LITERATURE - AUSTRALIAN - TRADITION
The last time that John
Howard called for tradition in schools, his government sent them posters
promoting values in education. The image was of a statue of Simpson and
his donkey from Gallipoli. Underneath was the maxim “Character is
destiny”, signed “George Eliot”.
promotion of Simpson suggests that its ideologues are as ill-informed
about Australian history as they allege government schools are wanting
The truth about Simpson
is not as simple as the version that appeared in Howard’s primary
school readers. Peter Cochrane told the full story in his 1992 book Simpson
and the Donkey the Making of a Legend.
The following extract
from a letter which Simpson wrote to his mother in 1912 gives a taste of
Simpson would have been
thrilled to appear on ACTU advertisements against Work Choices.
“Character is destiny” can be found in Eliot’s 1860 novel The
Mill on the Floss where it is identified as a quotation from the
German Romantic poet, Friedrich, Freiherr von Hardenberg (1772-1801),
known to the culturally literate as Novalis. More to the point, Eliot
went on to disagree with his proposition:
Eliot illustrated her
disagreement through a discussion of Hamlet.
disciplined classroom, the Ministerial advisors who came up with the
poster will have to stay in after school to write out 100 times:
“George Eliot did not agree that ‘character is destiny’.”
Meanwhile, two other
standardised tests remain. Did the advisors know that George Eliot was a
woman? Had they lifted the quotation with its misattribution from the
bottom of a page in Dr Kevin Donnelly’s desk calendar?