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Keating’s Working Nation plan for jobs was hijacked by bureaucracy: cabinet papers 1994-95


John Wanna, Australian National University

The White Paper called Working Nation became the Labor government’s major economic statement in Paul Keating’s second term. However, the policy was principally an after-the-fact attempt to clean up a mess in the labour market and be seen to be doing something even if a little belatedly.

Cabinet papers released today by the National Archives of Australia show the white paper began as a rational exercise but was soon overtaken by pressing contingencies and the desire to make the policy everything to everyone. While concerned ministers were anxious to reposition the government in the midst of an ongoing recession, the process of preparing the new White Paper became an exercise in opportunism and bureaucratic capture.




Read more:
Cabinet papers 1994-95: How the republic was doomed without a directly elected president


How Working Nation was formed

On 15th December 1993 the Keating government released a significant draft policy entitled Restoring Full Employment – a nostalgic resonance to the original war-time Full Employment paper of 1945. Australia’s unemployment rate at the time was a staggering 10% and while younger school leavers found it hard to find work or were actively discouraged, many older workers (especially males) were being thrown out of jobs, many never to work again.

Paradoxically, unemployment had not featured significantly in the 1993 election (which was fought on the GST), but Labor was now worried that if nothing was done about the deterioration in the labour market (and specifically job creation) then the government would not hold onto office in 1996.

In early February 1994, the Keating cabinet began work on a follow up government policy statement provisionally entitled: a White Paper on Employment and Industry.

The resulting Working Nation paper was one of five “Nation” statements favoured by the two Keatings (Paul the PM and Mike his head of department, not related). The cabinet papers show it began life with the worthy goal of “achieving sustainable high economic growth,” but soon became a “jobs and training compact” to reduce long-term unemployment.

What Working Nation was designed to do

Working Nation was meant to provide an employment strategy, stimulate regional development, introduce a new industry policy, and assist Australia “going global” in expanded trade opportunities. Ministers hoped the policy would lead the economic transformation of Australia.

It began life under ministers Kim Beazley (then head of the Department for Employment, Education and Training) and Peter Baldwin (Department of Social Security). The focus was on the job seekers who would be helped by individual case management, but with the insistence on “reciprocal obligation” – that those on income support had a responsibility to stay in education, be in training or doing other productive work.

But this obligation could easily be evaded through the misuse of medical certificates. Only women over 40 whose partners were unemployed were spared these expectations.

In its implementation by the federal bureaucracy, and the beleaguered Commonwealth Employment Service in particular, the policy descended into a treadmill of labour market programs. There was a saturation of jobs advertisements in the media – that even according to senior administrators led to considerable “churning” of people through 12-18 month job compacts back onto the unemployment queues.

Cost blow outs

Cabinet deliberations at the time show two prominent political aspects of the policy. First, when money was up for grabs the policy intent expanded exponentially and ministers from tangential portfolios rushed to put their hands up for a share of the proceeds.

Second, fiscal circumstances were tight at the time, but costings for the multi-faceted White Paper went from estimates of A$200 to A$300 million for income support, to A$1 billion to A$1.4 billion a few days later. Then it became a maximum of A$1.7 billion.

When the program was announced in May 1994 it came in at an annual cost of A$2 billion, with claims of a total cost of A$6.5 billion before it was wound up in 1996.

Ministers like Simon Crean were largely left out of the process of forming the policy.
National Archives of Australia

The formulation process showed how a determined bunch of policy entrepreneurs, senior bureaucrats led by the head of Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and academic economists, were able to drive a policy response based on detailed research and theoretical propositions. Social Security bureaucrats were also able to exploit the opportunity to implement their own preferred policy adjustments, almost unrelated to the main thrust of the policy statements. At the same time these bureaucratic players largely marginalised ministers in the process. Indeed, the 1994 Employment Minister Simon Crean had to be briefed by officials on the content of the policy when Working Nation was released.

Moreover, these insider policy entrepreneurs carefully sidelined the government’s main economic adviser, the Treasury department, during the whole process. This perhaps reflects the deep suspicion of some of these actors to the ideological bent of the then Treasury officials.




Read more:
Cabinet papers 1994-95: How a security agreement allayed Australian anxiety over Indonesia


While a jobs training package sounded a simple response to a pressing problem, the Working Nation policy created more headaches for a government with umbilical links to the trade union movement. There was contention over a “training wage,” whether it should be greater than the Newstart allowance and how it related to the minimum wage. There was also debate on whether workers could jobshare (which was not endorsed by cabinet) and how increased income support impacted on housing and rental relief measures.

Working Nation was a classic case of just how complex and interrelated such well-intentioned policy statements can become when they cut across other areas of established policy.

Even before it was wound up, there were concerns, noted by cabinet, that the program was not achieving its objectives and that those on the Job Compacts program remained without work when their program entitlements expired.

Even after economic growth in Australia improved, the unemployment rate remained stubbornly stuck at 8.5% before the 1996 election, – an election at which Labor suffered a heavy defeat. Working Nation led to the Commonwealth Employment Service being disestablished and replaced by the now familiar network of private or community job-seeker agencies delivering services under competitive contracts.

While Working Nation was a major economic and social policy statement of the government, it was an inadequate response (too late and too slow) to the imperatives of the 1991-92 recession. And in the process of producing the White Paper, strategically placed insiders grabbed the opportunity to flex their own policy muscles inserting their preferred options into the statement.

The ConversationOnce released, Working Nation had a short-lead in time for implementation (eight weeks) placing huge burdens on a centralised bureaucracy, not generally equipped to respond so receptively to such demands. Working Nation highlighted not only the policy-making inadequacies of the federal government but also the tardy delivery capacity of large unwieldy bureaucratic organisations.

John Wanna, Sir John Bunting Chair of Public Administration, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Cabinet papers 1994-95: Keating’s climate policy grapples sound eerily familiar


Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

A highly publicised international deal on climate change is two years old. Australia’s federal government, under pressure from environmentalists and with a new prime minister at the helm, signs up and quickly ratifies it. However, its emissions reductions actions don’t work, and the government faces a dilemma: strengthen the measures (including perhaps carbon pricing), or keep cooking up voluntary measures, spiced with a dash of creative accounting.

While the paragraph above might just as well describe the present day, it also sums up the situation in 1994, when Paul Keating’s government was wrestling with Australia’s climate policy. The period is better remembered for angry timber industry workers blockading Parliament, but there were also important battles over carbon pricing and Australia’s international negotiating position.

Cabinet papers from 1994 and 1995, released today by the National Archives of Australia, show how Keating’s cabinet fought an internal civil war over how to respond to climate change, while working hard to protect Australia’s fossil fuel exports.


Read more: It’s 30 years since scientists first warned of climate threats to Australia


International pressure building

Two years previously, in 1992, Australia’s environment minister Ros Kelly had enthusiastically signed up to the new United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the Rio Earth Summit. Australia’s willingness to support targets and timetables for emissions reductions (something the United States ultimately vetoed) gave it credibility.

Australia used this credibility to propound a “fossil fuel clause,” which made the now-familiar argument that:

…economies that are highly dependent on income generated from the production, processing and export, and/or consumption of fossil fuels and associated energy-intensive products and/or the use of fossil fuels … have serious difficulties in switching to alternatives.

The cabinet papers released today reveal that defending this clause was a major preoccupation of the government of the day.

In early 1994 Ros Kelly’s political career was brought low by the “sports rorts” affair. She was briefly replaced by Graham Richardson, and then the highly respected John Faulkner.

By this time, all climate eyes were on the first UNFCCC summit, to be held in Berlin in March-April 1995. As an August 1994 cabinet memo noted:

…international pressure is mounting to strengthen the Convention’s emission reduction commitments,

and

…Australia’s measures will fall short of reaching greenhouse gas emission targets and that Australia’s greenhouse performance is likely to compare unfavourably with that of most other OECD countries.

This was a reference to the 1992 National Greenhouse Response Strategy, which was already being shown to be toothless, with state governments approving new coal-fired
power stations and renewable energy ignored. Environmentalists wanted more mandatory action; business wanted to keep everything voluntary. After a roundtable hosted by Keating in June, cabinet debated climate change in August.

The political calculations involved are evident in the official record, which states:

[Australia’s] ability to influence international negotiations away from unqualified, binding uniform emissions commitments towards approaches that better reflect Australia’s interests will be inhibited by a relatively poor domestic greenhouse response.

And what are Australia’s national interests? It won’t surprise you to learn that the government worried that:

…action by the international community could have a major impact on Australia’s energy sector and on the economy in general, by changing the nature and pattern of domestic energy use and/or by changing the world market for energy for Australian exporters.

Cabinet pondered finding international allies – such as Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland and New Zealand – for the get-out-of-jail idea of “burden sharing”, which would allow countries to finesse their climate commitments by funding emissions reductions elsewhere.

Cabinet also canvassed the possibility of adopting either a proactive or reactive stance, or even withdrawing from the UN climate negotiations altogether. That last option – one that in essence would be adopted by John Howard, at least after George Bush opened up that space in 2001 by withdrawing from Kyoto – was seen as too risky. While the UNFCCC didn’t contain provisions for banning imports from recalcitrant countries, nevertheless:

As a major exporter of energy and energy intensive products, Australia would need to be involved in the negotiations to guard against the possibility of this occurring.

Carbon tax?

Faulkner had already flagged that he would bring a proposal to December 1994’s cabinet meeting, possibly including a small carbon tax – something the Greens, Democrats and Australian Conservation Foundation were all pushing for.

His opponents were ready, with a two-pronged approach. First, they produced economic modelling (with, it later emerged, significant help from fossil fuel companies), which warned that “to stabilise emissions at 1988 levels by 2000, taxes per tonne of CO₂ would need to be around US$192 for Australia and US$24 for the OECD.

So far, so frightening. But given that decisions reached at the Berlin summit might have consequences for Australia’s prized coal exports, some sort of
response was necessary. Fortunately, the Department of Primary Industry and Energy had prepared a document, called Response to Greenhouse Challenge “in consultation with key industry organisations” such as the Business Council of Australia. This had provided a “basis for discussions with industry and incorporates the key principles that industry wants included in the scheme”.

The carbon tax decision was deferred, and ultimately after a series of meetings in February 1995, Faulkner was forced to concede defeat. A purely voluntary scheme – the “Greenhouse Challenge” – was agreed, with industry signing on to what was essentially a reboot of the demonstrably ineffective National Greenhouse Response Strategy.

The Berlin meeting did lead to a call for binding emissions cuts for developed countries, and
Australia signed on, albeit grudgingly. By the end of the year, the same industry-funded modelling was used to produce a glossy report which argued that Australia deserved special consideration because of the makeup of its economy. Australian diplomats would use this argument as a basis of their lobbying all the way through to the 1997 Kyoto climate summit.

In one of history’s ironies, on the same day that this report was released – December 1, 1995 – Keating’s cabinet discussed “the development of a more comprehensive effort in greenhouse science”, noting that:

Climate change is capable of impacting severely on coastal infrastructure, living marine resources and coastal ecosystems such as reefs. The Australian
regional oceans strongly influence global climate, and Australia is vulnerable to oceanic changes affecting rainfall and possibly the incidence of tropical cyclones.

A look at 2017’s weather tells you they may have been onto something there.

Read more: It’s ten years since Kevin Rudd’s ‘great moral challenge’, and we have failed it


The ominous parallels

As I pointed out in last year’s cabinet records article, “when it comes to climate policy, there are no real secrets worthy of the name. We have always known that the Australian state quickly retreated from its already hedged promise to take action, and told us all along that this was because we had a lot of coal”.

Reading these documents is a bit like yelling at a person in a horror movie not to open the door behind which the killer lurks. You know it is futile, but you just can’t help yourself. The December 1994 cabinet minutes contain sentences like this:

Greenhouse is expected to generate future commercial opportunities for Australia with increased export of renewable energy technology e.g. photovoltaic, wind and mini-hydro technology, especially in the Asia-Pacific Region [to] support renewables.

The ConversationAt yet, several governments later, we’re stuck having the same debates while standing by and letting other countries embrace those exact opportunities.

Marc Hudson, PhD Candidate, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Cabinet papers 1994-95: The Keating government begins to craft its legacy



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Paul Keating drove a policy agenda that had been rallied after the 1993 victory.
AAP/NAA

Nicholas Brown, Australian National University

If Labor was surprised by its re-election in March 1993 – the “sweetest victory of them all”, as Paul Keating claimed – there was, for months before the 1996 election was called, much less confidence in government ranks that it could hang on.

They were right. A 6.17% first-preference swing against Labor in 1996 confirmed the momentum John Howard’s Coalition leadership had built over the previous year. The political mood was shifting decisively.

Howard pitched to the values of the “battlers”, affirming “the Australia I believe in”. In contrast, Don Watson, Keating’s speechwriter, recalls that the “big picture” reforms of Keating’s prime ministership “never found a place for the people” in testing those values.

Political scientists Paul Strangio, Paul t’Hart and James Walter add that, after 1993, Keating became ever-more dominant in “a small clique of very senior colleagues”. He drove a policy agenda that had been rallied after the 1993 victory.

There were big ambitions, like Working Nation, and big symbols, like the republic. These initiatives were part of a push through 1994 and 1995, as revealed in the cabinet papers released today by the National Archives of Australia, to ensure a legacy for the program Labor had crafted since 1983.


Further reading: Cabinet papers 1994-95: How the republic was doomed without a directly elected president

Further reading: Keating’s Working Nation plan for jobs was hijacked by bureaucracy: cabinet papers 1994-95


In that process, the term “benchmarking” figured repeatedly in the cabinet submissions ministers debated. It was time to take stock of what had been achieved, in terms of reform, expectations of it, and principles that could not be undone by their successors.

Changing attitudes to social policy

The measures of such impact included a vital element of attitudinal change.

In social policy, ministers were assured that the past ten years marked a decisive shift for people with disabilities from a welfare approach to a “human-rights-based focus”, measured in labour market access. Cabinet called for regular reports to track how effectively this support continued to move from the margins of specialised programs to mainstream provision.

Other measures included a standard pension rate of 25% of male total average weekly earnings, a target of 100 residential care places per 1,000 population aged over 70 by 2001, and a child support system that fostered “a change in the community ethos” with regard to the obligations of separated parents.

In May 1994, cabinet endorsed tackling the more “legally complex or controversial issues” identified in the 1992 Half Way to Equal report on women’s rights. Among them was a commitment to target potential pregnancy “as a ground of prohibited discrimination”.

As Labor’s 1994 national conference adopted a commitment to a 35% quota of safe seats for women candidates by 2002, these issues achieved a clearer place in public debate.

Reforms in public and community housing were aimed at increasing the co-ordination of federal and state governments in delivering stock to meet diverse needs. The beneficiaries of such attention, it was argued, would include people with psychological illness. The minister concerned, Brian Howe, pushed for the principle that rent in such housing should not exceed 30% of income.

Progress on Indigenous Australians

For Indigenous Australians, ministers agreed that “priority be given to social benchmarks” for housing and also health and community support, employment and education. Together they would hold agencies accountable for the delivery of services, rather than simply describing the conditions to those receiving them.

The Aboriginal flag and the Torres Strait Islander flag were granted ‘Flag of Australia’ status in 1995.
AAP/NAA

The minister, Robert Tickner, urged that consultation with Indigenous clients must take into account that their “reluctance … to provide information” reflected “a more complex, historical issue”. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission’s work as a national representative body was seen as integral to overcoming this challenge.

The new National Native Title Tribunal brought sharp focus to these concerns. Keating urged that this body must have sufficient authority to counter the “implacable” opposition of interests and governments such as that in Western Australia.

Cabinet also moved to establish an Indigenous land acquisition program. The May 1995 launch of a National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families, followed by the official gazettal of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags, further consolidated a network of recognition it would not be easy to unravel.


Further reading: Cabinet papers 1992-93: Keating government fights for Indigenous rights on multiple fronts


Labour market reform

Indigenous affairs had some of the elements of “compassion” and “justice” Keating spoke of returning to politics. This pushed the boundaries of prevailing values.

Yet, with promising economic forecasts in early 1994, ministers were also keen to ensure there was no backsliding in the stricter discipline of microeconomic reform.

Having recently bedded-down principles of enterprise bargaining, cabinet was advised in March 1994 that the still-fragile foundations of a “productivity culture” were too vulnerable to “unrealistic” expectations developing in workplaces across Australia to risk any further iterations of the Prices and Incomes Accord.

A cabinet submission claimed that “it may be necessary to push the limits of what is acceptable” to the unions, and instead “establish benchmark criteria to assist employers in responding to claims”.


Further reading: Cabinet papers 1992-93: the rise and fall of enterprise bargaining agreements


While sticking to this message, ministers still worried that the people seemed not to be travelling with them. In mid-1994 they decided to appoint an independent consultant to probe the question of why reported poverty levels had not declined, “despite all the measures taken over the last decade”.

Cabinet’s Social Policy Committee regarded the evidence informing such analysis as a “statistical artefact”. The Department of Social Security ventured that the long-term impact of labour market deregulation might help explain such sentiments. Finance countered that an already overgenerous social welfare system acted as “a disincentive to efforts to improve private incomes”.

As economic signals wavered through 1994 and 1995 – despite Keating’s assurance with the 1995 budget that “this is as good as it gets” – the challenge of inclusion grew.

There were some benchmarks, clearly, that were up for debate within a cabinet still pushing Australian economic as well as social transformation.

Climate change becomes a more pressing concern

There were also some benchmarks that were troubling on a larger scale.

Over 1994 and 1995, the government was briefed on the extent to which global commitments were already proving insufficient to stabilise atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations:

… at a level that would prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system.

And even within the concessions Australia had won in those formula as an “emissions-intensive economy”, it was “only likely to achieve 46–53%” of its target by 2000.

Enhanced support for “greenhouse science” was identified as one option Australia might pursue in preserving its international reputation on these issues. More was required if we were to hold our standing in relation to vulnerable island states of the South Pacific. And more was required at home.

Major decisions were being taken that were “contrary to the terms of the 1992 National Greenhouse Response Strategy”. As ministers were told, Western Australia’s new Collie Power Station would “provide electricity at a higher cost than gas-powered alternatives”. The “extension of the electricity grid to outback areas of NSW ignored the potential for lower cost solar energy”.

Decisions to defer minimum energy standards for appliances showed “little more than lip service” to the fundamental issues of climate change. What was the point of such benchmarks if nothing was done to observe them?

If the 1996 vote reflected an electorate wearied of “big picture” reform, it was clear that the Keating government itself was seeking indicators that could affirm and entrench its achievements. Not all were easily found.

The ConversationBut, in retrospect, several do still stand up as enduring principles, and/or as markers around which a good deal of political conflict was to come.

Nicholas Brown, Professor in History, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Cabinet papers 1994-95: How the republic was doomed without a directly elected president



File 20171218 27568 dk3t9c.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Queen Elizabeth signs the visitors’ book at Parliament House, while Prime Minister Paul Keating and Parliament House officials look on in February 1992.
National Archives of Australia

Frank Bongiorno, Australian National University

Not long after defeat in the 1999 referendum, Malcolm Turnbull, a leading republican who had chaired the Republic Advisory Committee (RAC) appointed by Paul Keating, was licking his wounds.

“We must not let the desperate desire not to be ‘elitist’ lead us into imagining that the voters always get it right,” he reflected. “They don’t. Sometimes nations vote for the wrong people or the wrong propositions … There is nothing disrespectful in questioning the judgement of 55% of the Australian population.”

Like many republicans, Turnbull laid much blame at John Howard’s feet. But cabinet papers released today by the National Archives of Australia suggest a very different story: the republic was doomed from the moment the Keating government rejected the idea of a directly elected president.


Further reading: Cabinet papers 1994-95: The Keating government begins to craft its legacy


The submission, considered by cabinet’s Republic Committee on March 22, 1995 (and by cabinet on June 6, 1995) warned:

Public opinion polls … suggest that any mechanism for appointing a head of state short of direct election will be controversial.

The document, unusually couched in the first person with Keating as narrator, is haunted by the ghosts of 1975. The risk of direct election, it explained, was:

… that the head of state might be tempted to assume, or presume to take moral authority from, a popular national mandate … and exercise the powers of that office in a manner which could bring the office into competition with the government of the day.

Here, in a nutshell, was the problem republicans faced. They wanted to present Australia’s constitutional arrangements as deficient enough to justify reform, yet they refused to countenance change that might lead to any but cosmetic changes. A bunch of politicians wanted to prevent an outbreak of politics.

Direct election of a president, we are told:

… would in time fundamentally change the character of Australian Government and could well move our parliamentary democracy towards an executive presidency, where power is no longer diffuse and representative and where substantial national power is vested unalterably in one person for a set period.

“This matter,” the submission went on to explain, “needs to be handled sensitively so that public understanding increases as the debate continues”.

In other words, it was the public’s ignorance that led it to support direct election. If only citizens better understood their political system, they would realise that selection by a joint sitting of parliament, with a two-thirds majority required to endorse a prime ministerial nomination, would make it impossible for a partisan figure to become president.

Prime Minister Paul Keating makes a parliamentary statement on the republic in 1995.

The paradox was that election by politicians was supposedly needed to avoid a politicians’ republic. Years passed, but no-one ever found a way to work through this conundrum of the republicans’ making. In the meantime, Keating faced another problem: even if parliamentary selection was accepted, what should the powers of that president be?

The governor-general had many roles and powers, some of which the Constitution defined. Some were exercised by convention on ministerial advice, and some were in a third, murky and controversial category known as reserve powers. The submission dismissed complete codification of the reserve powers as politically impossible:

An acrimonious debate on this issue would have the potential to derail the whole republic initiative.

It then went on to consider other ways of dealing with the problem. Eventually, the full cabinet would opt in June 1995 for a formula to be included in the constitution asserting that the president would “exercise his or her functions in accordance with the constitutional conventions which related to the exercise of the powers and performance of the functions of the governor-general”.

However, the conventions would not be regarded as “rules of law”, nor would the provision prevent “further development of these conventions”.

The attention that the reserve powers received underlines how powerfully 1975 preyed on the mind of Keating, who had been a young, recently appointed minister in the Whitlam government at the time of the dismissal. He pointed to the risk that:

… without codification, every half century or century the nation could suffer a wilful or misguided head of state who exercises political judgement against the interests of one of the parties or without due regard to historical conventions.

The priority was to avoid another Kerr. Indeed, he is even mentioned by name, as one whom few thought “benign to begin with – and he did not have to run the gauntlet of parliamentary approval, but he did suffer subsequent admonition by a large section of the country”.

Future presidents, unlike Kerr, would be constrained through their manner of selection by a super-majority of the House of Representatives and Senate sitting as one. The president would need to have the confidence of both parties, and so was likely to be non-partisan and of high calibre. However, if they proved “misguided or aberrant”, they could be removed via a two-thirds majority of a joint sitting convened by a simple majority vote of either chamber.

The psychology of this minimalist position is epitomised in how the submission dealt with the issue of what to call the republic.

It opted for keeping “Commonwealth of Australia” – not, it seems, because there was anything valuable or resonant in this title, but because it “would reflect the (minor) extent of the changes sought to the Australian system of government and would avoid the need for numerous consequential changes to the Constitution and other areas of official life”. An example of this would be the national anthem’s reference to “this Commonwealth”.

Leaving aside the absurdity of the last point, to argue for a change while also telling people that little would change was a balancing act beyond the republicans’ powers. At a time of populist revolt – the Hanson outbreak occurred in 1996 – it became even easier to cultivate hostility to “elites” out of touch with ordinary Australians.

I voted “yes” in 1999. I would vote “no” today if offered a reheated minimalist republic.

The arguments in the cabinet submission suggest a failure of imagination and, more seriously, of trust. They grossly exaggerate the fragility of Australian parliamentary government, which is sufficiently entrenched to avoid the spectre of a well-designed scheme for direct election leading to a US-style executive presidency.

Australian Republican Movement chairman Malcolm Turnbull speaks after the referendum was lost in 1999.

The late historian John Hirst, the Australian Republican Movement’s Victorian convener in the 1990s and an RAC member appointed by Keating, warned a Canberra ARM audience in 2011 that parliamentary selection would never win public support. The ARM therefore should support direct election.

Hirst also warned against a consultative two-step process that invited voters to consider the principle of a republic, followed by a further vote for a specific model.

The first of these votes would permit a potent “no” campaign around such tried and true themes as change is dangerous, republics are bad, we already have an Australian head of state, politicians cannot be trusted, and voters should not issue a blank cheque.

The recent same-sex marriage survey provides Hirst’s warning with ample vindication. Opponents of a republic would be no more likely to campaign directly for the monarchy and against a republic than opponents of same-sex marriage campaigned explicitly against homosexuality. Red herrings would be the order of the day.

The ConversationBut in contrast to same-sex marriage, if the principle of a republic were to be defeated in a popular vote, like Sleeping Beauty it would have a restful century or so while it waited for a reviving kiss from a handsome prince.

Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Explainer: where do the names of our months come from?



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Detail from the Roman-era Sousse Mosaic Calendar, El Jem, Tunisia.
Ad Meskens / Wikimedia Commons

Caillan Davenport, Macquarie University

Our lives run on Roman time. Birthdays, wedding anniversaries, and public holidays are regulated by Pope Gregory XIII’s Gregorian Calendar, which is itself a modification of Julius Caesar’s calendar introduced in 45 B.C. The names of our months are therefore derived from the Roman gods, leaders, festivals, and numbers. If you’ve ever wondered why our 12-month year ends with September, October, November, and December – names which mean the seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth months – you can blame the Romans.

The calendar of Romulus

The Roman year originally had ten months, a calendar which was ascribed to the legendary first king, Romulus. Tradition had it that Romulus named the first month, Martius, after his own father, Mars, the god of war. This month was followed by Aprilis, Maius, and Iunius, names derived from deities or aspects of Roman culture. Thereafter, however, the months were simply called the fifth month (Quintilis), sixth month (Sixtilis) and so on, all the way through to the tenth month, December.

Mars and Rhea Silvia by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1617/20.
Wikimedia Commons

The institution of two additional months, Ianuarius and Februarius, at the beginning of the year was attributed to Numa, the second king of Rome. Despite the fact that there were now 12 months in the Roman year, the numerical names of the later months were left unchanged.


Further reading: Explainer: the gods behind the days of the week


Gods and rituals

While January takes its name from Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings, February comes from the word februum (purification) and februa, the rites or instruments used for purification. These formed part of preparations for the coming of Spring in the northern hemisphere.

The februa included spelt and salt for cleaning houses, leaves worn by priests, and strips of goat skin. These strips were put to good use in the festival of the Lupercalia, held each year on February 15. Young men, naked except for a goat-skin cape, dashed around Rome’s sacred boundary playfully whipping women with the strips. This ancient nudie run was designed to purify the city and promote fertility.

Detail from Lupercalia by Andrea Camassei, c. 1635.
Wikimedia Commons

The origins of some months were debated even by the Romans themselves. One tradition had it that Romulus named April after the goddess Aphrodite, who was born from the sea’s foam (aphros in Ancient Greek). Aphrodite, known as Venus to the Romans, was the mother of Aeneas, who fled from Troy to Italy and founded the Roman race. The other version was that the month derived from Latin verb aperio, “I open”. As the poet Ovid wrote:

For they say that April was named from the open season, because spring then opens all things, and the sharp frost-bound cold departs, and earth unlocks her teeming soil …

There were similar debates about the origins of May and June. There was a story that Romulus named them after the two divisions of the Roman male citizen body, the maiores (elders) and iuniores (juniors). However, it was also believed that their names came from deities. The nymph Maia, who was assimilated with the earth, gave her name to May, while Juno, the goddess of war and women, was honoured by the month of June.


Further reading: Explainer: the seasonal calendars of Indigenous Australia


Imperial pretensions

Cameo of the emperor Augustus.
© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

The numerical names of the months in the second half of the year remained unchanged until the end of the Roman Republic. In 44 B.C., Quintilis was rebranded as Iulius, to celebrate the month in which the dictator Julius Caesar was born.

This change survived Caesar’s assassination (and the outrage of the orator M. Tullius Cicero, who complained about it in his letters). In 8 B.C., Caesar’s adoptive son and heir, the emperor Augustus, had Sextilis renamed in his honour. This was not his birth month (which was September), but the month when he first became consul and subjugated Egypt.

This change left four months – September, October, November and December – for later emperors to appropriate, though none of their new names survive today. Domitian renamed September, the month he became emperor, to Germanicus, in honour of his victory over Germany, while October, his birthday month, he modestly retitled Domitianus, after himself.

However, Domitian’s arrogance paled in comparison with the megalomaniacal Commodus, who rebranded all the months with his own imperial titles, including Amazonius (January) and Herculeus (October).

The ConversationIf these titles had survived Commodus’s death, we would not have the problem of our year ending with months carrying the wrong numerical names. But we would be celebrating Christmas on the 25th of Exsuperatorius (“All-Surpassing Conqueror”).

Caillan Davenport, Senior Lecturer in Roman History, Macquarie University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Cabinet papers 1994-95: How a security agreement allayed Australian anxiety over Indonesia



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Paul Keating is known as one of the most Indonesia-friendly Australian prime ministers.
AAP/NAA

Hangga Fathana, Universitas Islam Indonesia

Despite its short lifespan, the signing of the Australia-Indonesia Agreement on Maintaining Security in 1995 marked a particular milestone in the history of the two countries’ relationship.

From the Indonesian perspective, the agreement was considered somewhat effective in building common interests to promote regional security and stability. Indonesia perceived the agreement as complementary to the 15 years of Australia-Indonesia military co-operation that had already taken place.

To some extent, the agreement also enriched Indonesia’s existing bilateral military co-operation with selected countries in the region.

Indonesia once assumed that the agreement was also meant to build confidence and ease Australia’s anxiety over regional security. Australian federal cabinet papers from 1994 and 1995, released today by the National Archives of Australia, support this presumption.


Further reading: Cabinet papers 1994-95: The Keating government begins to craft its legacy


A gesture from down under

Cabinet submissions show Prime Minister Paul Keating first raised the idea of a security agreement in June 1994 with Indonesian President Soeharto. Discussions on the draft were relatively efficient: the text was agreed one month before the treaty was signed in December 1995.

Keating is remembered as one of the most Indonesia-friendly Australian prime ministers. He has frequently argued that relations with Indonesia should be an Australian foreign policy priority.

Keating’s cabinet submission strengthens his image as an Indonesian “diplomat” while prime minister. Unlike previous administrations, members of the Keating government visited Indonesia four times per year. This showed his strong personal interest in building a sustainable relationship with one of Australia’s nearest neighbours.

The agreement with Australia was Indonesia’s first bilateral security agreement. It emphasised the friendly relations between the two countries in the early-to-mid-1990s. This contrasts with the late 1990s, when enmity dominated relations amid the East Timor dispute.

There were some concerns in Indonesia over the agreement, including questioning its impact on the wider southeast Asian region. However, these were not as strong as protests in Australia, where some claimed the agreement showed Keating supported Soeharto’s dictatorship.

Easing Australia’s anxiety

The cabinet records not only reinforce Keating’s strategic interest in Indonesia, they also reflect Australia’s anxiety on certain issues.

From a regional perspective, the treaty reassured others of Indonesia’s commitment to building common security interests. From the Keating government’s point of view, the process of securing stability in the region should begin on its doorstep. So Indonesia has a dual purpose for Australia: a near neighbour, and an entry point for securing regional security.

The cabinet records also disclose that the agreement was seen as a means to ease Australian anxiety on uncertain strategic change in southeast Asia. This aligns with the region undergoing a post-Cold-War security transformation in the 1990s, particularly in the relationship between ASEAN and Indochinese countries (such as Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia).

Keating’s submission also supports his statement that Australia’s success in Asia would determine its success elsewhere. For him, the security agreement with Indonesia would help enrich Australia’s existing arrangements in the region.

The cabinet records confirm Australia’s anxiety on what would happen once Soeharto left office. The treaty itself was therefore seen as a way to bind Indonesia’s commitment to co-operate with Australia.

Keating argued that the treaty might not necessarily prevent Australia from any possible disputes with Indonesia. But it could help Australia to handle what – and who – followed Soeharto as president. This expectation was far from true, given Indonesia’s decision to terminate the treaty in 1999 due to Australia’s intervention in East Timor.

The period in Indonesia following Soeharto’s resignation in 1998 was unpredictable. The assumption that the security agreement would be helpful indicates that Australia did indeed have strong fears of Indonesia’s upcoming reformasi.

However, Indonesia’s succession was a domestic issue. It would not have threatened Australia’s strategic security in any way – but for the Howard government intervening in East Timor.

Repairing the mutual trust

The Labor government’s defeat in 1996 and the conclusion of the security agreement in 1999 were once misunderstood as the end of the Australia-Indonesian friendship. Indeed, it wasn’t until 2006 that the two countries developed the Lombok Treaty to revive security co-operation.

The cabinet records show that Keating’s legacy has proven relevant: Australia’s defence relationship with Indonesia is its most important in the region. It has built a strong base to extend the scope of co-operation between the two countries to economics, counter-terrorism, and law enforcement.

The ConversationThe commitment from the two countries to build a mutual understanding also remained strong. Suspicion has sometimes arisen, but the two countries are aware that conflict would do more harm than good.

Hangga Fathana, Lecturer in International Relations, Universitas Islam Indonesia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Explainer: the gods behind the days of the week



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The Roman weekday ‘dies Veneris’ was named after the planet Venus, which in turn took its name from Venus, goddess of love. Detail from Venus and Mars, Botticelli, tempera on panel (c1483).
Wikimedia Commons

Margaret Clunies Ross, University of Sydney

The origins of our days of the week lie with the Romans. The Romans named their days of the week after the planets, which in turn were named after the Roman gods:

  • dies Solis “the day of the sun (then considered a planet)”
  • dies Lunae “the day of the moon”
  • dies Martis, “the day of Mars”
  • dies Mercurii, “the day of Mercury”
  • dies Iovis, “the day of Jupiter”
  • dies Veneris, “the day of Venus”
  • dies Saturni, “the day of Saturn”

When the Germanic-speaking peoples of western Europe adopted the seven-day week, which was probably in the early centuries of the Christian era, they named their days after those of their own gods who were closest in attributes and character to the Roman deities.

It was one of those peoples, the Anglo-Saxons, that brought their gods and language (what would become English) to the British Isles during the fifth and sixth centuries AD.

Hendrik Goltzius, Mercury, oil on canvas (1611).
Wikimedia Commons

In English, Saturday, Sunday and Monday are named for Saturn, the sun and moon respectively, following the Latin.

The remaining four days (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday) are named for gods that the Anglo-Saxons probably worshipped before they migrated to England and during the short time before they converted to Christianity after that.

Tuesday is named for the god Tiw, about whom relatively little is known. Tiw was probably associated with warfare, just like the Roman god Mars.

Wednesday is named for the god Woden, who is paralleled with the Roman god Mercury, probably because both gods shared attributes of eloquence, the ability to travel, and the guardianship of the dead.

Thursday is Thunor’s day, or, to give the word its Old English form, Thunresdæg “the day of Thunder”. This sits beside the Latin dies Iovis, the day of Jove or Jupiter. Both of these gods are associated with thunder in their respective mythologies.

You may recognise a similarity here with the name of the famous Norse god Thor. This may be more than coincidence. Vikings arrived in England in the ninth century, bringing their own very similar gods with them. Anglo-Saxons were already Christian by this time, but may have recognised the similarity between the name of their ancestors’ deity Thunor and the Norse god. We don’t know, but the word Thor does appear in written texts from the period.

Chris Hemsworth as famous Norse god Thor in the 2011 film of the same name.
IMDB

Friday is the only weekday named for a female deity, Frig, who is hardly mentioned anywhere else in early English. The name does appear, however, as a common noun meaning “love, affection” in poetry. That is why Frig was chosen to pair with the Roman deity Venus, who was likewise associated with love and sex, and was commemorated in the Latin name for Friday.

Of gods and weekdays

The concept of the week, that is, a cycle of seven numbered or named days with one of them (usually Sunday or Monday) fixed as the first, was originally probably associated with the Jewish calendar. This was complicated by the fact that early medieval Europe inherited its idea of the week from imperial Rome, via the Christian church.

In early Christianity the reckoning of time was crucial to the proper celebration of the church’s feast days and holidays, especially the variable feast of Easter.

We find day names similar to English in related European languages, like Dutch, German, and all the Scandinavian or Norse languages. Gods with comparable names, like Tyr, Othinn, Thor and Frigg, were certainly known to the Scandinavians and gave their names to weekdays in Scandinavian languages (compare Modern Danish tisdag, onsdag, torsdag, fredag).

The ConversationThe Latin names for the days of the week, and the Roman gods for which they were named, still live on in all the European Romance languages, like French, Spanish and Italian. Think of French lundi, mardi, mercredi, jeudi and vendredi, for example, and you will find the Latin Luna, Mars, Mercurius, Iovis and Venus hidden behind them.

Margaret Clunies Ross, Eneritus Professor of English Language and Early English Literature, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Who was Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings?



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Detail from The Temple of Janus by Peter Paul Rubens. Wikimedia Commons.
Wikimedia Commons

Caillan Davenport, Macquarie University

January 1 can be a day of regret and reflection – did I really need that fifth glass of bubbly last night? – mixed with hope and optimism for the future, as we make plans to renew gym memberships or finally sort out our tax files. This January ritual of looking forward and backward is fitting for the first day of a month named after Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings.

Doorkeeper of the heavens

In Roman mythology, Janus was a king of Latium (a region of central Italy), who had his palace on the Janiculum hill, on the western bank of the River Tiber. According to the Roman intellectual Macrobius, Janus was given divine honours on account of his own religious devotion, as he set a pious example for all his people.

Roman coin showing the two-headed Janus.
Wikimedia Commons

Janus was proudly venerated as a uniquely Roman god, rather than one adopted from the Greek pantheon. All forms of transition came within his purview – beginnings and endings, entrances, exits, and passageways. The name Janus (Ianus in Latin, as the alphabet had no j) is etymologically related to ianua, the Latin word for door. Janus himself was the ianitor, or doorkeeper, of the heavens.

The cult statue of Janus depicted the god bearded with two heads. This meant that he could see forwards and backwards and inside and outside simultaneously without turning around. Janus held a staff in his right hand, in order to guide travellers along the correct route, and a key in his left to open gates.

War and Peace

Shrine of Janus, as depicted on a coin of the emperor Nero.
Wikimedia Commons

Janus is famously associated with the transition between peace and war. Numa, the legendary second king of Rome, who was famed for his religious piety, is said to have founded a shrine to Janus Geminus (“two-fold”) in the Roman Forum, close to the Senate House. It was located in the place where Janus had bubbled up a spring of hot boiling water in order to thwart an attack on Rome by the Sabines.

The shrine was an enclosure formed by two arched gates at each end, joined together by walls to form a passageway. A bronze statue of Janus stood in the middle, with one head facing towards each gate. According to the historian Livy, Numa intended the shrine:

as an index of peace and war, that when open it might signify that the nation was in arms, when closed that all the peoples round about were pacified.

The gates of Janus are said to have stayed closed for 43 years under Numa, but rarely remained so thereafter, although the first emperor Augustus boasted that he closed the shrine three times. Nero later celebrated his conclusion of peace with Parthia by minting coins showing the gates of Janus firmly shut.

Happy New Year

The God Janus by Sebastian Münster, 1550.
Wikimedia Commons

Romans believed that the month of January was added to the calendar by Numa. The association between Janus and the calendar was cemented by the construction of 12 altars, one for each month of the year, in Janus’s temple in the Forum Holitorium (the vegetable market). The poet Martial thus described Janus as “the progenitor and father of the years”.

From 153 BC onwards, the consuls (the chief magistrates of the Republic) took office on the first day of January (which the Romans called the Kalends). The new consuls offered prayers to Janus, and priests dedicated spelt mixed with salt and a traditional barley cake, known as the ianual, to the god. Romans distributed New Year’s gifts of dates, figs, and honey to their friends, in the hope that the year ahead would turn out to be sweet, as well as coins – a sign of hoped-for prosperity.

Janus assumed a key role in all Roman public sacrifices, receiving incense and wine first before other deities. This was because, as the doorkeeper of the heavens, Janus was the route through which one reached the other gods, even Jupiter himself. The text On Agriculture, written by Cato the Elder, describes how offerings would be made to Janus, Jupiter, and Juno as part of the pre-harvest sacrifice to ensure a good crop.

So if you’re feeling caught between two worlds this January 1, why not head outside and celebrate Roman-style? Pack up some sweets to share, grab your keys, and shut the door on 2017.

The ConversationTomorrow: Explainer: the gods behind the days of the week.

Caillan Davenport, Lecturer in Roman History and ARC DECRA Research Fellow, Macquarie University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Friday essay: dreaming of a ‘white Christmas’ on the Aboriginal missions



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Christmas Dinner, Mt Margaret Mission 1933.
State Library of Western Australia

Laura Rademaker, Australian Catholic University

This story contains images of people who are deceased.

Aboriginal missions, which existed across Australia until the 1970s, are notorious for their austerity. Aboriginal people lived on meagre rations – flour, sugar, tea and tobacco – and later, token wages. At some missions, schoolgirls wore hessian sacks as clothes or skirts made from old bags.

Christmas, however, was a joyful time on them. Old people remember Christmas for food, gifts and carols. But the celebration had a sinister edge. For years, missionaries hoped the joy of Christmas would replace Aboriginal traditions. But Christmas actually became an opportunity for creative cross-cultural engagement, with Aboriginal people adopting its traditions and making them their own.

The food was a respite from the usual diet of damper, rice or stew. On the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory, missionaries would shoot a bullock, and the old women remember feasting on beef and mangoes on the beach.

Oenpelli Mission (Gunbalanya) Christmas, 1928.
National Archives of Australia

Missionaries used food to attract people to church. Christmas might be the only day of the year that it was distributed to everyone. Cake was a favourite. On Christmas Day at Gunbalanya in western Arnhem Land in 1940 the superintendent called it “the happiest we’ve experienced here. Ten huge cakes for Natives – no complaints – 106 at service” (suggesting that church attendance was linked to cake quantity).

For elders on Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria, turtle-egg cake was a highlight of Christmas in the 1940s. As Jabani Lalara recalled:

We used to have a lovely Christmas … In front of the church, that’s where they used to put the Christmas tree and that’s where we used to get a present. Especially like cake, used to make from turtle egg. I love that cake. True.

Gifts were another drawcard. On Christmas 1899, the Bloomfield River Mission in far-north Queesland was said to be “overflowing” because Aboriginal people “heard there would be a distribution of gifts”. These included prized items such as handkerchiefs, pipes and knives. At some missions, Santa (often the superintendent) distributed gifts.

Father Christmas arriving at Mt Margaret Mission in a rickshaw, 1945.
State Library of Western Australia

However looking back, old people have mixed feelings about the gifts. As much as they loved them at the time, they discovered their treasures were only toys that white children had rejected. As one person told me:

We didn’t have much in them days, it was tough, but we were happy. We were happy with those secondhand toys at Christmas from the Salvation Army. We didn’t know they were secondhand toys at the time. I found out in my later years.

Christmas rally church service, Fitzroy Crossing Mission, 1954.
State Library of Western Australia

Missionaries and Aboriginal people alike loved carols; they were an opportunity for shared enjoyment. Tiwi women look back fondly on their time singing with nuns. Said one woman:

Sister Marie Alfonso, she used to play organ and all of us girls used to sing in Latin, but we still remember… Every Christmas [the old women] sing really good. They all can remember that Latin. It’s really nice.

There were also nativity plays, with Aboriginal children proudly performing for their communities. Said another:

When there was Christmas or even Easter Day there was a role-play… On Christmas Day I used to read. Three of them was the Wise Men and the other one was Mary and the other young boy was Jesus.

Christmas at Nepabunna, C.P. Mountford, 1937.
State Library of South Australia

Behind the lightheartedness came an agenda. As one priest commented, Christmas was to be a “magnet” to draw people into missions. Ultimately, missionaries hoped the celebration of Jesus’s birth would prove more attractive than Aboriginal people’s own ceremonies.

For those who would not settle on missions, Christmas was used against them. At Yarrabah in Queensland the “unconverted heathens” were invited to join the festivities, but their exclusion was symbolised by them walking at the back of processions, sitting at the back of the church and being the last to be served their meal.

Aboriginal Christmas

In missionaries’ eagerness to use Christmas to spread Christianity, they started to use Aboriginal languages (with Aboriginal co-translators). At Ngukurr in southern Arnhem Land and Gunbalanya, the first church services in Aboriginal languages were Christmas services (in 1921 and 1936).

Aboriginal people loved carols, so these were the first songs translated. On the 1947 release of the Pitjantjatjara Hymnal, Christmas carols were the most popular (The First Noel sung in parts being the favourite). On Groote Eylandt, translation began with Christmas carols, nativity plays and Christmas readings in the 1950s. At Galiwin’ku on Elcho Island in Arnhem Land, the annual Christmas Drama was in Yolngu Matha from 1960.

Translation was meant to make missionary Christianity more attractive, but it opened the way for more profound cultural experimentation. Aboriginal people infused Christmas with their own traditions. On the Tiwi Islands, in 1962 there was a “Corrobboree Style” nativity on the mission told through traditional Tiwi dance. Dance traditions missionaries had previously called “pagan” were now used by Tiwi people to share the Christian celebration.

At Warruwi on the Goulburn Islands in western Arnhem Land, Maung people began “Christmas and Easter Ceremonies” from the 1960s, blending ceremonial styles with Western musical traditions as well as their own music and dance. At Wadeye, in the Northern Territory, “Church Lirrga” (“Liturgy Songs”) include Christmas music, sung in Marri Ngarr with didjeridu. The Church Lirrga share the melodies of other Marri Ngarr songs that tell of Dreamings on the Moyle River.

Many who embraced Christianity sought to express their spirituality without missionary control. At Milingimbi in the NT, Yolngu people developed a Christmas ceremony with clap sticks and dijeridu outside the mission and free of missionary interference.

Mt Margaret Mission Christmas, 1933.
State Library of Western Australia

At Ernabella Mission in South Australia in 1971, people began singing the Christmas story to ancient melodies, with the permission of their songmen. Senior Anangu women at Mimili, SA, later sang the Pitjantjatjara gospel to their witchetty grub tune, blending Christmas with their Dreamings and songlines.

Christmas was woven into community life. Just as introduced animals found their way into Aboriginal songs and stories, Christmas became part of the seasons and landscape, as Therese Bourke explained at Pirlangimpi on the Tiwi Islands:

They used to have donkeys [here] and the donkeys used to come round in December. And my mother’s mob used to say, “they’re coming around because it’s Christmas and Jesus rode on the back of one.”

The missions transformed into “communities” under a policy framework of self-determination in the 1970s, although missionaries themselves often remained active in the communities for decades. Meanwhile, many Aboriginal people have mixed memories of the missions – fondness for some aspects, anger at others – including Christmas.

The ConversationBut regardless of the missionaries, Christmas became an Aboriginal celebration in its own right. Some missionaries even came to appreciate Aboriginal ways of celebrating Christmas in line with their Dreamings. Though missionaries had wanted to replace Aboriginal spirituality with a “white Christmas”, it became a season of deeper meetings of cultures.

Laura Rademaker, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Modern History, Australian Catholic University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


From the 16th-century to men’s rights activists, why ‘cuckold’ is the worst thing you can call a man



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French engraving of a cuckolded husband.
University of Victoria

Una McIlvenna, University of Melbourne

These days the greatest insult a so-called men’s rights activist can hurl at another man is the word “cuck”, shortened from cuckold, the term for a man whose wife is cheating on him. The word has entered the mainstream, particularly after Donald Trump’s presidential victory saw an alt-right backlash against the achievements of feminism.

But the ideas and language are nothing new; in fact, it was during the Renaissance, from the 16th to the 18th centuries, that Europe had a cultural obsession with cuckoldry.

French engraving about the ‘Confraternity of Cuckolds’
University of Victoria, CC BY

Back then, it was widely believed that women were more lustful than men, largely because they were subject to the whims of their “wandering womb”. The womb, it was believed, could move independently around a woman’s body, causing her to lose control. Thus, if a man were married, his wife was obviously cheating on him.

This infidelity would cause the poor husband to grow invisible horns, the ultimate symbol of cuckoldry, and the comic figure of the horned cuckold made its way into fictional songs, engravings, and theatre. It eventually became so ubiquitous as to give the impression of a “brotherhood of cuckoldry” wherein all wives were adulterous, and all husbands their hapless fools.

In Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, a play all about love, marriage, and deception, Benedick jokes about never getting married because it means instant cuckolding:

The savage bull may; but if ever the sensible Benedick bear it, pluck off the bull’s horns and set them in my forehead, and let me be vilely painted, and in such great letters as they write ‘Here is good horse to hire,’ let them signify under my sign ‘Here you may see Benedick the married man’.

What’s with the horns?

The animal symbolism connected with cuckoldry is complex. The basis of the word “cuckold” is found in the cuckoo, a bird which lays its eggs in other birds’ nests, forcing the unsuspecting bird to raise offspring which are not its own. The anxieties around paternal lineage due to a cheating wife are obvious in this naming.

Cuckoos, of course, don’t have horns. Countless explanations have been offered for the link between horns and cuckoldry, such as in the 18th-century German print “Hanrey Begrabnusen” (“Cuckolds’ Graveyard”), which suggests a whole panoply of horned animals as the bestial source.

The ‘Cuckolds Graveyard’
British Museum, CC BY-SA

The ox – a castrated bull – alludes to the impotence of the wronged husband; while the stag suggests that the cuckolded husband has relinquished his status as a virile sexual pursuer and has become instead his wife’s “prey”.

The theory that intrigues me, however, is the one of the capon (castrated cockerel). This refers to the formerly prevalent practice of cutting off the spurs from the legs of a castrated cock and engrafting them on the root of the excised comb, where they could grow and become horns, sometimes several inches long.

Capons, lacking in sexual hormones, grow fat due to their lack of activity and were prized (and still are) for their moist, tender meat. Their lack of aggression also meant that they could be kept with other hens and roosters. The practice of grafting a spur on their heads served to distinguish them from the other, fully-sexed birds.

This theory certainly fits with the traditional depiction of cuckolded husbands in the early modern period as older, impotent and often overweight men whose wives seek out younger, more virile and more attractive partners, as in many plays by the French writer Molière.

Playing the fool

The mockery of cuckolds also links these men to the character of the fool. In the following 16th-century German woodcut, called On Adultery, a woman places a fools’ cap (or Narrenkappe – literally, fool’s hood, giving rise to the term “hoodwink”) on her husband’s ears and rubs his head with a foxtail, another symbol of foolishness.

The German woodcut On Adultery.
Public domain

As well as plays and prints, ballads also mocked the cuckold as a hen-pecked husband who was overly submissive to his wife. This 17th-century ballad summoned all cuckolds to meet at Cuckolds-Point, an area on the Thames in East London, to repair the footpath that their wives would take with their lovers to Horn-Fair, a carnival-like parade that took place every October:

Here is a Summons for all honest Men,
belonging to the Hen-peck’d Frigate;
And I will tell you the place where and when,
both Gravel and Sand for to dig it;
To mend the ways, ‘tis no idle Tale,
remember your Foreheads adorning,
At Cuckolds-Point you must meet without fail,
by seven a Clock in the morning.

Although this song seeks solidarity in the brotherhood of cuckoldry, others are less kind. The following French song gossips about a cuckold’s torture at the infidelity and sexual voracity of his wife. They can no longer go to a public place because of his inability to control her, and the shame is so great he eventually commits suicide whereupon she follows him to Hell:

There is a man in our town
who is jealous of his wife.
He is not jealous without cause,
but he is cuckolded by everybody.

The 16th-century musician Thomas Whythorne claimed that public knowledge of one’s cuckolded status doomed a man to social failure:

for he that is known to be a notorious cuckold cannot be taken upon quests, and is barred of diverse functions and callings of estimation in the commonwealth as a man defamed, so that you may see what a goodly thing it is when a man’s honesty and credit doth depend and lie in his wife’s tail.

That reference to “his wife’s tail” as the (animalistic) thing that decides a man’s worth in his community makes it clear for how long men have valued women only in sexual terms.

The ConversationAnd it also shows that men have been ridiculing each other in terms of sexual inadequacy for a very long time.

Una McIlvenna, Hansen Lecturer in History, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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