Stephen Gray, The Protectors: A Journey though Whitefella Past.Stephen Gray Stephen Gray can refer to:
Stephen Gray invites us to contemplate the moral ambiguities of the protectionist policies and practices imposed upon Aboriginal people for much of the twentieth century. Combining historical narrative and biographical snippets with anecdote and personal reminiscence rem·i·nis·cence
1. The act or process of recollecting past experiences or events.
2. An experience or event recollected: "Her mind seemed wholly taken up with reminiscences of past gaiety" , he recounts the careers of three senior administrators of Aboriginal affairs in the Northern Territory (Baldwin Spencer
Winston Baldwin Spencer (born October 8, 1948) is the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda. , Cecil Cook, and Harry Giese), a Commonwealth minister (Paul Hasluck Sir Paul Meernaa Caedwalla Hasluck, KG, GCMG, GCVO (1 April 1905–9 January 1993), Australian historian, public servant and politician, and 17th Governor-General of Australia, was born in Fremantle, Western Australia, into a family of Salvationists, whose values he retained ), a patrol officer (Colin Macleod) and several missionaries. These men, he argues, were impelled by motives both benign and malign, though the consequences of their actions were, almost without exception, disastrous for Aboriginal people. The argument is delivered in an easily accessible style, which owes more to Gray's vocation as a novelist than to his other career as a legal scholar. His book is a welcome contribution to post-Apology and post-Intervention debate over Indigenous affairs.
That said, the book is not without problems. Gray is as much concerned about the moral ambiguity of his own endeavours to understand the motives of the perpetrators of injustice as about the moral ambiguities of their actions. He constantly frets over the possibility that this might take him over to the dark side, rendering blameless blame·less
Free of blame or guilt; innocent.
blame those who bear a burden of guilt. He frequently repeats the aphorism aphorism (ăf`ərĭz'əm), short, pithy statement of an evident truth concerned with life or nature; distinguished from the axiom because its truth is not capable of scientific demonstration. tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner. The point is pertinent, but Gray's fretting is excessive. The aphorism is not to be taken literally. Understanding everything is as far beyond human accomplishment as forgiving everything. Understanding and forgiveness may well be closely allied, but it is only after making a strenuous effort to understand that we attain a secure position from which to criticise. Gray himself comes to this conclusion, but his continual rubbing the sore of his own possible complicity in whitewashing the past is needless and self-indulgent. Or perhaps he is merely adopting the persona of a concerned but uncertain individual, the better to draw the empathy of his readers.
Yet the problem goes deeper. Gray writes as if his 'journey through whitefella past' takes him into hitherto unexplored territory. In fact, enquiries into the moral ambivalences of settler Australian attitudes and policies toward the Indigenous peoples have long been a staple of Aboriginal history. C.D. Rowley's 1970 trilogy on Aboriginal policy and practice, which could fairly be regarded as the foundational text of the sub-discipline, pivoted on those ambivalences. Later scholars such as Tim Rowse have made such ambivalences the foci of their enquiries. It is true that we have also had 'History Wars', with some protagonists on either side affecting a stance of moral certitude cer·ti·tude
1. The state of being certain; complete assurance; confidence.
2. Sureness of occurrence or result; inevitability.
3. . Yet even some of the major history warriors have been alert to the moral ambiguities of their topic, as Henry Reynolds signalled in the punctuation of his title on genocide: An Indelible Stain?
Admittedly, The Protectors is not intended as a contribution to historiographic scholarship but as an intervention in public affairs, aimed at a broad general readership. Nonetheless, it does claim to convey insights into the motives and intentions of people in the past, and to that extent Gray's faltering grasp on historical context constitutes a serious shortcoming. This is particularly so in the chapters dealing with the early-twentieth-century chief protectors, Baldwin Spencer and Cecil Cook. He shows little understanding of their intellectual and political world. Instead, he indulges in descriptions of imagined scenarios and has frequent recourse to sentence constructions along the lines of the following, purportedly describing Spencer standing on the cliffs above Lameroo Beach, surveying the site of his projected Aboriginal compound: 'He would have carried a cane and worn a tropical topee'. This is mere fancy-dressing to lend a veneer of veracity in the absence of historical substance.
As his narrative approaches closer to the present day, Gray abandons the invented scenarios and the 'he would have' constructions, and writes more confidently about his subjects. Perhaps reflecting his vocation as a novelist, he seems more interested in the personalities of the protectors than in the social, cultural and political world in which they worked. In any event, he is at his best when he has least need for historical imagination and can deal with his protagonists as real human beings. His most successful chapter, accordingly, is one centring on a discussion he had with former Northern Territory Patrol Officer, Colin Macleod, in the bar of the staff club at the University of Melbourne
In 2006, Times Higher Education Supplement ranked the University of Melbourne 22nd in the world. Because of the drop in ranking, University of Melbourne is currently behind four Asian universities - Beijing University, 'one summer evening not long ago'.
Though sometimes self-indulgent, and despite inadequate historical contextualisation, this is a worthwhile book, hopefully communicating to a wide audience the fact that today's moral dilemmas in Aboriginal affairs have a long lineage. We need to acknowledge not only that past policies and practices regarding Aboriginal people were morally ambiguous, but also that the ambiguities were recognised at the time, at least by the more astute members of the settler Australian community. Among those more astute members were the protectors.
James Cook University Situated in the tropical gardens of the campus, the halls of residence provide students with modern social and sporting facilities as well as the opportunity to choose between catered or self-catered accommodation.