Remembering Little Pattie

12 Feb

I was a sober and very Christian student taking a year out working for an insurance company when Little Pattie’s ‘He’s My Blonde Headed Stompie Wompie Real Gone Surfer Boy’ rose to No 2 on the hit parades. Later I seem to remember a school dance in my first teaching job at Cronulla High where my unique version of stomping turned a few heads; invention rather than skill distinguished my performance. It was one of the first signs of my departure from Calvinism.

Funnily enough I was talking about Little Pattie a week ago when I dropped into the SBHS Swimming Carnival. My colleague Steve S is a friend of hers and a great admirer, and a trades union comrade. So I was interested to see her tonight on Talking Heads. You can’t get much more Australian than Little Pattie. I was struck by two things: 1) it is possible to appreciate our military and those who were part of the fight in Vietnam and are in Iraq without approving of either war; 2) it is possible to see clearly where we are going wrong in this country without resorting to cliched left-wing positions.

For example:

…PETER THOMPSON: You were within earshot of the Battle of Long Tan.

LITTLE PATTIE: Yes. I was onstage when the Battle of Long Tan began…

PETER THOMPSON: Which literally you could hear, right?

LITTLE PATTIE: It was beginning. When we were onstage doing our third show it was obvious to me that, because officers were leaving rather dramatically from the audience, that something awful was happening just over there. It came on them suddenly, totally unexpectedly.

PETER THOMPSON: You saw the consequences of actually what happened…


LITTLE PATTIE: In 1972, a big change was happening in Australia. Gough Whitlam was touted as our next prime minister and I didn’t hesitate when I was asked to be part of the ‘It’s Time’ commercial. I’m very grateful for Gough and I’m very grateful for that time. I first visited this wonderful place, the Australian War Memorial, when I was a little girl on a school excursion. I can’t remember how I felt at the time but certainly when I revisited the place in the 1980s it had a big impact on me. In 1996, it was a privilege and an honour to be asked to be a part of the council of the Australian War Memorial, where I served for three years. They were wonderful years because I never stopped learning. I learned about our past and I was able to look to the future as well and hope that the Australian War Memorial wouldn’t grow anymore, because we wouldn’t have anymore wars. But, you know, it did grow unfortunately. Please, no more. No more wars. I really respect Vietnam veterans. I like to think I can even understand what they might have been through. Just a little bit, anyway.

MAN: Yeah, I was a soldier over in Vietnam many, many moons ago now, when I saw this lovely lady and has been a hero of mine ever since. When she came over to entertain us it was one of the best things that ever happened to us. Threw politics aside and gave us a great day.

LITTLE PATTIE: He’s the hero, not me.

MAN: No, not at all. We were sent to do a job and we did it, and that’s all there was to that. Yeah, same as you, Pattie, yeah. It’s gorgeous. Yeah, thank you very much. It’s wonderful…


PETER THOMPSON: This was to be quite formative. When did you make up your mind that this is something that you might actually get involved in yourself? Rather than as a performer, as actually a unionist.

LITTLE PATTIE: I think the time when I was treated very badly at a job and the circumstances were… Many circumstances I felt exploited, I felt insulted and offended to the degree that I made that big phone call. And help was at hand very quickly and it was because of that that I thought, “Gee, you know, if I’m 16 or 17 and in trouble and I’ve called my union for help, there must be many other young performers who wouldn’t even know they could do that.” And I made it my business to join a committee of fellow performers. And I learned about rights and conditions and legislations. I found it very interesting and stimulating, actually, but I also felt that it was something that should be done.

PETER THOMPSON: What sort of unionist are you these days?

LITTLE PATTIE: I’m an active unionist who’s…

PETER THOMPSON: More so, you’re president of the union.

LITTLE PATTIE: Well, I’m Federal President of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance. It’s something I enjoy very much and I respect the position very much.

PETER THOMPSON: I suppose you really have to be a sort of politician?

LITTLE PATTIE: Oh, I’m not a politician. That’s for politicians. But I’m a proud unionist and an active unionist and I shudder to think what conditions would be like, in particular for performers and journalists and theatrical workers if we didn’t have a strong union…


PETER THOMPSON: You’re a person of real heart…

LITTLE PATTIE: I hope so. I like it when I feel we’re living in a society, rather than in an economy. I like that feeling because the economy’s cold and hard and pragmatic and horrible, but when we have times of the feeling that we live in a society, it’s terrific.

That is so much what I feel!

I suspect Jim Belshaw would go along with much of that too. In fact I have just been rereading Jim’s post The Howard Government, Dissent and the Pattern of Change in Australia and disagree with very little he says there, except that I take a darker view of the “culture wars” than he does. He’s quite right though in pointing out the sources of Howardism (for want of a better word):

As will be clear from various posts such as those on David Hicks I, too, have reservations about the Liberal Party and the Howard Government. I believe that there has been a coarsening of public debate, a reduction of humanity in policy. Beyond that, I come at things from a very different perspective from that apparently held by David Marr, I think Neil and the book…

Many of the Howard Government’s ideological opponents attribute its ideological stance to American neo-conservatism. This is a misreading.

I do not know when the term neoconservative first came into popular use, although it was certainly used in the title of Irving Kristol’s 1983 book Reflections of a Neoconservative. Further, there is no doubt that Australian thinkers and advisers were influenced by some American thinkers such as Friedman. However, while the stance did draw elements from US thinking, the Australian position falls solidly in the Thatcherite, New Zealand model.

Here we can trace the spread of ideas from Thatcherism (from 1979) through Rogernomics in New Zealand (from 1983) to the part adoption of the New Zealand model by the NSW Greiner Government in 1988. By the time of the 1993 elections, the Liberal Party under John Hewson fought and indeed lost an election on what would now be called neoconservative principles and policies.

[T]he ideology espoused by the Howard Government is in fact a creature of broader thinking dating especially to the 1980s and early 1990s, not recent American neo-conservatism as such. Further, this thinking is replicated to greater or lesser extent in all Australian jurisdictions and especially NSW. Here I looked at the current NSW Government’s Ten Year plan in part as an example of the application of the New Zealand model in practice.

Now add in the “War on Terror”. I have no doubt that the PM was deeply and emotionally affected by his presence in Washington on 7/11. I also have no doubt that this has affected the Government’s response, adversely in my view, to the total range of issues surrounding the “War on Terror”.

So the Government has a double ideological lock-in, to the economic ideas of the past on one side, to the whole complex of issues surrounding the “War on Terror” on the other. This is what I mean by an ideological trap of its own making.

You really need to read Jim’s post and chase up his links (it is a very hypertextual post) to get the full argument, but I believe he is generally correct in his analysis.

It is certainly true that what Jim calls the New Zealand model is well represented in the concept of “outcomes based education” which is totally Thatcherite. I get amused/frustrated when I see it turned into its opposite in much current discussion, as if it had something to do with “dumbed-down syllabuses”, which (while I would say that is itself a furphy) actually has no connection with OBE at all. In fact Jim’s posts on the “New Zealand model” have deepened my understanding of the matrix from which OBE arose.

And today, after visiting Lord Malcolm (who has had a setback) I went to Ariel and bought Silencing Dissent edited by Clive Hamilton and Sarah Maddison (Allen & Unwin 2007). It looks good, and it does not strike me so far as being “defensive”; in fact it has many very specific case studies that together make one cringe about the path Howard and company have been going down. I would be fascinated to hear what Jim thinks about the chapter on the Public Service.

I suspect this discussion may go on. I hope Jim gets a copy too. If we’d known, I may have even sent him one for his birthday. 🙂

Next day

You may visit the Silencing Dissent Website.

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Posted by on February 12, 2007 in Aussie interest, Current affairs, Education, Films, DVDs, TV, Jim Belshaw, Politics


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