One of Australia's leading historians, Professor Geoffrey Blainey, has said,
"In many ways the European history of this land has been a remarkable achievement. Today this land feeds fifty times as many Australians as it fed in Aboriginal times. We clothe hundreds of millions of people across the seas; we feed millions in other lands."
Paul Johnson, the eminent British historian and social analyst, after his visit in the early eighties to Australia concluded,
"The development of Australia rates as one of mankind's great achievements. With five years to go before the double century, one of the most advanced and prosperous societies on earth has been created. It is an achievement with few parallels in the history of human adventure. In the sixties the phrase "the lucky country" was coined. In fact there was little luck nothing but hard sweat and peril - in the process whereby, for instance, poor men pushed broad-wheeled barrows hundreds of miles along a burning coastline to open up the Australian goldfields. There are far more tales of heroism and sacrifices in the penetration of the Australian outback than in the whole history of the American Far West".
Many individuals and groups have taken advantage of the bi-centennial celebrations to denigrate many important factors which have contributed to Australia's growth as a great nation. At the forefront of this abrogation is John Pilger. John Pilger is of course, well known for his decidedly anti-Western and anti-free market views, characteristics which have led one of Australia's leading journalists, Anthony McAdam, to say,
"In every documentary of Pilger's I have seen ... he has never failed to identify the primary scapegoat for the world's ills as the United States. America is always behind everything".
His current offering for the bicentennial year is no different. Costing more than one million dollars his series, "The Last Dream" is a harsh criticism of white Australia. Pilger said of the series,
"The whole idea of the films is that they'll be an antidote to the year of self-display and self-aggrandisement on the part of politicians, and to the whole notion that the Bicentenary ought to be a celebration. A commemoration, yes — but I hope they will present another view than the idea of celebration".
In addition to the obvious controversy the series will create, Pilger's well known tendency for inaccuracy will also hopefully come under scrutiny. When referring to Pilger's earlier work, "The Secret Country", Anthony McAdam wrote,
"I suggest the term "pseudo-documentary". Pilger's effort was profoundly historically inaccurate; my claim, I believe, supportable if one examines the loading of the dice in his introduction, his choice of "talking heads" compounded by misuse of evidence and blatant inaccuracy in key areas".
Pilger is wrong in his comment about "self display and self aggrandisement". The agenda of the Australian Bicentennial Authority (ABA) does not focus on the values and institutions important to the Australian way of life.
The ABA has no plans to celebrate aspects of Australian history most concerned with the bicentennial. An examination of topics selected and omitted by the ABA leaves the impression that the ABA has failed to focus on many things about Australia that most Australians are proud of. The ABA agenda focuses on "Living Together" as its theme and includes in its agenda issues such as multiculturalism, leisure and recreation, sport, religious diversity, arts, Aboriginal culture, links with Pacific neighbours, women's activities, the contribution of trade unions, education, youth, the aged, participation by the disabled and the Bicentennial flag and logo. Ignored by the ABA are the British heritage, European culture, European discovery and exploration of Australia, the development of the outback and the pioneer spirit and courage of early European settlers. The ABA also ignores the social, religious, economic, political and legal institutions and traditions which enabled Australians to open up an immense continent and to establish upon it one of the most stable, prosperous and harmonious societies on earth. These include democracy, private enterprise, the family, the legal system and the rule of law, the British Commonwealth and the monarchy, the British heritage, the Anzacs, the alliance with America, Christian traditions, high living standards, the work ethic, and private property, all of which have constituted the Australian Achievement.
In overlooking the Australian Achievement and the most important aspects of the Australian Heritage, the ABA is attempting to sweep under the carpet the history and the values and institutions without which Australia would have no cause to celebrate its 200 years of modern existence.
If Australians are to be given a fair presentation of their heritage, then both sides of the story need to be told. Hence, the "Australian Achievement Project", has two main items.
The AAP wishes to publicise the values and institutions which have been important in the development of Australia. These should form the crux of any Bicentenary celebration - and are of continuing relevance after 1988.
The underlying purpose of the AAP is to provide Australians with an understanding of the values and institutions which have contributed to the rise and development of western civilisation, of which Australia is a part. The Australian Achievement Project will serve as a corrective to the negative portrayal of Australia's past which is being provided in many quarters.
The patrons of the AAP are the Hon Sir Allen Fairhall, KBE, Associate Professor LJM Cooray, LLB(Cey), PhD(Cantab), PhD(Col), School of Law, Macquarie University and myself.
The AAP is dependent on public subscription for its work. Any contributions will be gratefully received.
For further information about these works