SPECIAL FEATURE: by Digger JamesNews Weekly
Keeping Australia a great nation
, July 7, 2007
To keep Australia a great nation and preserve our freedoms, we must heed some important lessons from our history, says Major-General Digger James, former national president of the RSL.
Australia has a short but wonderful history and made remarkable advances since the arrival of the First Fleet. It is our home, and must be protected from all the evils that threaten our national safety, our people and the principles embodied in our constitution.
To be fortunate enough to be born and live in Australia means enjoying freedom, living in an egalitarian society under a democratic system of government, and having the opportunity to "have a go". Australia remains a wonderful place in which to live, work and raise a family.
I was born in 1930 in Shepparton, Victoria, the youngest of five children, and grew up during the Great Depression. My father, who was Irish and migrated to Australia via the USA and New Zealand, was a fruit-grower at Grahamvale, a few miles north of Shepparton.New lives
At the age of five, I attended the Grahamvale state school with its Chinese teacher and 32 children, about 40 percent of them migrants - Greek Italian, Albanian, Russian, Jewish, German and more. They had left the absolute poverty in their homelands to build new lives in Australia. Known as "reffos" at the time, they all wanted to become good Australians.
My 1930s schooling was based on the need to work hard, pass exams and prepare for a job. The subjects taught included Australian and world history, geography, maths, science and English - with stress on correct spelling, punctuation and writing skills.
Each Monday morning, the saluting-the-flag ceremony took place with pupils reciting the words, "I honour the King, our country and will obey my parents, teachers and the law." We were taught to respect freedom of religion, to face challenges and to follow the principles of the Ten Commandments.
World War I was then a recent memory, and there were many soldier-settlers in our district who were my heroes. I recall watching the Lighthorse each Anzac Day and heard about the RSL and how former soldiers helped one another through hard times.
When World War II broke out in 1939, my teacher Mr Doyle, my brother Jack and sister Ruth joined up. In 1941 Mr Doyle was killed in action, while in 1942 my brother Jack and many of his friends lost their lives.
On the home front, the war effort became a huge part of our lives, with rationing, knitting scarves, etc, and the annual bottle and aluminium drives. Given the acute labour shortage, schoolboys (including some from Melbourne) and POWs picked fruit. We grew vegetables as well as fruit on our property to feed our troops.
The social attitudes of the time placed the family and home at the centre - we kept together and divorce was almost unheard of. We all looked forward to marriage like our parents. Being engaged meant commitment to a forthcoming marriage and marriage was for life. Children were hoped for and they would be cared for and taught their parents' values.
Just after the war, in 1947, I wanted to join the army and applied for Duntroon - a bold aim. But, thanks to Australia's egalitarianism, a country kid from high school was accepted. It was a four-year course, very tough and disciplined with a broad education. There I also learned mateship and the need to help others.
So I grew up and moved through life. I met my future wife Barbara while on leave from Duntroon prior to my final year. I became a lieutenant in a battalion in Australia, and later served in Korea where I suffered injury. Following our engagement and marriage, I returned to civilian life and then to medical studies. We had five children (one of them dying in childbirth). I later rejoined the army, and served in Vietnam.
Our nation has much to be proud of, including the great achievements of our forefathers in peace and war: the Snowy and Ord River schemes, the charge of Beersheba, General Monash the war leader, Tobruk and Kokoda, to name but a few.Australian heroes
We have had many heroes, such as Fred Hollows and Fred Nile, Nobel Prize-winners such as Macfarlane Burnett, Peter Doherty, John Eccles, Howard Florey, Patrick White and others.
In our short history there has been remarkable growth in our industries, cities, towns, roads and railways, and in our freedoms of religion, speech, democracy, and laws, as well as impressive achievements in the arts, science and sport. We have many dedicated, generous groups like Rotary and the Salvos who continue to help those most in need.
How is it that we have achieved so much? I suggest it goes back to attitudes like hard work, improvisation and helping one other, and a pride in our country and a determination to make it great.
The question to be asked today is do we continue to preserve and encourage these attitudes? Have we become a welfare country, a lazy country, with people constantly chasing litigation, pensions, and free handouts? Are we proud of our country, keeping up our traditions that we learned at school, or are we being led by minority groups?
I have concerns in this regard. Let's look at a few of these concerns.
There are some in Australia who want a Bill of Rights. Let me quote a comment on the US Bill of Rights by Eddy Gisonda, a PhD law student at the University of Melbourne.
The US Bill of Rights requires that nominations for the Supreme Court go before the US Senate for approval. The following discussion refers to President George W. Bush's nomination of Mr Samuel Alito in 2006 (his first nomination was rejected). Eddy Gisonda writes:
"In the US, where Alito fever has swept the nation since it was announced in October 2005, senators, journalists, academics and bloggers are dissecting every aspect of Alito's life. Websites are dedicated to the man. …Vested interests
"Enter the cashed-up interest groups, with their millions of dollars and award-winning lobbyists and consultants. The result is that no e-mail account is safe from a warning that Alito is the devil incarnate. No American sitcom is immune from advertisements demanding that you telephone your local senator to tell him how much you hate Alito. And those who attend an evangelical church are undoubtedly being asked to pray for world peace, and an end to poverty and Alito's confirmation!
"Why the 'circus'? The answer comes down to three simple words - Bill of Rights. Whatever that document was once designed to do, today it gives Supreme Court judges the power to socially engineer America as they see fit. The judiciary, unhappy with its traditional role as the least powerful arm of government, has exercised its right to bear arms and come out fighting.
"That's why Americans ignore Congress and go straight to Court when an issue bugs them.
"Amazing, isn't it? Despite America's claim as a thriving democracy, elite lawyers who will never face a ballot box in their life can change the nation with one knock of the gavel. Only in America? Let's keep it that way." (Eddy Gisonda, "Judge-made law", The Australian
, January 11, 2006).
Let me ask the following question of our society today: why do we have seven law schools in Queensland? We have lawyers endlessly pushing litigation, rights, etc. Is this necessary?
Let me echo John O'Sullivan's comment on citizenship, which impinges on multiculturalism especially after the December 2005 riots in Cronulla, and shows that we too have a problem (John O'Sullivan, Quadrant
, January-February 2006).
Australia, says O'Sullivan, needs to promote "national identity" and to tighten up our immigration and citizenship requirements. Assimilation of migrants to become Australians should be the priority.
Australian national identity might include such things as the Australian Constitution, Caroline Chisholm, Eureka, Gallipoli, the Lighthorse, Kokoda, Mary Durack, Votes for Women, the Snowy River Scheme, Wentworth, Leichhardt, Lawson, Mawson and many more.
Next, we might ask, why the need for political correctness (PC)?
columnist Anthony Browne writes that political correctness was introduced in the 1960s to tackle intolerance. However, "rather than tackling intolerance … it now promotes intolerance, brooking no criticism and denouncing any critics". It also encourages a "victim mentality".
Browne adds - and I agree with him - that "PC has a vice-like grip on public debate and policy-making, setting out what can and cannot be debated, and what the terms of debate are: anything or anyone who digresses from the PC script is automatically controversial.
"By encouraging multicultural-ism rather than racial integration, political correctness allowed the creation of alienated Muslim ghettoes which produce young men who commit mass murder against their fellow citizens."
Why is the traditional family under threat today? Why do we have such extraordinarily high rates of divorce, promiscuity, AIDS, illegal use of drugs, young people's alcohol usage out of control, graffiti everywhere, petrol-sniffing, and more?Literacy
As for education, a 30 per cent pass in final school year is sufficient for one to enter university. Meanwhile there's no trade training, literacy is poor, and there are few male teachers.
And why do we tolerate school sex education that promotes a "go and do it" approach? Parents are the ones who should introduce the facts of life at age-appropriate stages.
I have serious reservations about our nation's welfare today. There are many problems, and ignoring them will not solve them.
We must all work together to set better policy, not being swayed by overseas trends, or the demands of minority groups, but rather use our lessons of the past as models. Our constitution and law are based on the view of the majority, not of the minority.
This is our land, and we must care for it. It is therefore proper to regularly review the way we are going.
Our future will be bright if we work together and remain determined to keep our nation the best for our people - all of our people.- Major-General W.B. "Digger" James, AC, MBE, MC (Ret'd) is a former national president of the RSL. This article is from a speech he gave to the Combined Rotary Clubs at The Greek Centre, South Brisbane, January 23, 2006.