Monday, January 30, 2012

The Academic Mind

THESE DAYS it is much nicer to play at golf and wield a whippy rod than devote thankless days to expanding human knowledge, but every now and then one catches word of academic pursuits and projects so undemanding that the business of ambling about the links or hauling fish onto mossy banks can seem positively energetic. Such were the tidings delivered with this morning’s salvaged copy of the Age, which continues to be delivered to the house two doors down the street even though the occupants moved out six months ago. Normally it is left to rot, but this morning, after last night’s epic final at Rod Laver Arena, it seemed worth the effort of stooping to scoop up the sports writers’  thoughts on what was, and without a doubt, one of the greatest finals every played.

That was the Age’s first disappointment: Not a mention of the contest and its outcome on the paper’s front page. Not a picture! Not a word! The action stopped at 1.30 am, which is late but not so late the event needed to be ignored. The rival Herald Sun made the effort and provided readers with a front page picture of Jocko the Great baring his chest in triumph. What a pity female players do not celebrate their victories in similar fashion.

Not to worry. This morning’s Age cost nothing, which is what it is worth, so it was flick, flick, flick through the pages to see if they contained anything sensible. Like Lot combing Sodom for a righteous man, it proved a fruitless quest.

Though to be fair there was, briefly, a flicker of hope on the opinion page, where Monash University’s Jane Lydon has a column which begins with a lament that the PM’s restaurant riot robbed an award recipient, nonagenarian Laurie Baymarrwangga of the Yolgnu people, of the attention she and her good works deserve. What a surprise: an apparent acknowledgement that last week’s orchestrated affray at The Lobby eatery harmed the efforts at reconciliation those window-thumpers are so fond of going on and on (and on and on) about. Perhaps Age editors were too busy watching tennis to weed it out, just as they failed to report the match itself.

But then disappointment returned. By halfway down her column Ms Lydon’s thoughts were back on the approved track. Yes, Humpytown is both a national treasure and a tool for alerting white Australia to the fact that Indigenous people, like Laurie Baymarrwangga, do not fit the racist Eurocentric stereotype of the “lazy Abo”. If the column’s start and its conclusion appear to present a contradiction, you are quite clearly not an academic specialising in Indigenous Studies, which is Ms Lydon’s happy station. She writes:
New ways of representing the cause have emerged. Some indigenous leaders have therefore criticised the tactics of what they (and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott) suggest may be an outmoded style of protest. I disagree: the embassy is more than a heritage relic; it continues to serve an important role as a thorn in the side of national complacency.
And a thorn in the side of the un-feted Laurie Baymarrwangga as well, one gathers.

Now there really is no excuse for Ms Lydon’s slavish reversion to the standard line. Her current project, generously funded by some $600,000 in ARC grants, consists of “working with four major European museums (the University of Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum, the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the Musée de Quai Branly in Paris and the Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden)” to retrieve from their archives photographs of long-dead Aborigines.

Apart from travel time to and from Europe, which even in business class can be tiresome, that does not seem too demanding a brief, certainly nothing so all-consuming that Ms Lydon would not have had the time to inject a little logical consistency into her Age column. Here is how this nice little earner pans out (from a .pdf so no link is available):
Dr Jane Lydon -- Approved
Project Title: Recognising Aborigines: from objects of science to First Australians
2010: $74,386.00
2011: $147,672.00
2012: $151,294.50
2013: $156,214.50
2014: $78,206.00
The Professor will be off to whack a few in a couple of hours’ time, a round of golf promoting not only good fellowship with Dr Yowie and Double Bogey Daddy but also providing time for contemplation. Today all thought not devoted to putts and drives will be dedicated to preparing an ARC submission for funding to investigate Indigenous handicapping systems and the modern pitching wedge’s origins in the nulla nulla. There are some fine golf courses in Scotland, and surely Aborigines played some part in their creation, so it would be nothing less than racism if the request meets rejection.

After that, perhaps a meeting might be possible with the fetching Dr Lydon in Paris, where the restaurants are very good and Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s debt to Indigenous cuisine has yet to be properly explored. That should be worth at least $700,000 in additional grants. And if the committee is a little uncertain, the Professor is more than prepared to churn out a column or two of contradictions to establish the application’s ideological soundness.
Has Ms Lydon (above) ever walked arm-in-arm by the Seine at dawn or sampled the literary life beneath a bridge, as was Anais Nin’s pleasure with Henry Miller? If that grant comes through, she can count on the Professor to expand the good cause of education on very many fronts indeed.


  1. I wish there was a better way to transmit my explosion of laughter as I read the post above, than the wretched LOL or foolish emoticons!!
    It's a gem!!

  2. Good grief; this gets more surreal by the minute. How is this money monitored for such foolish, trivial research when there is som much this could be spent on in the world. So sad and sick. Dr Lydon this is disgusting.

  3. Readers: Please, let the left villify those with whom it has a problem, but we are made of better stuff. So could we all avoid comments that are both obscene and far too personal? Two comments have just been deep-sixed for those very faults, especially for their obscenity. Let us make that the end of them.

  4. I speak French, German and Dutch as well as a version of English. May I offer my services to the pulchitrudinous Dr Jane, acting as her amanuensis on these debilitating trips to Europa. An occasional arm embrace on the Seine would be taken as a personal favour, with no furthr action required or expected. JakartaJaap

  5. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.January 30, 2012 at 1:51 PM

    Professor, academia obviously is calling you back with its seductive siren song. Well, that is, with the sparkling harmony emitted from this particular siren anyway. Trust me though, arm in arm by the Seine at dawn plays more damply than it writes: she should be warned. Bunyips under bridges are also likely to find themselves in competition with the trolls known to lurk there. Your noble self-sacrifice in offering yourself up for this perilous heart-winning and in the end, as you hope, this justly rewarding task, is duely noted.

    Getting back to the application: Anthelme's is certainly a likely project for exploration at greater depth with regard to aboriginal inputs. Consider how much our desert tribes could contribute to this section: "On Thirst. — Varieties of Thirst. — Causes of Thirst. — Example." It must not remain such an under-researched topic, crying out for a multitude of examples, not just a meagre one. ARC Gods, give us money quickly to create an industry around this little gem.

    A great thirst in Paris is something I've experienced at first hand also. Perhaps your application needs the heavy guns of a full research team. I am ready and have willing and fully qualified friends who will add their lustrous names to the list for this onerous saunter through Scotland (land of my birth!) followed by a testing time imbibing in the French aboriginal way, where the produce of ancient vineyards creates a mighty thirst.

  6. Prof, I bow my head in admiration. Your prose is exquisite, as is your satire. Or should that be your satyr?

  7. We have a set of those Aboriginal images at the RBCM:


  8. Apologies Professor and all who I may have offended in my comment above; you are correct that my attacking the doctor was uneducated and unfounded. I went off on a hare trigger when I read this. I did not mean to demean your blog, nor its readers.

    Suitably and rightly chastised.

  9. Dear [museum creator],

    I am [your name] from [where you're from]. Presently I am leading a project to recover historical photographs of Australian aborigines held in foreign museums. If it's not too much trouble can you please, when time permits, search your archives for any such pictures and send high quality scans to this email address. Your assistance is much appreciated.

    kind regards,

    [your name]

    Where do I collect my $600K?

    1. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.January 31, 2012 at 6:18 PM

      David, absolutely nailed it. This completely cracked me up. Thanks.

  10. I sometimes think that what is most wrong with this country is its academia
    You have not disavowed me of that opinion ,Prof!

  11. I am, I must confess, one of them - and in an Arts Faculty to boot! I, too, disavow this. It's bullshit on stilts.

  12. Excuse my ignorance but how does this grant money caper work? The 600 odd grand this woman will be given over 5 years, can she use it to pay off the house in Northcote, buy a Prius and some nice objet d'art etc; Or is it all to be thoroughly accounted, and the 95% of it that is surplus to the requirements of the task for which it was given, returned to the taxpayer?

  13. Sacre bleu, Prof, you old lecher!

  14. To what pupose are these gathered photographs to be put?

    I had thought from the voiceover introduction to any ABC show that might show images of Aborigines who are now dead, that there is a prohibition on the naming or showing of any such images is against Aboriginal tradition. Am I mistaken? Now that I think about it, how many Aboriginal tribes actually have this belief, and is this one of the characteristics of the Aboriginal people?

    Are the earliest inhabitants of Australia, known as Mungo Man, really the First Australians, so that the current differing morphology of the current Aboriginal people should make them be called the Second Australians? Why are both of them classified First Australians? Who makes this distinction?

    So, if the photos are not for the Aboriginal people, then what is the purpose of collecting them? What does it teach us, if anything?

  15. I agree she looks alright, Professor. But have you factored in the stress of post coital conversation?

  16. $600,000 for collecting old photos, incredible.

    I would like to suggest another more interesting project for this learned lady; that is to look for the Afro/Indian origins of the Australian Aboriginal. It is acknowled that the Australian Aboriginal have an Afro/Indian heritage through DNA testing, how did this come about?

    Did these people migrate to Australia with a scheduled stop-over in India for a nice biryani with lentil dhal, then skate over a frozen Indian Ocean to reach these fair shores? I somehow think not.

    The Phoenician (Hebrew/Canaanite/Egyptian) sailors who appear to have "discovered" Australia quite some time before 1770 brought with them Sudanese and Indian people from the Indus River as galley slaves, and to work in the mining operations around costal Australia (or Sinim as it was earlier known). I would suggest that it is their descendants who form the larger part of the Australian Aboriginal population.

    Would this not be a much more interesting field of study than collecting old photos?

    I am sure that my indigenous brothers and sisters would also like to know the stories of their fathers. Just imagine; they could then go to Khartoum and Islamabad and establish new Tent Embassies, lodge new claims of sovereignty etc.

  17. Well at least you couldn't be accused of racism if you assumed Ms Lydon was an Aboriginal.