Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 19, 2017

2017 Word for Word Non Fiction Festival Day #2

I went to just two sessions at the Word for Word Non Fiction Festival today but both were so good, they on their own would have made the weekend worthwhile.

First up was Paul Daley in conversation with Nick Brodie about his new book The Vandemonian War.  You might think that so much as been written by terrific historians like Henry Reynolds, Lyndall Ryan and James Boyce, that there can’t be much more to know about the colonial conflict in Tasmania.  But you’d be wrong.

Australians who are otherwise obsessed with commemorating the First World War with national, state and town war memorials, are apt to ignore the wars that took place on our own land.  But Nick Brodie thinks that eventually the Australian War Memorial – whose refusal to acknowledge the resistance wars is the most egregious – will have to capitulate eventually because the evidence is becoming more and more compelling.  The AWM is clinging to a definition of war that enables it to exclude the Black Wars, but it’s inappropriate: the idea of two large political entities declaring war on each other is actually very rare in history.  And Brodie’s exploration of documents that were under the radar has located shocking evidence that makes it clear that Lieutenant-General Sir George Arthur knew he was fighting a war, and so did the Colonial Office. 

The mid 1820s was what Brodie calls an ‘archival horizon’.  Prior to this records are a bit scanty, but Arthur was good at record-keeping and the archives from his era are reliable.  And what can be seen from his records is that he took the advice of his predecessor Colonel William Sorell to form a militia.  He got weapons, including large ones like cannons, and he sought permission from the Colonial Office to build an overwhelming force.   He partitioned Van Dieman’s Land, sectioning off the settled districts, so that Indigenous people could only enter their lands if they had passes.  He sent out troops to establish military posts, and there’s lot of attention to administrative matters that show that he was attending to sporadic conflict.  And, Brodie says, if you can decode the euphemisms and the ‘weasel words’ you can see that he had the full support of Imperial Britain.

Crucial to Brodie’s research about the ensuing Roving Parties and the Black Line, is the way he has been able to match up outgoing correspondence with what was coming in.  It seems incredible, but no one had actually done this before because researchers tend to be looking for evidence of some event or happenstance rather than reconstructing events from the top down.  These records, and Arthur’s private diary show that Arthur was intentionally using ‘salutary terror’ as a strategy…

I have bought the book of course, and also one called 1787: The Lost Chapters of Australia’s Beginnings, (2016) and I am looking forward to reading them both.

Next up was Matthew Sharpe in conversation with Simon Longstaff from The Ethics Centre in Sydney, talking about his book Everyday Ethics, The daily decisions you make & how they shape the world. I really like books like this, that bring philosophy into the everyday affairs of ordinary mortals like you and me.  It’s not, as Sharpe said, a book about philosophers talking to other philosophers about other philosophers.  It’s about thinking through the decisions that you make, with clarity.

The layout of the book is simple.  There’s an introduction in layman’s language, and then there are about a hundred topics listed in alphabetical order, ranging from Abortion, Adoption and Ageing, to Work colleagues social behaviour, Workplace bullying and harassment and Workplace etiquette.  Each entry had different perspectives laid out, informing the reader about what he/she needs to know before making an ethical decision.  There are no technical terms, just guidance to help us to undertake an examined life.

This is an example that comes from the question I asked him about ethics and voting in a democracy.  When many people are disillusioned and some people see our major parties as indistinguishable from each other, they don’t want to vote.  So – leaving aside the issue of compulsory voting because people can always vote informal if they want to, what are the  factors that impinge on thinking about this ethically?  I should ‘fess up that I feel passionately that people should vote, because people have died for us to have the right to vote and there are still plenty of places around the world where the right to vote is denied.  But Longstaff says that, ethically, we need to establish their reasons before making a judgement.  If electors don’t want to vote because they don’t want to be complicit in wrong-doing, that might make a strong case. But if they’re just saying that all politicians are no good, just out for themselves, then that’s a critique of democracy itself, because democracy sets no threshold for the suitability of parliamentarians.  There’s no requirement that they be educated, intelligent, decent people or anything else. (*chuckle* Except for Section 44, of course.)

However, (and I immediately liked this, and plan to use it, of course!) if the choice not to vote is a form of conscientious objection, then there is a prerequisite.  Conscientious objection requires not just that you object, but that you are prepared to pay the price.  It’s not conscientious objection if you quietly slip your ballot paper into your pocket and discreetly exit, or even if you tear it up in a melodramatic tantrum in the polling booth and earbash the hapless electoral officials or anyone else that will listen.  No, that’s not good enough.  Remember the draft resisters who publicly burned their draft cards, immediately making themselves liable for arrest and prosecution?  The non-voter needs to make a declaration that states the refusal to vote, and why, and should hand it in to the electoral commission, and should pay the fine that will ensue…

The introduction clarifies the structure of human choices which the ethical person views through the prism of values, purpose and principles.  It’s less than forty pages long, and it’s a valuable way to look at the decisions we make.  I’ll be reading this book cover-to-cover as well.

I had a great time at this festival and my thanks go to all the authors and facilitators, the organising committee, the staff of the Geelong library, and to the amazing team of volunteers who made sure that everything ran smoothly.  Well done!


  1. Reblogged this on The Logical Place.


  2. Great review Lisa – so glad you had a fabulous time and thanks for sharing all the info.


  3. I was actually a conscientious objector to federal voting until 2006 (I think) when I decided that not voting made me complicit in John Howard’s concentration camps for non-white refugees. I still believe that the division of the world into armed and mutually hostile camps is the main cause of war, but, priorities!


    • But I will never forget the sight of a very old lady in South Africa, who had walked all day to vote in the first multiracial election, that she had thought she would not live to see. Voting is a privilege I will never take lightly.


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