No-one does identity politics quite like resentful white men—all the while bemoaning it. In a blaze of teeth-whitening Milo Yiannopoulos arrived on our shores late last year. With more swing than Tarzan and undoubtedly more leopard print, he beat his depilatoried chest pleading for riots. His provocations were so predictable that a refresher on his insults is already required. He dismissed Aboriginal art as laughably ‘crap’ and coming from ‘inferior’ people who failed to invent the wheel. (Yiannopoulis omitted to mention that the aerodynamic lift of the boomerang’s airfoil shape together with the gyroscopic precession associated with its rapid spin make it the first heavier-than-air flying machine ever invented by humans, and somewhat more useful on a continent devoid of domesticated and thus load-bearing animals than the wheel). He debased feminist columnist Clementine Ford as a ‘fat cunt’ and captioned a school photo of her with ‘Unfuckable’ (which seemed somewhat superfluous given Yiannopoulos is gay and she is pictured a minor). But I’m forgetting Goadboy has argued sexual relationships between 13-year-olds and adults can ‘happen perfectly consensually’. It was these pronouncements that lost him his book deal, among others too tiresome to repeat, that finally saw him banned from Twitter.
Milo works terribly hard at being original, which he confuses with shock, and similarly his conflation of hate speech and free speech is straight from the playbook of white male goading. He was welcomed here by a tragic chorus of dotard neocons and shockjocks—raging bullfrogs braying for his lead and pobblebonking from the legitimation of his youth. Yiannapoulos selfie-describes (he does this with a stick too) as a ‘one man wrecking crew’, a trolling ‘internet supervillian’ and ‘ready to offend’. We quake. He was excoriated so deliciously by his editor Mitchell Ivers (before Simon & Schuster dumped his book) we all had to forego dessert, sated for weeks.
Goading is but the first step in this carefully choreographed dance of provocateurs in which white men lead, strictly. They launch themselves with a foot-to-the-face of anyone defending others—Muslims, gays, feminists, or of course themselves. Generally they end up with a foot in the mouth through ignorance or superfluity—well yes, minors are by definition unfuckable, the boomerang is infinitely more sophisticated physics than the wheel, for example. Then when their incitements get any rise at all these ballroom flouncers flub a backward save with cries of censorship, when really their pronouncements, for example Milo’s book, aren’t published because they are a ‘mess of low-context writing’, ‘phenomenally petty’ and just, well, inferior and crap. So Mark Latham whines he has been blocked by the twitterati because they are too politically correct to withstand his incisive critiques of feminazis, and most definitely not because he is repetitive, self-referencing and boring as batshit. Finally our goaders crumple to the floor, the victims of jack-booted lefties, bleating in their reams of airtime and column space about being silenced and—adding insult to injury—wallflowered by the ABC.
Before he arrived Yiannopoulos had been fully appraised of the persecution endured by fellow white male goaders languishing under onerous defamation and racial discrimination laws here in our dark continent. He described section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act as ‘the worst law’. Conservative politicians should see they ‘have the high moral ground’ and jolly well use it to defend free speech. Yes. We should be able to caption a schoolgirl’s photos with Unfuckable. And tap their phones after they’re murdered? There are no bounds to free speech.
Except for white male goaders, evidently. Soon after then attorney-general George Brandis’s extraordinary claim that people ‘have a right to be bigots’, libertarian crossbencher senator David Leyonhjelm, who campaigned long to bring down 18C, complained that a columnist’s description of him as an ‘angry white man’ was racist. Similarly two white men, one of them cartoonist Paul Zanetti, lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission alleging federal Labor MP Linda Burney racially discriminated against white people in her criticism of the inquiry into section 18C. Burney, the first Indigenous woman elected to the lower house, commented after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the inquiry into 18C, ‘It astounds me that the people that are advocating for the removal of 18C are basically white men of a certain age that have never experienced racial discrimination in their life.’ The other complainant, former Australian Liberty Alliance Senate candidate Bernard Gaynor, wrote in a statement on his blog, ‘These words are clearly racist and they make offensive and insulting connotations about white men.’ Gaynor then lodged a complaint of racial vilification with the Australian Human Rights Commission stating imperiously, ‘And I expect Gillian Triggs to take it seriously.’ The furore over section 18C of the federal racial discrimination legislation was inflected with a sense of victimisation by white men from simply being identified by the category white men.
Like any victimisation it is from time immemorial. Thus white nationalists in the United States have been scouting for historical instances of the enslavement of white men. They tout the ‘Irish slaves that built America’ as an instance of the entrenched victimisation of white manhood.1 It seems these white slaves were also trafficked to Australia—perhaps they are referring to convict transportation, although such historical nuances are rarely drawn in the headlong rush for victim status by aggrieved white men.2 The legal distinction between being someone’s property and being imprisoned is entirely lost on these authors. White male goaders are frequently so out of their depth that taking a safety pin to their paddle-pool might be all that can save them from themselves. It is perplexing. What legitimation do these ethno-nationalists seek from such frantic forays into the dark past? It isn’t that different to the mythologising of war heroism.
They seek the legitimation of heroism in its manifestations of suffering. And this legitimation has its own history and politically invested ways of memorialising. In our centenary year of nearly 9000 men killed and 18,000 maimed at Gallipoli we looked back on a passing parade of decorated ageing white men heralded for their suffering, which is a curious claim of male victimisation, shrouded in heroism. We saw with the virtual exiling of ABC presenter Yassmin Abdel-Magied, after she tweeted we should also think of the victims of Manus and Palestine, just how jealously this victim-hero status is clung to.
Until recently ‘our’ Gallipoli veterans were thought of as exclusively white, and ‘the flower of Australian manhood’.3 The poignancy of loss and the valour of vulnerability for more than 100,000 Australian servicemen lost in 26 conflict zones are held up in the form of a frail blood-red poppy. But the freshcut flower evokes a certain masculine delicacy, even fragility, around injury and death, one that must be redeemed by notions of sacrifice, valour and courage.4 This social standing as hero is supposed to compensate male victims of war. It hasn’t worked out that way for more than 50 veterans returned from Afghanistan, who joined the 42 men killed there by slipping into the still oblivion of suicide. Despite their undoubted victimisation—mostly working-class boys, their amygdalae unformed, serving in a sham war—these lost men will not enter the national imaginary as heroes. Their suffering will not become integral, indeed indispensable, to national character and sentiment. Heroism enfolds a select category of men and leaves the rest out in the cold to fend for themselves—literally, as the ranks of the homeless are swelled by ex-servicemen.
The white man is an identity category like no other, called up like a draft one moment, and willfully effaced the next. This is the deep ambivalence displayed by the raging bullfrogs among us. Without needing to rehearse decades of feminist linguistics we now largely accept that man not only spuriously stood in for humanity, but was conflated with the norm of mankind,
as the standard by which all difference was measured and thereby the gold standard of civilisational attainment to which all Others must aspire. In Foucault’s indispensable formulation, power is most effective when it is masked. So are categories of social kind, types or identity locales, leaving white men who shirk this identification shielded from criticism. The dominance of the white man, the argument runs, depends on this category going unmarked. Don’t mention my whiteness or maleness, Yiannopoulos’s chorus shriek. Yet historically this category has swum in and out of focus. For instance, the Bulletin magazine’s banner read ‘Australia for the White Man’ from early in the reign of its bush poets, from 1886 until 1961. Its reasoning is descriptive of an imagined proto-nationalist category that both subsumed difference internally—notably women, Indigenous people and Chinese—and externally denied any inclusion of racial difference from ‘Australian’:
By the term Australian we mean not those who have been merely born in Australia. All white men who come to these shores—with a clean record—and who leave behind them the memory of the class distinctions and the religious differences of the old world … all men who leave the tyrant-ridden lands of Europe for freedom of speech and right of personal liberty are Australians before they set foot on the ship which brings them hither. Those who … leave their fatherland because they cannot swallow the worm-eaten lie of the divine right of kings to murder peasants, are Australian by instinct—Australian and Republican are synonymous.
Class then was the clarion call of the white man. It was associated with the struggles of the labour movement—freedom of association and expression and liberty of movement. In Australia the world-first achievement of the eight-hour-day campaign of the 1850s was undercut by the violent suppression of strikes in the 1890s. Trade union protests against cheap imported labour precipitated the White Australia policy and restricted immigration. Australian white men identified politically with protectionism, compulsory arbitration, the rejection of conscription and, arising from the Depression, unemployed militancy. There was once among white Australian men a healthy contempt for the rich, unimaginable now. The historical legacy of these strands warp under the more recent expression of white masculinity as an excess of aggrieved resentment that shirks the identifications of social categories—white men—while opportunising their collectively identified sense of loss of entitlement.
In the section 18C fiasco we see another history play out, one that has its roots in the anti-discrimination reforms of the 1980s, with the early ingredients for a stew of resentment bubbling among the neocons ever since. Complaints against two cartoonists across the span of these decades, Eric Jolliffe and Bill Leak, brought by Indigenous activists, chart the historical tensions culminating in the inquiry into section 18C of the federal Racial Discrimination Act. These interventions by Indigenous activists should be the centre of the 18C story, and will become so in what follows. By the time 18C was under attack a simmering defensiveness came to the boil among neocon andropausal white men to being categorised (so let’s give them a bonus acronym: NAWM—slant rhyme to the very norm they like to think they embody). It amounted to a testerical refusal to being specified not merely as gendered and raced but as the privileged category within those delineations of power. In the instance of race, these categories of difference date back to Greco-Roman ethnology but became entrenched through slavery and colonialism, attended by scientific racism. In the instance of gender, it was the separation of spheres, of home and work, ensuing from the agrarian revolution that cleaved gender into a dichotomy. That is, these categories are inextricable to the organisation of power and privilege.
Sure, the enfranchisement and citizenship of white men since the Enlightenment have been hindered by class, and as I’ve intimated above, working-class men have disproportionately, and shamefully when you consider their youth, carried the casualties of conflict. Shit undoubtedly happens to white men. Cancer, terrorism, ironing, not to mention 40 years of wage stagnation (though women still earn roughly 80 cents in the male dollar) and automation (though it was coloured jobs in US manufacturing that were first impacted from the 1950s in meatpacking, steel, chemicals, tobacco, tyres and coal). But when shit does happen, it seems the default position of NAWMs is the ‘aggrieved entitlement’ Michael Kimmel describes in his book Angry White Men, that is, the expectation of privilege and the promise of its restoration that pervades Trump’s slogan ‘Make America Great Again’. As a newly conspicuous category identified by the traits they have traditionally felt exempted from—gender and race—NAWMs come face to face with the entanglement of the personal with the political. No white man likes labels but in the analysis around Trump’s election in the United States, and the 18C debacle here, they became marked men.
• • •
In the 18C war of words, the most embalmed corpse to join the ranks of heroic dead men was the cartoonist Bill Leak. It was a terribly sad death, as all sudden deaths are for those who love the departed and depend on their love. But in Leak’s case genuine grief was grotesquely exploited for partisan gain on a political pyre of white male martyrdom. At Leak’s funeral any illusion of Malcolm Turnbull’s ‘moderation’ or of his baneful attempts to moderate the hard right in his party room was shattered forever. He invoked Leak’s divisive cartoon of a deadbeat Indigenous father too indifferent to recall his son’s name (published, where else, in the Australian on 4 August 2016) and claimed it was ‘a cartoon that united Australians, united them in defence of freedom, freedom to draw it, agree with it, freedom to disagree with it’. In that unedifying moment Turnbull turned any sympathy for Leak’s death into incredulity that an Australian statesman could be so baiting and blinkered. Goading at a funeral. It was frankly gobsmacking.
The cartoon being memorialised in this outburst was Leak’s vicious response to Four Corners revelations of the abuse of Indigenous teens at the Don Dale youth detention facility in Darwin. While the nation reeled at images of Dylan Voller hooded and bound, while Indigenous leaders choked back tears at the lectern, Leak chose this moment of open wounds to accuse and vilify. The nation was not united in his defence of free speech as the dirigible Turnbull asserted at Leak’s funeral. It was cleft, viscerally prompting a groundswell of repudiation in the hashtag #IndigenousDads, which showcased the dedication and devotion of thousands of cherished Indigenous fathers. As Amy McGuire powerfully argued in New Matilda,5 death does not exonerate racism, nor this despicable episode, for which both Leak and Turnbull should be forever remembered.
Leak said he was ‘totally bewildered’ and ‘hammered’ by the complaint brought against his cartoon. He said he ‘suffered incredible stress’ and that his life had ‘been thrown into utter chaos’.6 In an indulgent 7.30 Report interview he claimed, incoherently, that he was ‘colour blind’ and that ‘I just think of them as kids. These ones happen to be Aboriginal, but they’re just kids as far as I’m concerned. And so when I drew the cartoon, I had to make them look like Aboriginal people.’ This makes no sense. He argued in the same interview that section 18C is ‘an abomination’.7 By all reports Leak’s heart gave up the ghost after the onslaughts of political correctness. Part of NAWM’s refusal of their category is a blithe indifference to their own physicality and deferral of responsibility for their health.
The complaint against Leak was lodged by an Indigenous woman from Western Australia, Mellissa Dinnison, who refrained from seeking compensation because she ‘wanted instead to talk to Leak about the impact his cartoon had on real, everyday Aboriginal people’.8 But Dinnison has said Leak and his lawyers had made it clear that they ‘weren’t going to cooperate with the conciliation process’. Dinnison began to wonder if ‘the Australian wanted to coax me into taking this to court because they were confident that they would win’. She figured ‘a second win against 18C would help to push their agenda, and I guess watering down the Australian Human Rights Commission or even dismantling it completely’. To her credit this canny young woman was not so easily led.
Dinnison’s complaint, and the provisions of section 18C in the federal Racial Discrimination Act of 1975, were characterised as an attack not only on free speech but also as a malicious personal attack on the cartoonist. Leak was briskly instated as a trooper for the nation’s irreverent larrikin values. In his memory a discursive edifice to rival the Australian War Memorial was hastily assembled by News Corp. His Pool of Reflection became a narcissist’s wet-and-wild for the LNP and the Murdoch press. As Crikey reported, in the three months following their publication of the Leak cartoon on 4 August 2016, the Australian produced more than 134,000 words on section 18C, including 94 news stories, 84 opinion pieces and 30 articles that made the front page.9 What precisely were they on about?
Those wanting first to abolish and then to reform 18C claimed it was contrary to Australia’s ‘liberal democratic heritage’.10 It impinged on the ‘implied freedom of political communication’.11 Its ‘prohibition of offensive, insulting and humiliating acts’ overreaches our obligations under Article 4, and ‘fails to balance freedom of expression’.12 Robust discussion of controversial matters ‘including those involving race, colour, ethnicity or nationality’ was necessary to a thriving democracy and this ‘discussion may involve employing language that some (or even most) find offensive, insulting or even humiliating’.13Except, as we saw above, when white men are concerned. Meaning that white men are exempt as a category from ‘race, colour, ethnicity or nationality’. The best remedy for ‘speech that offends, insults or humiliates’ is ‘not court-ordered silence but more speech’14 —just not about white men, especially when they’re angry. Despite the overwhelming support for current laws, NAWMs could not resist bobbing again and again for this recrudescent pig trotter, gnashing their teeth with paranoia. Leak was killed by political correctness, they said.
You might think the extraordinary martyrdom of Bill Leak by NAWMs is historically unprecedented. Not so. The roots of white male goading run as deep as their defence of 18C. In an instructive parallel across nearly four decades another much loved cartoonist drawing Indigenous Australians was grieved as a casualty of political correctness. That’s right, this literal war of words is said to have claimed the lives of not one but two white men. The advocacy in the 1980s around strengthening racial discrimination laws to prosecute racial ‘propaganda’ is descriptive of major historical shifts that set in train this NAWM testeria—laws they have perceived as an attack on their freedoms ever since. The furore over 18C and its attendant white male goading had been brewing for decades. More to the point, these reforms were precipitated by Indigenous activists.
• • •
In 1980 the cartoonist Eric Jolliffe was the subject of a NSW Anti-Discrimination Board investigation over a cartoon published in the Permanent Building Association’s monthly magazine, Corroboree. The cartoon shows a young Aboriginal woman wearing a bra on her behind. Two onlooking women remark that ‘She got it from the missionary’s wife—it’s for figure control’. The Anti-Discrimination Board wrote to the general manager of the Permanent Building Society asking them to ‘refrain from publishing such potentially divisive material’. Their concern was that Jolliffe’s cartoon ‘perpetuates racist stereotypes that Aborigines are of inferior intellectual ability’, which could unduly influence decisions of Permanent Building officers in assessing Indigenous applicants for the provision of credit.15 In language uncannily foreshadowing Leak, Jolliffe was said to be ‘hurt and bewildered’16 by the complaint, but unlike Leak, he immediately ceased drawing his 40-year-old Witchetty’s Tribe strip. He cackhandedly protested, ‘If a girl with those proportions walked into a building society they would give her a penthouse for free. Wouldn’t they?’ Presumbly Jolliffe too just thought of them as women. But these ones happened to be Indigenous. So for no apparent reason when Jolliffe drew the cartoon, he had to make them look like Aboriginal people. Identity categories? White men like to imagine themselves blind, like justice, for this clearly makes them impartial.
Jolliffe’s chosen line of defence, of ostensibly conferring wider public value on Indigenous women by expressing white men’s appreciation for their racialised beauty, was written through other white men’s rebuttal of the complaint. Ken Slessor, Lenny Lower and Jolliffe’s cartoonist colleagues from the Black-and-White Artists Club rallied to his defence.17 Blaikie argued that Jolliffe had replaced the earlier offensive and moronic ‘Jacky Jacky’ stereotype with athletic hunters who had a sense of humour and with women ‘as beautiful as white models’.18 Jolliffe believed he had taken a ‘strong stand’ in not drawing Indigenous people as they had mostly been depicted in interwar cartoons—as drunken brawling fringe dwellers, the women with simian features and spindly limbs, their bodies swimming in ragged Mother Hubbard frocks. Jolliffe argued no cartoonist had ever drawn their ‘tribal life’. He explained in an interview much later that most cartoons of the day ‘were always the beat up hangers-on around the fringes dressed up in white man’s clothes with much play on his pidgeon English … I wanted to draw them as tribal entities living their rich tribal life.’19 This included drawing the women eternally young, arching into a salacious gaze while wearing nothing but clinging lap-laps.
In his aim to express his respect for tribally living Indigenous people by sexualising the women Jolliffe had considerable success. He was celebrated for ‘originat[ing] the Aboriginal pin-up’ using ‘sensitivity without sentiment’.20 In a recent interview Jolliffe’s old friend Ted Egan, a former patrol officer in Native Affairs, claimed Jolliffe was ‘totally respectful of Aboriginal people’. Yet in a 1950 feature on Jolliffe’s friend, Buffalo and Crocodile hunter Tim Cole, who was head stockman on Wave Hill, Jolliffe commented, ‘You’ve got to have courage and guts to handle the blacks under you on those stations.’21 Egan also dismissed the nudity of Jolliffe’s Witchetty’s Tribe women by claiming that on the Tiwi Islands 95 per cent of the women were bare-breasted in the 1950s, ‘that was how it was’.
Yet (aside from Jolliffe reworking an earlier cartoon for this 1980 publication) Jolliffe was elsewhere attentive, even in the 1950s, to Indigenous women’s dress. Writing a vignette in 1954 of Indigenous spectators of a Hopalong Cassidy screening in a Darwin cinema, Jolliffe wrote, ‘the lubras wear their best dresses, brassieres, and lipstick’.22 He thought their simple cotton frocks did their ‘slender figures scant justice’, but approved their ‘silken wavy hair-do that would cost real money at any beauty parlour’. Despite his exposure to Indigenous women in modish dress, Jolliffe evidently believed semi-naked tribal women, in the form of the ‘full length lubra model’, were more representative of Indigenous women’s beauty, which he equated with dignity. Indeed, Jolliffe at one point refused a $200 offer from Playboy to run one of his cartoons because he ‘didn’t think it was a suitable publication for his work’. This offer, and being dubbed the ‘originator of the Aboriginal pin-up’, didn’t alert Jolliffe to a possibly prurient audience.
Jolliffe’s bush/tribal humour turned on the incongruities created by Indigenous Australians living across two worlds, as he saw it. Desert ‘tribal’ people who are assumed to have no or very little contact with Europeans (even in the postwar period!) ventriloquise the neurotic minutiae of white modern domesticity: women without washing machines compare brightness, husbands and wives argue about parenting theories and about keeping up with incongruously far-flung ‘neighbours’. Jolliffe revived the native belle type I’ve discussed elsewhere,23 in a long tradition of cynically using ‘primitive’ nudity for sanctioned salacious visual access to the naked female form.
Jolliffe was prolific, publishing approximately 130 anthologies of his cartoons. He later lamented, ‘In those days the world was full of readers.’24 He sold more than 6 million copies of his outback caricatures and was awarded the OAM for his services to art as a cartoonist and illustrator. A pub in George Street, Sydney, enlarged Witchetty’s Tribe cartoons on their walls. In 1967 the minister for justice Dr P.R. Delamothe was quoted as saying the government owed Jolliffe ‘a debt of gratitude for the way he had brought Aboriginal life to the attention of the people’. He was labelled ‘The Lawson of line’ on account of his ‘limpid, lilting limnings’.25 Jolliffe claimed to have been ‘fired’, or inspired, by the poets who were ‘in full voice’ during his childhood, Henry Lawson and Banjo Patterson. They made him ‘determined’ to go ‘outbush’. His early years as an outback itinerant led him to believe he ‘had a special slant on the bush that nobody had used before’ (such as flies on dead rabbits and dead sheep hooked over fences). His strip titled Corroboree was reviewed in 1946 as celebrating the ‘short and simple scandals of the boongs’.26 It was said to combine ‘the native back ground with the modern wisecrack’.27
Jolliffe was not a goader. And this difference from Leak I think throws into relief that NAWMs have since come to depend on this discursive tactic. Unlike Leak, Jolliffe seemed blissfully ignorant until the 1980 complaint that his cartoons made fun of Indigenous people and thereby denigrated them. His intention was to depict the people he had encountered ‘as they lived and not put them into contrived situations that didn’t belong to their way of life’. Still, he admitted, it was ‘extremely difficult’ to peg gags to this ‘simple’ way of living and ‘Sometimes I departed from reality just out of desperation to fill a deadline, but generally they’d always be doing something in their normal lives.’ This included countless cartoons of the entirely unsubstantiated trope of violent bride capture.28
Jolliffe exhibited in Indigenous communities in Arnhem Land, which he claimed ‘impressed them very much’. Billy Palm Island is said to have described Jolliffe as his favourite cartoonist at the opening of the Tambo exhibition at the National Library of Australia in November 1997.29 Egan described his friend as having ‘a great respect for Aboriginal people and they loved him because he was polite and courteous and a good person to be around’. Jolliffe’s ‘Aboriginal pin-ups’ were enjoyed across race. He was known to have ‘scored a success in the far north among the Diggers with his pages of aboriginal beauty’.30 But he also drew, many times, on an anecdote from one of the two expeditions to Arnhem Land he had joined. Jolliffe asked expedition head Charles Mountford to survey some
of his Indigenous readers on their opinion of his cartoons (advising they’d be too polite to tell Jolliffe himself). Mountford reported back on what Jolliffe took as a general consensus—which meant a pan-Aboriginal readership: ‘your drawings were very accurate and true to life and boy can you draw a good sort’.31
After the 1980 Anti-Discrimination Board’s finding Jolliffe drew on Indigenous fandom as a defence again.32 He claimed top end newsagents told him his booklets were ‘one book Aborigines in Arnhem Land buy’ and that he had seen copies of his book ‘completely worn out they’ve passed through so many hands’. He was at a loss to understand ‘how a man who has travelled the countryside lecturing on Aboriginal life could be accused of being racist?’ He claimed Bill Harney said he was ‘more of an expert than all the anthropologists put together’, and cautioned that if Aboriginal people in the top end didn’t like what white people were doing ‘they wouldn’t let you into Arnhem Land’.33 Jolliffe was reported at the time to have been saddened by the complaint. He said, ‘I thought I was defusing an explosive situation by giving people a bit of laughter.’ A 1979 article claimed Jolliffe drew from the outback because he didn’t want to ‘savage’ politicians. He insisted he had ‘never lampooned anyone cruelly’.
This naivety soured over the coming decades. In a later interview Jolliffe gave another take on the complaint: ‘A couple of bureaucrats reckoned my art was an insult to the Aboriginal race. They just wanted to draw attention to themselves and reckoned to have a piece of me was the way to go. They fell flat on their faces, of course.’ He described the bum-bra cartoon and said, ‘They picked that out as the insult to all Aboriginal women. And the joke was, I’d just been invited as guest of honor to the Aboriginal Olympic Games in Arnhem Land. It was around 1971 and it was a big deal.’ I haven’t been able to find any records of an Aboriginal Olympics; however, Jolliffe took to an event at Yuendumu an exhibition of cartoons ‘and right in the middle of them was the cartoon that was supposed to be an insult to all Aborigines and I’ve got a photo of all admiring the cartoons and they streamed in for 4 days. It was a terrific event.’34
After the 1980 complaint Barry Carlton of the Permanent Building Society announced their decision to drop the Witchetty’s Tribe series of cartoons, but that they would continue to publish Jolliffe’s other bush characters. Anecdotally he is believed to have died ‘brokenhearted’ soon after. In fact he lived another three decades. As recently as 2010 Jolliffe was remembered by ABC radio as a ‘victim of political correctness’.35 Ted Egan connected the complaint to the Sydney Push and the famous lampoon of BabaKiueria (Barbeque Area). He contends, ‘The people who were critical of Jolliffe were urban activists and politically correct people.’ Jolliffe dismissed the Anti-Discrimination Board Complaint as issued from ‘fat-cat bureaucrats’.36 He argued he had sold more than 10 millions copies of his strips over 40 years in more than 100 books.37 One article stated: ‘Few, if any, Australian artists could claim to know more about the Aborigine or respect them more than he did. His cartoons were drawn for their humour.’ Jolliffe argued in the Canberra Times that ‘if they were racist the Australian people would not want them’.38 He was defiant about the ruling, declaring his next book would be ‘exclusively Aboriginal drawings’, but as mentioned he never drew Witchetty’s Tribe again. A Sydney Morning Herald feature on the scandal described his cartoons as ‘drawings which a simpler age had appreciated’.39 Jolliffe argued the complainants were only ‘some people’ and not representative of the Aboriginal viewpoint.40
In a portent of the Dinnison–Leak incident, the complaint was brought by the Aboriginal Legal Service in Redfern. I’ve been trying to ascertain whether the complainant was Cecil Patten, one of the founders of the Redfern Aboriginal Legal Service. If so it is significant not only as the first formal complaint about racist representation, but as part of a familial legacy of emphasis on representation that would shape the anti-discrimination reforms of the 1980s. For Patten’s father, Jack Patten, famous for leading the Cummeragunja walk-off in 1939, also penned the first criticism of racist cartoons in the Indigenous newspaper the Abo Call in 1938. Patten was this shortlived newspaper’s editor and he was acutely aware of the role of the print medium in race relations. He intended to create ‘propaganda for the emancipation and betterment of the Aborigines’, the first objective of the organisation he founded, the Aborigines Progressive Association. He determined to ‘print, publish and circulate books, papers, pamphlets and leaflets to promote the objects of the association.’41 Through this ‘alter/native’42 use of print, Patten sought to counter the ‘libel’43 that had been reiterated since the time of Dampier and the ‘cruel joke’ of the ‘Jacky-Jacky’ type by ‘comic cartoonists’.44 Patten’s critique was, I think, a first, as was the complaint, perhaps made by his son in 1980—in this instance the first formal complaint brought by Indigenous activists against racist representations. Indigenous activists were thus central to the reforms around anti-discrimination, and more recently, as NAWMs attempted to shut down section 18C, to its defence
• • •
Paul Stein, who headed the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board at the time of the Jolliffe complaint, said he hoped to talk to Jolliffe as he felt ‘he is unintentionally offending many Aboriginal people’.45 Stein was particularly focused on racist attitudes and how they took hold and spread, that is, on representation. Two years after the Aboriginal Legal Service complaint about Jolliffe to the board he headed, he delivered a conference paper entitled ‘The Nature and Consequences of Racial Discrimination’. Racism, he argued, is habituated attitudes that may be deeply entrenched or ingrained. He referred to a recent study of more than 300 middle managers, which found that 89 per cent ‘either rejected Aborigines outright or had reservations or reluctance about socialising with them’.46 Racism, Stein believed, had ‘demoralising day-to-day’ impacts.47 His focus, like Jack Patten’s in his rebuttal of ‘Jacky-Jacky’ cartoon stereotypes, was on attitudes and their dissemination, or on what today we would call hate-speech.
Thus Indigenous activism is central not only to the defence of section 18C, but also to its genesis. In December of the year of the Aboriginal Legal Service complaint against Jolliffe, Australia ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Earlier it had ratified the UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (adopted in 1963).48 Presaging the attacks on section 18C, Australia made a reservation to Article 4 concerning the ‘prohibition to incitement to racism’. For Stein this reservation meant Australia lacked the ‘armoury and ability to attack and prevent … Propaganda designed to incite racial hatred’. He quoted Dame Roma Mitchell, then chair of the Federal Human Rights Commission, who said they were ‘powerless to deal with such complaints even though they account for about two-thirds of complaints received’.49
In 1982 NSW MP Barry Cohen introduced a private members bill to amend the Racial Discrimination Act to include incitement to racial hatred, which had been omitted due to Australia’s reservation to Article 4. Stein turned his attention to the power of ‘modern means of communication’ in facilitating the ‘dissemination of slander and incitement to racial hatred’. He called this material one of the more ‘blatant, disturbing and ugly faces of racism … designed to foment racial disharmony … insidious in its spread’. He lamented that attempts to counter this material had been ‘rejected as an interference with freedom of speech and expression’.50 These attempts were mounted by white men. For Stein the ALS complaint against Jolliffe was an instance of ‘racist propaganda’, ‘thriving on apathy and the studied and intentional neglect by authorities’.51
Unlike the denouncers of 18C, in 1982 Stein thought freedom of speech had never been an absolute right and was always balanced by laws concerned with blasphemy, obscenity, libel and defamation.52 Following a spike in racist attacks levelled at Indo-Chinese refugees in the western region of Sydney, a community consultation process was set up by the NSW ADB. It recommended it become unlawful ‘to incite violence towards, hatred of or contempt for another person on the grounds of race, or to
publish material which incites or is likely to incite violence towards, hatred of or contempt for another person on the grounds of race’. What’s interesting in the recommendation is that this incitement ‘had to have a public aspect’.53 Media, publications and representation were instated as the new fronts in the battle against racism. They had, however, been front and centre for Patten in 1938 and the ALS in 1980.
Efforts to stamp out ‘incitement’ to and ‘propaganda’ of racism redoubled. The National Media Conference in Canberra in 1980 resolved that ‘unfair denigration of groups because of race or colour, was inconsistent with ethical journalism’ (p. 19). Consultative committees on Community Relations established in 1977 opened in country towns in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. No doubt spurred by the Freedom Ride of 1965, the commissioner for Community Relations Al Grassby, under the aegis of the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975, acted as the first point of reference for lodgement of discrimination cases and was charged with examining instances of ‘attitudinal discrimination’.54 As commissioner Grassby had ‘the functions of promoting understanding, of fostering and developing research and education programs’.
Grasby believed the conciliation process his commission made available was preferable to legal penalties. He liked to hear a complaint, recognise ‘the hurt and resentment, and the endeavor[s] to put the discriminatory act in some perspective’. He was attentive to ‘loss of dignity’ for which damages could be awarded.55 Any accused could remedy their infringement through complying with an ‘order that the respondent not make such statements or publish such material at any future time’.56 Jolliffe perhaps complied with this order when he ceased drawing his Witchetty’s Tribe.57 Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen declared the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act to be ‘dangerous, pernicious and discriminatory—yes discriminatory—legislation’.58 We might think of Joh as the elder statesman of NAWMs. Yet he would have to shout down Aboriginal voices raising and articulating the material impacts of words and imagery on them.
In a series of occasional papers issued by the Human Rights Commission in 1982,59 Pat O’Shane, then secretary of the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs in New South Wales, said, ‘I have suffered the taunts, the torments, the pain, the anguish that I believe every Aboriginal Person in this country has had to suffer some time or other in his or her life.’60 Similarly, Charles Perkins drew attention to the ‘white backlash’ he’d observed in some outback areas in the Northern Territory where a ‘rights for whites’ campaign had started up. Again he described the material, economic impacts of the representational register, describing them as whites ‘with a vested interest in maintaining the present position of suppression of Aboriginal people in terms of labour availability’. He observed, ‘They can’t understand why an Aborigine that they have always spoken to as ‘Jackie’ or ‘Mary’ before, is turning about and calling them by their first name, and not only that, is asking for equal wages, equal treatment before the law and proper working conditions.’61
Perkins’ words might apply as well today to NAWMs—white people he described who ‘can’t or won’t see that there is a change of attitude’.62 Lest we forget, it was activism by Indigenous leaders that prompted the intervention of the anti-discrimination laws of 1975—which were relatively new at the time of the ALS complaint against Jolliffe. It was there in those incendiary moments in 1938 when Jack Patten called out ‘Jacky-Jacky’ cartoons, and then again in 1980 when the Aboriginal Legal Service complained against Jolliffe’s arse-end humour. This focus on representation had been there in provisions in the British Race Relations Act of 1965, which included ‘incitement to racial hatred’.63 It would be another ten years before our federal Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 incorporated this emphasis on hate speech, but when it passed it referenced media by covering advertising.64By 1995 this understanding of ‘racist propaganda’ had assumed the mantra of ‘racial vilification’. New provisions were made in 1995 around the concept of vilification in response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the National Inquiry into Racist Violence and the Australian Law Reform Commission.65Again, each of these interventions had been spurred by decades of Aboriginal activism.
Since section 18C was introduced in 1995 the three complaints that have excited the most media attention are the ruling in a 2009 case that Andrew Bolt had breached the Racial Discrimination Act, the Bill Leak cartoon and the QUT case.66 Yet only 1.8 per cent of racial vilification complaints have been adjudicated before a tribunal or court. Indeed, the conduct must have ‘profound and serious effects’ before section 18C of the Act can be ruled to have been breached. Moreover, the exemption under section 18D of the Act provides for material made public in the course of a ‘performance, exhibition or distribution of an artistic work’. Race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane queries the argument that freedom of expression means nothing if it doesn’t entail a freedom to offend. He asks, ‘what if the burden of tolerance is not borne equally?’67 He observes there are ‘two freedoms at stake: not just freedom of speech, but also freedom from racial discrimination’. NAWMs used the debate of 18C to claim these are competing and immiscible, water and oil.
The harm of racism goes beyond the sense of being unsafe in public to insidious silencing, being wary of where you may encounter bigotry, and self-censoring to appease a possible attack. Racism silences those who are subjected to it. In the Australian Human Rights Commission’s consultations, respondents indicated that one impact of racism was precisely that it made them feel less free to speak. As one respondent said, ‘Racism makes me feel intimidated [and] curtails my freedom …’ Another said, ‘I cannot exercise my basic human rights in freedom of speech, opinions and expressions.’ If such testimony is any indication, racism can have a profound effect in silencing its targets and in debilitating their freedom of expression.68
Jolliffe’s bra-bum controversy was an early instance of the sense of victimisation of white men accused of racism. Both he and Leak claimed to experience a sense of ‘hurt and bewilderment’, with the complaints against their cartoons entirely effacing the hurt they had caused. The sense of victimisation by NAWMs around section 18C betrays a failure of empathy for those wounded and damaged by racist abuse.
In the hyperdefensive response to their identification as the privileged category the great reforming NAWMs of section 18C conflated specifying race and gender with denigrating it. They play an ‘identity politics of the dominant’, which like all identity politics is mobilised by a shared experience of disempowerment and discrimination.69 For all the crushing stereotypes of NAWMs as climate deniers, child detainers and coal fondlers, white men remain the standard bearers of civilisation against which the deficiencies of race and gender are measured. And in difference inheres deficiency.70 The backlash we’ve see by white men attempting to reform section 18C is part of the ‘complicated struggle over normativity’.71 Note how entwined their defensiveness became with notions of defence of the nation’s freedoms, for which white men claim to have exclusively paid the ultimate sacrifice.
The political enterprise of free speech is thus embodied in an already wounded male body. Haunted by blood-soaked loss, inflected with paranoia, masochism, humiliation and impotence due to attacks on the legitimacy of their power, the men’s rights movement ironically draws on the language of the very movements they perceive to be victimising them—civil rights, feminist, Indigenous, queer—in order to resist those who mark them as normative and challenge their power. Like the notion of political correctness that NAWMs early made their pièce de résistance—as if they are not being correct to a politics of their own—the status quo is now said to be comprised by minorities and now it is these men, too long falsely indicted as occupying the centre of power, who need liberating. White men make themselves the victims of victims. It is as brazen, silly and vainglorious as Milo swinging in on his jungle vines of invective only to tie himself in knots.
Note: This essay reproduces particular historic terms now considered derogatory and offensive in order to trace the cultural recurrence of white men’s sense of victimisation on being accused of racism. I acknowledge that for Aboriginal readers this will be challenging material, and I hope the analysis indicates my intention to intervene in their meaning.
- ‘Debunking a myth: The Irish were not slaves, too’, <https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/17/us/irish-slaves-myth.html>, accessed 6 April 2017.
- See <http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-irish-slave-trade-the-forgotten-white-slaves/31076>.
- Ann Elias, ‘War, flowers, and visual culture: The First World War collection of the Australian War Memorial’, <https://www.awm.gov.au/journal/j40/elias/>, accessed 5 April 2017.
- Deaths as a result of service with Australian units: <https://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/war_casualties>, accessed 5 April 2017.
- Amy McGuire, ‘Respecting the dead doesn’t mean you have to ignore their racist legacy’, <https://newmatilda.com/2017/03/15/amy-mcquire-on-bill-leak-respecting-the-dead-doesnt-mean-you-have-to-ignore-their-racist-legacy>, accessed 6 April 2017.
- See <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-14/racial-discrimination-complaint-against-bill-leak-dropped/8022394>, accessed 20 November 2016.
- ‘Bill Leak “singled out” for racial discrimination investigation after cartoon prompts complaints’, <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-10-20/bill-leak-‘singled-out’-for-racial-discrimination-investigation/7952590>, accessed 20 November 2016.
- See <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-14/racial-discrimination-complaint-against-bill-leak-dropped/8022394>, accessed 20 November 2016.
- Josh Taylor and Tasmin Rose, <https://www.crikey.com.au/2016/11/17/the-australian-wrties-135000-words-to-18c-and-bill-leak-in-3-months/>, accessed 20 November 2016.
- Joshua Forrester, Lorraine Finlay and Augusto Zimmerman (eds), Censored: No Offence Intended. Why 18C Is Wrong, Connor Court Publishing, Redland Bay, Qld, 2016, p. 7.
- Forrester et al., p. 8.
- Forrester et al., p. 9.
- Forrester et al., p. 10.
- Forrester et al., p. 11.
- Correspondence, Anti-Discrimination Board to General Manager, the Permanent Building Society (publishers of Corroboree), 14 July 1980.
- Lindsay Foyle (cartoonist and Bulletin deputy editor) ABC interview by Annie Gastin, ‘Cap-turing the Territory in cartoons; Remembering the genius of Eric Joliffe’, 29 October 2010, <http://www.abc.net.au/local/photos/2009/12/17/2775055.htm>, accessed 4 October 2016.
- Joliffe had joined in the 1930s.
- One of these cartoonists, B.E. Minns (1867–1934), a more accomplished artist than Jolliffe, painted sympathetic watercolour portraits of people from the South Coast Tribe of New South Wales in 1895, such as the woman Droab. In a recent exhibition descendants’ responses to Minns’ artwork from the Koori artists of Boolarng Nangamai, Aboriginal Art and Culture Studio, Gerrin-gong, were included in the display. They noted family likenesses and said: ‘B.E. Minns was known for his respect for Aboriginal people and they shared a fondness and a respect for one an-other. These Kooris would have sat for these portraits. Minns is showing them as people with personalities and feelings, not as objects. You can feel the soul in these … They’re great. They are different to the de Sainson portraits, which look like the artist is documenting the Kooris as if they were animals … Like apes’: Notes from the guide to the Boolaarng Nangamai exhibition, Wollongoong Art Gallery, courtesy Louise Brand, gallery professional officer, 12 November 2016.
- Eric Jolliffe, interviewed by Hazel de Berg in the Hazel de Berg collection (sound recording), National Library of Australia, <http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-222790006/listen>, accessed 4 October 2016.
- Canberra Times, 16 June 1979, p. 17.
- ‘He used to hunt crocodiles’, Uralla Times, 4 May 1950, p. 5.
- ‘Aborigines to have their turn now’, News, 19 July 1954, p. 6.
- Liz Conor, ‘“This Striking Ornament of Nature”: The “native belle” in the Australian Colonial Scene’, Feminist Theory 7(2), August, 2006, pp. 197–218.
- Mick Joffe, Caricatures, 1 January 2010, <http://www.mickjoffe.com/Eric_Jolliffe>, accessed 4 October 2016.
- ‘Jollities by Jolliffe’, West Australian, 4 August 1945, p. 3.
- ‘Humors from the Outback’, Sun, 20 April 1946, p. 4.
- ‘Laughs Here’, News, 12 April 1946, p. 2.
- Liz Conor, Skin Deep: Settler Impressions of Aboriginal Women, UWAP, Crawley, WA, 2016, pp. 90–151.
- Joan Kerr, ‘Eric Ernest Jolliffe b. 1907’, Design Art and Australia Online, 1996, <https://www.daao.org.au/bio/eric-ernest-jolliffe/biography/>, accessed 4 October 2016.
- ‘Humors from the Outback’.
- In another retelling of Mountford’s questioning the respondents were said to have picked up incorrect markings.
- Jolliffe said he was proud to number hundreds of Aboriginal readers among his fans, Canberra Times, 16 June 1979, p. 17.
- Nancy Berryman, ‘Cartoonist gets told to toe the colour line’, Sun Herald, 17 August 1980, p. 3. In an early interview Jolliffe thought Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory had little reason to fear from bombs since they were ‘dying out so fast from malnutrition and neglect’: Jolliffe in the Sun, 13 October 1946, p. 7.
- Mick Joffe, Caricatures.
- Gastin interview, ‘Capturing the Territory in Cartoons’.
- Canberra Times, 16 August 1980, p. 10.
- Jolliffe claimed to be ‘searching out authentic background and atmosphere. This authenticity and originality was gradually pushing American syndicated strips out of newspapers and replacing them with better and more educational art work’:‘Saltbush Bill’, Northern Standard, 27 August 1948, p. 8. He later lamented in an interview that syndication had strangled black-and-white art in Australia: ‘Swamping in from the USA and elsewhere, cheap foreign material has killed our profession’, Canberra Times, 16 June 1979, p. 17.
- Canberra Times, 16 August 1980, p. 10.
- ‘The Jolliffe controversy: A storm in a bra-cup?’ Sydney Morning Herald, 21 August 1980, p. 2.
- ‘The Jolliffe controversy’.
- Jack T. Patton, ‘Aborigines Progressive Association’, Abo Call, no. 1, April 1938, p. 3.
- Gareth Griffiths, ‘The Myth of Authenticity’, in Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin (eds), The Postcolonial Studies Reader, Routledge, London, 1995, pp. 237–41, p. 239.
- J.T. Patton, ‘Calling Aborigines: Straight talk’, Abo Call, no. 3, June 1938, p. 1.
- J.T. Patton, ‘Our huge task’, Abo Call, no. 2, May 1938, p. 1.
- ‘The Jolliffe controversy’.
- Paul Stein, ‘The Nature and Consequences of Racial Discrimination’, paper presented at the conference ‘Preventing racial conflict, a consultation for decision makers’, Sydney University, 9 August 1982, Government Printer, Sydney, 1982, pp. 3, 4.
- Stein observed the majority of complaints to the NSW ADB were about employment: Stein, ‘The Nature and Consequences of Racial Discrimination’, p. 7.
- United Nations, Combating Racial Discrimination: United Nations declaration on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination and the International convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination. Department of Public Information, United Nations, New York, 1985, p. 7.
- Stein, ‘The Nature and Consequences of Racial Discrimination’, pp. 8–9.
- Stein, ‘The Nature and Consequences of Racial Discrimination’, p. 9.
- Stein, ‘The Nature and Consequences of Racial Discrimination’, pp. 9–10.
- Stein, ‘The Nature and Consequences of Racial Discrimination’, p. 12.
- Stein, ‘The Nature and Consequences of Racial Discrimination’, p. 15.
- Racial Discrimination Act 1975: Consultative Committee on Community Relations, UApamp282, NLA.
- Colin Tatz, Race Politics in Australia: Aborigines, Politics and the Law, University of New England Publishing Unit, 1979, p. 55.
- The findings carried no fines or penalties aside from the awarding of damages, not exceeding $20,000. Failure to comply carried a prison sentence of three months and a $2000 fine. Proposed amendments to the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1977 included, ‘It is unlawful for a person in, near or within view of hearing of a public place to publish material which incites or is likely to incite violence towards, hatred of or contempt for another person on the ground of race unless that person did not know and could not reasonably be expected to have known by the contents of the material’. Appendix 2, 53B (2), p. 2; Stein, ‘The Nature and Consequences of Racial Discrimination’, p. 17.
- It is impossible to verify the nature or outcome of the complaint as there is no record of it in the NSW ADB archives, held in the NSW Government Records Repository. Advised by its senior legal officer Jackie Lyne, 11 October 2017.
- Tatz, Race Politics in Australia, p. 56.
- Occasional paper no. 1, Incitement to Racial Hatred: Issue and Analysis, Human Rights Commission, Australian Government Printing Service, Canberra, 1982.
- Occasional paper no. 3, Words that Wound: Proceedings of the Conference on Freedom of Expression and Racist Propaganda, Human Rights Commission, p. 13.
- Charles Perkins at the ‘Aboriginal Human Rights and the Law’ conference in 1973 (UNSW), published in Garth Nettheim (ed.), Aborigines, Human Rights and the Law, Australian and New Zealand Book Company, Brookvale, NSW, 1974, p. 12.
- Perkins, in Nettheim (ed.), Aborigines, p. 12.
- Tatz, Race Politics in Australia, p. 54.
- Tatz, Race Politics in Australia, p. 55.
- See <https://www.humanrights.gov.au/news/opinions/pen-essay-2014-freedom-speech-and-australia-s-racial-discrimination-act>, accessed 3 April 2017.
- Indigenous QUT staff member Cindy Prior brought claims of racial discrimination due to Facebook comments by three students over their ejection from a computer lab reserved for Indigenous students. Her complaint, Prior v QUT, was dismissed by the Human Rights Commission, after which she commenced court proceedings.
- See <https://www.humanrights.gov.au/news/opinions/pen-essay-2014-freedom-speech-and-australia-s-racial-discrimination-act>, accessed 3 April 2017.
- See <https://www.humanrights.gov.au/news/opinions/pen-essay-2014-freedom-speech-and-australia-s-racial-discrimination-act>.
- Sally Robinson, Marked Men: White Masculinity in Crisis, Columbia University Press, New York, 2000, p. 3.
- ‘Difference is not neutral: To vary is to be defective’, Patrick Wolfe, Traces of History: Elementary Structures of Race, Verso, New York, 2016, p. 7.
- Robinson, Marked Men, p. 4.