Freedom Of Expression In Contemporary Australia– Relevant Only To How Much You Can Get Of It

Dr. Jim Saleam

This article was published elsewhere in an edited form. It is also developed from an earlier version. February 10 2012.

The fight by the artists of the ModroGorje Wellness And Art Centre in Katoomba (now closed due to vandalism and threats of violence) to ensure their freedom of artistic expression is a vital one, not only because their freedom is our freedom, but because of the identity of their antagonists – a group of local so-called Aboriginal persons who claim to act in the defence of the cultural interests of tribal people and then, all of those of any race who would exploit the contention to arrive at a false political result. Pretending they represented the interests of people of the Worrorra,, Ngarinyin and Wunambul tribes of Western Australia, the local lumpen pseudo Aboriginal group has drawn in the tribes and consequently the usual bevy of white lawyers and white bureaucrats and then a city council and a court, to declaim that the ModroGorje artists may not make representations of otherwise sacred images and have no right to interpret for themselves the certainly non Aboriginal cave paintings and symbols - the ‘Wanjinas’.

I have participated in some struggles which have extended by compelling the creation of small autonomous zones of free thinking, the limits of freedom of speech and action in Australia. These struggles exposed and resisted those efforts of certain so-called democratic Australians to restrict some movements of dissent and opinion. This participation was second nature to me as an activist moving in a political culture which would react against the opinion to which I adhered. As a result of the vehemence of the anti democrats, I realised long ago that freedom was not a given in Australia, but something that had to be endlessly renegotiated.

It came as a pleasure to play a different role – as a low-level participant in someone else’s struggle, to learn via a new case about bravery in the face of thuggery and to understand how censorship was again exposed and combated.

The demand for censorship, upheld ultimately by the Blue Mountains City Council and the Land And Environment Court on appeal, was crafted in a way that cultural and community sensitivities (sic) were worked into logic of a planning law; yet, at no point was the truth about the Wanjinas decided, nor the freedom of the artist to create, judged as the core issue. It was a corrupt finding which imposed a censorship regimen in the name of a (ostensibly negative) community consultation. Of course, any matter of culture and tradition deserves respect. However, one would imagine that genuine Aboriginal groups would act in a way to ensure that the prehistory of the Australian continent was the subject of the widest knowledge and deepest regard, where any discussion of Aboriginal lore by others would also be respected. Not so. The case has now become a matter of deceit.

One disturbing thing in this case is that art has been the subject of racial sanction and it has been held that a member of the white race may not represent (note: not copy) in an artistic production a symbol sacred to Aborigines. Artistic license in Australia does not preclude an Aborigine painting in the European style and in particular in the Australian style, but it seems to work in the opposite direction. Why?

The affair of the Wanjinas has become a national sensation. And rightly so - because freedom of expression has been assailed in an integrated way in circumstances where historical truth itself is under siege.

I have a view that freedom in Australia is actually a very fragile thing. Most Australians take for granted that there is freedom of speech, thought, assembly and expression. In fact, they are deluded. The freedoms may exist in words – until such time as someone tries to exercise more than their right to be heard over some petty issue of local interest or in an inane debate about public transport or funding. If the matter is fundamental to regime politics – look out! The ModroGorje artists rubbed the raw nerve and paid a price. They met the great beast of Australian unfreedom

No Freedom Here

In 1923, that famed novelist, D.H. Lawrence, visited Australia and stumbled across a secret army. This army was designed to suppress the freedom to strike, the freedom to assemble, the freedom to organize in labour unions. If one did these things, these supposed patriots would suggest one was a communist. Lawrence came to know too much and was asked – politely – to leave Australia or suffer the physical consequences. He wrote of this secret army in his novel Kangaroo. Some lines haunt me still:


“Out of the silver paradisical freedom untamed evil winds could come, cold like a stone hatchet murdering you.  The freedom, like everything else, has two sides to it.  Something like a heavy reptilian hostility came off the somber land ... It was as if the silvery freedom suddenly turned and showed the scaly back of the reptile - and the horrible jaws.”

There was a pattern, something ‘integrated’, in this early 1920’s terror. It was connected to the state. It had an intellectual rationale with good citizens being conceived as those who upheld established beliefs, that there was a right to suppress heretical belief and that delegitimizing the bad person was the preparation for their marginalization from polite discourse, with violence the ultimate sanction if he persisted.

It should not be thought this secret army was alone. Quite the contrary: a plethora of such groups could be documented until 1952. Definitely, Australia has a secret history of violence and delegitimization and marginalization against unfavoured opinions. As a historian and political activist, I have looked at auxiliary violence groups after that date. I have identified several and traced them. They push different ideologies and have different targets, but they all move in similar ways and have even evolved new methods. I believe such groups exist today in contemporary Australia, but that’s a story for another time. Low level community based ‘terror’ might be more appropriate to the current discussion. It too can be very effective if it is linked up in a subterranean way with some group in the ranks of the ‘dominant opinion’ caste.


I have always considered that artistic freedom was not exempt from the Australian un-freedom. It was so when communists tried to use art as propaganda after the Second World War, infiltrating everything from literature clubs to theatre and when the CIA through the Congress of Cultural Freedom founded Quadrant magazine and purged the Australian arts through its local political police. Culture wars and art struggles are the norm in Australia.

But I do think the form of the terror has changed a little – it is now more subtle. There are – naturally - the thugs who damage property in the night, who tell the victim that they can send young kids to do damage to property with impunity and who can threaten dire harm. However, the more powerful agents of the terror are the lawyers and the courts who assert the limits of freedom and who cause newspapers and other media to ritually denounce the real victims.

The ModroGorje artists were led by Vesna Tenodi and unsurprisingly she found herself defamed in many ways. That is the method. People are meant to shun the target, join in the denunciation and profit by it. Battle lines are drawn and the good and the righteous are on one side and the bad and the foolish on the other.

The simple claim of a group of artists to interpret their country becomes second place to the twisted cult of the noble and sovereign savage.

First Peoples / Last Peoples

Anything that discusses an Aboriginal question involves a rush to judgment against the supposed transgressor, the person critical of anything Aboriginal. Right now there is a debate going on in our country, an urgent one over its very cultural and demographic future. This debate is polluted by a lot of noisy and overstated screamed-moral-jibberish from white liberals about the dispossession of the Aboriginal races during colonization (something which in one sense certainly occurred and can hardly be denied), a factor which supposedly obliterates the entirety of Australian history and delegitimizes the Australian state; indeed, just as we Europeans accepted we had a moral right to settle this land (but as is never discussed today in justice with the Aborigines as the instructions of Captain Phillip stated) , so it is now held our people has no right to object to its re-colonization, that any actual sins of commission against Aborigines allows sin to be committed against it. Therein lies the evil and the trick. Do Aborigines see it? Do they know what this game is? When they shout against the European colonizers, do they not suspect they are being set up?

In the new parlance – and Aborigines have not yet grasped the terrible consequences inherent in the term – they are being called Australia’s “First Peoples”. Of course, if there are first peoples, then there are later peoples and – last peoples. Whatever rights Aborigines thought they had, they suddenly lost them in the fog. As part of the delegitimization of the present state, the very necessary precondition for re-colonization by the mass of labour imported by the globalists, any real or unreal Aboriginal claims, resentments, assertions, rancours, hatreds and myths, are cynically employed as propaganda to stymie resistance – a resistance that might serve the higher Aboriginal interest. If Australia is re-colonized, then what will happen to Aborigines? Those who purvey the new future are silent. As they show in the current case, hey prefer to use a few thugs and some misguided folk to win their games.

Even more significant to the very definition of Australia, the ModroGorge artists have also hit upon an awkward historical truth via this affair of the Wanjinas. If the Aborigines say they did not paint the original spirit-beings, Wanjinas, and if archaeological evidence suggests that the area in which the Wanjinas were located, suggests hominid habitation back into ages which predate Aboriginal settlement, then to whom do the Wanjinas belong? Certainly, they are the subject of Aboriginal lore, but they belong to the land itself and can be adopted as motif and myth by others of good will. Further, if this settlement takes this continent’s anthropological history back into far more mysterious ages than some wish to give it, then what can be said of at least some assertions made by Aborigines as to their absolute right to legend of the land as part of an Australian cultural formation? If the truth is told, then where goes the convenient industry of ‘white guilt’? Even better, does not the affair of the Wanjinas suggest something about the nativization of a culture to its soil? Perhaps Aborigines should be more than pleased with that, with the notion that the white colonizers (sic) have taken Australia into their hearts, something which might better than liberal white lawyers and the rest with their court-room falsehoods that offer something to Aborigines recolonization would take away – and bring a sense of fairness and justice to Aborigines of good will?

Continuous Struggle

The current struggle of the ModroGorje artists can be won in the great court of public opinion where all matters of right are ultimately decided. They have to now create around themselves an autonomous zone of freedom where dissent and counter-history can flourish. From this base area, their resistance for the truth will grow. Given their persistence, I savour their final victory. Perhaps it will flow into a great Australian stream that will see unfreedom removed from this land.