ANYONE who has read Dark Victory, David Marr’s co-authored expose of John Howard’s inhumanity, will have realised very early on that the man whom Silly editor Peter Fray urges his paper’s reporters to emulate has a tendency to, well, place an excessive weight on some facts while skating very lightly over others. At the start of his Tampa book, for example, the reader gets many sympathetic pages about the plight of the rescued Afghan refugees – many of whom, Marr concedes, were not Afghan at all – before any mention that “a delegation” representing the ship’s unplanned human cargo invaded the bridge and threatened its captain and crew with big trouble unless the vessel was put about immediately for Christmas Island. By any definition it was a hijacking, but Marr leaps with sprightly grace over this inconvenient reflection on his heroic victims’ disregard for law, preferring to paint Howard & Co in subsequent pages as villains for refusing to reward with entry permits those who forced with threat and intimidation that change of course. While this is all ancient history, the Marr syle is well worth keeping in mind when reading his approving analysis of the damage Judge Mordy has done to free speech in the matter of Andrew Bolt.
Consider these paragraphs:
Here's Bolt on Larissa Behrendt: "She's won many positions and honours as an Aborigine, including the David Unaipon Award for Indigenous Writers, and is often interviewed demanding special rights for 'my people'. But which people are 'yours', exactly, mein liebchen? And isn't it bizarre to demand laws to give you more rights as a white Aborigine than your own white dad?"
Among the problems here are that Behrendt's father was a black Australian, not a white German. And like all the others, Behrendt was raised black. Judge Bromberg wrote: "She denies Mr Bolt's suggestion that she chose to be Aboriginal and says that she never had a choice, she has always been Aboriginal and has 'identified as Aboriginal since before I can remember'." Bolt didn't contest her evidence.
There is no denying Bolt did get it wrong. Behrendt’s father, by his daughter’s account, came to regard himself as an Aborigine. Chalk one up for David Marr, who curiously neglects to set the record straight. Had he done so, Bolt’s error would not only have struck Silly readers as negligible, the truth would also have bolstered Bolt’s overall argument that an individual who chooses a single, minor strand of genetic pedrigee above all the rest is making a statement not on breeding but of politics and cultural preference.
The truth is that it was Behrendt’s grandfather who was white and German. It was her grandmother who was of mixed race. Both are an equal number of generations removed from the woman who famously tweeted that she preferred bestiality to Bess Price, so while Bolt is wrong in the particular, his overall point stands.
There is another thing about those paragraphs that is worth noting, the line where Marr says Larissa “was raised black.” Her version, as told to Marr’s colleague Malcolm Knox, does nothing to explain what “raised black” actually means. Indeed, for those not quite so exquisitely attuned to the mores of racial identity and self-identity, it is a bafflement:
It was, ironically, [her white mother] Raema who instilled a sense of Aboriginal identity in Larissa and her brother. ''When Jason got picked on because of his colour, Dad had said … 'My son is as white as you are.' It was Mum who allowed us never to feel embarrassed about our Aboriginality. She has a great heart and social conscience. But it came at a cost to her, because she couldn't feel part of it herself. So she dropped us off at rallies and stayed outside.''