Geoffrey Blainey

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Geoffrey Norman Blainey, AC, FAHA, FASSA (born 11 March 1930) is a prominent Australian historian, academic, philanthropist and commentator with a wide international audience. He is noted for having written authoritative texts on the economic and social history of Australia, including The Tyranny of Distance.

Quotes[edit]

  • Poland is like an island on the north European plain. At times the island has been swamped by a tide of iron or steel helmets converging from Germany and Russia. At times it has drifted suddenly with the current; if the continent of Africa had drifted relatively as much as the boundaries of Poland have drifted in the last two hundred years, then Africa would at one time have touched the north pole and at another the south pole.
    • Across a Red World (1968)
  • No wars are unintended or 'accidental'. What is often unintended is the length and bloodiness of the war.
    • The Causes of War (1973)
  • The convict era gave Australia a high English and Irish population and a predominance of men, a tendency to disdain authority and resent policemen, and probably a love of leisure and an indifference to religion. The convict era imposed on governments from the outset a high and detailed role in economic and social life. Some of these convict influences were fragile and were quickly erased or reversed by the waves of free immigration; some were reinforced by later events, so that they persist to this day.
    • A Land Half Won (1980)
  • The continent had to be discovered emotionally. It had to become a homeland and feel like home. The sense of overpowering space, the isolation, the warmth of summer, the garish light, the shiny-leafed trees, the birds and insects, the smell of air filled with dust, the strange silences, and the landscapes in all their oddness had to become familiar.
    • A Land Half Won (1980)
  • I do not accept the view, widely held in the Federal Cabinet, that some kind of slow Asian takeover of Australia is inevitable. I do not believe that we are powerless. I do believe that we can with good will and good sense control our destiny.... As a people, we seem to move from extreme to extreme. In the past 30 years the government of Australia has moved from the extreme of wanting a white Australia to the extreme of saying that we will have an Asian Australia and that the quicker we move towards it the better.
    • "The Dilemma of Asian Immigration," The Age (March 20, 1984)
  • The First World War shook the scaffolding of progress because it was deadly and unexpectedly long: it showed that technology could be two-faced. The war delivered one other insidious attack on the idea of progress by raising a moral question which the believers in progress had taken for granted: had the morality of Europeans improved during the long era of 'progress'?
    • The Great Seesaw: A New View of the Western World, 1750-2000 (1988)
  • In a democracy, all voters are equal but not all are responsible. Compulsory voting ignores that elemental truth.
    • "The Infantile Custom of Compulsory Voting," The Australian (February 21, 1990)
  • Whether we like the idea or not, war has again and again been seen as the great auditor, the special testing time, of a nation's strength and fibre.
    • "Gallipoli: A Battle for a Mammoth Prize," The Australian (April 24, 1990)
  • When traditional Australians argue that Asian migrants should be welcome but that the ethnic mix of the nation should not be altered too quickly, they are labelled racists. But when ethnic minorities lobby politicians to enlist as many new migrants as possible from their own race, this is applauded as multiculturalism.
  • Some historians looking back on our era will probably marvel at the fragile economic arguments used to justify the present migration policy. Even more they will wonder at the self-deception of those who defend the policy largely in the name of ethics and morality.
  • The multicultural lobby has little respect for the history of Australia between 1788 and 1950. In the eyes of multicultural supporters, Australia was a desert between 1788 and 1950 because it was populated largely by people from the British Isles and because it seemed to have a cultural unity, a homogeneity which is the very antithesis of multiculturalism.
    • Eye on Australia: Speeches and Essays of Geoffrey Blainey (1991)
  • In economics, as in politics, no national reservoir can stand the strain when everyone is turning on the taps and few are bothering to see that the catchments to the reservoir are working.
    • Eye on Australia: Speeches and Essays of Geoffrey Blainey (1991)
  • To some extent my generation was reared on the Three Cheers view of history. This patriotic view of our past had a long run. It saw Australian history as largely a success. While the convict era was a source of shame or unease, nearly everything that came after was believed to be pretty good. There is a rival view, which I call the Black Armband view of history. In recent years it has assailed the optimistic view of history. The black armbands were quietly worn in official circles in 1988. The multicultural folk busily preached their message that until they arrived much of Australian history was a disgrace. The past treatment of Aborigines, of Chinese, of Kanakas, of non-British migrants, of women, the very old, the very young, and the poor was singled out, sometimes legitimately, sometimes not. ... The Black Armband view of history might well represent the swing of the pendulum from a position that had been too favourable, too self congratulatory, to an opposite extreme that is even more unreal and decidedly jaundiced.
    • "Balance Sheet On Our History," Quadrant (July 1993)
  • In Australia democracy is less in favour in intellectual circles today than 30 years ago. The more emphasis that is placed on the rights of minorities, and the need for affirmative action to enhance those rights, the more is the concept of democracy - and the rights of the majority - in danger of being weakened.
    • "Balance Sheet On Our History," Quadrant (July 1993)
  • Anyone who tries to range over the last 200 years of Australia's history, surveying the successes and failures, and trying to understand the obstacles that stood in the way, cannot easily accept the gloomier summaries of that history.
    • "Balance Sheet On Our History," Quadrant (July 1993)
  • Those who one-sidedly depict the early European history of Australia are endangering one of the gains of recent years: the willingness to examine the long years of traditional Aboriginal history with sympathy and understanding. Just as the history of European Australia can be denounced from a one-sided point of view, so too can the history of black Australia be depicted by the one-eyed as a story of savagery. To revert to such denunciations would be a loss to all Australians, black and white.
    • "Black Future, Reverse Racism: The "Black Armband" View of History is Intent on Dividing the Nation Forever", The Bulletin, (April 8, 1997)
  • Full-blooded democracy still remains a brave new experiment, the history of ancient Athens notwithstanding. It would be unwise to assume that its victory across the globe is inevitable, for democracy is not always a simple mode of governing. It is almost forgotten that one reason why in this century the world stood three times on the verge of chaos - during two world wars and one world depression - was that the leading democracies were almost as prone to accidents and blunders as were their authoritarian rivals.
    • In Our Time: The Issues and The People of Our Century (1999)
  • During their long period of unease about a hot Christmas, Australians rarely noticed that they had more access than their British relatives to a vital part of the traditional Christmas story: 'the stars in the bright sky'. Eventually they ceased to lament that their Christmas came in hot weather.
    • Black Kettle and Full Moon: Daily Life in a Vanished Australia (2003)
  • Science and technology have a simple and persuasive message: the world's problems are soluble by ingenuity and material innovations; the world's riddles, such as the origins of the universe, can be unravelled by the scientific mind. But while science's achievements have been remarkable, they have not been revolutionary in probing human nature. In some ways the measurable problems analysed by science and technology are more easily dissected than human problems. The moon is more easily explored than the typical mind and heart.
  • Christianity has both spurred and retarded the sciences and social sciences. Indeed, most of the modern debates of profound significance were originally dialogues with or within Christianity.
  • Could the Aboriginal and the British cultures have been reconciled when they first met? The prevailing view is that they could have signed a treaty and found a way of ­living together in relative ­harmony. I am not persuaded. The two confronting cultures, whether first living side by side at Sydney in 1788 or at Perth in 1829, had little in common except that they were the product of human beings. Their languages and religions differed. Their attitude to marriage, family, property and individual wealth, their economic and political systems, their way of fighting, and their thoughts about life and death, were far apart. In the world today no two cultures are so far apart as those that lived side by side in many Australian regions after 1788. Mecca and ­Washington today have far more in common than did the paternal ­Governor Phillip and the Aborigines whom he met in Sydney in 1788.
    • "Geoffrey Blainey: I can see parts of our history with fresh eyes," The Australian (February 21, 2015)
  • Some talk of the “history wars” raging in Australia. The word “war” is mistaken. Controversy, not war, will continue for a long time to come. It is in the nature of history and of most intellectual activities, and the more so in a nation where the main strands of history – ­Aboriginal and European – are utterly different.
    • "Geoffrey Blainey: I can see parts of our history with fresh eyes," The Australian (February 21, 2015)
  • Australia became a full-blooded democracy in the late 1850s, achieving it with lightning speed. Only 30 years previously it had consisted of two convict colonies, ruled by governors whose personal power was magnified because most of their subjects were prisoners or ex-prisoners. Moreover, the governors were so remote geographically that Britain’s control of them and their decisions was loose. One year might elapse between the governor writing an urgent dispatch to London, and the arrival of an official reply. And yet, from this prison-like regime, democracy speedily emerged. This was an exceptional outcome.

The Tyranny of Distance: How Distance Shaped Australia's History (1966)[edit]

  • Australia's distance from Europe was probably only tolerable because it had strategic commodities which England, threatened by changing European alliances, might some day be unable to produce in the northern hemisphere. Flax was the first conqueror - a hollow conqueror - of the distance which so often shaped Australia's destiny.
  • Australia's place on new trade routes was decisive in its early history. It aided the convict settlement. It prompted the rise of a new free group of Australian traders who did not depend heavily on the favours of governors, who were alert for new ways of making money, and who were eventually to hasten Australia's transition from a gaol to a series of free colonies.
  • The convict system in essence was a form of compulsory, assisted migration. It eased the problems created by Australia's distance from Britain. Without it relatively few people from the British Isles would have made the costly journey across the world in Australia's first half century.
  • The value of subsidised migration was not simply in the working men it brought to Australia. Its value was also in the women it enticed to a man's land. One of Australia's sharpest social problems, and one of the problems which Edward Gibbon Wakefield lamented, was the scarcity of women of marriageable or elopable age. So long as Australia primarily served as a gaol for the British Isles, far more men than women came to the land.
  • Australia and New Zealand depended so much on Britain, were in most senses imitations of Britain, that their geographical position near the end of Asia's tail and near the islands of Oceania seemed irrelevant.
  • In December 1941, when Australians began to sense that they were plunged into a new environment, the spectacles they had carried out from Britain were obsolete. They needed spectacles that would correct short-sightedness. They had to see the environment they were in as clearly as the environment they had left across the world.

All for Australia (1984)[edit]

  • Every nation has the right to control its own immigration. To shape sensibly an immigration policy is to influence nearly every facet of life, now and for generations to come.
  • Democracy is not like a long-term loan of property to be entrusted by the people to the government and its small group of advisors. And yet in recent years a small group of people has successfully snatched immigration policy from the public arena, and has even placed a taboo on the discussion of vital aspects of immigration.
  • Our immigration policy is increasingly based on an appeal to international precepts that our neighbours sensibly refuse to practise. We are surrendering much of our own independence to a phantom opinion that floats vaguely in the air and rarely exists on this earth. We should think very carefully about the perils of converting Australia into a giant multicultural laboratory for the assumed benefit of the peoples of the world.
  • An immigration policy in any country is based more or less on discrimination. A minister of immigration is a minister of discrimination. If he isn't, he is not carrying out his responsibilities.
  • On the immigration issue the suspicions towards democracy and the distrust towards free speech have come largely from the Left. The distrust of free speech has been especially noticeable amongst a small scatter of academics, members of a profession that by its very nature depends on freedom of inquiry and speech.
  • Whereas the old White Australia Policy, in its extreme form, kept out all Asians, the new policy could be moving towards the opposite extreme. In calling for a strong, long-term flow of Third World migrants, it foreshadows the sacrificing of vital Australian interests on behalf of vague international creeds. It is also forsaking out historical experience for the sake of a nimble dream.
  • Again and again Australia is depicted as a bonanza - ready made - that was snatched from the Aboriginals. But the Australia of the Aboriginals, distinctive as were its achievements, was not a bonanza. Generations of Australians since 1788 have developed this land and its resources, applying sweat and grit and ingenuity. Asian immigrants had the opportunity to come, several hundred years ago, but they had no incentive to come. Australia then was not worth colonizing.
  • Immigration is everyone's business: it is one of the most important national issues. The idea that it is too dangerous to be debated is a mockery of democracy. It is too important not to debate.
  • The ethnic composition of the population - and the particular mixture of nationalities, languages and cultures - is a matter of importance to all nations. The selection of immigrants should not be seen primarily as a test of which nationalities are best. It is more important to select immigrants with an eye to the collective effect on the nation. An immigration policy is not a symbol, a banner, of a nation's attitude to other peoples or races; and to reject potential immigrants is in no way to doubt the worthiness of their nationality or culture.
  • The multicultural policy has, at times, tended to emphasize the rights of ethnic minorities at the expense of the majority of Australians, thus unnecessarily encouraging divisions and weakening social cohesion. It has tended to be anti-British, and yet the people from the United Kingdom and Ireland form the dominant class of pre-war immigrants and the largest single group of post-war immigrants.
  • Recent governments emphasize the merits of a multicultural society and ignore the dangers. And yet the evidence is clear that many multicultural societies have failed and that the human cost of the failure has been high.
  • There are dangers in the increasing belief that toleration can simply be imposed on people by a variety of new laws and by a bureaucracy specializing in ethnic affairs, cultural relations and human rights. Unfortunately, the laws and regulatory bodies, introduced in the hope of promoting toleration, can be invoked to attack freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and those principles on which minority rights must, in the last resort, depend. A sensible humane immigration policy is more likely than most of these new agencies and laws - present or proposed - to maintain and foster racial toleration.

A Shorter History of Australia (1994)[edit]

  • The eclipse of the Aborigines was tragic. Could it have been averted? It could have been prevented for a time if no British settlers had landed, but eventually people of other European or Asian nations would have come and occupied much of the land.
  • The shrinking world was becoming too small to permit a whole people to be set aside in a vast protected anthropological museum where they would try to perpetuate the merits and defects of a way of life that had vanished elsewhere, a way of life that - so long as it continued - would deprive millions of foreign people of the food and fibres that could have been grown on the land.
  • Even in the 1860s and 1870s most Australians did not feel fully at home in their land. So many of them were new migrants, mostly from the British cities, and so they found rural Australia strange and even hostile at first. Above all, in the long European see-saw of ideas and taste, the wilderness and untamed nature were falling somewhat from favour; to be revived late in the century. Attitudes to Australian landscape reflected this see-saw.
  • There is a delicate balance between shielding people and encouraging them, and the USA perhaps went too far in one direction and Australia in the other. The Soviet Union, born in 1917 and influenced a little by the exciting Australian and New Zealand experiments, would eventually show how the umbrella, if too big and cumbersome, exposed people far more than it protected them.
  • The history of Australia, black or white, is not only the struggle between peoples but the struggle between nature and people. Nature tamed many of the settlers, sometimes defeating them, but people held many victories, sometimes at high cost.

A Short History of the World (2000)[edit]

  • It is remarkable that India became a democracy in modern times, because the long-lasting Hindu civilisation at first sight was innately hostile to the ideas that all adults should have an equal vote, irrespective of their caste, and that all adults should be able to share in the social mobility which was part of the democratic spirit. But to graft exotic new trees onto old, when there seemed little hope of success, and to watch them grow vigorously, is not a rare experience in human institutions.
  • Looking back on Rome's success, it is all too easy to conclude that its victories were preordained. It is almost as if Rome arose with consummate certainty from the seven hills, gaining such a height that seemingly it could not be challenged. But in almost every phase of Rome's history there were crises.
  • Unpredictable events, or the coincidence of vital events happening side by side, play their part in history. In the emerging of the United States of America, the South American nations, South Africa, Canada and Australia the unforeseen mixture of events was especially powerful in the final decades of the 18th century. Many of those events pirouetted around the fortunes of France, whose influence was as decisive when it was losing as when it was winning wars.
  • The power of the United States depended heavily on its pale empire of ideas, attitudes and innovations. Its ideas alighted effortlessly on foreign ground, irrespective of who owned the ground. Much of its influence came from such innovations as the telephone, electricity, aircraft and the cheap car, nuclear weapons and spacecraft, computers and the Internet. Its influence came through jazz, cartoons, Hollywood, television and popular culture. Its influence came from an excitement about technology and economic change, and a belief in incentives and individual enterprise. It was also the most ardent missionary for the creed of democracy. While military and economic might was vital to the success of the United States, the power of its pale empire of ideas was probably even more pervasive.
  • The global role of the United States is perhaps the ultimate chapter in that long period of European expansion which had begun in western Europe, and especially on the Atlantic seaboard, during the 15th century. Europe slowly had outgrown its homeland. Its cultural empire eventually formed a long band traversing most of the Northern Hemisphere and dipping far into the Southern. The modern hub of the peoples and ideas of European origin is now New York as much as Paris, or Los Angeles as much as London. In the history of the European peoples the city of Washington is perhaps what Constantinople - the infant city of Emperor Constantine - was to the last phase of the Roman Empire; for it is unlikely that Europeans, a century hence, will continue to stamp the world so decisively with their ideas and inventions.

The Story of Australia's People: The Rise and Rise of a New Australia (2016)[edit]

  • Most Australians did not love a sunburnt country. Farmers preferred a reliable rainfall; bank managers and city merchants preferred to deal with customers living in towns where the economy did not suffer from drought. The governors, who came from the British Isles, still retreated in summer to the cool hill towns - to Sutton Forest and Mount Macedon and the Mount Lofty Ranges and other colonial Simlas.
  • The birth of a nation called for many fathers, none of whom could be pre-eminent, and when Parkes died the federation was only a balloon floating beckoningly in the air.
  • The idea is still widespread that Australians were among the world's most persistent racists until the White Australia policy was abolished. But in 1900, and long after, almost every part of the Western world was wary of large-scale immigration from poorer, low-wage countries whose reigning culture was different. Asians at times were wary of outsiders. Between 1860 and 1914 it was safer to be a Chinese gold-digger living in Australia than to be an Australian, especially a female missionary, living in China.
  • Perhaps no Australian politician, to this day, has made such a mark for so long on the global stage as Hughes achieved in the first half of 1919.
  • Innovation is usually not a gigantic step but a series of small jumps involving various enterprising people whose names are soon forgotten.
  • Menzies was the first - and maybe the only - national leader of whom it could be safely said that he was capable of rising to the top of almost any ladder he dared to climb.
  • One Australian tradition is to cut down the elite and the successful. It had its roots in the era of convicts who naturally opposed those in authority. This levelling or egalitarian tradition continued to flourish on the goldfields in the 1850s when the unusual mining laws gave everyone an opportunity to find gold, and the tradition was accentuated around 1900 by the rising trade unions. The attitude was one of the spurs to Australian democracy.
  • A few important Muslim leaders regretted that Australian society, as they experienced it, defied their beliefs and preachings. In their eyes it was decadent and irreligious. And yet one century earlier, a host of Australian churchgoers would have agreed with the mainstream Muslim suspicion of alcohol, drugs, pornography, party-going, scantily clad women, blasphemous language, suicide, homosexuality and the Sabbath. It was the Christians who, in the following four generations, relaxed their views on these social questions. They became more tolerant at a time when sections of Islam were becoming less tolerant.

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