An Australian Acknowledgement Of Country

7 August 2023

By: John Roskam

…and the things we do ‘to get along in life’

If you’re a new subscriber to this newsletter One & Free – Welcome!  Once a week for the 2,000 subscribers to One & Free I try and make some sense of the world and what’s happening to the country.

It’s coming up to six months since I started One & Free (you can read all the previous editions here) and I really appreciate all the comments, and suggestions you’ve made – thank you.  For today I thought I’d expand on what I wrote about a fortnight ago – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s exhortation – ‘Live not by lies’.  You can read what I said here.  I received dozens of emails about it and probably the only thing I’ve written recently that generated as much feedback was one of my columns in The Australian Financial Review a few years ago.

Back in April 2020, before the worst of COVID totalitarianism revealed itself I said this:

Beautiful one day, police state the next

Future generations will ask why the public was so quick to accept the opinions of those experts who presented the worst-case scenarios rather than listen to other experts, no less qualified to offer a judgment, but who suggested less draconian solutions…

In Victoria, the most extreme house arrest laws in the country were enacted without parliamentary authority and without any form of public or democratic scrutiny…  Meanwhile, in New South Wales, police officers harass people sitting alone on park benches.  In 1984, Big Brother at least allowed Winston Smith to go outside.

It was of course to get worse. For a time it seemed the whole country was living by lies.  Government slogans like ‘Staying apart keeps us together’ weren’t just lies – worse – they were ridiculous.  And yet they were believed. There was a news story this week about a survey of 6,000 parents in the UK revealing nearly half of those parents thought lockdowns had damaged the emotional development of their children, as ‘children appeared more worried, had lost confidence more easily, and were more prone to tantrums and low moods’.  The findings were presented as ‘surprising’.  But there’s nothing surprising about what lockdowns did.

Yesterday the Financial Review’s political editor Phillip Coorey remarked ‘Australians are owed a royal commission into the pandemic.  A proper commission of inquiry should not be conceived with payback in mind but with a view to how things could be done better next time…  [F]or its impact on lives, livelihoods and wellbeing, nothing comes close to the misery the pandemic inflicted, a misery that was often exacerbated as state and federal governments fumbled blindly and, at times incompetently, in trying to deal with it.’  The sentiment is right but there’s no reason to think a royal commission on COVID would do anything other than endorse the pro-lockdown approach that was taken by the the federal and state governments.  Which is exactly what’s happening in the UK where an enquiry on the management of COVID has been underway for some months.

No politician is going to go before a royal commission and say ‘I got it wrong’. Here in Australia when freedom of information requests made by Senator Alex Antic revealed how the federal Department of Home Affairs had social media companies censor and remove COVID-related posts the story was ignored by most of the media.  The ABC has made no mention of it. Even if a COVID royal commission did challenge the prevailing narrative, it’s unlikely the public would find out about it.  ‘Live not by lies’ doesn’t apply to the Australian media.

As recently as say five years ago to suggest that someone living in a Western liberal democracy like Australia should live ‘not by lies’ would have seemed strange.  We would have assumed ‘it won’t happen here’. Living through lie was something for other people to deal with, such as those who suffered under communism in Eastern Europe.

Solzhenitsyn made public his ‘Live Not By Lies’ speech following his expulsion from the Soviet Union in 1974. In it he compared the West with its democratic elections and its ‘strikes and protest marches’ to life under communism without elections and where public protest was forbidden. (Whether the distinction between ‘free’ and ‘unfree’ countries that Solzhenitsyn made still applies today is an interesting question.) He said therefore it was for individuals to protest in whatever way they could, no matter how small their actions might seem.

Our way must be: Never knowingly support lies!…

And thus, overcoming our temerity, let each man choose:  Will he remain a witting servant of the lies (needless to say, not due to natural disposition, but in order to provide a living for the family, to rear the children in the spirit of lies!), or has the time come for him to stand straight as an honest man, worthy of the respect of his children and contemporaries?

And from that day onward he:

– Will not write, sign, nor publish in any way, a single line distorting, so far as he can see the truth;

– Will not utter such a line in private or in public conversation, nor read it from a crib sheet, nor speak it in the role of educator, canvasser, teacher, actor…

– Will not raise a hand in vote for a proposal which he does not sincerely support; will not vote openly or in secret for a candidate whom he deems dubious or unworthy…

– Will at once walk out from a session, meeting, lecture, play, or film as soon as he hears the speaker utter a lie, ideological drivel, or shameless propaganda;

– Will not subscribe to, nor buy in retail, a newspaper or journal that distorts or hides the underlying facts.

Four years later in 1978 Vaclav Havel the Czech author and poet and then the last president of Czechoslovakia wrote ‘The Power of the Powerless’.  It was a 150-page essay on living in a ‘post-totalitarian’ regime.  As the Australian writer, Gary Furnell explained in Quadrant last year in ‘Vaclav Havel on Defying a System of Lies’ in ‘totalitarian’ conditions authority rests purely on violence.  ‘Post-totalitarian’ regimes are different because while they do employ violence, they also attempt to win the support of the populace through psychological manipulation and relentless propaganda.

The best-known section of Havel’s essay is the story of the greengrocer who at the behest of the authorities puts in his shop window a sign – ‘Workers of the World, Unite!’  Neither the greengrocer nor anyone passing the window believes the slogan – but everyone acts as if they do.

That poster was delivered to our greengrocer from the enterprise headquarters along with the onions and the carrots.  He put them all into the window simply because it has been done that way for years, because everyone does it, and because that is the way it has to be.  If he were to refuse, there could be trouble.  He could be reproached for not having the proper ‘decoration’ in his window; someone might even accuse him of disloyalty.

He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life.  It is one of the thousands of details that guarantee him a relatively tranquil life ‘in harmony with society’, as they say.

I was thinking about the things we do ‘to get along in life’ sitting through an acknowledgement of country recited before an event at my child’s school a few days ago.  This week alone over the course of various functions and events I would have heard the acknowledgment half a dozen times.  I’ve started pondering what would happen if someone took Solzhenitsyn literally. It wouldn’t require though walking out during the acknowledgment it would just be adding something to it at the end.  It could involve going up the microphone at the conclusion of the acknowledgment of country and reading out what Ramesh Thakur wrote in The Australian last weekend.  He began ‘I write as a proud Australian of Indian heritage’ – and then said:

I pay my respects to the Aboriginal communities that have lived here since Dreamtime; but also to the pioneers who established modern Australia as a stable and prosperous democracy, and to the visionary leaders who strove tirelessly to create a society that grants equal citizenship to everyone in a vibrant multicultural country.

I seek no privilege, right or obligation of citizenship not available to every Australian.  I do claim, for myself and my descendants, every opportunity to participate in civic life.  This is the ethic of conviction.

Imagine if you heard those words next time you went to an NRL or AFL game. But you won’t. And imagine what would happen to a student who said that at a school assembly.

Lies and  truth are common themes of post-war eastern European literature.  In his novel ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’, Milan Kundera, the Czech writer who died last month begins a long passage with the heading ‘LIVING IN TRUTH’.  Kundera had a keen eye for the absurdity and contradictions of post-totalitarianism.  In the novel two characters are discussing whether one of them should ‘retract’ an article he’d written which had upset the authorities.  The colleague of the author of the article says:

The pressure to make public retractions of a past statement – there’s something medieval about it.  What does it mean, anyway, to ‘retract’ what you’ve said?  How can anyone state categorically that a thought he once had is no longer valid?  In modern times an idea can be refuted, yes, but not retracted.

And since to retract an idea is impossible, merely verbal, formal sorcery, I see no reason why you shouldn’t do as they wish.  In a society run by terror, no statement whatsoever can be taken seriously.  They are all forced, and it is the duty of every honest man to ignore them.

Reading, Watching, Listening

I’ve two things to mention to you this week.  Talking of eastern European literature, I listened to a great episode recorded in 2021 from the Prager U Book Club on Arthur Koestler’s ‘Darkness at Noon’. It’s a fascinating discussion with C Brad Thompson, a professor of politics at Clemson University in the US about one of the defining books of the twentieth century.  You can click below to listen.

And on the topic of COVID, lies, and politicians below is the link to my discussion on IPA Encounters with British journalist, Isabel Oakeshott on ‘The Lockdown Files – Truth and Untruth from the Government and Media’. Isabel talks about what we learned from the release of more than 100,000 social media messages between Matt Hancock the British health minister, other politicians and government officials during 2020 and 2021. In March when I wrote about The Lockdown Files I said this:

Hancock’s WhatsApp messages isn’t just a parochial story about British politics. During COVID governments around the world copied each other, and here in Australia those in the media who barracked hardest for lockdowns and mask mandates regularly referred to what was occurring in the UK, the United States, and China.

While it’s unlikely Hancock will be arrested for wilful misconduct in public office, as some have suggested, the comparisons being made between Watergate and the British government’s actions during COVID are not entirely out of place. One difference is that no one died because of Watergate.

You can click below to watch. (And you can see the ‘warning’ from Big Tech in the top left corner of the image!)