Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Geoffrey Blainey is an Australian historian and a major player in the so-called 'history wars'. These were ideological battles fought between historians and other academics over the bloody nature of the white domination of Australia.

The focus has been on whether Aboriginals were massacred in great numbers or not. Traditionally, left-wing historians such as Manning Clark have postulated that atrocities against blacks were systemic and widespread.

More recently revisionists from the other side of politics, spearheaded by Keith Windschuttle have disputed this view and by a careful (and some would say selective) re-examination of primary source material believe that the evidence of these massacres has been grossly exaggerated.

Blainey was a forerunner of this camp and it was he who coined the phrase 'black armband view of history' to describe historians who were writing critical Australian history 'while wearing a black armband' of grieving or shame.

Despite this controversy, there is no doubt that Blainey is an accomplished historian.

Woolly Days is reading 'Tyranny of Distance' about how the story of modern Australia is primarily one of the conquering of the problems of distance, both distance internally and distance to the rest of the world. The book was first published in 1966 and since then the book title has become a common phrase in the language.

Britain claimed the entire continent by virtue of what Blainey called 'limpet ports' thinly spread across the continent. Factors such as the rise of whaling, the discovery of gold and the profitability of wool contributed to the slow but steady growth of the country.

In the 1850s, sailing ships took the great circle route to get goldseekers to Australia in record time. The route was speedy but dangerous taking ships well below 50 latitude in the Southern Ocean. The route went down the Atlantic before turning east at Tristan da Cunha, beating a path through the Kergeulen and McDonald islands before landing in Melbourne.

The return passage used the prevailing winds of the roaring forties and fifties (with hardly any land mass to slow them down) to push through the South Pacific through the treacherous Cape Horn (named for the dutch city of Hoorn)and back north to Britain via the Atlantic.

Even with the advent of steam and the opening of the Suez canal in 1869, the great circle route kept its advantages due to the prevailing winds. It is also a shorter a route than it looks with maps based on Mercator projections.

It wasn't until steamboats could carry all their own coal and avoid the costly stops in many ports that the Suez route finally took sway. The other major advantage it had was the avoidance of Cape Horn and its dangerous weather and enormous seas in the narrow 500km channel between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Nothing much was to change in the passage to Australia until the rise of commercial air travel in the 1950s and 60s.

Now only cruise ships ply the Suez route and the Great Circle Run is empty of human traffic and is left to the whales.


Poor crazy calm
Comes clear out of the gulf
And the harmony that hymns behind it
Suez root canal
Truthy grin
and a hand grenade lobbed into the henhouse
here lies harrygator handily helping out
the rate of rats and the right of mice
might challenge the phalanx
deep thinking pool hustlers
rodin’s thoughts
bright brigadiers beyond keydom
attaboy the terrorist
heaving hades’ harem
and hiding all hallowed haloes
who would undermilk
to protect an economy
than open the latch to lax tax
creepers dot their i’s
and place their tees
elbow their way into green pastures
with the aid of a greasy spoon
and a pass-the-parasol in the sol y sombre
wife fronts panting under
places where Paracelsus
in minus forty celcius
far from heights meet and greets
levi stress and gutta percha
paucity of princes and open pincers
sores, soy and sana’a kat
st kitts and ben, family men
gweedore jerseys,
shame rocky shame
salmons of knowledge
mesquito coast
barren joey throws off his cape
feckless fear freaks out the door
el zorro and El Vincente Fox
19 and 21 century collides
and the refusees and refugeniks
rumple still skin
of the borders’ cauliflowers
where pictures of evil and presidents adorn fragrant frames
no pack drill no names
but a feast of forms
and one iota of data
zills of friction in the limousine
cries of foul in the Levantine
miss worldly one voice turning seventeen
whither the shoppers drop
while caught on the hop
between penthouse sale and bargain basement
and blanket authority
to rob Manchester of its city
united in sleepover
megamerchants and superstore me
the cuckold clans
in Kandahar and Kazakhstan
can cascade to endless akbar
cheering semi automatic housefire
and a god made great by commie chant
and breastbeat without priestly cant
no operator needed on
a direct line to heaven

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