Current Affairs as History

By Morgan, Patrick | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, December 2003 | Go to article overview

Current Affairs as History

Morgan, Patrick, Review - Institute of Public Affairs

A new draft syllabus for VCE Australian History in Victoria has been modified after protests from teachers. But why was it proposed in the first place? And is the present syllabus acceptable?

THE recent 'history wars' imbroglio revealed that progressives control the public bodies which set the agenda in history studies, a control confirmed by a new draft syllabus for VCE Australian History in Victoria. Instead of being chastened by the recent debate, they have come up with a draft syllabus even more extreme than in the past.

Why have the numbers doing history declined so much over the years? When my children studied Australian History in middle high school forms in the 1980s, the textbook set was Changing Australians by Sue Fabian. In this book, the author took fashionable causes (such as women, Aborigines and the environment), projected them back on to the past, and called the result 'history'. Our children, though sympathetic to these three groups, found they learnt little from such a course, as everything was predictable and ideological-no facts inconvenient to the general tenor of the course were allowed to get in the way ('[Aborigines], too, had fights and wars, but these seem to have been rare'). And when our children did other subjects such as literature, religion, politics and even geography, they found the syllabuses there too focused on the victim status of women, Aborigines and the environment. Having this pushed at them from all angles led to a mixture of boredom and resentment.

Over the years, the Form 12 VCE syllabus in Australian. History has come to resemble the Sue Fabian approach. It is now an 'Imagining Australia' course rather than a true history course. The 2003 course is divided up into the four half-century periods since European settlement, with the new huly trinity being women, Aborigines and multiculturalism.

In the section of the course from 1945 to the present, the student has to choose a topic that caused divisions and debate in society. This predetermines the issues, since Australia has been a coherent and stable society, whose mainstream interests are not reflected here, whereas minority interests such as multiculturalism get a prominent place in the sun. And look at the specific list of divisive issues nominated: 'The Communist Party Dissolution Bill, Labor Party split, Whitlam dismissal, Gordon-Franklin blockade, the Mabo and Wik decisions and the Stolen Generations'. These are all icon issues of the Labor left. The Whitlam government loans scandal and the Hawke-Keating economic reforms are more important than the Gordon-Franklin blockade, but they can't be mentioned as they run against left orthodoxy. The activities of the Liberal Party, which governed for 37 out of these 58 years, are elided.

The course is heavily weighted to political and ideological concerns at the expense of economic and social ones. In the section from 1850 to 1900, one might expect the prolonged land boom and great prosperity of that period, when wheat and wool were established as staple exports, would gain a mention. Instead we get a negative or black armband interpretation: 'colonial governments encouraged new agricultural settlements through selection programs, radically altering the natural environment through the exploitation of natural resources ... and European fauna introduced, which subsequently became feral'. This is an unbalanced statement-it wasn't just a story of exploitation, it was also a great national success story on which our prosperity to today has been based.

The course suffers from the Sue Fabian fallacy of projecting today's concerns on to the past in an ahistorical way. The 1901-1945 section of the courses directs the student to study how 'feminism challenged traditional roles' in that period. Feminism as a major strand in Australian life in the first half of the twentieth century?

The 1788-1850 section predictably begins with terra nullius and the claim that 'this act of colonization denied the existence of people whose world view was different to that of the European settlers'. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Current Affairs as History


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.