By Bob Gould
Workers Online, June 2006
A list of the 100 most influential Australians was launched by Peter Costello at Machiavelli’s Restaurant in Sydney on June 27 with predictable razzmatazz. Surprise, surprise, global citizen or global buccaneer, depending on your point of view, Rupert Murdoch, was nominated by The Bulletin at the top of the list.
The notion of influential Australians is a rather slippery one, and seems for The Bulletin to move uneasily between history and the present. As the Sydney Morning Herald pointed out the next day, all such lists are of their place and time, or in other words they are inevitably political and produced uneasily by journalists, historians and writers looking over their shoulders at their proprietors, in this case James Packer, and perhaps at the ghost of Kerry Packer. Even allowing for these factors, this list is quite extraordinary, and it inevitably invites comparison with the way history used to be rewritten in Stalin’s Russia, with awkward historical individuals such as Trotsky and Bukharin carefully airbrushed out.
Starting with high politics, the list is eccentric in the extreme: no state governors and no governors general. Considering the role played by the representatives of British imperialism, whose colonies the Australian states originally were, this is quite mad. My list would include Governor Macquarie, the man who molded the colony in its formative years; Phillip Game, the representative of the British ruling class who sacked Jack Lang and created the precedent for the later sacking of Gough Whitlam by John Kerr; and the courageous and forward-looking Sir William Deane, who gave the office a quite different content and clearly laid the basis for a new kind of head of state in the inevitable Australian republic.
The list of federal and state politicians in the Bulletin list is bizzare. You only get Jack Lang as a premier and Alfred Deakin, Arthur Calwell, Gough Whitlam, Paul Keating and John Howard in the federal arena. In my list these people would remain but Bob Hawke would be substituted for Keating because Hawke’s role in the conservative Labor governments of the Hawke-Keating era was much more significant than that of Keating, who was bit of a showpony.
Calwell’s inclusion I agree with. His role in the initiation of postwar mass migration was extremely important. His other important contribution was his courageous and stubborn role as the Labor leader who drew the labour movement into determined opposition to the Vietnam war, a military involvement that is not otherwise mentioned in the Bulletin list. Inexplicably, The Bulletin doesn’t mention this aspect of Calwell’s political activities.
I would add to the politicians’ list Billy Hughes, the renegade Labor leader and romantic British Empire loyalist who split the Labor Party during World War I and was defeated in the conscription referendums. The weirdest omission of all from The Bulletin list is World War II Labor prime minister John Curtin, who dramatically changed Australia’s international alignments in relation to Britain and Australia, and who increased the powers of the commonwealth government, as was discussed in John Edwards’s book, Curtin’s Gift. The omission of Curtin clearly fits in with current ultra-conservative mythology.
I’d also add E.J. Ward, the Labor member for East Sydney, whose implacable class struggle approach profoundly influenced Labor politics for many years, and who Tory conservatives and Labor conservatives dearly like to airbrush out of history. Another piece of modern Stalinist airbrushing is the failure to include Black Jack McEwen, the extremely astute Country Party leader under Menzies, who vigorously defended the interests of rural Australia, the tariff system, and the whole of the so-called Australian settlement, which also tacitly involved accepting the necessity for higher wages and the right of trade unions to negotiate collectively for the interests of their members. Modern Australian neoconservatism would much prefer to forget McEwen.
I would also add two state premiers: the two current premiers in NSW and Victoria, Steve Bracks and Morris Iemma. The electoral fact that Bracks and Neville Wran, a previous Labor premier in NSW, have in common is that they both succeeded in the momentous achievement of converting non-elected or gerrymandered upper houses in both states into democratic chambers with proportional representation. Bracks is also significant because he is a Catholic, and The Bulletin list is really an extraordinarily bigoted Anglo-Protestant list, with very few Catholics represented. It is also an eccentrically Anglo list for modern Australia, with almost no non-British Australians mentioned. Bracks is of Christian Arab background and the first non-Anglo-Celt to be a Labor premier in any state. Iemma is significant because he is of Italian background and he, Bracks and a previous Tory Premier of NSW, Nick Greiner, are the only three non-British ethnic Australians who have been premiers of states. Iemma is also significant because he shows every sign of shaking off the torpor of the last period of the Carr government in NSW and leading Labor to a victory in the next election despite the frenzied campaign of the Tory media to remove the Labor government in NSW.
Back to history
I would start by including Pemulwuy, the courageous Aboriginal warrior in the Sydney region, who led a vigorous military struggle against British military invasion, thus commencing the saga of Aboriginal resistance and survival, which still continues. I would also include Samuel Marsden, the unpleasant Protestant bigot and brutal racist landowner whose basic attitudes permeated a large section of the Australian ruling class for the next 150 years or so. I would include Mary Reiby, the woman convict who became a successful businesswoman in the new colony. I would include Cunningham, the leader of the Irish convict rebellion at Castle Hill, who was summarily executed, and Caroline Chisholm, the Catholic woman who organised the first mass assisted migration of women to the new colony. I’d include Carboni Rafaello, the Italian Garibaldi supporter and chronicler of Eureka, both to recognise the significance of Italian migration and to include the Eureka Rebellion, which is unaccountably forgotten in The Bulletin‘s list.
It’s impossible to avoid listing Lawrence Hargraves, the discoverer of gold, considering that the gold rushes were the major economic factor leading to the spectacular development of Australia in the 19th century. I’d include also Mary McKillop, the founder of the Josephite nuns, in view of the enormous impact of Catholic education and nuns on the Catholic third of the Australian population. I’d also include Sir John Robertson, another NSW premier in the 19th century, who was the politician most associated with the introduction of free selection of land, which in a number of Australian states went a certain distance towards opening up to small farmers the lands previously monopolised by rich squatters. The struggle over the land was the dominant political struggle in Australia for an important part of the 19th century.
I’m no great expert on sporting matters. My core human interests lie in other directions. But I am not thick, and I have noticed over a long life the preoccupation of most Australians with sport. My interest in sport is, if anything, social and sociological.
The Bulletin 100 treats sport in a hopelessly aristocratic way. If you have to have a cricketer I’d ditch Bradman and Shane Warne in favour of Bill O’Reilly, the Catholic who upset the cricketing establishment. The bloke who invented Aussie Rules should stay in the list but the exclusion of rugby league is quite demented. I’d include two league players, Mal Meninga from the Canberra Raiders, who happens to be a descendant of the Kanaks who managed to avoid deportation at the start of the lamentable, and now deceased White Australia Policy, and Hasim El Masri the Lebanese-Australian Muslim who plays for Canterbury Bankstown (along with Sonny Bill Williams the spectacular hunk of South Pacific ethnicity who many young women lust after).
I’d also include the aboriginal boxer Anthony Mundine. Given the immense preoccupation of Australians with sport, the inclusion of these people seems appropriate to me.
The Bulletin list in this respect is rather high-culture. I prefer a more demotic approach. Tim Winton I would take out, and I would put in Frank Hardy, Tom Keneally, Colleen McCullough, Robert E. Barrett and Bryce Courtney. These five novelists are all in their own way very serious writers, but they have also achieved best-seller status, so you can’t go past them for any notion of influence.
The performing arts, music and current Australia
I’d ditch the promoters in favour of the artists. Representing rock music, it‚s hard to avoid Peter Garrett, activist musician, who is now a Labor politician. In the movie area, Phil Noyce, who is almost an overachiever, has produced both significant Australian historical films and made it in Hollywood with successful blockbusters. He replaces the worthy Peter Weir.
Among Greek Australia, Nick Giannopoulos, the outstanding Melbourne comedian, whose Wogs Out of Work theme catches the self identity of hundreds of thousands of young ethnic Australians, has to be included. Giannopoulos and Hung Le, his Vietnamese mate, have captured a wide vein of modern Australian experience, as anyone younger than 40 might tell you. This inclusion is particularly significant in view of the recent unpleasant outbreak of residual atavistic racism in one of the tiny number of urban Australian Anglo ghettos, the Sutherland shire, stirred up by radio shock jocks and directed against Australians of so-called Middle Eastern appearance. Which brings us to the inexplicable exclusion from the list of the king of the extremely influential reactionary populist shock jocks, Alan Jones, who is so influential in real terms that the reactionaries who now run the ABC won’t publish Chris Masters’ unauthorised biography of Jones.
Health (and Asian migration)
I’d add the extraordinary heart surgeon Victor Chang both because of his medical contribution and as significant representative of the very large Asian migration to Australia of the past 40 years, a million or so people. In the atavistic British imperial racism predominant in Australia in the 19th century, the White Australia Policy was adopted in the 1900s at the time of federation and was administered with extreme brutality for the next 60 or so years.
White Australia was largely focused against Chinese migration. It is one of the wonderful ironies of Australian history that since the White Australia Policy was demolished in the 1960s, a very rapid Asian migration with a significant majority of women is changing the Australian social mix irrevocably and for the better.
It’s hard to go past Eddie Mabo who took up the legal battle for Aboriginal land rights and won. Henry Reynolds should also be included because he is the pioneer, and the most prolific, of the school of meticulous historians whose careful recovery of the facts about the murder of many of our original indigenous Australian inhabitants and the deliberate destruction of their culture has produced such a frenzy of Anglo-imperialist Australian denial, spearheaded by Keith Windschuttle, the David Irving of Australian Aboriginal studies.
Another historian and environmental publicist who should be included is Tim Flannery, the influential neo-Malthusian, whose debatable story that it was humans who wrecked the environment, and wiped out the big mammals, has fascinated the Australian middle classes.
The trade union movement
Since the 1830s, with the deportation to these shores of the Tolpuddle Martyrs, trade unionism has been a decisive part of Australian life and like Oscar Wilde’s death “rumours of its demise have been grossly exaggerated”. This fact is demonstrated by the extraordinary current and effective defensive battle of the trade union movement for its very existence, which is infuriating the Australian ruling class.
Representative figures from the history of Australian trade unionism who should be included are Laurie Short, who in a long life has moved from left to right, and whose upending of the Communist Party leadership in 1952 was a significant event; Jim Healy, the avuncular pipe-smoking Liverpool Irishman who was the Communist leader of the influential wharfies union for a generation; Clarrie O’Shea, the Maoist leader of the Melbourne Tramways Union, whose courageous act in going to jail rather than pay a fine imposed on his union smashed the penal clauses in the Arbitration Act, leading to a considerable explosion of trade union influence, which was only curtailed by the adoption of the ALP-ACTU Accord in 1982. Current Unions NSW leader John Robertson should also be included. He is a modernising influence who has well and truly brought Unions NSW into the 21st century.
Women in politics. Local government activities and the environment
A new breed of women activists has emerged all over Australia, mostly in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, molded in the struggles of the past 20 years or so. Representative of this group on the Labor side of politics in NSW in various parliaments would be Tanya Plibersek, the persuasive and articulate member for Sydney; Verity Firth, the Labor deputy mayor of Sydney; and Meredith Burgmann, president of the Upper House
The dramatic emergence of the Greens as a major third force in Australian politics is now typified by the left-leaning Greens organisations in NSW and WA. This is best expressed in the activities of the three tough women who are Greens elected members from NSW: Sylvia Hale, Lee Rhiannon, and Kerry Nettle. I’d nominate Lee Rhiannon as the representative of this whole group of Labor and Greens women to be one of the 100 most influential Australians.
I’d also include Nick Origlass, the Balmain Trotskyist, the most expelled man in Australian politics, who led the important strike of Balmain ironworkers in 1945 in defence of trade union rights, against the Stalinist leadership of the Ironworkers’ Union. As a Labor, and subsequently, independent Labor alderman on Leichhardt Council, Origlass became the pioneer of a new style of environmental and democratic politics in local government, and introduced the important concept of open council to municipal affairs.
Peter Jensen, who I know slightly, is a worthy bloke in some respects. Nevertheless, in the real world Brian Houston, the head honcho of the American-style go-getters’ Hillsong Church, is the most influential Protestant in modern Australia.
On the Catholic side, it is unhistorical to exclude George Pell, the rather conservative electoral campaigner for the new Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger. The late Father Ted Kennedy, the saintly and implacably leftist parish priest of Redfern, the legitimate representative of Vatican II Catholic Australia, which is still in contest with Pell and others, inside the Catholic Church, should also be included.
The three pundits who are credited with The Bulletin list, the comedienne Julie McCrossin, the journalist Phillip Knightley and the historian Michael Cathcart are all worthy people. Phillip Knightley has produced by far the best book ever written about war propaganda and Michael Cathcart’s book about the right-wing conspiracies in Victoria at the onset of the Great Depression, Defending the National Tuckshop is a gem, and one of my favorite books. Nevertheless, acting as a committee with the implicit oversight of The Bulletin‘s management and writing in the bleak, reactionary climate of the current public political culture, they have produced a list that is a kind of statement about past Australian history, and a kind of political statement about the kind of Australia that the dominant conservative political culture would like to see.
The Bulletin‘s list is bland, Anglo-centric, anti-working-class, religiously bigoted and blinkered in relation to major historical influences in Australian history. This is exemplified by the exclusion of Curtin, Black Jack McEwen, Henry Reynolds and the multitude of others who I have mentioned above. By way of contrast I would keep 56 of the Bulletin nominees, drop 44 and add my 44, as I have described. I believe my amended list represents a more democratic, more historical, and more demotic version of Australian history.
A list of the 100 most influential Australians is inevitably a general statement about Australian history and current politics. In my view it should incorporate elements of high political history and history from below, and my amended list is an attempt to do this and correct the conservative bias in The Bulletin‘s list.
I would drop Dennis Altman, Eric Ansell, Louis Bant, Jeffery Bardon, Don Bradman, Martin Bryant, Don Dunstan, Sydney Einfeld, Elizabeth Evatt, John Flynn, Eugene Goosens, Reg Grundy, Michael Gudinski, William Hudson, A.V. Jennings, Peter Jensen, Fletcher Jones, Susannah Kable, Paul Keating, Alan Kendall, Ben Lexcen, Jean MacNamara, Alan Moss, Glen Murcutt, Garth Nettheim, Henry Parkes, Banjo Pattersen, W.S. Robinson, James Scullin, Peter Sculthorpe, Dick Smith, W.E.H. Stanner, Jessie Street, Charles Todd, Edna Walling, Shane Warne, Peter Weir, Alec Wickham and Tim Winton.
I would add Governor Lachlan Macquarie, Governor Phillip Game, Sir William Deane, Bob Hawke, Billy Hughes, John Curtin, E.J. Ward, Black Jack McEwen, Steve Bracks, Morris Iemma, Pemulwuy, Mary Reiby, Cunningham the Castle Hill convict leader, Caroline Chisholm, Rafaello Carboni, Lawrence Hargraves, Mary McKillop, Sir John Robertson, Bill O’Reilly, Hassan El Masri, Anthony Mundine, Frank Hardy, Tom Keneally, Colleen McCullogh, Robert E. Barrett, Bryce Courtney, Peter Garrett, Phil Noyce, Nick Giannopoulos, Alan Jones, Victor Chang, Eddie Mabo, Henry Reynolds, Tim Flannery, Laurie Short, Jim Healy, Clarrie O‚Shea, John Robertson, Tanya Plibersek, Lee Rhiannon, Nick Origlass, Pastor Brian Houston, Cardinal George Pell and the late Father Ted Kennedy.
I’d retain from the Bulletin list J.F. Archibald, John Andersen, Faith Bandler, C.E.W. Bean, Geoffrey Blainey, Thomas Blamey, J.J.C. Bradfield, Arthur Calwell, Manning Clark, Nugget Coombs, Alfred Deakin, Owen Dixon, Peter Dombrovskis, Michael Durack, William Farrar, Howard Florey, Margaret Fulton, Germaine Greer, Pauline Hanson, Henry Higgins, Fred Hollows, Donald Horne, John Howard, Robert Hughes, Ned Kelly, Graham Kennedy, Michael Kirby, Jack Lang, Henry Lawson, Essington Lewis, Norman Lindsay, Frank Lowy, John Macarthur, Danniel Mannix, William McBride, Robert Menzies, Kylie Minogue, John Monash, Rupert Murdoch, Sydney Myer, Albert Namatjira, Sidney Nolan, Gustav Nossal, Frank Packer, Damien Parer, Ruth Park, Charles Perkins, George Robertson, Eric Rudd, B.A. Santamaria, Peter Singer, John Singleton, Bertram Wainer, William Wentworth, Patrick White, Gough Whitlam, David Williamson and Tom Wills.