Linking ex-students and matters of history

Yesterday I was chatting with Doug Parrish, a former TIGS student, down at Wollongong Mall.

A name came up: James Hartley, and I remembered I was led to one of those English Teacher moments…

Back in June 2004 I noted this:

One of those nice English teacher moments that happen very occasionally.

Are you my English teacher from TIGS? If so, I just thought I’d let you know that the doors you helped open for me helped make me what I am today — a reasonably successful author.

Check out my website.

– James

So after some Facebooking James and I friended each other and then James and Doug. James lives in Germany.


Very authorial: James aka Jay Caselberg

Coincidentally, the same day in India Ramana posted Name Dropping; Joseph King, Author.

And speaking of authors, the inimitable Bob Katter is now a published historian.

…This Katterised history of Australia is chronicled his new book, provided exclusively to Inquirer, ahead of its release on May 15.

Titled An Incredible Race of People: A Passionate History of Australia, the book is a populist history of Australia as seen through the eyes of the maverick independent federal MP.

It provides a window into Katter’s unique political appeal that draws support from the Left and the Right. Offering a kaleidoscope of views, Katter generously embraces aspects of Labor’s legacy and identifies with elements of conservative politics. Where they meet is not simply a form of agrarian socialism, although there are facets of that in Katter’s politics…

Katter’s "passionate" history of Australia illuminates what many decent, hardworking, perhaps older, Australians think and feel deeply about their country. He taps into the Australian pioneering ethos, its wartime triumphs, uses facts and figures to boldly argue a point of historical contention, attacks the perfidy of government decisions and praises the leadership of buccaneers in business and politics.

Many Australians will find much to agree with. But there will be some – and I can see them now: the urbane, tertiary-educated, sophisticated, professional class – who will not see this book as a serious contribution to historical scholarship. They will pick up the few errors, query the exaggerated claims, snigger at the aspects of history brushed over or ignored, and find parts open to ridicule. But this would be unwise.

Katter’s book will resonate with much of the thinking in rural Australia, among older Australians, dyed-in-the-wool old-school Laborites and disaffected voters who once voted for the Liberal and National parties. Some are angry, some are idealistic, some are fatalistic, but almost all – like Katter – are passionate about Australia. It is a love letter to an Australia that no longer exists, but one that he nevertheless ardently admires and defends.

Interesting, as I have just finished reading (as an eBook of course) William Lane’s interesting but way overheated novel/tract Workingman’s Paradise (1892). Here’s someone who loves it – and you can see the connection with Katter, even if at the time he wrote Lane was as red as red can be. Later in New Zealand, after a famous Utopian Socialist venture in Paraguay, Lane became quite the imperialist. There is a fascist strain – all that manliness and vitalism – in Workingman’s Paradise too.

See the Preface by Andrew McCann (2009) in the Sydney University Australian Classics edition on Google Books.

On Bob Katter (and Queensland) see An axe, a rifle and a box of matches by Marion Diamond in Historians are Past Caring, a blog worth looking at.

… But in many ways, geographically, demographically and politically, a remnant of Queensland weirdness remains – and some of it is exemplified in the person of Bob Katter, former Country Party, National Party, Independent and now leader of Katter’s Australia Party.

I’ve only once – briefly – met Bob Katter, when in 1989 he launched the memoir of Noel Fatnowna, a much respected member of Mackay’s Pacific Islander community.  Noel Fatnowna was born in Mackay in 1929, the descendant of Solomon Islanders who came to North Queensland as indentured workers in the sugar plantations.  His memoir, Fragments of a lost heritage (1989) records the traditions of those islanders who stayed on in Queensland after most had gone home – or been forcibly deported by the Australian government after federation.  They are still an important minority group in North Queensland.

I don’t remember much about that book launch, or Katter’s speech, except for one phrase that rooted itself in my mind.  In fact I liked it so much that I consciously memorised it in the hope I could use it one day as a title.  It was remarkable, Katter said, how much the pioneers had done to develop Queensland in ‘the early days’, using nothing but ‘an axe, a rifle, and a box of matches.’…

Yet there’s another side to Katter.  The other thing I remember from that book launch was the obvious mutual respect and affection between Katter and Noel Fatnowna.  Southerners (sorry, sometimes I fall into Queensland-ese) see Katter as a redneck, and the hat and the guns give that impression, to be sure.  But he’s not a racist.  As Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in Queensland in the 1980s, he brought about much needed change – and was subsequently labelled a ‘gin jockey’ for his pains by a Labor parliamentarian in 1991.  The North Queensland Aboriginal spokesman Noel Pearson last year called Katter ‘the greatest federal minister for Aboriginal Affairs Australia never had’…