A University of Sydney Professor – employed by the federal government as a specialist consultant to review the national English curriculum – has described the Prime Minister as an “Abo lover” while at the same time advising the government to focus less on teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander literature in our nation’s schools, and place greater emphasis on western Judeo-Christian culture.
In email correspondence that spans more than two years, Barry Spurr, the nation’s leading Professor of Poetry, describes Aboriginal people as ‘human rubbish tips’ and “Abos”, and rails against the prevalence of Aboriginal culture in school curriculums, and within politics. But the exchanges are not just limited to First Nations people.
Professor Spurr also takes aim at “bogans” “fatsoes”, “Mussies” and “Chinky-Poos”, and laments the reality that Australia is less white than it was in the 1950s.
He calls Nelson Mandela a “darkie” and Desmond Tutu a “witch doctor”; describes his University of Sydney chancellor Belinda Hutchinson as “an appalling minx”; likens Methodists to “serpents”; refers to women as “whores”; and in response to a comment about a female victim of a serious sexual assault being a “worthless slut”, he suggests that she needs more than just ‘penis’ put in her mouth, before it’s “stitched up”.
In one email, Professor Spurr tells university colleagues and friends that 95 per cent of the students at Australian universities – including, presumably his own – should not be studying at tertiary institutions, and remarks that a colleague who publicly advanced that argument will be “derided as elitist, fascist, misogynist – the usual litany”.
“[But] he’s completely right. One day the Western world will wake up, when the Mussies and the chinky-poos have taken over,” he adds.
Even the “modern Brit” comes in for a serve, described by Professor Spurr as “the scum of the earth”.
Between September 2012 and late 2014, the emails were sent to around a dozen people, including very senior academics and officials within the University of Sydney.
Professor Spurr has this morning defended his email exchanges, telling New Matilda they were clearly intended to mock the “very extreme language” used.
“The comments that you refer to are largely to one recipient with whom I have had a whimsical linguistic game for many years of trying to outdo one another in extreme statements.
“These statements are not reflections of my views or his.
“What I say about the place of the study of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language and literature in the curriculum is my considered professional view and not in any way influenced by these email exchanges which are linguistic play, and the numerous students of different races and of colour with whom I have worked for many years will testify that I have treated them with the same equity and dignity that I treat all my students.
“I find it astonishing that you would think that I would seriously hold those views and not realise, as a journalist, that these are emails of mock-shockng (sic) repartee, mocking, in fact, that very kind of extreme language.”
A source within the University of Sydney, connected to the School of Letters, Art and Media (SLAM) – which includes the English Department – has confirmed that the emails were sent from Professor Spurr’s official university email address.
Ironically, SLAM has been the subject of an ongoing attack in The Australian newspaper this week, with Media Editor Sharri Markson alleging the journalism department at the University of Sydney has been “brain-washing” students with biased, left-wing course material which attacks conservatism and rubbishes her employer, News Corporation.
Professor Spurr was chosen by the Abbott Government to serve on the National Curriculum Review, headed by Professor Ken Wiltshire and Dr Kevin Donnelly. The final report was handed to the Abbott Government late last week.
The review is proposing to alter the national school curriculum introduced in 2011 by the Labor government.
Professor Spurr’s contribution to the review was in the area of English studies. He argues that contribution of First Nations writers to Australia’s literary tradition has been “minimal” and that the focus of the curriculum should be on western civilisation and Judeo-Christian heritage.
“The impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on literature in English in Australia has been minimal and is vastly outweighed by the impact of global literature in English and especially that from Britain, on our literary culture,” Professor Spurr writes.
His comments are given additional weight in the final report, which notes that the “emphasis” on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander literature was “criticised for undervaluing Australian literature and the place of Western literature, particularly poetry”.
Those views have been strongly backed by Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, who described the review as having an “absence of ideology”. On ABC Lateline earlier this week he defended the recommendations to focus the curriculum away from Aboriginal culture towards “our Judeo-Christian heritage”.
“Before 1788, our history was Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and history almost exclusively. Since that time, obviously since colonisation, Western civilisation, our Judeo-Christian heritage has been the basis of our development as a nation,” Pyne said.
“So therefore, learning about where we've come from is not ideological, it's simply learning about where we've come from…. But knowing about our Western heritage is not repudiating our Indigenous heritage and it's not Christianity, it's just history.”
That mirrors Professor Spurr’s public statements in the review, but it’s a world away from what Professor Spurr says privately about Aboriginal people and culture.
While publicly, he argues the Aboriginal contribution to Australian literature is “minimal”, privately, he says the ‘Abo’ contribution is non-existent.
In an email written in April 19 this year, sent to two friends outside the University of Sydney, Professor Spurr reveals that Education Minister Christopher Pyne – the man who appointed him to the review – wants him to compare Australian school curriculums with curriculums from other countries.
“The Californian high school English curriculum has arrived (as Pyne wants me to compare ours with other countries). Another 300 pages of reading!
“And whereas the local curriculum has the phrase ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’ on virtually every one of its 300 pages, the Californian curriculum does not ONCE mention native Americans and has only a very slight representation of African-American literature (which, unlike Abo literature, actually exists and has some distinguished productions).”
In response to that specific discrepancy, Professor Spurr explained this morning: “My considered view is that it is very small, perhaps not zero precisely, so I used the term 'slight' to be as positive as I could be.”
Professor Spurr’s commentary on Aboriginal people and culture – and people of colour generally – are littered throughout the years of correspondence.
In April 2014, he rails against a ceremony at Uluru for the visiting royals, Prince William and Princess Catherine, at which entertainment is provided by “well known Aboriginal singer, Wingabanga Gumberumbul”, presumably a reference to Gurrumul Yunupingu. Professor Spurr calls the Prime Minister “gutless and hypocritical”, and blames his chief-of-staff Peta Credlin for the appearance of an ‘Abo’ singer.
“We have thousands of brilliant young Australians musicians, including the wonderful Nicole Car (who would wear her bra under her dress) currently on the brink of an international operatic career. Why aren’t they asked to perform? Abbott’s to blame for this. This is his day with them, his reception. He should have put his foot down and said, ‘No more Abos’. But he’s as gutless and hypocritical of the rest of them. No doubt Peta Whatsername said ‘Do it Tony. It makes you look like a sensitive guy’.”
In January this year, he writes that “Abo Lover Abbott and [Australian of the Year] Adam Goodes” are Siamese Twins and will have to be surgically separated.
In October 2013, he sends a long email about an Aboriginal family who lives down the road from him in inner western Sydney. He describes them as a ‘human rubbish tip’ and mocks Vice-Chancellor of Sydney University, Michael Spence for his support of Aboriginal people and culture under an email headed ‘Ancient Wisdom’.
“These are the people whose ‘ancient wisdom’, our V-C says, we should respect, and to whom we apologise on every possible occasion and whose rich culture we bow down before, confessing our wickedness in our mistreatment of them.
“All very well when you’re living in a multi-million dollar mansion in Woolahra (sic), to spout these feel-good emotions from a safe distance. I wonder how he’d like these manifestations of ancient wisdom living next door. The immediate neighbours tell me it has been hell on earth and, of course, their property values have plummeted. They’re living next door to a rubbish tip: human and material.”
Several of his emails direct friends and colleagues to Youtube videos which celebrate the British Monarchy and deride people of colour.
In one email from February 2013, headed “Look at 11.20 – no fatties, darkies or chinky-poos”, Professor Spurr urges recipients to celebrate an Australian school or church which appears to be made up entirely of white children.
In another email a year later, he links to a video which compares London in 1927 with London in 2013. Professor Spurr writes: “A delight until things turn sour around 4:00 with the emergence of the darkies.”
He also manages to line up Aboriginal people, Asians, Muslims, women and anyone obese in a single email sent a few days earlier, commenting: “No Abos, Chinky-poos, Mussies, graffiti, piercings, jeans, tattoos. BCP (Book of Common Prayer) in all Anglican chruches (sic); Latin Mass in all Roman ones. Not a woman to be seen in a sanctuary (church) anywhere. And no obese fatsoes. All the kiddies slim and bright eyed. Now utterly gone with the wind,” he writes.
In his correspondence to New Matilda, Professor Spurr alleges that New Matilda’s access to his emails was illegal.
“My lawyer informs me that accessing my email is 'a criminal offence' and the university's security service is currently looking into the matter,” he writes.
New Matilda rejects any suggestion it has been involved in any criminal offence.
This afternoon, a spokesperson for Education Minister Christopher Pyne denied the government had anything to do with the appointment of Professor Spurr.
"Professor Spurr was one of 15 subject experts commissioned by the independent review to provide input on the Australian curriculum. He was appointed on the basis of his expertise and credentials as a leading Australian academic in the field of English.
"The appointment was not made by the Government. The Minister and his office had no input into the selection of any subject expert.
"Professor Spurr’s alleged private emails are a matter for him.
"The Minister utterly rejects and finds repugnant the denigration of any minority on the basis of their sex, race, sexual orientation or beliefs."
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister referred New Matilda to Mr Pyne's office.
– Additional reporting: Amy McQuire and Max Chalmers.
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