Geoffrey Blainey

Narrative history, the sort that tells a story starting at one point in time and ending at a later point, is now out of favour. Some write sociological history focused on class, gender, race, or the family. Others prefer the slice approach concentrating in depth on specific years, or the semiotic spatial history of Paul Carter’s The Road to Botany Bay. Before all else there must be a Theory.

... (read more)

All for Australia by Geoffrey Blainey

by
April 1988, no. 99

It is, of course, impossible to separate this book from the debate partly initiated by Professor Blainey’s comments at a Rotary conference in March of this year, nor is it feasible to judge the book’s merits without considering its likely impact on the continued controversy about the size and composition of Australia’s immigration programme. In many ways, this slim volume will contain few surprises for those who have followed the debate with any degree of interest.

... (read more)

At the August 1984 conference of Australian historians, the Public Lecture Theatre at Melbourne University was packed to hear a panel of distinguished colleagues discuss Geoffrey Blainey’s creation of the public debate on Asian immigration. Blainey did not attend. His mentor Manning Clark did, though he refused to denounce his most famous pupil. Surrender Australia? is largely the product of that meeting. Historians take themselves rather seriously and already there have been complaints that a concerted attack on one of the discipline’s favourite sons is unprecedented. Letters to The Age were denouncing the book as ‘an attack on a great Australian’ well before it was published or the correspondents could see the contents. Public controversy is certainly rare among local historians, being largely confined to such esoteric matters as whether Australia was settled to get rid of convicts or to acquire flax, an argument in which Blainey took a major role. In a small society, academics do not usually denounce each other in the fashion long acceptable in central Europe or America. Equally, they do not often engage in public controversy on matters which draw in the vulgar multitude. While professional historians are not very radical, they mostly subscribe to liberal views, among which tolerance for minorities and for the ideas of others are the most acceptable. Blainey presented his colleagues with a dilemma. They could draw up their skirts and pass by on the other side, or they could publicly disagree with him.

... (read more)

Somebody recently told me that Geoffrey Blainey wrote much of the text of this history of Victoria while travelling in aircraft. If true, Blainey has an enviable knack of finding seats with elbow room, but otherwise there’s no reason to complain. Sir Charles Oman, the great military historian of the Napoleonic wars, was said to have drafted one book during a summer spent waiting for connecting trains at French railway stations. Those fortunate enough to possess a lot of intellectual capital should make the most of it. In the central four chapters of social history, perhaps the most satisfactory part of this book, Blainey cites his evidence as ‘the accumulation of years of casual reading of old newspapers, looking at historic sites and talking with old people’. Disarmingly, he adds: ‘Most of the explanations of why change came are probably my own’.

... (read more)

Geoffrey Blainey must be Australia’s bestselling historian by a very long way. His audience is far wider than Manning Clark’s for instance: and far less critical. Clark is periodically savaged by packs so frenzied they often seem unable to recognise the nature of the quarry. The difference of course is a matter of both style and substance. Clark, as an early critic once said, is ‘full of great oaths and bearded like the pard’, and he has not changed his fundamental spots. Blainey’s picture is inserted in the barren landscape on the front cover of this book, all warm and friendly; not a Jeremiah, but a kindly tribal elder who will unravel your historical landscape sotto voce, and with perfect equanimity. You can step into your past with Geoffrey Blainey and know you’ll be safe. He’s just about the friendliest historian imaginable.

... (read more)

Who, we wondered, gets the largest Public Lending Right cheque each year – Manning Clark or Geoffrey Blainey? Probably still Manning, and he’ll still be ahead in the royalties stakes too, but the younger colt must be closing fast, and he shows no signs of tiring. Even if he did, his publishers, like Manning’s for that matter, can always do, as they have here, a recycling and packaging job.

... (read more)
Page 3 of 3