Hate-filled and dishonest Leftist film about Australia accepted uncritically as truth elsewhere
Baz Luhrmann's first big mistake was to get so full of himself that he called his movie "Australia". Worse, he then added titles to the beginning and end of his $180 million spectacular to tell viewers his take on our history was historically accurate. And so a movie that is a huge grab-bag of cliches - a collation of gaudy images pecked from deserted movie sets by an insatiable bowerbird - isn't just bad storytelling. It's also an exercise in bad faith - a movie allegedly about Australia, defining Australia, that's shot by a man who actually doesn't understand the country, and doesn't like it, either.
And that lazy contempt is precisely what American critics, for instance, have picked up on. What's more, fooled by Luhrmann into thinking they really are seeing Australia as we are, they've assumed as true that we're as heart-rotten as he shows. Hear it from the New York Observer: "Wow, who knew Australia was so racist?" Or from Cleveland's Plain Dealer: "Luhrmann . . . examines the rampant racism of his then-segregated country . . ." Or from Variety: "(T)o a significant extent, the film is also a mea culpa, in a vast popular-entertainment format, for the cruel racial policies once imposed by the Australian government . . ." Or from Entertainment Weekly: "Australia incorporates real history into its fiction. For decades, mixed-race children were forcibly taken from their families and trained in church- and government-sanctioned schools to become servants in white households . . ."
If Luhrmann had simply stuck to making the camp songless musical fantasy that parts of this film clearly are - a kind of Priscilla-Queen-Of-The-Desert-Goes-Droving mock epic - he might have given us the next great Australian film we've prayed for. But discipline is precisely what he lacks most. He's filmed instead parts of several movies-united stylistically only by his manic urge to grab the shiniest cliches and polish them to a cheap brilliance.
Australia starts with a story of a cliched young English aristocrat, played by Nicole Kidman, who flies to the Northern Territory on the eve of World War II to rescue the cattle station left by her dead husband. She finds she can save her Faraway Downs only if she droves her herd to Darwin with a ragtag bunch of helpers to break an evil cattle king's monopoly on supplying meat to the army. It's a nice, if familiar, premise which offers lots of scope for comic turns by Hugh Jackman as the cliched rough-nut Drover who falls for the English rose; Jack Thompson as the cliched educated drunk who smashes his last bottle of booze to come good; Bryan Brown as the cliched villain complete with six-gun; Yuen Wah as the cliched jabbering Chinese cook driving the chuck wagon; and David Ngoombujarra as the cliched black Tonto to Jackman's Lone Ranger. And, naturally, all the Aborigines are nice, and some are even magic.
Indeed, nothing at all is too cliched for Luhrmann - whether it's the old cattle-stampede-towards-a-cliff, or the embarrassingly awkward death scene poor Thompson must perform of the trampled alkie, a hero at last, blood trickling from his mouth as he tries to stammer his last, broken words.
Some cliches are too shiny for Luhrmann to use once, so Jackman emerges not just from swirls of dust, but from swirls of smoke and mist, too. The cliche of the English stuffed blouse is just as irresistible, so Kidman not only says "shoo" to cows she's trying to herd, but "my condolences" to a grieving Aboriginal boy. We even see dusty drovers spilling out of their Darwin pub to dance for joy at seeing rain. As drovers do. Ahem, Baz. I grew up in Darwin, which is in fact a tropical city. If we'd danced every time it rained in the wet season, we'd never sit down.
All this could yet have been pulled together into a highly stylised comedy-drama, not just exploiting cliches but positively romping in them. But there's a big snag: when the heroes' great drove to Darwin finally ends amid cheering crowds and blaring orchestra, the film is still not even half-way through its nearly three hours. And it's around this point that Luhrmann and his three co-writers must have looked at each other and said, "Oops, what do we do next?" Good question - and for the next hour and a half, it's clear they never really agreed on an answer.
Drama or comedy? Do we kill off Drover? Do we have him making happy families with his English love? Should we leave in the bit where Kidman's character is reported dead, for reasons we've forgotten? Or shall we just make it up as we go along? Which they did. The soundtrack is one giveaway of this confusion, veering wildly from Bach to Rolf Harris and his wobble board; from sturdy stockman singing Waltzing Matilda (as they also do) to sobbing violins suddenly announcing it's crying time. Indeed, it's reported that Luhrmann even changed the ending in the editing suite at the last minute, which surprises me. I wouldn't have thought it possible he had one even worse.
But one thing Luhrmann did decide was to pack away that Priscilla-style camp that had made some of the first half bearable and to switch to serious-or as serious as he could without putting a fold in Kidman's forehead. The film now becomes not just a drama somehow involving the 1942 bombing of Darwin by Japan, but a roar against the racism it had only mumbled against before. But, typically, the racism Luhrmann attacks is a racism of cliches, and is illustrated with yet more cliches, each more fact-free than the last.
So Drover complains, for instance, that he lost his first wife to TB because hospitals didn't treat Aborigines-when in fact Darwin hospital did treat them, even if three small nurse-run private bush hospitals had not. Missions also treated Aborigines, and one pregnant nurse, a Mrs Taylor, even died of illness while working with tribes in Groote Eylandt in 1934. But Luhrmann shows no such sympathetic officials. Instead, almost every white character from the NT administrator's wife down, other than our two heroes, is portrayed as a racist.
A recurring injustice Luhrmann keeps harping on is that "boongs" were banned from pubs. In one of Jackman's most emotional scenes, Drover finally forces a bartender to give his Aboriginal friend a drink - his biggest victory against racism. Nowhere is it acknowledged - as anyone can read in the reports then of the Northern Territory administrator - that serving Aborigines was forbidden because the booze and opium were devastating a people only just learning to deal with white society and Asian traders.
Luhrmann, in particular, should know this ban was driven not by racism but deep concern for Aboriginal welfare. After all, Australia stars the great Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil, whose career and marriage have almost been ruined by his own drinking. And alcohol is now once again banned in many Aboriginal communities in the NT, and not because we're racist.
These two great flaws of Australia - the cliched images and Luhrmann's cliched history - combine to produce what is undoubtedly the movie's most malevolent scene. Most of the second half of Australia centres on Nullah, a part-Aboriginal boy that Kidman's character "adopts" but who is stolen from her by corrupt police acting under a "stolen generations" law that a mission official smugly explains is used to breed out Aborigines. (So why steal Nullah from a white parent? It's one more bit of the plot that makes no sense, like having soldiers pulling out of bombed Darwin, a city they must actually defend.)
And here's that scene: as Nullah, played by the magnetic and beautiful Brandon Walters, is marched down Darwin's docks with other "stolen" boys to be shipped to the Garden Point home on Melville Island, a sneering white boy holding a kangaroo (yes!) abuses him: "Creamy, didn't your mother want you?" A racist white kid holding a kangaroo in a film called Australia-could there be anything more us? To add to the white crime against Nullah, the Japanese army is sweeping towards Australia and he and the other "stolen" boys are being sent to an island that one character notes "will be the first place the Japs hit". White women and children are being evacuated from Darwin in the background, but here the Aboriginal boys are being sent to their deaths. To grind in his point, Luhrmann has the Japanese bombing not just the children's home at Melville Island (which they didn't) but invading it.
Our shame is complete. This is the racist Australia that reviewers overseas-and even here-have accepted as not just a movie, but the shameful truth of our past. But now note a few historical truths that Luhrmann overwrites to tell his story of white infamy.
First, a Federal Court test case found no evidence children in the NT were ever stolen just because they were black, and no one has yet identified 10 anywhere who were stolen because they were Aboriginal and not because they needed help. Indeed, Colin Macleod, a NT patrol officer and later Victorian magistrate, wrote in his memoirs that the children sent to Garden Point were half-castes who'd often been rejected by full-bloods, and needed protection from "real danger and abject misery". For instance, he wrote, "Brother Pye of the Catholic mission at Garden Point once saw a six-year-old part-coloured boy speared by a full-blooded Aboriginal, almost as a joke, just because the boy was a `yella-fella' . . . "Half-caste kids would now and again turn up at missions with spear marks and signs of horrific beatings. "Babies were occasionally abandoned and young children left to fend for themselves."
Father John Leary, who also served at Garden Point, said in 2000 of the children he'd helped: "Some few of them, I believe, were `stolen', most were there for some good reason, some sent by parents or parent for education . . ." It's this "white" education, incidentally, that Luhrmann shows Nullah wisely rejecting, returning instead with Gulpilil to his tribe. How did he ever learn English? Thank heavens Brandon Walters, who plays him, didn't do the same, or Luhrmann wouldn't have his star.
But what of Luhrmann's story that Aboriginal children were knowingly sent into danger at Melville Island? Luhrmann needed only to ask some of the Aborigines at the Darwin premiere of his own film to learn that children were not sent to the island as the Japanese drew near, but sent from it. He could have asked, for instance, Ilene Neville, who told AAP she was seven when she was evacuated from Garden Point and brought to Darwin, where she witnessed the bombing.
Magdalen McNamara, an Our Lady of the Sacred Heart nun famous in the NT, recalls picking up 30 Garden Point girls on the day after the bombing of Darwin who'd already been evacuated to Pine Creek, far to the south. She brought them to South Australia, where they spent the war, while other Aboriginal children from the Top End were sent to safety as far away as Sydney, where they went to local state schools.
This is the real history of Australia - there's racism, yes, but more commonly there are people struggling, however imperfectly, to do their best, some bringing care and protection to Aborigines at great personal sacrifice. That's the real Australia, and how sad that Luhrmann has sold the world his Australia instead - a ghastly cliche of the demons we never were.
Man arrested for lighting Guy Fawkes Night bonfire on village green under law dating from 1880s
All part of the attack on decent people while criminals roam free
Bonfire Night on the village green at Elwick went off in the traditional blaze of glory. But Guy Fawkes wasn't the only sacrifice Two days later, organiser Brett Duxfield was arrested, held at a police station for ten hours and charged with arson, for which the maximum sentence is life imprisonment. He was taken from his home at 8am and had his DNA and fingerprints taken after police received a complaint that a 130-year-old bylaw banning fires on the green had been broken. Mr Duxfield appeared before Hartlepool magistrates and was granted bail after the case was adjourned.
Last night the 39-year- old lorry driver said: 'This is a nightmare. I never thought this would happen. 'If you cannot have a village bonfire on a village green on November 5 - a tradition hundreds of years old - what is the world coming to? 'It's ridiculous and it means we have turned into a police state. It wasn't even me that lit the bonfire.'
The bylaw has usually been quietly ignored, but this year the parish council threatened to enforce it. Despite this, villagers went ahead. Although the source of the complaint about the fire is unclear, many presume it came from the council. Mr Duxfield's arrest has led to a huge row between villagers and the council. A public meeting was held at the primary school and two councillors have resigned
One villager, Hilary Thompson, said: 'I'm appalled that Elwick Parish Council condones the arrest of a member of our community.' Jack Harrison, chairman of the council, said they had sought legal advice and stood by their decision.
Guy Fawkes night had long been a feature at Elwick until 1994, when the ancient ban was last enforced because of rowdy behaviour. Although the ban was never lifted officially, the celebrations returned four years ago and have passed off without incident, with families flocking to the green to watch the festivities. Organisers even replace the charred turf.
Mr Duxfield, who lives in nearby Hartlepool, moved from Elwick three years ago but still visits the village to meet friends. He said that on Bonfire Night, 14 uniformed police officers had turned up wearing protective clothing. He said he gave his name as a point of contact and was told that officers were only there as a matter of safety. 'Two days later, three police officers turned up at my home at 8am and I was arrested,' he said. 'I was interviewed until about 11.45am and then I was thrown in the cells until 6.15pm.
'The inspector kept opening the hatch and asking if I would accept a caution. I told him there was no way I would do that as I had done nothing wrong. 'I will definitely be making a civil case against the police force.'
Inspector Tony Green, of Cleveland Police, said: 'We are duty bound to follow a complaint through. 'Evidence was put before the Crown Prosecution Service and they decided there was a case to answer.'
Those so-righteous British social workers exposed
'Devastating' failure behind Baby P's death
The death of a toddler known as Baby P at the hands of his mother, her boyfriend and a lodger after months of torture was the result of the "devastating" failure of social services, the British Government has admitted. The Secretary for Children's Services, Ed Balls, said a review of the management failures that led to the little boy being killed despite being seen 60 times by healthcare professionals was a "damning verdict" on the system. "Overall, the inspectors' findings are, I have to say, devastating. Their report sets out detailed recommendations, all of which must now be accepted in full.
"Having studied their report I've decided to take immediate action. My first priority is to put in place a new leadership and management team in Haringey children's services to ensure that vulnerable children in the borough are properly protected."
Haringey Council, the authority responsible for the case, is now to undergo a restructure and the senior management team have been removed, including the 100,000 pounds a year social worker that "oversaw" the case. Sharon Shoesmith, the director of children's services in Haringey, has been bitterly criticised for refusing to apologise for her organisation's litany of failures to protect the little boy.
Baby P died in August 2007 aged just 17 months after suffering horrific beatings. His mother, her boyfriend and the couple's lodger have been convicted of "causing or allowing" his death and are to be sentenced next year.
Mr Balls, who gave the briefing at the London Foreign Press Assocation, said that one of the most damning findings of the review was that Haringey Coucnil had failed to implement recommendations made after the death of another child, Victoria Climbie, who was murdered by her guardians in 2000 aged eight.
The report has now also sparked the resignation of two other councillors. As head of children's services, Mrs Shoesmith was said to be earning 100,000 a year and there has been much press speculation as to whether she would walk away with some kind of pay-off. Asked to comment, Mr Balls said: "... I have to say that I think most people will look at this report, look at the clear evidence of management failure and say that this kind of failure should not be rewarded with compensations or pay-offs. "I must say I would be astonished if elected members in Haringey chose to do that."
Mr Balls said he had been "shocked" by the Baby P case despite understanding that social workers, police and other officials who dealt with children's safety often worked in "challenging circumstances". But he added: "They must also be accountable for the decisions and when things go badly wrong people want to know why and what can be done about it."
He ruled out a public inquiry into Haringey children's services "for now", saying the immediate priority was making management changes to safeguard vulnerable children in the borough.
"The report from (the inspectors) is a damning verdict on the current management and safeguarding in Haringey. In their summary judgment the inspectors say, and I quote, 'There are a number of serious concerns in relation to safeguarding of children and young people in Haringey. The contribution of local services to improving outcomes for children and young people at risk or requiring safeguarding is inadequate and needs urgent action'."
Frank Jew-hatred in Egypt
"But we are Semites ourselves!" That is what an urbane Egyptian journalist will likely reply to the charge that the Egyptian media is rife with anti-Semitism. But there are few places where Jews are blamed for so many of the world's ills, from carcinogenic pesticides to the war in Iraq. More distressing is that much of the pointing is being done by Egypt's self-described liberals -- the pro-democratic and anti-Islamist crowd on which the country's hopes for a more tolerant future supposedly rest.
The most recent episode began on Oct. 2, when the Anti-Defamation League issued a press release reporting "Surge in Anti-Semitic Messages on Online Finance Sites." An Egyptian journalist read about it in the Israeli daily "Maariv," and here is how the new, "liberal" Egyptian weekly Al-Youm As-Sabi headlined its report the next day: "Jews are the principal suspect in the financial crisis." The article ran alongside a photo of stock market readouts, captioned "why are cries against Jews growing louder in the U.S.?"
This was not the only instance in which Egypt's "liberal" intelligentsia found ways to blame Jews for the financial crisis. On Oct. 11, Abbas at-Tarabili, the editor in chief of the Al-Wafd daily -- the house organ of Egypt's leading "liberal" political party of the same name -- wrote a column purporting to show that Jews were merely manipulating the stock market as they had the price of gold in the late 1970s.
"The Jews played a filthy game," he wrote. "It is true that the Western countries -- the United States on top -- have a lot to lose, but all pours into the pockets of Jewish businessmen who control the stock markets of the world."
Two weeks later, Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt's largest independent newspaper and widely regarded as the country's only serious tribune for liberalism, ran a column baldly titled "The Jewish Conspiracy." The columnist, Khairi Ramadan, who also co-hosts one of the country's most successful talk shows, asked his readers not to ignore what is being said on the Internet "about a Jewish conspiracy in the end of Bush's term, in preparation for controlling the next president."
"The available information," wrote Mr. Ramadan, shows that "the Jews withdrew 400 billion dollars from Lehman Brothers a couple of weeks before it collapsed," adding that the collapse of the brokerage house was of a piece with the events of September 11, "when thousands of Jews did not go to the WTC."
These examples are especially notable because they have nothing to do with Israel or Zionism. They expose the falsehood -- popular with prominent scholars like John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of last year's best-selling book "The Israel Lobby" -- that hatred of Jews is not one of the great motivating factors in the Arab world's overall objections to Israel.
But these examples also raise a serious question about what passes for liberalism in the Arab world. Why bother listening to these voices on matters of economics -- much less politics, democracy or human rights -- if they also propagate hateful conspiracy theories?
There's another question: Over the past eight years, the United States has invested huge resources in attempting to bring democracy to the Middle East. But it's not clear whether that project will succeed as long as America's natural allies in the region remain themselves so profoundly irrational and illiberal.
What can be done? Here's a modest suggestion. The Egyptian state and the country's newspapers go out of their way to make a leper of any author who expresses even remote sympathy with Israel. Perhaps Western institutions could adopt a similar practice, refusing to invite to their various functions any editors who allow their pages to become Jew-hatred platforms. The cold shoulder alone might get these lunch-eaters to change their tune.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, OBAMA WATCH (2), EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.