The Oldest Profession – No, Not That One!

By Dorothy Gauvin – 2006

In an Australia day speech, Prime Minister John Howard called for a return to the teaching of History as a narrative in our schools. Mr Howard deplored the current emphasis by classroom teachers on ISSUES, with the facts often heavily revised to fit politically correct fashions of the day. The former PM also criticised the lack of any connective material between the records of nation-building in Australia and the European civilizations which were the incubators of our modern society.

I agree with these ideas and I think that these errors arose from well-intentioned efforts by teachers to counter the twin monsters that stalked their curriculum in the past. On the one hand, boredom smothered any interest that might be found in the endless list of British kings enlivened by nothing but their dates to be memorised for exam day. On the other hand, the overwhelming presence of the USA in news headlines and pop culture resulted in Australian youth knowing more about American history than their own. We cannot fault Americans for this. They were acting on the truth known by every great Teacher from Buddha to Jesus:

To teach, you must first entertain.

Long before lawyers, prior to the priesthood, millennia before that misnamed ‘oldest’ service, one professional was treasured by all in his tribe, even though he ‘toiled not, neither did he spin.’

In a time before memory, people huddled around their campfires and watched the orange flames of light flicker on the face of the Storyteller. In the culture of that most ancient hunter/gatherer society – the Australian Aborigines – his title was Songman. His duty was to memorise the important events and individuals in the life of the tribe. More than that, he had to impress these facts onto the memory of each member of the group, so they would know who they were and how they should behave for the benefit of the whole group.

People cannot pay attention to a lecture when their ears are straining to catch the first warning cough of a leopard lurking in the blackness beyond the fire or if they are mesmerised by dreams envisioned in the dancing flames. To distract them from their fears and their fancies, the historian must catch their attention in a net of Story. Once Upon A Time…

© Dorothy Gauvin

Dorothy Gauvin is the author of Conlan’s Luck, An Epic Story of the Shearers’ War. This little-known uprising of the 1890s has been called a ‘Secret Civil War.’ Scholarly texts have been published about this seminal and colourful period of Australian history, but Conlan’s Luck seems to be the only novel yet published on the subject. See more about the novel at []

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