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Tim Rowse

In the 1880s, these feuding speakers of Ngarinman, Mudbura, Bilinara, Ngaliwurru, Kangpurri, Wardaman, Gurindji, and Malngin found themselves confronted by a scourge of a different kind: Europeans with cattle, some en route from Queensland to the Kimberleys, others taking up ‘pasture’ in the Victoria River region itself.

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Individuals have crises; dealing with them sometimes makes a person stronger. Perhaps nation-states are similar: crises make them stronger and better. But is humanity as a whole like this? This question is raised but not answered in Jared Diamond’s Upheaval ...

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Comments from John Miller, Barry Oakley, Davd Fitzpatrick, Claire Rhoden, and Robert Wills.

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To the layperson, the shifts and variations in government policy and its effects on Aboriginal lives can be bewildering, even during the past decade. Tim Rowse has done a great service by analysing more than a century of this tangled history, locating its patterns and its driving forces and making sense of it ...

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The Aborigines of Australia are among the more land-rich of colonised peoples. More than one fifth of Australia is under Aboriginal ownership, and a perpetual fund – established by Labor and fattened by Coalition and Labor governments – will add to this estate. To examine this recent change in Australian real estate as a ‘quiet revolution’ was a good choice of theme by Marcia Langton.

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Our lives are awash with opinion polls. The daily newspapers, television, radio, and internet poll people on just about every subject. The survey of public opinion has become, since the 1940s, a pervasive feature of everyday life, and is now central to the political process. Sophisticated, large-scale polling of attitudes at the national level – such as the National Social Science Survey, the Australian Election Study, Australian Survey of Social Attitudes and the World Values Survey – is increasingly reported on in the newspapers, with the more complex analyses of these findings left to academic journal articles and books. Alongside regular national polling on issues and leaders by AGBMcNair, Irving Saulwick and Associates, ACNeilson, Roy Morgan Research and Newspoll, political parties commission their own secret internal polling and focus group studies in order to tailor their message to their audience. In this federal election year, we hear clear echoes of this as the ALP leadership repeatedly drops in the key words ‘clever’ and ‘even cunning’ whenever they mention John Howard.

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The nomenclature of indigenous policy is apt to mislead, casting indigenous people as the passive objects of progressively more enlightened régimes: protection, assimilation, self-determination. This view is resonant in the history propagated by Keith Windschuttle, among others. Contesting Assimilation sets out to debunk this historically inaccurate idea and the implicit condescension in the view that denies any role for indigenous people in shaping the policy environment. As the essays in this volume attest, the development of indigenous policy can only be understood as a product of the interaction of indigenous and non-indigenous reformers, engaged in a struggle of ideas as to how best to resolve the social issues occasioned by colonisation.

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In recent years, ‘White Australia’ has become an episode in Australian history whose inception, imperfect execution and demise must be explained. Regina Ganter and her coauthors dwell on its spatial, as well as temporal, limits. ‘In the far northern townships, the dominant lived experience was not of a white Australia but of a polyethnic one.’ In northern coastal towns – particularly Broome, Wyndham, Darwin, Normanton, Cooktown and Cairns – people from Asia flourished and whites were marginal. Indeed, the Asian presence in Australia preceded that of whites. The first two chapters of this vividly illustrated book show a long and intimate association between Macassans and Yolngu (Arnhem Land Aborigines). Yolngu now recognise some citizens of Indonesia as ‘family’, referring to actual lines of descent.

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Keith Windschuttle seeks to undermine a ‘mindset’ among historians of Tasmania that started in Henry Melville’s History of Van Diemen’s Land (1835) and continues in Henry Reynolds’s An Indelible Stain (2001). Mindsets, or ‘interpretive frameworks’, sensitise historians to ‘evidence’ that fits their ‘assumptions’ ...

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Nugget Coombs never accepted a knighthood. The reason, he told his one-time English teacher, the essayist and academic Sir Walter Murdoch, was that it would be ‘out of character’ for him to do so.

There is no shortage of calculated modesty in Australian public life. We cultivate it. Even the most self-absorbed of our sporting heroes can manage a spot of winning self-deprecation. But in Nugget Coombs – public thinker, public servant, economist, social reformer, Governor of the Reserve Bank, Aboriginal advocate, cultural initiator and great Australian – modesty was the genuine article. He was a man with enough distilled wisdom to know himself and enough shrewdness to know what fitted. And he was right: ‘Sir Herbert’, or, worse, ‘Sir Bertie’ would have been risible.

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