We will decide who plays in this country...
October 17, 2019 3:20 AM   Subscribe

In 1928, successful American jazz bandleader Sonny Clay took his big band, billed as Sonny Clay's Colored Idea, on a tour of Australia. They played in Sydney and Melbourne and were well received by audiences, though throughout their tour, were followed by police detectives. Then, on 25 March, Victoria Police raided an apartment in East Melbourne where some of the musicians were staying, finding several members of the band in the company of five local women. An attempt to charge the women with vagrancy failed, leaving the musicians free to go, but their subsequent reception in Sydney was frigid, with hotels denying them accommodation. Meanwhile, the federal government cancelled their visas, and instituted a policy of barring entry to Australia to black musicians, which remained in effect until 1954.
posted by acb (25 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
From the linked article:
However, reason could not get in the way of confected moral outrage
As an Australian citizen I can vouch for this principle having been the fundamental basis of the overwhelming bulk of Coalition policy for my entire lifetime.
posted by flabdablet at 3:32 AM on October 17, 2019 [10 favorites]

In fact it appears to go so deep with Coalition supporters that they can apparently no longer tell the difference between confected outrage and genuine outrage, behaving as if all outrage must have been confected in order to drum up political support.

This is the only way I can understand their typically dismissive reactions to genuine obscenities like Australia's now longstanding policy on asylum seekers who arrive by boat, or the proposed Adani Carmichael coal mine, or the ongoing failure to respond in any even vaguely adequate manner to the fact and consequences of anthropogenic global warming, without actually believing that those who support these things are just straight-up evil.
posted by flabdablet at 3:45 AM on October 17, 2019 [6 favorites]

Australia in 2019
posted by flabdablet at 4:03 AM on October 17, 2019

Cited newspaper articles, courtesy of Trove. I'm omitting the titles. Be forewarned that the Truth article is particularly racist. (CW: N word)

The Daily Telegraph Mon 23 Jan 1928 Page 7
The Age Thu 29 Mar 1928 Page 10
Truth (Sydney) Sun 1 Apr 1928 Page 13
The Sydney Morning Herald Wed 28 Mar 1928 Page 16

At the time of the raid, the band was engaged at The Green Mill, which some people may be familiar with via an episode of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries.
posted by zamboni at 9:11 AM on October 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

Same shit, different day (CW: Pauline Hanson)
posted by flabdablet at 9:23 AM on October 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Australia in 2019

My god, he is just grinding the soul down of that poor Muslim woman in the audience. She is just tired.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:55 PM on October 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Poor fellow, my country, and getting worse. :(
posted by Pouteria at 4:35 PM on October 17, 2019

Everything you need to know about Australia in the pre-1960s can be summed up by Chuck Berry touring in 1959, encountering Australians, flying back home and being so glad to be in America he wrote Back In The USA.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 4:56 PM on October 17, 2019 [6 favorites]

getting worse

Not really. Not on a generational timescale.

We have definitely been taking damage from the culture war that John Howard and his crew of self-serving self-satisfied glad-handing scum and assorted toadies and hangers-on have made it their life's work to promote, and the fact that his protégés are back in charge again for the time being leaves me furious and despairing every time I see one of their vile grinning heads on the front page, but I take some comfort from the fact that pretty much everybody I know personally would feel the same shock of revulsion on looking back at our attitudes from fifty and a hundred years ago that I do.

Racism is and always has been rife here, of that there is no doubt. But as the disbelieving laughter within that QandA audience shows, it has lost its veneer of respectability - and that's a genuine gain.
posted by flabdablet at 7:55 PM on October 17, 2019

That said, anybody who feels complacent about the state of the country today needs to wake the fuck up and take a good look around. There is plenty of work to be done yet, and probably will be for many more generations. Just don't be throwing your hands up in despair and giving in, because that's the only way these fuckers might win in the end.
posted by flabdablet at 7:56 PM on October 17, 2019

Poor fellow, my country, and getting worse. :(

After reading the incredibly racist account of the raid in Truth I have to say that things are much better now than they were then. It amazes me that people, even horribly racist people, could stomach the small-minded sneering hatefulness of it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:12 PM on October 17, 2019

Small-minded sneering hatefulness was pretty much Truth's modus operandi for its entire published history. It was the one newspaper that my parents would not allow to be in their house, not even to line the cat tray or light up our coal-fired hot water service.
posted by flabdablet at 8:30 PM on October 17, 2019

Another factor in their decision was perhaps the boobies on page 3? A friend's grandfather got it for the form guide, which I presume was either better than other papers or covered different races. So it had those two (three?) things going for it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:24 PM on October 17, 2019

Fun fact: Mark Day, a journalist whose reputation has been rehabilitated somewhat since he part-owned Truth for a while in the 90s (at least in the view of those prepared to describe the work of anybody willing to take Rupert's cheque as journalism), started his career there as Nipple Editor. All those little black rectangles? Mark Day's best-researched work.
posted by flabdablet at 11:53 PM on October 17, 2019

Things are better in Australia than in 1929, but are they better than in, say, the mid-90s? I get the impression that the Whitlam-Keating years were an outlier, and the pendulum has swung back to a baseline, where Australia no longer pretends to be a liberal social democracy but instead puts on its strongest Morrisonian faux-bogan accent and says “nah mate we're good, we don't do that here”.

In particular, Australians (other than “inner-city lefties”, who are generally regarded in the same breath as God-botherers) don't accept ideas like the existence of microaggressions, instead drawing a line between unacceptable racism (i.e., calling for Nazi-style genocide) and “harmless banter” (i.e., making pejorative jokes about minorities, all part and parcel of the knockabout nature of the great Aussie larrikin spirit).
posted by acb at 1:40 AM on October 18, 2019

are they better than in, say, the mid-90s?

No. Absolutely not. Manifestly backwards since Tampa. And likely won't be going forwards again until we get a Labor-Greens coalition Government.

Which is as not as crazy unlikely as it once seemed; the Nationals rump of the existing Coalition is slightly more flyblown every year, Labor is currently essentially rudderless on policy, and Di Natale and Bandt are both pretty shrewd operators.
posted by flabdablet at 1:42 AM on October 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

Labor tried to run the last election on progressive ideas and got had the stuffing knocked out of them so hard that they still don't know what year it is. Their conclusion seems to be that their best bet is to remake themselves into a better conservative government, in favour of all the things true-blue Aussie battlers love, like coal and offshore detention and tough anti-protest laws.

I half expect Albo to find a pentecostal megachurch to conspicuously call his own.
posted by acb at 1:54 AM on October 18, 2019

had the stuffing knocked out of them so hard that they still don't know what year it is

The shock at the result was mainly due to faulty expectation management; Labor expected to win easily, on the basis of polling that largely ignored what was going on in social media land, and instead lost narrowly. It's worth bearing in mind that the Coalition's majority is still thin and that plenty of seats are still marginal. The election result was by no means a conservative landslide and shouldn't be interpreted as such.

The main things that went wrong for Labor last time, as I see it, were these:

1: Leadership. They completely discounted the importance of having a popular leader, given that we are now in an era where social media driven personality cults rule such political discourse as still exists. Shorten was always a total boat anchor for them. If they'd dumped him at the same time as the Libs dumped Abbott and put Tanya Plibersek up as their shadow Turnbull, they'd have done better.

Albanese is another Kim Beazley: all blokey charm and no fucking principle or sense of direction. Keeping him at the helm will leave them motoring in endless circles. Beazley didn't have the conviction to take Howard on properly over Tampa, and Albanese will never never never get enough of a grip on Morrison to overcome that slimy prick's fully synthetic oil coating.

2. A wishy-washy, half hearted approach to the class war. Instead of fiddling about with rolling back Howard's middle-class welfare reforms (which, don't get me wrong, absolutely do need to be rolled back but not by a government that isn't already incumbent), they should have concentrated their revenue policy attack on the ultra-rich and especially on the banks.

3. Mixed messages on Adani. They were never going to win against the Coalition in coal seats in Queensland, and should not have bothered trying. They should have adopted a principled and consistent position on climate change, and publicly stuck it to the cheating multi-billionaire and his filthy hole in the ground at every opportunity. This would have freed them up to be unambiguous about the Barrier Reef as well. Plibersek could have carried that off with aplomb.

4. Total failure to hammer the cost advantages of pushing faster toward renewable energy, the reliability advantages of moving to a system dominated by a large and diverse fleet of smaller generators, and the utter stupidity of the Coalition's record of standing in the way of these things to the greatest extent possible and muddying the energy policy waters to such an extent that every fucker with money is frightened off from building anything.

It doesn't take a fucking genius to notice that power prices spike like hell when a gigawatt-scale installation like Hazelwood goes offline after getting so decrepit that it can't be run at a profit any more, or that blackouts happen when a single generator fails at another gigawatt-scale installation like Yallourn W, but you have to point these things out loudly and often and challenge the Coalition's blatant lies about the causes of blackouts in South Australia instead of letting their bullshit Reliability = Coal narrative dominate. But instead they let Morrison wedge them with shitty Murdoch headlines featuring Electricity Bill.

There is an ongoing culture war in this country. There are two easily discernible sides, it's pretty obvious within ten minutes of meeting a new person which side of that war their sympathies are on, and the progressive side is ever so slightly bigger even though the regressive side is a hell of a lot louder.

If Labor's current leadership were not so dominated by a pissweak principle-free pack of dithering upper-middle-class white male cowards, Labor would stop trying to prise Morrison's core constituency away from him on the advice of focus groups and polls, and re-establish itself squarely as something any principled progressive could support not only without a qualm but with some degree of energy. If it got itself a courageous leader equipped with actual clue, and ran consistently on principle, it would win again just like it did the last time it tried that strategy, in 1972.
posted by flabdablet at 4:24 AM on October 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm not convinced that the progressive side is slightly bigger, or indeed not vastly outnumbered. It comes down to the “I don't know anyone who voted for Nixon” phenomenon. (Almost all the Australians I know I'd count as progressive, or at least progressive-sympathising, and I imagine that'd probably go for most of the Australians anyone here would know. And yet, this is unlikely to be a remotely representative sample.)
posted by acb at 5:05 AM on October 18, 2019

Also: Australia is rich, dumb and getting dumber, according to a study from Harvard:
On the primary metric used in the database, an index of economic complexity, Australia fell from 57th to 93rd from 1995 to 2017, a decline that is accelerating. Australia's top trading partner, China, rose from 51st to 19th over the same timeframe.
The Harvard data exposes the paradox of the Australian economy: the eighth-richest nation in the study has the export profile of Angola. About 70 per cent of products sold to foreign buyers, on a net basis, are minerals and energy. Add in food, alcohol, wool, tourism and metal products, and the figure rises to around 99 per cent.
Notwithstanding the success of CSL, Atlassian and corporate pioneers, Australia sells the world almost nothing, relative to total exports, that requires a degree to make.
The dominance of mining in the economy has stripped complexity out of the Australian economy, and it appears that the boneheaded conservatism of Australian politics is a symptom of this (or both are of the same phenomenon).
posted by acb at 5:28 AM on October 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

If the progressive side is in fact smaller then we're fucked and so is Labor, because when it comes right down to it there is no point to a Labor party that doesn't exist to look after the little people. If Labor doesn't have a platform and an ethos that clearly distinguishes it from the Coalition, and does so well to the left, it's not going to pick up Coalition votes anyway because of multi-generational tribal loyalties.

My political consciousness was formed during the Whitlam years, so I've seen what a Government that displays actual leadership can achieve in this country. And while I agree you that the Whitlam years were exceptional and with your implicit recognition of Keating as an extraordinary leader, I disagree that the social pendulum has now swung back to where it was before Whitlam's election.

That Government both shoved and rode a pendulum that had been hooked up somewhere too far right for too many years. The energy of the election campaign was unprecedented. Just huge. The early Seventies were a time of truly astonishing optimism here, and for the first couple of years of Whitlam's term it seemed like there was nothing Labor couldn't achieve.

The socially progressive wave persisted even after Malcolm Fraser succeeded in scheming Gough out of office in typically underhanded right-wing style. Not until "economic rationalism" (the local term for what the rest of the world calls neo-liberalism) rode in on Gordon Gekko's cocaine-addled coattails in the mid-Eighties did it become possible, to paraphrase Hunter Thompson, for the right kind of eyes to see the high-water mark - that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

But that wave had deposited a hell of a load of silt, and the best efforts of decades of beige managerialists haven't managed to dig it all out again, not by a long way. Talk to people who despise Gough and all he stood for and they'll all say the same thing: that he ruined the economy and had no idea how to manage the country's finances. But ask any one of them whether they'd rather live in a nation where they can get treated at no personal cost when they get sick, or one like the US where families routinely get bankrupted by cancer, it's pretty fucking rare to find anybody prepared to mount a serious case for preferring the US model. That's Gough's legacy more than four decades on, and the Coalition can't touch it even though their short-sighted blinkered ideology does make them keep on trying. They have to content themselves with sticking it to the unemployed instead.

And I can say with complete sincerity that the times we're living in now do feel reminiscent of the time leading up to Gough's campaign, where there's an increasing mood of discontent in the wider populace with the mindless gutless pointless inertia of the political classes as they utterly fail to do anything meaningful about the large and important problems besetting the world. I'm watching with a certain degree of hope as our kids deploy our national larrikinism in the noble pursuit of egging our arseholes and more and more of the inspirational kids I met at the Bairnsdale Climate Strike come of age and start to vote and run for office.
posted by flabdablet at 6:21 AM on October 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

About 70 per cent of products sold to foreign buyers, on a net basis, are minerals and energy.

That's quite plausibly more reflective of the national geography than the national character. By world standards we are very few people on a vast amount of land, forced to be that way because of the continent's unusual aridity. Per-capita natural resources, or at least those that don't involve living things, are therefore correspondingly huge.

And one of the most abundant of those abundant resources is insolation. With a sufficiently forward-looking Government in charge for a decade or so, there is no reason that I can see why we should be unable to become the Saudi Arabia of sunshine, exporting it in distilled form as hydrogen and/or via HVDC cables to our northern neighbours.
posted by flabdablet at 6:29 AM on October 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you share acb's dubiousness about the strength of the progressive side in this culture war, you might be heartened to learn that the grassroots political campaigning organization GetUp currently has roughly a million members, making it easily the largest single organization of any kind in this country, political or otherwise.

No Australian formal political party has a membership list anywhere near that size. Only the sporting codes come close, and then only when you aggregate the membership numbers for all the teams in any given code.

GetUp runs member-initiated, issue-based, party-independent political campaigns that just don't get up if the membership doesn't crowdfund them, and over its fourteen year history, every single campaign run under its banner has been solidly progressive if not always well thought through.

Here as in most places, the regressives' only genuine advantage (and it is, to be sure, a large advantage) is incumbency. They rely totally on the strength of public apathy and cynicism to let them get away with the shit that they do, and they use the enormous amount of propaganda power they already have to shape the public discourse in ways that maintain that apathy and maximize that cynicism.

But there are more of us than there are of them - that's always been the little people's structural advantage - and we have better tools available for organizing ourselves in transparent, accountable, cynicism-resistant, amorphous, non-hierarchical, leaderless, consensus-driven ways than have ever been available before in the entire history of humanity.

Which is, of course, exactly why Morrison wants GetUp shut down. He's shit-scared of us. And as a marketing droid to his very bones, he doesn't really get that GetUp's strength is not its brand but the experience of getting shit done that involvement with it has already given a million Australians, and that genuine grass roots continue to work just fine if you force them underground. Astroturf, not so much.
posted by flabdablet at 1:15 AM on October 19, 2019

Since this thread has taken a distinctly political turn:
> "My political consciousness was formed during the Whitlam years, so I've seen what a Government that displays actual leadership can achieve in this country … The socially progressive wave persisted even after Malcolm Fraser succeeded in scheming Gough out of office in typically underhanded right-wing style."
On the other hand, leaving aside the usual hagiographic reverence the Labor party still inexplicably maintains for Gough, and ignoring the well-documented but strangely rarely-mentioned ratfuckery from another now-revered Labor party figure, the Loans Affair and Iraqi Money Affair alone show the Whitlam government was inarguably at least spectacularly incompetent - if not dodgy as all fuck.

In fact, there's more than enough evidence to mount a strong argument that they were flat-out corrupt. One doesn't try to bypass the Constitution and the Government's own borrowing oversight committee by asking your Adelaide builder mate to hook you up with a dodgy commodities trader working for a London trading firm so you can raise 25% of the Federal Budget expenditure from Arab bankers if you're on the up-and-up.

And, after you've been caught & kicked out, you certainly don't try to finance your return by soliciting campaign finance through the Iraqi intelligence service…
posted by Pinback at 2:33 AM on October 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

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