) is your capacity to get across the meatus of your subject, deconstruct it, then serve it up for our delectation.

    Yes, it makes for lazy absorption on our part, as you do all the hard yards. That doesn’t stop us looking like an O/B journalist nodding
    sagely, just before a live cross, head nodding – gathering our thoughts before the live cross.

    Today, more than ever, I want to marry you. My wife, having also read your acerbic, truthful treatise is inclined to now agree.

    Love, actually

    James Gillard


  3. You’ve hit the nail on the head re Grant as you do more often than not Helen. I would’ve thought that intelligent and sincere humanists, like Grant, would be seriously questioning the economic fundamentals of liberalism, considering what the global community is going through right now? Apart from climate issues etc, the global economy needs another industrial revolution to recharge its batteries, and the automation revolution that’s coming doesn’t need wage labor so much …

    1. Not hard to hit this particular nail, B. And I should point out that many Aboriginal intellectuals have done it a lot more forcefully than I have.
      To say that a positive attitude lifts people out of poverty is just the worst argument. But it is one people don’t want to let go. How else to not blame capitalism for capitalism? Blame the poor, or the “falsely” poor.

    1. You must excuse me making a final comment. When one says one culture is superior to another it is only meant in the sense that say a BMW car is superior to a Skoda car. Certainly I dont consider myself superior to any person.

      What is most concerning is that Sociobiology considers that all social behaviour has a biological basis. Certainly this theory would explain the huge difficulty Aborigines have in adjusting to our society. Evenso we must of course do our best to help them adjust to our ”superior” society. Even if the early settlers were more understanding and benevelant, the Sociobioligists would understand the huge, and they might say impossible difficulties, involved. The treatment by the early and later settlers of the Aborigines was a Crime against Humanity so we must do our best for them.

      Douglas Spray

      Sociobiology is a relatively new discipline promulgated in 1975 by E. O Wilson and Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene.. Not everybody agrees entirely with it.

    1. Whenever two cultures clash, the superior one, nothing to do with morality, dominates and flourishes. Think of the Romans conquering Britain, then the French,. Very little was left of the primitive Ancient Brit culture. I think this is a reality our Aborigine friends have to understand and accept. To try and live in a modern society with an ancient belief culture leads to the dysfunctional present day societies most aboriginee live,

      1. And Douglas, who is the superior culture? Are you a representative of said? If so, your muscular powers are not apparent in argument.
        Seriously. Your illiberal antagonism is embarrassing. And I am sure that if you were invaded by Chinese Overlords, you would turn very quickly to the UN and demand that your language be preserved. It’s the one you speak. It’s the culture you express yourself in. It’s the only connection you have to the things that made you you.
        You are, sir, a fucking idiot.

        1. The society that invented the wheel, the spear, domestication of animals, bronze, iron, the quantum theory etc etc was always superior to societies which did not have this knowledge.Australian Aborigines were hunters and gatherers, they were stone age people, they never permanently settled in one area, they had no written word. There is nothing to gloat or feel smug about because one is a member of a superior society to a more primitive one. It could be argued that other cultures in their present forms are superior to white Australian culture. French, Italian, German, Japanese, Scandinavian, with their more disciplined and intelligent work forces, love of music, the arts, etc. The Chinese with their love of knowledge and family could be considered superior to us. We don’t lose any sleep or feel inferior because other societies are superior to us, neither should the Aborigines, but as we try to compete and keep up with the rest of the world by education, and learning from others, so should the Aborigines. Their first insight must be to understand their position in this world as it is. I would tend to agree that morally they were superior to the first settlers but sadly because of racism over the centuries their society has degenerated.
          Sweetheart ( a gentle word than ignoramous), you sure are up a gum tree with your comments about Chinese Overlords (Donald Trump scares me more). I have a dream that possibly one World Goevernment, one language, one world view ( religion), one currency, one world minimum (and maximum) wage, etc might just possibly prevail in some distant time.

          1. Superiority is a patriarchal construct. It has nothing to do with science or even philosophy “Their first insight must be to understand their position in this world as it is. I would tend to agree that morally they were superior to the first settlers but sadly because of racism over the centuries their society has degenerated.” (Your own words believe it or not)
            So on one hand you argue that white culture is superior and yet it is sustained racism by whites that caused their society to degenerate. So superiority is based on the ability to out degenerate others. This is the real problem right there. You haven’t a clue of what your holding an opinion on or even how to argue your point if you could find it, but that’s not going to stop you holding forth to those inferior sorts on what’s good for them and why they fail to take advantage of your privileged white position. Stop and look at your own arrogance. And when you get over your selfish embarrassment pick up a few books on the topic and teach yourself something other than imaginary bullshit from Murdoch et al.

          2. Douglas, there’s not much I can add of meaning to this debate, however I must say that there is very little from my middle class anglo ‘culture’ which looks superior to that of the original indigenous culture that I have been exposed to. There is very little of our myth making and religion that appears in any way superior to indigenous dreamtime and myth.

            Just my perspective though. Seems to me that equating technological advancement with ‘superiority’ is a pretty hollow claim. Let’s face it, the ‘culture’ with the bigger guns usually wins. It has ever been thus.

            Actually, superiority is a vastly meaningless word, although can’t agree that it is patriarchal, as Simon asserts.

          3. I haven’t heard theses kinds of ideas expressed with such seemingly gay abandon and with such ignorant certitude since the 1950s – and even then I am sure many heads surely shook in abhorrence. I was 10 when Albert NAMATJIRA died – effectively a prisoner under detention because he had treated his own family in obligatory ways – not permitted due to his “dog-tag” special categorisation. Apartheid in Australia. Even at that age the tributes which poured in from Australians and from around the world acknowledging his genius disturbed me. I remember asking my mother why all this colour and celebration AFTER his death – when BEFORE it he had been so maltreated. You appear to understand absolutely nothing about the complexity of Indigenous societies which had allowed for some 60,000 years of survival in this land – and OF the land – read Bill GAMMAGE The Biggest Estate on Earth – and Dark Emu by Bruce PASCOE – both published in the last few years. Scales might fall from your eyes!

  4. To put what Stan has written into some sort of perspective, there are now well over forty thousand Indigenous university graduates, rising at about 5 % p.a. Two thirds are women. That cracks out at about one in every five urban Indigenous women, one in ten men; and about one in every hundred remote-area women, one in every two hundred and fifty men. Something’s working, however imperfectly.
    The crude transfer rate of Indigenous graduates in mainstream bachelor degrees (around 97 % of under-graduate completions) is just over 100 %. Under-graduates commonly move on to post-graduate study.
    No, liberalism is not perfect and never will be. But by Christ, it beats short lives, stagnation and violence in hellholes.
    Go for it 🙂

    1. Grants provides this context. But these figures are not compared against (a) the losses that low income Indigenous Australians have borne and (b) the fact of uncapped university places. Nearly everyone has a degree now. They are meaningless.
      More than anything, though, this claim that Things Can Only Get Better for the Aboriginal middle class when everywhere, including in Australia, the middle class is disappearing, is a difficult one to make. Unless there is a secret Aboriginal economy (there isn’t, despite what some racists have said on this page about Aboriginal people getting everything they want) which buffers Aboriginal people from the economic reality the majority of Australians are beginning to confront, I don’t see how these statistics are meaningful.
      Liberalism created those hell holes and continues to do so.

      1. Perhaps you’re right, Helen, Blackfellas should either lay down and die or just keep out of sight. Perhaps their rightful place is out in the sticks. No, those of the 81% urban majority have the option of going on welfare or going as far as they can, and as they like, in education. And to do what they damn well like. If a hundred thousand of them graduate in the next twenty years, it’s because they damn well want to give it a go, they don’t have to come cap in hand to ask your permission. University education is worthless ? Ever tried lifelong welfare ?

        1. This is a wiflul misreading of things that I wrote. Talk about “identity politics” and a complete disregard for evidence.
          I am saying that the economic times are very tough. I am not alone in saying this. It is very broadly acknowledged that material inequality is on the rise and that underemployment is a serious current problem and is bound to a problem for the future.
          You may think that positive feelings are the way around this. But, then again, you’re a leftist, so how could you possibly? If you were truly a leftist, you would say that radical reorganisation of the economy is the way. But, no. Like a conservative liberal, you are saying “it is bad attitudes that make people poor!”
          How is a middle-class going to rise when no middle-class in the world is rising? Because of your important project to show that Aboriginal people have never had it as bad as they say?
          You are the person who has taken it upon yourself to find an upbeat story, who says that the official account keeping (who was that done by?) is the only way. That white people have never been racist in their accounts of their crimes.
          Just like the NSA doesn’t keep a record of who it spies on. Just like all the stories from Nauru are held to be false because they are not records kept by officials or those with vested interests.
          No. All we need it to tell a more upbeat story, apparently. Because everything was much better than we thought it was in the past, and the future just looks rosy.
          Where in Capital can I find this important advice. I have never made it through Volume 2, perhaps it’s there.
          If it pleases you, continue “proving” that Australian history is marvellous, that there is no psychological or economic need for atonement. Just stay out of my face.
          Again. You want fans for this “don’t worry be happy” stuff? You have plenty. Go find them. Meantime, stop accusing me of racism simply because I don’t buy the happy clappy nonsense.

          1. Hi Helen, do you think that, when I started transcribing documents, it didn’t cross my mind that they might have all been fabricated ? In order to hoodwink us, today, in 2016 ? Do you realise how difficult that would be to do, with just a few letters, let alone nine thousand, or a few entries in a missionary’s journal, let alone twenty years of it ?
            One surprise for me about these old documents is that they triangulate – maybe out of some fiendish conspiracy, or maybe because they were simply reporting on, or writing about, real-life people and events. After all, reality and the truth is far easier to stick to than a huge assemblage of lies, although I know how difficult that may be for you to imagine.
            Take for example, the Rabbit Fence Story: no mention of it in any WA newspaper, nor the West Australian, pro-Labour in the early 30s, stridently anti-government. The Rabbit department employed perhaps a thousand men on the Fence; none of them seemed to report three little girls to their local paper. After a change of government to Labour in 1933 or 1934, the Royal Commission into the Aborigines, the ‘Moseley Commission’, said nothing whatsoever about girls escaping from Moore River along the Fence; escaping to go to Fremantle, yes, but not North. Mrs. Bennett, a wonderful woman, a Communist to the day she died in 1961, said nothing about any three girls at the Royal Commission. So effectively, no evidence of any trek along the Fence, from anywhere. Sorry.
            But you believe what you like, free of reality, truth or evidence. It’s your web-site.
            The transcript of the Moseley Commission is on my web-site, by the way:, Western Australian Page. Absolutely bloody fascinating stuff.
            I love the truth; it will set you free, Helen.

  5. In his now well publicised rough and crude attacks on anyone that disagrees with him, Noel Pearson represents an Indigenous mirror response to all that is ugly about colonisation. Big threatening bully boy that he is, taking his cues from 200 years of dispossession by similar but undoubtedly more murderous fellows. Stan Grant on the other hand demands to be listened to because he intends to transcend the effects of his nations’ horrible histories through reasoned argument and debate. We can walk together with Stan to find a new and more complete understanding of what it means to be black and not black in this place, or we can fuck off while Noel continues his personal crusade against all us white c…ts to improve his peoples lot. Give me Stan anytime.

    1. Notwithstanding that Mr Pearson denies that he said these things, it is disingenuous to suggest that he has ever been someone who has refused to work with white institutions. You may have the personal view that he doesn’t like white people. I don’t know where that comes from other than your own imagination.
      Pearson’s politics are not my politics in any way. But I remember what he has done, and how much he has done to actually charm, not malign, white people. Do you not remember the Reconciliation movement? He spoke at these events tirelessly. To a white audience. I attended many of these large meetings, which took place not exclusively in the inner city. It was a message of “walking together”, which I think was the name of the newsletter.
      How on earth, was the Native Title legislation a refusal to work with white people, or anything but an enormous compromise? The man’s entire life has been in service to convincing middle Australia that we are in this thing together. How else do you think he became such fast friends with Australian Prime Ministers?
      Again. Pearson’s politics are not mine. McQuire is one of the people who has written in great detail about the failure of some of his schemes. But to say that he goes about calling white people names? I think that’s a voice in your head. Pearson has done nothing but appeal to white middle Australia and its leaders. This has been, to his detriment, his explicit project. If you missed this, then you must miss an awful lot. A man who urges for understanding for the mining companies? Seriously? This is the guy you choose to think of as your angry black man?
      Mate. This is your delusion. Not Pearson’s crime.
      What do you expect from Aboriginal people? Ask yourself that. Ask yourself if you have a very different idea of what constitutes anger and abuse in a black man and a white man.
      As for the beief that it is only nice and reasonable people who change history. Lol. Read some history.

      1. Notwithstanding Noel Pearson’s many eloquent and measured public utterances (of which I am a great fan), Helen as a journo I would’ve thought you’d be better informed about Noel’s private nastiness. I have Indigenous and non-Indigenous contacts who have had first hand experience. And what about that big expose in The Australian a couple of years ago?

        I love much of Pearson’s work, don’t straw man me. I just feel that his beautiful public oratory is sadly let down by his apparent inability to maintain his equilibrium when negotiating privately.

        Your last point that the change our society needs will not come from the meek and reasonable. What a sad and dispiriting view you have of the chances for black and white Australia reconciled. Stan Grant, who may soon usurp Pearson as Australia’s top Indigenous influencer (if he hasn’t already), would suggest otherwise. And he may achieve more and lasting change because he won’t stoop to abuse in private when negotiating on how best to achieve it.

        1. For the nth time. Why are we talking about how Noel Pearson did or didn’t behave?
          Really. Why.
          I am not a fan of Pearson’s liberal thinking. But this doesn’t matter. What matters, or at least what is telling, is that several people here have mentioned that he seems to be a naughty man.
          News just in. Some people are imperfect. Some people, especially those privileged of power, are arrogant behind the scenes. The question is: why are we talking about one guy’s bad character, and not bad ideas.
          Because, as I said, there is this terrible public habit of accepting only one Aboriginal voice, or message, at a time. And even though he may have had personal motivations for saying it, Pearson’s comments about the ABC are dead on. The organisation rarely permits views other than the liberal one. And if you actually read accounts by Aboriginal intellectuals, you will find that they are very diverse. What does the ABC do on the important matter of constitutional recognition. Put that dreary, anti-intellectual Bolt on to argue against it. When, according to survey, at least half of black Australia is also opposed to recognition for much more interesting, and intellectual, reasons.
          We can only handle one voice, one message, at a time. We will ignore much of Aboriginal Australia even and especially when it has something very important to say.
          And we really do nearly always punish individual Aboriginal intellectuals. Again, no fan of Pearson. He is a liberal. I am not. We have different ways of seeing the world. But, geez, the way his downfall is demanded is so predictable.
          All the stories about Hockey and Abbott at university. Why didn’t this end their careers? Why will they go on to occupy positions of power? (Even if they’re not the very powerful positions they would both prefer.) Because they’re white. We accept white people misbehaving, punching walls etc We do not accord black people the same room.

  6. Pearson’s abusive, bullying and racist comments should not be tolerated as you suggest Helen. They should be called out for what they are. This is supposedly a respected, educated leader of aboriginal Australia. His apparent mal administration of his school is also a source of concern. White society should not harden up as you suggest Helen. This is not about being resilient, it is about calling out antisocial behaviours where ever we see them. Aboriginal Australia has been the recipient of these behaviours since the colonisation . As a result Aboriginal communities suffer from levels of abuse and dysfunction which are really unimaginable. Pearson’s abuse should not be excused or accepted. Not good enough. Must do better. Stan Grant has many worthwhile things to say about where a new awakened Australia could be heading, but I can’t help feeling he is peddling his own barrow for a tilt at politics or another office. Even if this is the case, he is still, like many leaders ( including Pearson) a voice worth listening to.

    1. Oh, Jesus. Can no one remember the past twenty years of Pearson being polite in public to a fault?
      Yes, bullying behaviour is “unassptable”. It’s not nice. But the true tragedy is the way in which particular groups of people are doomed by policy settings to live in particular ways.
      If you really think “calling out” individual acts can change the world, knock yourself out. Call for anti bullying legislation in the work place and ignore the fact that workers’ rights have all but disappeared. My union doesn’t protect me from anything, but it might act if I tell them that I have heard a snide remark. So what? What does this matter if I don’t have an actual job from which I cannot be sacked?
      The reality is that I now cop a lot more abuse than I would have previously because I am terrified that I won’t get paid. Everyone, from Uber drivers to casualised people in the retail and health sectors, face crap. Not because people are mean and need to be called out. But because of policy settings that the unions never really bothered to challenge.
      My point being. Delude yourself that the real tragedy is bad individuals. And in this case, please continue to ignore that I have said repeatedly that I do not like Pearson’s policies. Just call out the angry black man.
      Again. Pearson denies the claims.

  7. Grant’s essay poses the very real problem for Aborigines of how to get white Australia to recognize that the mental image of the stereotypical drunk on the riverbank when the word ‘Aborigine’ is mentioned is wrong without mentioning it.

    Neither he nor Razer identify why that stereotype exists nor Grant’s second problem, “the dreadful tendency in the dominant, overwhelmingly white culture to accept Aboriginal wisdom not just one message but one voice at a time.”

    Neither one blames the obvious perpetrator; perhaps because they work in the industry. It’s the media and it’s the media that put Grant in the Catch 22 situation he finds himself in. As Razor says, “The colour of one’s skin and even the tortures of one’s childhood—and Grant had it rough—provide no immunity to the idea that you can think your way into equality in a fundamentally unequal system.” Not only does the media promote an Australian version of the American dream; hides the extent of inequality; even worse, it has thoroughly embedded the idea in white Australians that it is Aboriginal thinking that is at fault.

    Sadly, the ABC and SBS are not innocent.

    Grant thinks that becoming middle class will help all Aborigines however it was not the middle class that started the great revolutions of the past. It was the intelligentsia who developed manifestos for change.

    Therefore, it may be no accident that the QUT Oodgeroo Unit was attacked by a group of young whites backed up by high-powered lawyers. They walked past 300 freely available, 24 hr. computers in the library to building Y in the far corner of the university. For what purpose? From their posts it appears they wanted to close down the unit.

    Finally, Grant has carelessly given people like Andrew Bolt ammunition with lines like,

    “The very act of writing our histories is in itself a practice of falsification.”
    And “…if, still in some circles, sceptically – known as the Stolen Generations”

    1. Of course media are complicit. But the messages it continues to provide do not come ex nihilo. We can see this in very recent history. Very few Australians had a problem with Muslims before 2001. Thanks to a relentless year of racist claims by the Howard government, now we do. And eventually the media naturalise these thoughts. Until such time as they are supposed to change gear. Now, liberal media hates Russia instead.
      I would also remind you that I do not work for publicly listed media. For the reasons you describe. And I don’t say the things that they do.

      1. My apologies. I also agree that there has been a strong political agenda by certain politicians and parties denigrating Aborigines.

        Australian media, run by a very select few with their long-existing slant also against Aborigines has been active at times in initiating anti-Aboriginal sentiment – the kind that you do not do. The worst of, course, is the Australian. A good example is how the media beat up the QUT incident to incite huge social media race and gender attacks on Aborigines and the racial discrimination act. The politicians were left hot footing to find their responses to it.

        1. The QUT incident is proof that a Big Brother is being installed to to prevent individual thoughts, words and actions.
          The QUT students intended no harm before they were attacked.
          Fitzhenrymac- What weapons did these students use? Bombs? Guns? Knives? Fists? Racist taunts? Noisy protests? Flags and banners? Bad language? Sneers?
          According to the court, they went into an unmarked computer lab and were kicked out and then sued for a quarter of a million dollars.
          The worst thing they said was something about it being a strange way to fight racism – with segregation.
          No wonder you criticised Helen Razer; she doesn’t express hatred for someone you choose to hate.

          1. Exactly my point. Your perception is completely politically and media driven, not fact based.

            “Intended no harm”??? but certainly intended something. Those QUT students walked past the computers in their faculty blocks and 300 freely available 24 hr computers in the campus library right to the far corner of the university to the 14 computers in the Oodgeroo Unit. They claim it was not marked but photos from the time show it was. They could have tried any of the other faculty labs on the way such as fashion where, no doubt, they would also have been asked to leave. Would you say specialist labs for disabled students or non-English speakers were segregationist?

            Later, for reasons unexplained, 3 very expensive lawyers offered their services for free. So media claims of ridiculous legal costs were a lie as was that the students were being sued for $250,000. The university and some senior staff were the main defendants. That action has not been kicked out of court nor did the judge say that the complaint against the students was without merit. Just that he thought it would not succeed.

            Race hate speech legislation does not stop free speech. It is designed to stop slander and libel of whole races, and that includes yours.

        2. Fitzhenrymac: Your make a lot of allegations that are not backed by any evidence.

          The QUT students were not racists. Prove that they were.

          The courts decided they were innocent.
          This was after two years defending themselves against someone who wanted a quarter of a million dollars for suffering no harm.

          I grew up with indigenous people. I want their lives to improve. They deserve better but they despair of this kind of ugly, sub-human attack on reasonable people that you like to propagate. It puts barriers between white and black people.

  8. It always takes a white person to say “He (Grant) is one guy, no more a representative of “his people” than I am of mine”. You justy have to add the dominant white person exclusion tactic. As for Noel Pearson, apart from anything else he is an abusive sod and if carried on like that to me, in the workplace completely unannounced, this little part Wog guy might freak out and go crazy.Someone would get hurt, possibly me. But someone would get hurt.

    1. Could you possibly expand on how it is elite, racist and/or a form of exclusion to say that one person’s view is not representative of an entire people’s.
      And do this without resorting to racial slurs (there on’e above) and impossible-to-understand sentences?

  9. Even though Grant is using his own experience as a political tool – and this can be equated to other kinds of identity politics – it’s not really the same as the identity politics that has emerged recently to crush debate and stifle the exchange of ideas in the English-speaking world. Saying that it is would be like saying that, insofar as our experiences inform our beliefs, anyone invoking their experiences to take a political position is engaging in ‘identity politics’. If I describe my experience as part of an educated middle class in a free market as positive – and advocate that others may experience this – it’s not the same, the key difference being my presumed membership of a majority instead of my membership of an oppressed minority. The notion of oppression and ‘consciousness raising’ is key to identity politics and its effects, as Razer notes, tend to arrest the exchange of ideas rather than enhance it. This is not an effect of Grant’s essay. Not sure what Razer is getting at, in the end: there’s no inherent critique of Grant’s ‘liberalism’ here. There’s no rich discussion of why it might be bad or good for aboriginals. Only an awareness than Stan Grant is guilty of using identity politics as a political tool to promote a capitalist worldview (if you believe the contention). So what? When you stick to a discussion about identity, the discussion you’re left with always feels a little empty, which is kind of ironic. That being said, this is also a challenging piece that made me think.

    1. I actually don’t say Grant’s fault is to use his childhood, while simultaneously critiquing others who do the same. I do say , I think, clearly, that his is a liberal identity, no essentially freer than any other kind. The idea of a “fluid” identity presumes that this identity is somehow not stable. Of course, it is. Just because that identity is “I can be whatever I want whenever I say”m this is still an identity category.
      His “identity” is Free To Be Me. Which, as others have noted, is (a) contingent on access to wealth (you can only eat whatever food you want if you can afford it; and that he is saying that it is the refusal to want that food that stops people from accessing it is a classic liberal inversion of the superstructure base relationship) and (b) a new iteration of the identity-free. Usually, people who are white, male and wealthy. Everyone else has a “perspective”. The powerful are the only ones with objectivity.
      So if you are gonna really attack identity politics, attack it. Really forcefully identify who is speaking in your text. He doesn’t. He just says he is free, largely through an act of will.

  10. Helen,
    Your main quibble seems to be that Stan Grant rejects the cult of pessimism that earns so many commentators their meager living (no names) in favour of an essentially optimistic world view. You may label it liberalism, while Stan challenges us all to be the best we can be. My problem with your critique is that it all too willingly surrenders our history-past and future- to a box marked ‘utter failure’. A good example is when you counter the fact that there are now far more indigenous graduates that there are indigenous prisoners, and that this goes unreported. Your response?: “Nearly everyone has a degree now. They are meaningless.” I suppose that’s in the back of your mind when you visit the doctor, accept the advice of a nurse, or (god forbid) take counsel from a lawyer. Or cross a footbridge built by an engineer. In one fell swoop you have blithely yet again discredited indigenous achievement because it doesn’t fit your Chicken Little defeatism. Once, just once, try writing somethng positive about the world. You might just find it liberating, and we certainly need it at times like these. I’m over all this intellectual defeatism. It’s too serious to be pessimistic right now, not to mention cowardly.

    1. Most of the world’s reputable economists agree than in twenty years’ time, unemployment will be at 60%. Everyone agrees that economic inequality, the result of liberal policy, is on the rise and many agree this will continue to rise without new forms of organisation.
      This is not pessimism. Just the way things are.

  11. Great debate, we can concede the point that the dominant culture prevails to a large extent, I don’t think Aboriginal People seriously do not think they will get their country back, but the fight back from the non-dominant culture will continue and therefore the question is how do Indigenous groups and Aboriginal people get greater economic development opportunities and more independence from the dominant culture so that the non-dominant can prioritise looking after its own culture.

  12. So what if Pearson was polite in public to a fault, as you say Helen. He has been abusive in the past. Some of this abuse occurred apparently years ago. A couple of moments of aberration can be forgiven but a history of this behaviour, even it is out of the public glare needs to be acknowledged. If you want to facilitate change in a non-violent, cohesive manner you don’t go around calling people ‘white cs’. To say it is to think it. It is like trying to get women on board but privately calling them ‘f..n sl..ts’. I have worked with aboriginal people and if I had privately called some leaders to their face, racist names, I would have been ostracised by the community. Also Helen abusing others on line is not a healthy way of getting change if that is really what is wanted rather than a reaction. You have been the victim of some abusive behaviour online but you are also a perpetrator.

    1. You have clearly been privileged of a level of sensitivity training we mortals can only dream of.
      Where is this “abuse” of which I am guilty? Help me by “calling it out” online. Just as you are helping out the world by drawing attention to unsubstantiated allegations made about a black leader. I am sure these moments will help the world heal.
      Why talk about large numbers of people when we can argue about whether such-and-such is a nasty pasty. It’s much more important to malign individuals than stick to the topic of: why do Aboriginal people largely face hurdles to life and health that non Aboriginal people largely do not.
      I am sure it is VERY IMPORTANT to bang on and on abut the possibility that one black man might have said something nasty once. Or, indeed, to say that I, a white woman, did.
      Important work you’re doing.

      1. Oh please, ‘ maligning individuals’ Helen you make that a dark art! Gee, we must all just tolerate a use and get on with it. That make a for a great society. Amazing how you are ready to overlook abusive behaviour by Noel Pearson as though the recipients had it coming. Yes let us spend our time looking at why aboriginal Australia faces the issues it faces because that has never been done before-genocide, abuse, isolation, government policies, lack of power, generational incarceration. How about we talk about what to do about these things. Go out to the Aboriginal communities and see how wonderfully well these are operating. If we really want to have a discussion about the whole instead of the individual, as you seem so keen to do, let’s talk about these for the most part, dislocated communities. But wait, no one wants to do much about the communities. God forbid we even countenance the possibility of trying to close so of them. Get that conversation started instead of focussing on the few Aboriginal leaders who have the ear of the media. Let us pander to them Helen. You live such a black and white world, there are not many shades of grey for you, are there?

  13. Pearson’s behaviour needs ‘calling out’ because we tend to tiptoe around some aboriginal leaders on occasions. This is probably why all of this has just come out now. The same with other powerful people in our community. Of course the real tragedy IS individuals who do destructive things. Policy is not made through artificial intelligence- it is made by living, breathing individuals. Not enough ‘calling out’ goes on in Australia. If this happened more, we would have a better society. Helen, you talk about how much abuse you face on line but you tolerate it because now it is part of your job and you have to keep your job. But you engage in the exact same abuse. Pearson sets the agenda back with abusive tirades. As do you. It is not about calling out the angry black man, as you accuse us of, it is about promoting a better society through rational, reasoned debate. Not enough calling out goes on. We are becoming insular, scared and abusive. Dangerous combinations.

    1. Bronwyn. Given your commitment to the Habermas ideals of reasonable debate, could you please help deliberation, in which apparently everyone is at ease to participate in, by observing the following rules.
      1. Keep your particular debates to a particular thread. You do this by hitting the “reply” button in particular conversations.
      2. Selecting one username and sticking to it.
      3. Avoid ad hominem attack. “You do this therefore you cannot say this” is not argument. As you are such a fan of reason, which is something apparently all the world can participate in if only it tries hard enough to be polite, do not observe this logical fallacy.
      BTW. I am very, very, very careful not to write about abuse I sustain. If I ever mention it, it’s scarcely. I also do not indulge in abuse. Of course, I will call fucking idiots fucking idiots (as per below, to the racist chappie) but this is not abuse. It is a public service.
      I urge you to rethink your claim that individual humans have direct control over policy. Systems very quickly become bigger than people. This is just maths. Consider the idea of path dependency.
      Or, don’t. Keep believing that everything in the world is done on equal terms and is an exchange between individuals. Who are all “rational”, as you’d prefer.

    2. Oh good grief! Helen was not abusive!! Without investigating further, I have to conclude that Noel Pearson hasn’t indulged in any ‘abusive tirades’ either.
      At least I know of two people you don’t agree with.

  14. Helen, I normally love your critiques, and have written expressing support. But this time I find your response to Stan Grant more than disappointing: it is abstract to the point of confusion and seemingly more erudite than real. I have worked in the field of Aboriginal advancement for many years and this is the first writing that has confused me to the point of wondering if, in my senior years, I am loosing the plot. But, on closer consideration I find it’s you not me that has the problem.
    To have an erstwhile advocate of liberal and anti-racist values enter this highly complex field, and to risk continuing the terrible tradition of tearing down the ‘tall poppies’ is sad. But for that to occur in the guise of higher intellectual argument, when it fails that standard miserably, is not sad, it is ignorant and it is harmful..
    Back-off, ‘go to jail’ immediately, do not pass ‘Go’ , do not collect $200. You need to make amends for this rubbish, with a much more genuine, thoughtful, quality piece of work.
    Sue Booth

    1. I’m confident I’ve been fair to Grant and have read his essay with the respect and seriousness it should be accorded.
      You may not agree with my assessment. That doesn’tmean that I have been lazy. It just means that you do not agree.
      Grant’s proposition is that Aboriginal poverty is, on large part, sustained by Aboriginal identity willingly assumed. I don’t agree. I said this clearly. I allowed that he may have a point that adherence to certain identity constraints cam harm conversation. I do not allow that certain identities are as inauthentic or materially damaging as Grant says they are.
      I don’t allow that there can be a rise of the middle class when no section of the middle class is making substantial gains. People are on stagnant wages. All people. Except for an elite few. That there can continue to be great gains for low income people when there hasn’t been in forty years just doesn’t make mathematical sense.
      Grant says that a better attitude will make people wealthy. I don’t agree.
      Actually, it would be condescending of me to agree to this impossible claim. Do you think I should suspend criticism for Grant because I care that someone will think I’m cutting down a tall poppy?
      Isn’t that identity politics? Agreeing with someone because of who they are?
      You can disagree. But you can’t just call an argument lazy and leave it at that. That’s lazy.
      No. I don’t think people can hope their way out of destitution. You do. We disagree.

  15. Sorry, I don’t describe your article as lazy, rather that it seeks to gain authority through reliance on academic-speak rather than providing a clear, accessible critique ; that this abstracted analysis does not demonstrate roots in the field of Indigenous issues and struggles that would give authority to such definite assertions; and that its resort to warrior-mode against Grant appears as much motivated by the defence of a favoured colleague as to a positive contribution to the field of Indigenous advancement. The contribution it makes to the terrible history of tearing down and discarding Indigenous leaders is the most harmful feature of the article: no amount of academically-cloaked rejoinders will will serve to justify or negate this harm. Instead, I seek more from you, a wiser, more constructive piece of work that builds rather than aims to demolish in this field of fragile progress.

    1. Thanks for your reply, Sue. Again, it is better for everyone’s ease of reading that we keep these comments ‘threaded’, or contained in one particular part of the page. You do this simply by hitting ‘reply’ on the last response. No biggie. Just something to keep in mind.
      I suspect that although you yourself seem fully capable of following my argument, you fear that others cannot. You are saying that I am obscurantist, or whatever, (really, I’m not. There’s no really unusual theories in here) but both the content of your response and its style says to me that you understand fully.
      Why are you worried that there are those who may not understand? And, why do you think that any discussion of Aboriginal Australian issues needs to have a particular urgency, or focus on plain language?
      This is not a discussion of policy. It’s a book review. So, it’s a discussion of somebody else’s mode of discussion. Which might sound, again, obscurantist, but that’s what a non-fiction book review is. And, Sue, this is the Quarterly Essay. It is the most prestigious and shamelessly intellectual publication for policy and idea discussion in the land. I would not approach a David Marr essay with recourse to plain language, even if he was talking, as he has done in the past, about abuse in the Catholic Church. I would not demean Stan Grant, a very capable thinker, by giving him the treatment I give to no one else.
      This is not a piece of journalism. The future of Aboriginal Australia does not pivot on what I say in an essay about an essay. Yes, I am keenly aware that a large proportion of Aboriginal people live under implicit and explicit forms of control and of course, it troubles me that I live in a nation where my privilege, cultural and economic, is predicated on this hopelessness. Does this mean that every time I mention anything Aboriginal I must use plain language and pause my usual mode of writing? And declare a state of emergency?
      No. First, nearly everyone who reads me is going to be at least partially committed to the idea of a better deal for Aboriginal people. I am not going to change anybody’s mind about that. I write for a small audience whom I presume to be at least a little socially conscious. I also here write for an arts and literary audience. There are certain presumptions I can make about my audience. I usually seem to get it right.
      Second, have you read Stan Grant’s essay? Man. I don’t think another reference to a French thinker would fit in there.
      Plain language and thinking to review an essay that is elaborate? What kind of aloofness is that? There are many Aboriginal readers and writers, as Grant points out, fully able to engage in a conversation at a Quarterly Essay level. Here are some names. Actually, let me keep it only to all the Aboriginal women intellectuals I can think of in under twenty seconds just to bear out my case by applying constraint: Amy McQuire, Celeste Liddle, Larissa Behrendt, Louise Taylor, Nayuka Gorrie, Marica Langton, Eugenia Flynn, Megan Davis.
      I am not accusing you of anything here save for your insistence on a particular kind of discourse for a particular kind of subject. You say that I must, in reviewing a Quarterly Essay (again, this is the Quarterly Essay, largely agreed to be the most important and substantial intellectual document in the nation) keep my language and thinking urgent and plain. Even if the document I am reviewing is neither. Why?
      Identity politics is not a simple matter. Grant knows this. His essay is not, at all, an extension of his famous speech but a very elaborate post-script.
      I don’t agree that what Grants sees as a limiting identity creates poverty or wealth. I think that poverty and wealth create (demand) what Grant sees as the limiting aspects of an identity. This is absolutely fundamental to my world view, and, frankly, whatever you say, it’s hardly an inaccessible intellectual claim. This is out-and-out Marxism. It’s an old idea and one I always declare as my bias.
      That’s all I am saying here. Grant believes that the economic conditions are the result of the way that people think, about themselves and other things. I think it is the other way around. This is a really old argument. It is the central argument between liberals and leftists. It has been the most raging argument since the 1960s. I simply do not think any person, whether they are Aboriginal or non Aboriginal, creates an identity without recourse to material organisation. And I really don’t buy that “things can only get better” in the current climate. We are in a terrible cycle of capitalism and whatever others in this thread say, university degrees have lost their value, both culturally and economically.
      Grant is writing about a future that is full of middle-class Aboriginal people whose advancement is only hindered, in his view, by the bad attitude of present day middle-class Aboriginal people. He says, “You have so many degrees!” Well, you know, so what? Yes, take a minute to celebrate the advancement. But, not an entire essay which does not consider that it has become increasingly impossible for large numbers of people to even hold onto, let alone claw their way into, a middle-class.
      Some guy says something to me down the page about how I should be ashamed of saying that university degrees are worthless and that I do not appreciate doctors, nurses, engineers etc. Of course I do. I also appreciate that the uncapped university places system in a time of rapidly accelerating underemployment means something strange. It doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that degrees will mean less in the future. We don’t run a full employment regime these days. It’s in the news every day and it is apparent in your daily life. Look at the Millennial driving your Uber. Look at what even the RBA admits. Look at any serious economist’s predictions. We have an underemployment problem. How in the name of blazes is a positive attitude supposed to overcome that?
      Added to which. The entire “help others to think their way out of their bad circumstances”. For anyone, I just don’t buy it.
      Are Aboriginal people, many of who are currently engaged in the most thrilling public intellectual exchange since the 1970s, too fragile to have these ideas discussed by a white girl? Happily, the answer is no. Would this essay be better discussed by an Aboriginal Australian? Yes. But it landed on my desk and I could either ignore it or engage with it. I am keenly aware that I am in no position to say anything deep or prescriptive about policy settings for Aboriginal Australians. I know that all I am entitled by reason and sensitivity to do is engage with Grant in the terms he has set out. I know a bit about the liberalism he advances. And as he says himself in the essay, it is a discussion on ideas about identity that can be extended to other peoples.
      I responded to Grant’s essay in the way it demands. And Grant, of all people, wouldn’t want me to apply a state-of-emergency attitude to an intellectual work. The question is, does he make his case? Has he borne out his claim that middle-class Aboriginal people are doing real harm by remembering the past? I would say no. I did say no. How would you prefer this to be said?

      1. Helen: You never fail to find angles in your essays which challenge received assumptions! Blessings to you. I grew up alongside Indigenous neighbours – there were some school fellows (over 60 years ago when being in a school was not easily a given for Indigenous children – in the early-mid-1950s) – later Indigenous students – and colleagues. I engaged in tertiary studies endeavouring to properly (so far as I could) understand the First Nations in this land from my invader family background. And then uncovered the family connections into contemporary Indigenous Australia – and those back into the 19th-century who engaged in some of the massacres against Indigenous people – or who alternatively held and wrote about them with sympathy/empathy for their vile treatment – even if expressed in largely naïve understanding! I almost have a book or Quarterly Essay of my own as written by Stan Grant which might express what he and you in your review have been trying to say about our national past and present – if nowhere near as incisively and literarily written! I appreciate something in all your essays and I never think I have the only possible interpretation of the matters. Before Stan Grant’s book – which I have read – and attended live lectures – I had visited the significant Massacre or Murdering Island in the ‘Bidgee River just upstream from Narrandera (first alerted to it by a novel based upon the incident – as told him by a survivor’s descendant – by Noel BEDDOES. I have just been back to Japan for a student’s wedding and at the same time catching up with a range of good friends there – all Shintō priests – who connect their animist beliefs to the landscape and seasonal changes and thanksgiving for the various bounties so derived – with what they perceive as on a similar level from traditional Indigenous culture. Of course it’s not the same – but there are aspects – as indeed they themselves out of the ancient pre-literate past see their understanding in a pre-Buddhist way – yet partake of the contemporary technological devices of our present-day world. My Indigenous friends/distant kin connections here in Australia were professional level supervisors and managers, are writers/poets, surgeons and doctors, teachers/radio presenters – and in other capacities in nursing, labourers, clerks and so forth. THE best guides on travels into the Northern Territory were (I want to write “naturally”) Indigenous people! Of course. I have friends for whom, sadly, their Indigenous great grand-mother’s story has largely been lost – who feel diffident about even saying that it is a part of their heritage for fear someone may think they are out to make a claim for some benefit. Who feel that apart from the fact of a distant ancestral DNA connection they know little more! I feel a charge to my heart when I hear such a story – and I want to say – go for it. Go to AIATSIS – opposite the Museum of Australia on a peninsular jutting into Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra – research your family story – retrieve what was stolen from you – reclaim – don’t feel embarrassment – feel pride in the courage and ability they had to survive against all the odds – to prosper against all the slings and arrows!

    2. Both Stan Grant and Helen Razer are telling people like you that aboriginal people are free thinking individuals each subject to unique sets of circumstances as well as racism. ‘Indigenous Australia’ is a generic term that almost always fails when a certain brand of thinking which sits behind it, is applied to any individual.
      Helen disagrees with Stan. Fine; it’s an important debate about how aboriginal Australians might live better lives. (From what I have seen of Helen’s work she was not in ‘warrior mode’ just for the record)
      Sue, it might be that sending flags off to lots of people is a sign that you missed the mark because such actions indicate you consider indigenous Australians to be homogeneous.

  16. Hi Mark, I write about forty thousand Indigenous university graduates and I’m a white supremacist ? Never mind, pretty soon it will be fifty thousand, a hundred thousand, people choosing to do whatever the hell they like, maybe even live next door to you (there’s no accounting for taste) so who’s the supremacist ?
    Forty five years ago, when my late wife and I were making Aboriginal Flags after our factory work, and sending them around the country free, I wonder where you might have been ? I was born on the Left and I’ll die on the Left. Just not your version of ‘Left’, I suspect. How’s your arm-chair, nice and comfy ?
    No, I don’t believe much of the ‘Narrative’ any more. I’m even sceptical about the Rabbit-Proof Fence Story. Why’s that, you ask ? because there is no evidence of it. Find the evidence and, just some skerrick, and I’ll believe.
    Similarly, the ‘Stolen Generation’: one case ? [Actually he was my wife’s step-second cousin]. Children taken into care ? Of course: mothers died (at my wife’s community, forty mothers died between 1880 and 1960, leaving 140 school-age children) . Fathers died, mothers re-married and promptly put their young daughters into the Girls’ Home. Families fell destitute (large families, poor wages, where’s the mystery?), kids were put into care for a few months and re-united with their families; at my wife’s community, from the School records, between 1880 and 1960, out of 800 kids ever enrolled, 47 were at some time put into care – all but one returned within a year or so (and not one adopted out, by the way). The numbers peaked in the fifties, so I knew most of them later. That ‘one’ who did not return (as far as I know) was the child of a single mother who died of TB in 1944, who was sent off to Colebrook at Eden Hills.
    Evidence: I would have thought that any genuine ‘Left’ would appreciate scientific investigation, rationality, the need for evidence to back up arguments. Sorry if I got that wrong.

    1. Please keep comments threaded by hitting the ‘reply’ button below the message to which you wish to respond. Your response appears devoid of logic when you leave it floating.
      I mean, it might anyhow. But I am trying to do you a favour here.
      If you are insistent on claiming that Aboriginal historians made all that stuff up and actually lived like lords and were feted by generous white servants, it would be better to keep it in the thread. Just helping you out.

      1. Hi Helen, no, I wasn’t aware of that. Do you have any evidence for your assertions ? I do have evidence, for example, that Aboriginal shearers were paid standard wages (at least down here in SA), that nobody was ever driven onto missions, that missionaries (of all people) didn’t try to stop people speaking their languages, that Aboriginal people had the right from the outset that they could use the land as they had always done, and that therefore it was illegal to try to drive people from their lands (pastoralists’ leases could be voided)etc.
        Evidence, after all, is far superior to assertions, rumours, ‘belief’ and unsubstantiated ‘narrative’, even if it is far harder to gather, but after all, that’s genuine research. Try it some time.

        1. I am sure your independent research will be well received at Quadrant. Off you pop with your cheery historical news. If you haven’t already.

          1. No, it’s not ‘independent research’, Helen, it’s merely a matter of transcribing whatever is in the archives, and trying to make sense of it all. No, it doesn’t fit the current Narrative, none of it, but that’s reality for you. Your dilemma, to give you perhaps undue credit for wanting to seek out the truth of our history is to either accept a narrative without evidence, or – as a genuine researcher – at least contemplate the historical record. I haven’t made anything up, Helen, Christ with eighteen thousand pages or so, I would have to be a genius to fabricate anything so huge. So do you at least entertain what is in the record, or do you ignore it ? What was that definition of a bigot again ? Someone who ignores evidence ? As Brandis would say, you have the right to be an ignorant bigot, Helen, to believe in spite of evidence. And I would defend your right to be an ignorant bigot, God knows it hasn’t hurt you so far 🙂
            A summary of much of what is on my web-site has been written by Alistair Crooks, and is available in book-form as ‘Voices From the Past’ – out now for only $ 23.50. Pay $ 23.50 and burn it for Christmas, if you wish 🙂

        2. As for your claim that you will “die on the left”. What sort of “left”? The same one that Windschuttle may inhabit in his memory.
          What is it with some former Trots? Hitchens. O’Neill, who seems to think he is being a Marxist by saying “capitalism is great”. Yes, Marx said it was a wondrously efficient production system. But he also said it would kill us all and required a mercy killing.
          How in blazes anyone can devote their time to finding documents that “prove” that one group of people were not let down badly by capitalism and call it a left project is beyond me. Essentially, you are saying, like O’Neill, “capitalism is wonderful. It benefits us all!”.
          Stop calling yourself a leftist. You can make no such claim. What evidence do I have for this? Everything Marx ever wrote down.

          1. Sorry, just found this. Yes, I was born on the Left, my parents were communists (they named me after you-know-who), I was a Maoist for at least twenty years. But in the last seventy years, we’ve all seen ample evidence that, quite frankly, socialism in those senses has failed, in every case: if so-called socialist systems lasted long enough, they all degenerated into semi-fascist regimes, or worse. And amazingly dynastic too, as if they were re-runs of royal families. The Castros for nearly sixty years ? No succession plan after, say, ten years ? No brilliant, revolution-trained young people coming forward after ten years? Bullshit.
            Maybe I had a very naïve notion of a workers’ and peasants’ state, but I did have some notion that a socialist state should have a major role, right up the top, for workers and peasants. They never did.
            But it’s taken me sixty-odd years to admit all that. No, capitalism doesn’t work too well either, and maybe some sort of mixture might be workable – Trudeau’s Canada, for example, Tanzania, current Liberia ? I don’t know.
            I still have great affection for Marx and Engels, not so much for Lenin, none for Stalin or Mao.
            But the conditions that any revolution in Marx’s time faced would be unrecognisable today: I don’t think even Marx would assert that a socialist revolution was possible any longer. I’m not religious, so I can’t think of Marxism as an unchangeable body of dogma since, after all, the world changes. Materialism suggests that you run with what is ‘material’, actual, real, workable, not with what one may wish was the case. You deal with reality, not day-dreams.

        3. Comrade, there’s only one true North – and yours ain’t it!
          Helen, you’ve just finished discussing the multi-layered complexity of an issue, then typecast a reader based on his lived experience as a hands-on activist with an indigenous partner? No room for other views here? No room for divergence from the orthodoxy? I get it that your blood’s boiling but, like a white person copping abuse, you need to play the issue, not the hapless reader.

          1. The reader himself declares “I will die on the left”. I am not type-casting. I am taking what he says about his extreme leftism at face value.

    2. Joe, I travelled around western Australia in the early 70s, visiting many Aboriginal communities. You couldn’t be more wrong.

      Everything and much more than what is written was there right in front of my eyes – involuntary sterilisation at Jigalong, station hands working for nothing except handouts of flour, tea and jam and flour sacks for their wives to make clothes, children removed from families because their skin was light, completely unnecessary autopsies for the delectation of the local white officials to see the anatomical differences, flogging at Wiluna mission for stealing food, Aboriginal patients on the verge of diabetic unconsciousness turned away from Onslow hospital because the matron thought they were malingering, kids in the Onslow hostel fed bread and tea while the white staff had eggs and bacon.

      Rabbit Proof Fence was based on a true story as you would know if you had bothered to research it. That is why calling yourself left is a joke. Real lefties, even if they had never finished school, stand out because they are never too lazy to read and research the truth.

      1. I think it is possible to be a “real” leftist without interrogating every historical claim.
        The thing that makes you truly left is the acknowledgment that capitalism has victims. If you live in service to “proving” the opposite, saying that a capitalist coloniser was really awesome, then you are a willing servant of capitalists.
        This is a simplification, of course. Racism plays a really significant role in the development of capitalism. Where once we thought of the white working class as a mass of expendable bodies, now we think of the colonised or the labourers in the global south the same. Capitalism doesn’t work as well without this racist ideology.
        Which Joe is very concerned to promote. Nothing left about saying that capitalism does poor people favours.

        1. Yes you are right. You don’t have to interrogate everything historical but anyone making a claim to being a lefty now should have the nouse to recognise capitalist deception, propaganda and rhetoric.

          Sadly, what they call the left today, particularly in America is just a little left of fascism. Ah, but that was no doubt the strategy – to co-opt the language of the left just as Hitler did when he called his party National Socialism.

          1. Perhaps you’re right, we can do without any evidence to back up our beliefs. Not only that, but we can ignore anything which passes as evidence, if it conflicts with our beliefs – in fact, we can absolutely condemn such evidence if it conflicts with our beliefs, and condemn anybody who fraises such evidence.
            But I’ll stick with evidence, thanks. Kiss my hairy arse.

      2. But, yeah. At the immediate moral level, this historical denialism just sucks the pus.
        I too have seen in later decades the marginalisation, both cultural and economic, of Aboriginal people. What is the point in saying, “NO. It isn’t so?”

        1. “What is the point in saying, “NO. It isn’t so?”
          Good point! Indigenous claims are no sweat of their back.

          I fear that it represents the true underlying racism and lack of empathy of many Australians and can be classed with denying the holocaust.

          1. Denying the holocaust? Anything you may wish to say after that pearler of a claim, is now moot. Any respect you may have garnered along the way is now lost. Your attempt at trying to win support for your stance is now sadly, gone.
            People do not like anyone who exaggerates. If someone has to exaggerate or even lie to achieve something, firstly, is a bad person. Secondly they have condemned themselves to a life of isolation, both physically and mentally. From what I have read, you are not a person of good character and so should be ignored.

  17. Helen, I was a bit disappointed not getting a response from you (my sigh) – what do you think about this? Having read the essay and liking it a lot for its expose on the different strata within Aboriginal Society (the open and the embedded etc) the one point that was left under done but may be for another day is how do Aboriginal groups embrace, celebrate and protect their culture but also tackle their economic plight? The culture war has been well fought and won, culture in tact. The difficult problem ahead is to achieve economic success for the majority, not just the gifted and talented like Stan but the embedded as well. That is the question – how to do better in the economic stakes – culture is safe but now how to make some more money and share it round. What do you think?

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