Here in the After by Marion Frith

‘It was so quiet, so very, very quiet.’

Anna, aged 62, is the sole survivor of a terrorist attack in Sydney. Eleven others were murdered.  Nat, aged 35, is an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan. Both are suffering because of their experiences; both have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Once Anna is well enough to leave hospital, she retreats into herself, into her home as a fortress. Anna is widowed with adult children and while they try to help her, the only comfort she can find is with her young grandson. Nat’s wife Gen is worried about him. He has outbursts of anger which he cannot explain. Why can’t he tell her what is worrying him?

Nat’s initial approach to Anna is rebuffed: she thinks he is just another person who does not understand what she has been though. But a chance meeting on the beach leads to a tentative friendship. And as their friendship builds, Nat takes what he believes is a terrible risk: he tells Anna his story. There is more to the story than this as you will find if you read it for yourself.

‘They told us we were going over to stamp out terrorism and keep Australia safe … and … well, we didn’t.’

Reading this novel barely weeks after the US and its allies have withdrawn from Afghanistan, leaving the country once again in the hands of the Taliban makes this an even more uncomfortable read. Ms Frith’s novel takes us beyond the impact of terrorist acts on the individuals concerned into an appreciation of the concomitant impact on their loved ones. Anna’s family feel helpless, as does Nat’s wife. Anna and Nat (eventually) can talk to each other because their shared experience gives them understanding. Words are sometimes not enough.

There is no happy ever after ending here but there is hope that with the right support the future will be more comfortable for both Anna and Nat and their families.

I was deeply moved by this story and after finishing my review copy, bought a copy for myself. This is Ms Frith’s first novel, and I recommend it highly.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



Why is southeast Asia so concerned about AUKUS and Australia’s plans for nuclear submarines? (from The Conversation)

James Chin, University of Tasmania

The announcement of a new strategic alliance between Australia, the US and UK (AUKUS) has caught many by surprise. Besides France, which reacted with fury over Australia’s scrapping of a major submarine deal with a French company, few countries were as surprised as Australia’s neighbours to the north, the ASEAN members.

In particular, Indonesia and Malaysia have come out strongly against Australia’s plan to acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines with the help of the US and UK. Even Singapore, Australia’s most reliable ally in the region, has expressed concern.

The Afghanistan debacle has left a bad taste among many Indo-Pacific countries, and some are wondering if the timing of the AUKUS announcement was intended as a show of US power in the region to reassure jittery partners.

Fear of a nuclear arms race

To understand the deep anxiety in Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and other ASEAN capitals requires some context on where they are coming from.

First, many of them think there is no such thing as acquiring nuclear-powered submarines without the prospect of acquiring nuclear weapons in the future.

Australia has not joined the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which requires parties to agree not to develop, test, produce, acquire, possess, stockpile or threaten to use nuclear weapons.

The Morrison government says the treaty would be inconsistent with its alliance with the US, a nuclear weapon power.

Read more: The nuclear weapons ban treaty is groundbreaking, even if the nuclear powers haven’t signed

However, Australia did ratify the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1973 and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1998. And Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week Australia has “no plans” to pursue nuclear weapons.

Yet, some ASEAN countries are worried the AUKUS agreement is a clear signal the West will take a more aggressive stand towards China by admitting Australia to the nuclear club.

Both Indonesia (the unofficial leader of ASEAN) and Malaysia fear AUKUS will also lead to a major arms race in the wider Indo-Pacific region.

The potential for conflict in South China Sea

The new agreement also signals that the US, Australia and UK view the South China Sea as a key venue for this contest against China.

The ASEAN nations have always preached maintaining southeast Asia as a “zone of peace, freedom and neutrality”, free from interference by any outside powers. In 1995, the member states also signed the Treaty of Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone, which committed to keep nuclear weapons out of the region. Not a single nuclear power has signed on to it.

Although everyone knows China, the US, Britain and France have ignored these protocols by manoeuvring armed warships through the South China Sea — not to mention China’s building of military bases on disputed islands there — ASEAN does not want to see this number grow.

A Chinese missile frigate launches an anti-ship missile.
A Chinese missile frigate launches an anti-ship missile during a military exercise in the South China Sea. Zha Chunming/Xinhua/AP

Australian nuclear-powered submarines have the potential to change the dynamics in the South China Sea and make the Chinese much more nervous. There have already been plenty of “close encounter” incidents between the Chinese and US navies in the disputed waters, as well as the Chinese navy and ships belonging to ASEAN members. The region doesn’t need yet another potential “close encounter” to worry about.

The ASEAN states are already very worried about the China-US rivalry playing out in its backyard. And the new AUKUS agreement reinforces the idea that the opinions of the ASEAN members matter little when it comes to the superpowers and how they operate in the region.

Read more: Jokowi’s visit shows the Australia-Indonesia relationship is strong, but faultlines remain

The region has always insisted on the idea of “ASEAN centrality” in their relations with the world — that ASEAN members must decide what is best for Southeast Asia — but as AUKUS shows, nuclear nations play a different game.

Indonesia is especially unhappy with Australia given the new agreement will affect it directly, given their common maritime border.

Morrison had already been forced to cancel his upcoming trip to Jakarta after Prime Minister Joko Widodo said he would be unavailable to meet — a decision that was made before the AUKUS announcement. This will add another layer to the strained relationship.

Is there anyone happy about the deal?

While in public, most southeast Asian governments have expressed uneasiness with AUKUS, there is a school of thought that says the more hawkish voices in the region will probably accept the agreement in the long term, as it will help keep China’s aggression in check.

For those in the “hawk” camp, the number one long-term threat to regional security is China. Many think the strategic balance of power has been tilting too much in Beijing’s favour in the past decade, especially after China started rushing to build military bases in the South China Sea and using its navy to protect Chinese fishing vessels in disputed waters.

So, they believe any moves to remind China it does not have a carte blanche to do what it wants in Southeast Asia is a good thing.

Japan and South Korea are clearly in this camp and their muted reaction to AUKUS suggests they are in favour of a “re-balancing” in the region. Taiwan and Vietnam are probably on this side, as well.

The only downside is that Australia may use its nuclear-powered submarines to bully ASEAN countries. If Canberra uses its nuclear submarines as a bargaining chip, it will simply turn public opinion in the region against Australia.

Implications for Australia-ASEAN relations

If anything, the AUKUS move reinforced the widely held perception that Australia’s mantra of being “part of the region” is, in fact, “empty talk”. Australia has firmly signalled its intentions to put its Anglo allies in the US and UK first.

AUKUS also reinforces the view that Australia cannot be accepted as a regional partner or player. This, of course, is nothing new. For years, the ASEAN bloc has seen Australia as “deputy sheriff” to the US, though this view would not necessarily be shared in public.

So, while AUKUS came as a surprise to many in the region, an alliance of this sort was probably bound to happen. It’s just that nobody expected it to happen so soon.

James Chin, Professor of Asian Studies, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Man Who Died Twice (Thursday Murder Club #2) by Richard Osman

‘The Thursday Murder Club has concluded its latest meeting.’

Remember the Thursday Murder Club (TMC)? Four elderly sleuths from the Kent retirement community of Coopers Chase: Joyce, a former nurse and intrepid journal writer; Elizabeth, a former intelligence officer; Ibrahim, a psychiatrist; and Ron, a former union man.

And as Joyce seeks advice from the others about getting a dog, Elizabeth’s thoughts are elsewhere. She’s received a letter from an old colleague. He has made a big mistake, and he needs her help. The letter is signed by her old friend Marcus Carmichael, who is seeking a meeting with her tomorrow. Does Elizabeth remember him, the letter asks?

‘What a ridiculous question. She had found Marcus Carmichael’s dead body slumped against a Thames bridge at low tide.’

Buckle up. In addition to Elizabeth’s former colleague needing help over an opportunistic theft of £20 million pounds of diamonds, Ibrahim is mugged and injured. And then the murders start. Will the team be able to solve the crime? Can they get justice for Ibrahim? And what kind of dog will Joyce get?

‘Elizabeth taps her head. ‘My palace has many rooms. Some are dustier than others.’

How delightful it is to join the TMC again, together with their favourite police officers DCI Chris Hudson and PC Donna De Freitas, Elizabeth’s husband Stephen, and the resourceful Bogdan.

Joyce’s journal brings us much of the story, with various asides. Elizabeth works through the facts methodically and is occasionally surprised by Joyce’s insights, and Ron rises magnificently to the occasion as the various strands are pulled together. And Ibrahim? He and Ron’s grandson do some sleuthing of their own. All is not lost, even though Ibrahim’s phone was stolen when he had achieved level 127 (of 200) playing Tetris.

I have really enjoyed both books so far published in this series. The characters are well developed, there are plenty of different threads to untangle, and I though the ending was perfect.  

‘‘And there’s the clue!’ The short-sighted lean further forward, and the long-sighted lean further back.’

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Penguin for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Black and Blue: a memoir of racism and resilience by Veronica Gorrie

‘I come from a long line of strong women.’

At the beginning of the book, at the end of her Author’s Note, Ms Gorrie writes:

‘Please be aware that this book contains material that readers may find confronting and disturbing, and that could cause sadness or distress, or trigger traumatic memories, especially for Aboriginal people, and those who have survived past abuse, violence, or childhood trauma.’

I thank Ms Gorrie for this warning: being forewarned enables a reader to proceed with caution into what is a confronting, important but uncomfortable read. The book is split into two parts. The first part deals with Ms Gorrie’s life before joining the Queensland Police Service, the second with her experience of ten years in the Queensland Police Service, and beyond.

This is a very personal story, of growing up in a society which (to my shame) makes judgements about people based on colour and ethnicity often without considering culture, family ties and responsibilities. Some people sink beneath the burden of abuse and mistreatment, others will find a path through to achieve a more meaningful life for themselves, but all are scarred by their experiences.

In telling us her story, Ms Gorrie gives context. We learn about why, for example, her grandparents lived the way they did. We learn (or remember) the impact of alcohol abuse and violence on families.

‘When you are getting beaten, it does something to you. It takes away your self-esteem, your confidence, your self-respect and your self-worth. But more importantly, it takes away your voice.’

Disempowerment and abuse can become entrenched within family groups and across generations. Most of us will copy the behaviour of those responsible for our upbringing. Most, but not all. And this, for me, is one of the reasons why Ms Gorrie’s book is important.

‘I joined the police for many reasons: first, to see if I could get in, and more importantly, because I had seen the way the police mistreated my people and naively thought that if I joined, I would be able to stop this.’

Sadly, Ms Gorrie’s idealism is undermined by the reality she worked within. And injury forces retirement.

‘When I first joined the police, I had this idea that I could change the attitude of the Aboriginal community towards police. Little did I know I couldn’t do that until I changed the police attitude towards Aboriginal people.’

As I read this book, my admiration for Ms Gorrie increased. She tells a difficult story with humour and insight and in doing so provides hope for others.

‘The pain and suffering of the stolen generations is passed down from generation to generation. My grandmother lived this fear, my father experienced the fear, and I feared the experience.’

I would recommend this book to all Australians.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



View from The Hill: For Morrison AUKUS is all about the deal, never mind the niceties (from The Conversation)

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison, whose COVID face masks have the Australian flag emblazoned on them, likes to talk about “the Australian way” of doing things and Australian values.

But it is not “the Australian way” to secretly plan, over a very long time, to deceive a close friend of this country, and then to treat them in a most humiliating and disdainful manner. That does not align with “Australian values” of honesty and fair dealing.

If Australia is really surprised an angry French government has withdrawn its ambassador from Canberra (as well as its ambassador from Washington) it suggests it has no grasp of the proprieties of international diplomacy.

To add insult to injury, on Sunday Defence Minister Peter Dutton suggested the Australian government had been “upfront, open and honest” – the French could have read the signals of our discontent with their $90 billion submarines contract, including in Senate estimates hearings. This latter reference brought to mind then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull suggesting to Barack Obama that if he’d kept up with the Northern Territory News he’d have known about Australia’s lease of the Port of Darwin to the Chinese.

Read more: C’est fini: can the Australia-France relationship be salvaged after scrapping the sub deal?

As recently as the end of August, Dutton and Foreign Minister Marise Payne held the “Inaugural Australia-France 2+2 Ministerial Consultations” with their French counterparts. In the “bilateral cooperation” section of the communique came the sentence: “Ministers underlined the importance of the Future Submarine program”.

It’s telling that the unveiling of the new AUKUS agreement last week was surrounded by more showmanship than diplomacy. The leaders of Australia, the US and Britain were successfully linked for a synchronised performance. But Morrison apparently did not manage to speak personally to French President Macron when a massive contract was being torn up.

AUKUS carries Morrison’s individual branding. It may be the most significant legacy of his prime ministership; however long he is in office, it will certainly be one of them.

It has all the Morrison hallmarks: his own work, conceived and executed in secrecy, kept to the smallest possible round of colleagues, details to be worked out much later, and little concern for the incidental fallout.

If, 30 years on, historians rate it as a stroke of strategic foresight that greatly protected Australia in a time of Chinese potential aggression, Morrison will deserve all the credit. He says he’s been working for 18 months on this – the mustering of a new Anglosphere in our region – and he has managed to pull it off with Joe Biden and Boris Johnson, who both had their own reasons for being receptive.

On the other hand, if after 30 years, AUKUS is judged in the rear vision mirror to have escalated tensions with China to a greater degree than it protected us from Chinese aggression, history’s judgement will be different.

Even as we’re consumed by the short term, it is always worth a look at the long view. Especially when Afghanistan is fresh in our minds – a commitment that was necessary initially, but ended in a fiasco that has restored the Taliban.

Morrison’s planned nuclear-powered subs come without any estimated cost (except they’ll be more expensive than the French ones); or precise timetable (except they won’t be available for a couple of decades); or decision about which boat will be chosen (except it will be American or British), or firm indication of how much building will be done in Australia (except that it won’t be all of it and possibly only a modest amount).

If any of these aspects returns to bite, blame will (or should) rest on Morrison’s head, whether he’s around or not.

Then there’s the French relationship to manage. How long their fury will last is anybody’s guess. But given their interests in the region, it is no small thing to deliver this rebuff in what can only be seen as a crass manner.

Marise Payne may not be of great use in repairing the tear in the relationship. Her diplomatic credibility is one of the immediate casualties of the affair, especially after the recent ministerial talks. One can only imagine how the feisty Julie Bishop would have reacted to being left so compromised.

With Australia’s ambition for a free trade agreement with the European Union in mind, Trade Minister Dan Tehan, flak jacket packed, is off to Paris next week.

Also important is the message that’s been sent to some key regional countries. Indonesia and Malaysia have expressed concerns. The risk is Australia could be seen as an unexpectedly capricious player in the way it operates.

AUKUS is a mark of the supremacy of the hawks in Canberra. Although Morrison said he started planning it with former defence minister Linda Reynolds, it is a precise fit for current minister Dutton.

In thinking about defence strategy, governments of both complexions have circled around questions of long range capability, of which nuclear-powered submarines are part.

But it was not until Morrison, in the lead up to the 2020 defence strategic update, started to push Reynolds and the defence establishment to contemplate the acquisition – and potential use – of such weaponry that the real momentum came. In Dutton, Morrison has a defence minister who not only shares his instinct on this, but has a full time focus on it.

Read more: C’est fini: can the Australia-France relationship be salvaged after scrapping the sub deal?

Some months ago the secretary of the home affairs department, Mike Pezzullo, himself a hawk, wrote of hearing the “drums of war”. It was obvious well before that Australia was preparing to refurbish and expand its own drum set in the face of an assertive China already targeting Australia economically.

Dutton and others have increasingly dropped the government’s earlier attempt to avoid naming China as the potential enemy, even if we haven’t quite got back to the red arrows from the north of those 1960s depictions.

One problem with the subs deal is that, given the pace at which things move, a China-US military blow-up over Taiwan (if it comes to that) could be done and dusted, with god knows what consequences, by the time the boats are in the water. No wonder the talk now is of leasing a sub or two to fill in the gap, given the inadequacy of the Collins-class submarines we now operate.

It should be noted, incidentally, that some commentators expert in these things say the French nuclear-powered subs (as opposed to the conventionally-powered ones we’re ditching) would be more suitable to our needs than the US or UK boats.

The government says the problem is they’d need their nuclear power refuelled every seven to ten years offshore (because Australia wouldn’t have the nuclear facility), while US and UK subs are powered for their lifetimes. That would not seem a great difficulty, but obviously reworking the French deal would not have delivered the big technological and other advantages of going the full monty with the AUKUS partners.

AUKUS will bring Australia a whole lot of other US weaponry and more boots on Australian ground.

This takes us to the future of the Port of Darwin. Just as the Coalition has botched for years its attempts to get new submarines, so the Northern Territory awarding a Chinese company the lease of the Port of Darwin was a massive snafu.

It’s no good the federal Coalition saying it was all the NT government’s fault. The defence department knew about it and wasn’t worried.

Now the Morrison government has a review of the lease in train. In light of AUKUS, with enhanced military assets in the north and our assessment of the Chinese, it would seem a logical absurdity to let the lease stand. And yet quashing it would be another demonstration of Australia’s unreliability on done deals. It’s a mess.

Read more: ANZUS without NZ? Why the new security pact between Australia, the UK and US might not be all it seems

AUKUS will no doubt have a good many more consequences. One (not formally or totally linked of course) is expected to be a more ambitious climate policy from Australia, which Joe Biden has been urging on the Morrison government for the Glasgow climate conference.

Morrison in coming weeks will want to deliver to Biden (and Johnson), although we don’t know the extent of that delivery, or whether Barnaby Joyce will find himself struggling with any collateral fallout among his own people.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Art of the Engine Driver (Glenroy Series #1) by Steven Carroll

‘They are walking down the old street again, Rita, Vic and Michael.’

A summer evening in the late 1950s, in a newly developing suburb of Melbourne. We join Rita, Vic, and Michael as they walk down the (unsealed) street to engagement party of Patsy Bedser at the home of her father George. And as we walk with Rita, Vic, and Michael, we meet the other neighbours and have glimpses into each of their lives. Michael dreams of the future, Vic wants to be the engine driver on the Spirit of Progress, and Rita wants change. As they walk, they see a comet overhead. As they walk, we learn more about the neighbourhood and its history, about the dreams and disappointments of those who live there. We learn a little about the past and see something of the future.

And later, after the party, after a train accident the consequences of which seem likely to cost Vic his dream, Rita makes a difficult decision.

‘Driving is a gift. Physical. Something you’ve either got or you haven’t.’

This is the first novel of the six books in the Glenroy Series and for some reason, I read the last four first. So, I am heading back into the past, to the beginning of the story. It’s like catching up on the family history of old friends and revisiting familiar territory. I didn’t grow up in Melbourne, but I grew up in a similar new suburb on the (then) outskirts of Launceston in the early 1960s. New suburbs, new dreams, old secrets. Somehow, Mr Carroll manages to hold the story in the present while referring to the past and providing glimpses into the future. And while I know how the Glenroy Series ends, I need to read ‘The Gift of Speed’ to see what I have missed.

If you have not read this series, I recommend it. And, if you can, read the novels in order. These are beautifully written contemplative novels.

‘What happens to all that life? All that time? Where does it all go? One moment you feel like you’ve got all the years in the world to live, and the next you feel like you’ve lived them.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


The Blackwater by Paul Smith

‘As time melted into the mist, I sensed a stillness.’

In the present, DCI William Constable is deeply depressed. His life, as he sees it, is full of failures. His marriage has failed and the international drug ring he is investigating keeps missing its targets. William Constable is contemplating death:

‘Entombed by the slavery of my depression, a cloud of loneliness enveloped me as I waited to die. Gripped by a choking sadness, I knew what I must do.’

A chance vision stops him from taking his life, but he is reassigned to community policing in his hometown of Maldon in Essex, UK.

In the past, over a thousand years earlier, the Vikings invade the Blackwater Estuary with the town of Maldon as their goal. Wilhelm is one of the men called on to defend the town as they wait for the king and his army to arrive. The fighting is brutal.

‘A picture of pain assaulted his vision, and before the image had time to disappear, it became etched into his memory, so that even after the fleeting glance had passed, Wilhelm continued to see it.’

In the present, as part of a murder investigation he becomes entangled in, William finds some clues to the drug case he had been investigating. He is determined to find the truth and places himself at risk as he investigates.

In the past, Wilhelm tries to save the woman he loves from the invaders.

‘Transcending time, I found myself transported from the present into the past.’

I had very mixed feelings about this novel. While I found the focus on William’s mental health interesting, the writing frequently jerked me out of the story. I itched to edit, to tighten up the language and remove some of the verbiage, to move beyond William’s thoughts into his actions. And while Wilhelm’s story has me interested in the Battle of Maldon (about which little is known), I found it difficult moving between past and present.

‘I was walking into a trap from which there could be no escape, a fight I could never hope to win.’

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Matador for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

The Turning  by Tim Winton

‘But, you know, all the big things hurt, the things you remember. If it doesn’t hurt, it’s not important.’

This book contains seventeen linked short stories, set in the fictional whaling town of Angelus in Western Australia. These stories feature ordinary people struggling with life and responsibility, each trying to find their own place, grappling with life, actions, and consequences.

The Lang family feature in nine of these stories. Most of our view is through the eyes of Vic, as an adolescent and a young man, then as a husband and father. These shifts in chronology and perspective enable us to see the individual, his family, and his community. And then there are the stories featuring the bully Max Leaper and his wife Raelene, and the young Max with his brother.

As I read these stories, I feel like I know these people. I don’t like some of their choices and I wonder how they will survive some of them, but I recognise the gaps between ambition, dream, and reality. The stories are frequently bleak and depressing: exposing addiction, corruption, and domestic violence.

While I enjoyed each of the stories, I have two favourites: ‘Small Mercies’ and ’Boner McPharlin’s Moll’. In both stories, the characters stepped off the page and into my head.

This book was first published in 2004. Highly recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith


Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

‘Four green apples lay scattered on the dry grass …’

Meet the Delaneys. Joy and Stan, former tennis coaches, are still winning tennis tournaments. They have sold the family business and are learning (or trying to) to live as retirees. They have four adult children: Amy, Logan, Troy, and Brooke, each a former tennis player and each busy with their own lives. Joy hopes, one day, to have grandchildren.

One night last year, Joy and Stan hear a knock at the door. A young woman stands there. Her name is Savannah, and she is bleeding after a fight with her boyfriend. Joy and Stan take her into their home. Joy thinks that she should recognise Savannah and worries that her memory is failing. Savannah stays with Joy and Stan for a while, but then moves on.

And then Joy goes missing. No one knows where she is, a weird text message is sent to her children, then later her mobile ‘phone is found under the bed. What has happened to Joy?

The police are involved and on the face of it, Stan looks guilty. He claims to be innocent but is clearly hiding something. And the Delaney children, each dealing with issues of their own are split over whether Stan might be innocent. The Delaneys had a fight just before Joy went missing.

As the story moves between the past, when Savannah was in their lives and the present where Joy is missing, we see the best and worst of the Delaney siblings. And what is the story with Savannah?

While I enjoyed this novel (and loved the neat ending) I found the story moved a bit too slowly at times.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Pan MacMillan Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



Teaching a ‘hatred’ of Australia? No, minister, here’s why a democracy has critical curriculum content (from The Conversation)

Lucas Walsh, Monash University

Australian Education Minister Alan Tudge says he does not want students to leave school with “a hatred” of their country because the history curriculum for years 7 to 10 “paints an overly negative view of Australia”. The minister is critical of proposed changes to the Australian Curriculum. He sees teaching about the contested nature of Anzac Day and its commemoration as a particular concern.

Two interwoven threads run through current debates about the minister’s view.

First, public debates about the curriculum like this are arguably a sign of democracy at work. Suggesting that some things, such as Anzac Day, are sacred and beyond critical inquiry is not.

Second, at the heart of this discussion is how children should learn about history and how this relates to their development as Australian citizens.

Read more: Gonski 2.0: teaching creativity and critical thinking through the curriculum is already happening

What is the Australian Curriculum?

The Australian Curriculum applies to all primary and secondary schools, affecting over 4 million students. It sets “the expectations for what all young Australians should be taught”.

Developed by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), the curriculum is reviewed every six years. In the current review, public consultations have ended and the revisions will be finalised by the end of 2021.

The history curriculum seeks to promote understanding and use of historical concepts. These concepts include:

  • evidence – obtained from primary and secondary sources to support a hypothesis or to prove or disprove a conclusion
  • historical perspectives – comprising the point of view, beliefs, values and experiences of individuals and groups at the time
  • interpretations – contestable explanations of the past about a specific person, event or development, typically as a result of a disciplined inquiry by historians
  • significance – assigned to an issue, event, development, person, place, process, interaction or system over time and place.

The minister’s response to the proposed revisions follows a recent tradition of objections to aspects of the curriculum. Critical exploration of Australia Day – perspectives of which vary depending on one’s point of view – has been another source of debate.

Read more: Australia is only one front in the history curriculum wars

Three related issues arise in relation to Tudge’s concern.

History is neither static nor unproblematic

First, history is not static. This means one can expect the curriculum to change as new discoveries, insights and perspectives emerge over time.

Second, we would hope to foster learners who are curious, critical and well-informed about Australia’s rich (and sometimes troubled) history.

The Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration outlines education goals for all Australians. These goals include development of critical thinking and intercultural understanding. All education ministers signed the declaration.

Students should learn about events such as Anzac Day and Australia Day, their historical origins and different meanings when viewed from various perspectives. It’s a valuable way of developing both critical thinking and understanding of people who are different from ourselves.

Acknowledging this to an extent, Tudge told ABC Hack he is “not concerned” about the curriculum in relation to “the arrivals of the First Fleet, people should learn about that, and they should learn the perspective from Indigenous people at that time as well”. What he doesn’t like is that certain events are critically explored:

“Instead of ANZAC Day being presented as the most sacred of all days in Australia, where […] we commemorate the 100,000 people who have died for our freedoms […] it’s presented as a contested idea [but] ANZAC Day is not a contested idea, apart from an absolute fringe element in our society.”

Setting aside who that “fringe element” might be (some historians?), this implies a settled, uncritical view of history. Tudge suggests the curriculum is “asking people to, instead of just accepting these for the things which they are, such as ANZAC Day, to really challenge them and to contest them”.

Commemorating sacrifice is compatible with critically reflecting on the conditions in which that sacrifice occurred and how that sacrifice is memorialised. Further, the assertion that the challenging of ideas produces hatred is as problematic as uncritically accepting things for whatever the minister thinks “they are”.

Read more: The past is not sacred: the ‘history wars’ over Anzac

“We’ve got a lot to be proud of,” Tudge said, “and we should be teaching the great things that have happened in Australia, as much as we should our weaknesses and flaws and some of the historical wrongs.”

History is often a messy contestation and confluence of violence and discovery. Pride has its place too, but pride can withstand critical inquiry, and perhaps even be strengthened by it.

Tudge says he wants “to make sure there’s a balance” of perspectives. That’s precisely the point of the revised curriculum.

Debate is a good thing

Finally, having a robust and vibrant debate about the curriculum, in which people take an active interest in what is taught, is a sign of healthy democracy. Such debate can only be strengthened when young people are encouraged to recognise that people have different points of view and history is not set in stone, as the curriculum seeks to do. It’s one key dimension of developing active, informed citizenship.

Read more: Young people remain ill-equipped to participate in Australian democracy

The Australian Curriculum is founded on the idea that:

“Education plays a critical role in shaping the lives of young Australians and contributing to a democratic, equitable and just society that is prosperous, cohesive and culturally diverse.”

The minister’s objection to proposed changes to the curriculum inadvertently illustrates why it should be taught: it’s not about hatred, but a sign of healthy democracy while meeting Australia’s educational goals.

Lucas Walsh, Professor and Director of the Centre for Youth Policy and Education Practice, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.