Category Archives: Australia

What is it, this ‘coronavirus’ they keep talking about?

Le coronavirus c’est quoi?

So asked a young Frenchman, who has lived for the past three years in Australia, during a chat on the phone with Dalrymple’s wife in March. There was, writes Dalrymple,

a delightful freshness to the question. Talk about the lucky country, I thought to myself: or talk about a lucky young man, not to have heard of coronavirus.

O lucky man!

It had, he says,

a heroic quality — or indicated a sure sense of navigation through the world without taking any notice of the dispiriting flux of news and daily events. You need finely-tuned antennæ to be able to avoid the temporary obsessions of the news media, so ubiquitous are they, and an ability to slide away mentally.

Ce pays chanceux

There was no genocide in Australia

It is true, writes Dalrymple, that

the fate of the Aboriginal population had been in many respects an awful one, and no doubt very bad things had been done by settlers, but there was a tragic dimension to the encounter which required no genocidal intent to produce its results.

Perhaps those who talk of Australian genocide do not mean the attempt to kill an entire race of people, such as occurred in Rwanda, but

something more along the lines of the effective destruction of a culture or extinction of a way of life by, for example, removal of children from their parents and bringing them up in a completely different culture, speaking a different language.

Even on this rather loose definition of genocide,

you would have to demonstrate that all the children of a certain group had been severed from their parents, not with the intention of protecting them from harms, but with that of extinguishing the language and culture into which they were born. I doubt that this could be done.

Such a use of the word genocide debases it,

and this (for me) is not without importance: for when you have used up the word genocide in describing a much lesser event, what word do you use when genocide, in the sense of the deliberate physical extinction of a whole ethnic group, occurs? The emotional force or charge of the word genocide will have been dissipated by its overuse, and familiarity breeds indifference.

A year down under, then a career in accountancy

A young Frenchman whom Dalrymple knows has just returned from a year in Australia. For many young French people, writes Dalrymple,

a year in Australia has become almost a rite de passage, their favoured destination for such a rite.

The young Frenchman

did not regret his choice before he knuckled down to the serious business of having a career that he did not really want and would not really enjoy. Such is the fate, perhaps, of most of mankind, or at least of educated mankind.

Enunciators of unctuous pieties down under

Dalrymple writes that the underlying function of the manufactured grievance over Australia Day is

rent-seeking by political entrepreneurs who claim they will lead their clientèle to the promised land of something for nothing.

There are

ritual Pecksniffian incantations to aboriginal ownership, or at least first occupancy, of the land on which events—the Sydney Harbour opera, for example, or the celebration of Anzac Day—are held.

The problem, Dalrymple points out, with verbal gestures

is that people often take them with deadly seriousness—language is a kind of gesture—and these ritual incantations will one day be taken as literal IOUs. But the logic of appeasement does not work: every satisfied demand leads to a further such demand, which fails to satisfy, or even to reduce resentment. Of the staking of claims there is no end.

Dalrymple does not mean by this to deny that the history of the aborigines in Australia—as those of Canada and the United States—since the arrival of the Europeans has been, and continues to be, tragic. But

having caused tragedy (or more precisely being the inheritors of those who initiated the tragedy) is not the same as moral guilt, nor is the wound to be healed by turns of phrase which are about as sincere as Iago’s friendship to Othello.

Australia’s fauxpology

The situation of the Aborigines in Australia, writes Dalrymple,

was and is tragic, and would still be tragic even had the settlers behaved from the first in the best possible or morally ideal fashion. (It is not in human nature that they should have done so, least of all in a rough-and-ready and very young frontier society.)

He points out that

there is no obvious or easy answer to the problem of a Stone Age people who come into close contact with a vastly superior material culture. Neither total assimilation nor preservation in what amounts to a living ethnographic museum is a complete or satisfactory solution; probably such a solution does not exist, which is the tragedy.


a blanket apology and the granting of group economic privileges is hardly the way to cultivate a sense of personal responsibility in a population now decimated by alcoholism and brutalised by family violence. Quite the contrary: psychologically, if not in strict logic, it will allow a man to beat his wife and blame history.

Postcards from Melbourne

When Dalrymple first visited Melbourne in the late 1930s, it was, he says,

handsome, if not characterful.

Returning, he was

aghast at what had been done to the city. It was like a vast open-air museum of modern architectural pathology, waiting for Unesco to declare it a world heritage site.

Architectural incompetence down under

Australian æsthetic abominations

Visiting Sydney, Dalrymple is surprised to learn that Blues Point Tower (Harry Seidler and Associates, 1962) has been declared a heritage building and is therefore

immune from well-deserved and indeed æsthetically obligatory demolition.

Seidler’s MLC Centre (1977) also strikes Dalrymple as being

one of the worst buildings in Sydney.

It would, he says,

surely be enough to preserve one of Seidler’s buildings — as a frightful warning — somewhere in the middle of the desert.

The Nauru Regional Processing Centre

A wonderfully Orwellian name, says Dalrymple, for a holding camp for would-be refugees to Australia

A wonderfully Orwellian name, says Dalrymple, for a holding camp for would-be refugees to Australia

Antipodean canard

Hospital, Bikenibeu

Hospital, Bikenibeu

One evening in the Gilberts, writes Dalrymple,

I was having a beer with an Australian as the sun was going down lilac and gold and crimson over the lagoon.

You know, it’s not true Australians are uncultured,’ he said. ‘Some of my friends are fucking cultured.

Tarawa atoll

Tarawa atoll

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 14.32.43Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 14.32.52

The unlucky country for intellectuals

Unforgivable historian

The unforgiven: Keith Windschuttle

If you are unhappy in Australia, writes Dalrymple,

you have to consider the possibility that the problem lies with you rather than with the conditions that surround you.


is a disagreeable thing, particularly for an intelligentsia, which is deprived by it of a providential role for itself. What does an intelligentsia do when a country is already as satisfactory in its political arrangements and social institutions as any country has ever been? Intelligentsias do not like the kind of small problems that day to day existence inevitably throws up, such as termites in the woodwork: they like to get their intellectual teeth into weightier, meatier problems.

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 09.05.36What could be a weightier problem

than a prosperous, fortunate country that was founded upon genocide? Clearly, if it was so founded, an intelligentsia is urgently needed to help it emerge from the dark moral labyrinth in which it exists, hitherto blindly. For only an intelligentsia is sufficiently used to thinking in abstractions to be qualified to act as guide to the nation.

Yet Australia

has not cherished its intellectuals. It has not accorded them the respect to which they think they are naturally entitled. Indeed, until a couple of decades ago it was common practice for Australian intellectuals to flee their country and live elsewhere, so strong was the anti-intellectual atmosphere of their county. Australia was not a lucky country as far as intellectuals were concerned. Intellectuals in Australia are not taken as seriously by the public as they take themselves. Besides, there are now more of them, and competition for attention is therefore greater.

Some members of the philosophy faculty of the University of Woolloomooloo

Michael Baldwin, left, and the Bruces, philosophy faculty, Woolloomooloo University

Then Keith Windschuttle published The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, which destroyed the idea that there had been a genocide of Tasmanian aborigines carried out by the early European settlers of the island. The debate that followed publication proved that Windschuttle was right.

This was quite unforgivable of him.

There is nothing much more attention-grabbing

than the claim that your current happiness and good fortune is founded on a pile of bones. With a bit of luck, this claim will even turn people neurotic and increase the need for therapists. It is hardly surprising, then, that when someone came along and challenged the version of history on which intellectuals’ newfound importance in society was to be based, they threw their dolly out of the pram, as the prison wardens in the prison in which I worked used to put it to describe the actions of a prisoner who had lost his temper. The dispute was not just a matter of the interpretation of the contents of old newspapers in Hobart libraries: it went to the very heart of the intelligentsia’s self-conception as society’s conscience and natural leaders.