We Haven't Heard The Last Of The Professor Barry Spurr Scandal


Early this morning, Sydney University announced that its Professor of Poetry, Barry Spurr had resigned from his post.

I have to admit that I couldn’t give much of a bugger.

On the one hand, I do genuinely believe that Professor Spurr has a right to earn a living, and by almost universal account, he was regarded as a good and effective lecturer and professor.

On the other, can you imagine how a female student, an Asian student, a Muslim student or, God forbid, an Aboriginal student might feel sitting in a lecture theatre listening to Professor Spurr wax lyrical about the power of Judeo-Christian literature?

Clearly, Professor Spurr’s position at the University of Sydney was tenuous.

But this story has never been about Spurr’s teaching tenure. It has always been about the ‘nod, nod, wink, wink’ racism of people who hold positions of great power and influence over us all.

The real story has always been Professor Spurr’s role as a special consultant to the Abbott Government’s review of the National School Curriculum.

On that front, nothing has changed.

Despite the emergence of these repugnant emails – for which, notably, Professor Spurr has never acknowledged wrongdoing, let alone apologised – the federal Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne remains happy with the final report into the review of the National School Curriculum.

Go figure.

In case you’re wondering, here’s an example from Professor Spurr’s report of the sort of advice for which Australian taxpayers forked out thousands:

“… As usual, the literature of Western civilisation at large is omitted, while the specific ‘oral narrative traditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ are singled out for mention,” he wrote.

And this: “… The impact of 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.”

Now here’s just one of Professor Spurr’s private views, revealed in his email correspondence.

“Whereas the [Australian] 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).”

It’s only hard to reconcile the difference between the two views if you accept that Professor Spurr was, as he asserts, playing a ‘whimsical linguistic game’. Of course, the full transcript of his emails reveals he wasn’t.

In truth, what really occurred is, that like all accomplished racists and misogynists, Professor Spurr knew in order to advance his bigotry he must first make it fit for public consumption. Hence, the many weasel words of his contribution to the curriculum review.

Overt and ugly racism is for bogans (ironically a group, for which, Professor Spurr holds a special disdain). But polished, slippery racism? That is for Professors. And institutions.

Professor Spurr’s attempts to entrench his personal bigotry into a school curriculum that will be taught to every child in every school in every state of the country, for at least a generation, should send a shiver down the spine of all Australian parents.

Ask yourself this question: Do you really want people of this calibre influencing what your children will learn in school?

The fact is, the review of the National School Curriculum will always be tainted. It has been irrevocably polluted by the views of a man who believes rape is funny, who believes Aboriginal people are sub-human, who believes Asians and Muslims are fodder for mockery, and who believes that women do not occupy a place of equality in our society.

These are not Australian values, but unless the curriculum review is revisited as a matter of urgency, then we can only assume that they are Australian Government values.

There is, of course, one other chapter of the Spurr saga to be written: the development of privacy law in Australia, to prevent the private views of people like Spurr ever getting out into the public domain.

On that front, New Matilda is preparing a story for publication early next year which is likely to re-ignite that very debate. Watch this space.

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Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.