CORRESPONDENCErnLetter FromrnAustraliarnby R.J. StovernGeoffrey Blainey and thernMulticultural NirvanarnOne’s kindest possible response to thernAustralian Broadcasting Corporation’srntypical attempt at a sitcom is MarkrnTwain’s quip about The Vicar of Wakefield:rn”Nothing could be funnier than itsrnpathos, and nothing could be sadderrnthan its humour.” Hence the astonishedrnpleasure inspired by the Corporation’srndazzling new comedy Frontline. A mercilessrnskewering of current-affairs talkingrnheads* moral pretensions, Frontlinerninitially leaves viewers laughing hardrnenough to incur hernias, and afterwardrnleaves them awestruck at its parodisticrnbrilliance. Its second series containedrnthe show’s most horridly acute episodernyet: a chilling tale about a harmless andrnmild-mannered professor who has hadrnthe impudence to publish a statisticalrnsurvey of ethnic groups in Australia. Hisrnvolume is of the driest, least controversialrnand—one would have hoped—most innocuousrnsort; but just because it touches,rnhowever soporifically, upon race, thernFrontline motormouths are convincedrnthat its author is a racist. (As Sam, thernshow’s executive producer put it: “Canrnyou find out whether he’s got any rightwingrnaffiliations—political, social. . . .rnDoes he like Wagner… . Are his parentsrnGerman?”) The climax comes withrnFrontline’s anchorman Mike Moore perfectingrnhis Vyshinsky imitation, at thernhapless academic’s expense, on primetimernTV:rnMIKE: Welcome back. Our nation hasrnbeen rocked over recent days by the releasernof a book that some are calling arnThird Reich-type document. EntitledrnAbove Average, it threatens to tear thisrncountry’s social fabric apart. It was writtenrnbv controversial professor DesmondrnLowe, and he joins mc now. Thanks forrncoming on.rnPROF: Thank vou. I certainly didn’t setrnout to be controversial. . . . Mv point wasrnto identify prevalence and frequency onrna wide range of criteria. It’s not a staticrncommentar- of predetermination orrncausal relationships.rnMIKE (not grasping this): Sure. I mean,rnthat’s obvious. But vou mention race.rnPROF: Yes…rnMIKE: You attribute characteristics onrnthe basis of race.rnPROF: Statistical characteristics.rnMIKE (interrupting): That’s racism.rnPROF: No.rnMIKE: You .said it.rnPROF: But I . . . It was…rnMIKE (aggressively): You said it,rnprofessor. That’s racism. [Cut back torncontrol room.]rnSAM (impressed): Wow, Mike. [Cutrnback to studio.]rnPROF: I was pointing to elements thatrncan be altered.rnMIKE: Social engineering—isn’t thatrnwhat Hitler did?rnPROF: No, no. That’s not social engineering.rnMIKE: You’re an apologist for Hitler.rnPROF: I’m referring to my book.rnMIKE: So I guess you would deny thernholocaust, yes?rnEvery Frontline addict with an IQ ofrnmore than single figures knew at oncernwhom the scriptwriters had in mindrnwhen creating the professor: GeoffreyrnBlainey, Australia’s finest and most malignedrnhistorian. Blainey’s publicationsrn(unlike those of Moore’s victim) couldrnne’er be called dry, much less soporific.rnThere, however, the list of differencesrnbetween him and his fictional counterpartrnends.rnFive years back, any ABC programrnwhich suggested even by implicationrnthat Blainey’s existence might be defensiblernin the cosmic scheme of things, letrnalone that his cogent and dignified criticismsrnof unrestricted immigration mightrndeserve study, would never have gone tornair. These days—though, of course, almostrnno one in Australian public life hasrnbeen so hubristic as to suggest that therernwas anything actually wrong with howlingrndown Blainey in the I980’s—his formerrnattackers tend to be strangely mute.rnInsofar as Australia’s We Hate BlaineyrnMovement continues to function, mostrnof its members come from the mass media’srnmore overtly putrescent elements:rnfrom the Mike Moore intellectual stratum,rnin short. A decade ago the movementrnattracted, shall we say, a betterrnclass of thug: any Sydney or Melbournernlecturer who couldn’t attract an ululatingrnrent-a-mob to hear his curses ofrnBlainey The Racist (curses no less sincerernfor being ritualistic) wasn’t evenrntrying. That heady era has long sincernended. Where once total certitude as tornBlainey’s unfitness for human societyrnreigned amid the chattering classes,rnthere is gradually appearing an intimationrnof sheepish acknowledgment that inrncertain areas of unambiguous fact he wasrnright and his critics wrong. His last andrnbest book, A Shorter History of Australia,rnhas earned reviews so respectful that forrnall their accuracy they make one’s headrnswim. Can this man, praised on all sidesrnas a genius of his exacting craft, be thernGeoffrey Blainey whom these selfsamernjournals once spoke of in terms thatrnwould prematurely whiten lee-T’s hair?rnFor Blainey the trouble began in 1984,rnwhen he gave a Rotary speech at therntown of Warrnambool, 250 kilometersrnsouthwest of Melbourne. Before that, hernhad been widel)- regarded as a figurernwith, if not mildly leftist sympathies,rnthen at least a conspicuous absence ofrnwhat in Australia’s debauched lexicalrncurrency get called “conservative” ones.rnIn 1973, Cough Whitlam had been eagerrnenough to name the 43-year-oldrn32/CHRONICLESrnrnrn