One of my day jobs is teaching plain English to public servants. I encourage them to embrace accuracy, brevity and clarity and therefore to abandon tautologies. I’ve given up suggesting that you can’t have a new initiative and that, if you have to voice an opinion in government writing, it does not have to be personal. To underline the point, I have also asked if ‘past history’ is a tautology. Most say yes but I’m scrapping that phrase because, of course, you can have past history. That’s the beauty of our profession: the story is never complete.
I’ve been prompted to post this thought on our blog by the publicity surrounding Geoffrey Blainey’s most recent book and by the flood of popular material on Gallipoli. In The Story of Australia’s People Volume 1: The Rise and Fall of Ancient Australia Blainey returns to subjects he first explored in 1975, retelling the story of Australia up until 1850. It is reported that he has changed his view about vital aspects of Indigenous and early British history and has explored other aspects for the first time. Good on him! Controversial as he may still be, this is the approach historians should take, discarding old attitudes and drawing on new evidence. Yes, there can be past history.
It is a shame, therefore, that as we appraoch the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign, we are being subjected to so much that is, in the words of historian Peter Stanley, mawkish. He was referring to Channel 9’s mini-series, which has not captured the ratings. Some reviewers have attributed this disappointment to Australian viewers being tired of the story of the carnage. They preferred to watch My Kitchen Rules. The worry is that this will dissuade producers from tackling history on TV. Then again, it may be that Australians are ready for new histories. Let’s see how they react to Deadline Gallipoli playing on Foxtel in April, which promises a fresh look at the Gallipoli legend from the perspective of four war correspondents, including Charles Bean and Keith Murdoch.