Australian Biography - Inga Clendinnen

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Animated Film Australia Logo

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Australian Biography Graphic Sequence

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Inga

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Super:

Inga Clendinnen
Born 1934, Geelong
Historian

DISSOLVE TO:

Inga sync: I think getting to know other people's minds is one of the most fascinating and absorbing and educational processes you can be involved in, and having to find ways to introduce people to the real and absorbing problems of history is a deep pleasure to me.

[Music]

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Photo: Inga as a baby

Inga v/o: The year I was born was 1934. The Depression was still a very vivid memory.

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Inga

Inga sync: After my birth, very soon after, I think my father was banished to the back veranda which was the rather draconian method of birth control practised in those days I think.

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Photo: Inga's father

Inga v/o: My father had moved into making furniture. He had a small factory which he'd managed to get through the Depression by sharing all of the income of the factory between workers,

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Inga

Inga sync: which meant that there was a singular bond in later years between the older men working in the factory and Dad, you know, they'd all survived together. But not long after the Depression ended and it must have been pretty close to when I was born the factory burnt down and it was uninsured. So there was a decisive catastrophe in our affairs. I obviously wasn't aware of that but I was aware of tension about money and about the stratagems of poverty which I didn't know were stratagems of poverty, like catching the dripping to have bread and dripping for, say, lunch, you know, that kind of thing.

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Photo: Inga and Mother

Interviewer v/o: Inga, what are your memories of your mother from that time?
Inga v/o: I could see my mother's life and nothing happened in it.

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Inga

Inga sync: She did the washing on Mondays, lighting up the copper, you know, the

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Archival: Girl and mother in laundry

Inga v/o: sheer physical labour of washing in those days has to be watched through a long day to be believed, and she'd iron on Tuesdays and she'd

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Inga

Inga sync: bake on Wednesdays. I knew her routine

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Archival: Mother and girl hanging out laundry

Inga v/o: so laborious and so empty of gratifications because she seemed to

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Inga

Inga sync: feel no gratification in anything she did.

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Photo: Geelong

Inga v/o: But I have to say that I found the houses and the

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Photo: Suburban house

little neat gardens and the footpaths and the fences and the street and the uniformity

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Photo: Inga with sister and mother

scary as a kid. I really didn't like it.

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Photo: Young Inga

Interviewer v/o: You were five years old when the second world war

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Photo: Young Inga

broke out. What do you remember of the war?

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Inga

Inga sync: During the war particularly my father organised, he was president of the RSL in Geelong and he organised a place called the hostel which was a place for servicemen at a loose end to

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Photo: Men inside Servicemen's Hostel.
Super:
Servicemen's Hostel., Geelong 1942

Inga v/o: find a bed and to find cups of tea and lunch and

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Photo: Man playing pool in hostel

Dad would bring back the overflow. and we had

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Photo: Men in uniform

seven marines who adopted us and were adopted by mother

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Inga

Inga sync: They'd come down to Geelong for their leave and somehow they'd get distributed around the house, I don't quite know how

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Photo: Pool table

Inga v/o: and they used to bring down chocolates and comics for us, so we exercised a great deal of

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Photo: Men around pool table

power in the neighbourhood . I didn't think of them as aliens in any sense, but I didn't think of them as fighting men either, they were just boys, and then they went to Guadalcanal.

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Inga

Interviewer v/o: And what happened there?

Inga sync: A few of them got killed and I learnt my first lessons about war I think. When I realised what had happened, you know, that they had been sent off

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Archival: Soldiers in boat

Inga v/o: with guns to fight and be killed,

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Archival: Soldiers on beach

I was completely appalled and

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Archival: Soldiers disembarking boat

horrified. One was blinded,

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Archival: Soldiers on beach

a very gentle fellow who

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Inga

Inga sync: always carried a flower, and they came back to the house, my favourite had been killed and it seemed to me simply incredible.

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Archival: Soldiers in trenches

Inga v/o: Young men, not just being killed, being sent off

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Archival: Soldiers in trenches

to kill and be killed

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Archival: Soldiers with cannon in trench

and to maim and

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Archival: Soldiers firing cannon

be maimed and to perform

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Archival: Soldier in stretcher

actions which society

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Archival: Soldiers holding Japanese flag

seemed to think ought to leave no mark on them you know, I've worked on

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Inga

Inga sync: warriors ever since and on costs of war and on the cost of being victims.

Interviewer v/o: And you've done that by becoming

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Photo: Young Inga and family

an historian. But was an academic life

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Photo: Inga and brother

what your family was expecting for you?

Inga v/o: You see my sister

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Photo: Inga's sister

who was extremely talented worked as a secretary

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Inga

Inga sync: and then she married and stopped work which I saw and see as an extraordinary waste of her talents. But it was exactly as my mother thought life could be safely lived. I was always antagonistic to that, incredulous at the thought I could possibly be expected to stay in Geelong, for example, but absolutely unclear as to how I should get out of it.

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Photo: Young Inga

Inga v/o: I got out because of a sequence of teachers who to my enormous shame and chagrin and outrage went to the house.

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Inga

Inga sync: Mrs O'Loughlin went up to see my parents and said, Inga should go for scholarships. So unlike my sister and brothers I went out to

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Photo: Morongo

Inga v/o: Morongo where I was poor and under equipped

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Photo: Inga and school friend

for life in things material while most of the other girls were rich and badly under

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Photo: Inga and school friend

equipped for life in matters intellectual.

Interviewer v/o: And how did your mother equip you for life in other ways. Did she give you the usual

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Photo: Inga in school uniform

talk about menstruation and so on?

Inga v/o: She gave me a talk about menstruation obviously with great

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Inga

Inga sync: embarrassment, when she was cleaning a chicken. We didn't often have chickens but she was thrusting her hand in and out of this cavity and talking about the little eggs that form in the female womb and pulling out these pinkish, grapeish looking things like egg yolks in slime and dumping them and the hand going in and out, as she was telling me this and every month there's a new little egg and then she put the chicken under the tap and turned the tap on hard and then she dumped it on the draining sink and here was this inert little person, you know, all flabby and violated and I thought wow, is that what happens? It was a bad scene

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Photo: Young Inga

Interviewer v/o: And you escaped domesticity by winning a scholarship to Melbourne university

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Photo: Inga and John's wedding

but when you were only 20 but you married John Clendinnen and you're still married to him 47 years later. Why did you decide to get married so

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Inga

young?

Inga sync: We got sick of the back of the Peugeot. I liked him,

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Photo: Inga and friends at wedding

Inga v/o: I trusted him. I'd already had some relationships that I'd, you know, I'd escaped fairly unscathed but I'd done a lot of scathing. I didn't like that.

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Inga

Inga sync: he wanted to marry and to my surprise it made it made a difference to him.

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Photo: Inga and John at wedding

Inga v/o; I didn't see why it should make any difference except to placate the

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Photo: Inga's mother

oldies, you know, but to him it did.

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Photo: Inga and John

Interviewer v/o: And you had two sons. You weren't impressed

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Photo: Inga

with housework what about having babies?

Inga v/o: I was astonished

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Inga

Inga sync: and delighted by discovering I was an animal, you know, I was amazed at how well I performed in labour, as if I was born to it. The feeling of athleticism as you produce the baby or help the

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Photo: Inga with baby

Inga v/o: baby out. and then I was fascinated, I'd be on a tram rushing to get home and a baby would cry and my breasts would

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Inga

Inga sync: squirt milk in the most ridiculous fashion and I'd be drenched, but I, you know, I found all that absolutely amazing. My body had, you discover your body, I know, through sex, that's true. But this was a whole different discovery

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Photo: Inga with children on beach

Inga v/o: of a maternal body.

Interviewer v/o: While you were raising the boys

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Photo: Inga with children

you taught history but you didn't do any major research

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Photo: Inga at table with children

till later. Why was that ?

Inga v/o: Nothing seemed half as important as my extraordinary ability to produce these miracles, you know.

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Inga

Inga sync: So I was leading a very happy, very busy life and I had no interest in retreating, as it would have seemed to me, from the world to do research and I only began to write and to research in history

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Photo: 2 boys sitting on fence

Inga v/o: when I saw the writing on the wall, when the boys were adolescent. And then I was obviously going to have to

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Inga

Inga sync: be a different person, differently engaged.

Interviewer v/o: And you

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Cover "Aztecs - an Interpretation"

chose to concentrate on the Aztec civilisation and your work has attracted international praise,

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Aztec figure

but it's also been said about your willingness to confront the bloody details of Aztec practices

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Aztec figure

that you must have hidden behind that civilised exterior some well suppressed element of violence.

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Inga

What did you feel about that ?

Inga sync: Well it's a bit sinister that I do work on torture trials, Aztecs, Salem, the Holocaust. It's not sinister at all, I don't think. I think, I don't think I've got any violence in me, really. I dislike it intensely. I think it's because I don't that I find the question of how people bring themselves to use violence that I want to understand it because it happens all the time. I mean in every society,

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Picture: Aztec warriors

Inga v/o: and with my Aztec warriors, when I put together the vision they had of what they were doing, it was a noble vision.

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Picture: Aztec warriors

Stoical, magnificently controlled. You know there's violence and violence, and given that it's a human activity,

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Picture: Aztec warrior

we need to spend time in sorting it out, and it seems to me frankly completely

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Inga

Inga sync: bizarre to write a book about Aztec religion as if it's a high theological matter when what it is to anyone who looked at it is about blood.

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Picture: Aztec warrior

Inga v/o: I mean there was blood everywhere. There were hearts everywhere. when you have

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Picture: Aztec people

holocausts of people going weeping and trembling to their deaths. Humans did it. We'd better try to understand it. And you know,

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Inga

Inga sync: whether this means something dark about my wicked soul, I'll have to wear that.

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Picture: Aztec painting

Interviewer v/o: Has your relationship, your personal relationship with the Aztecs

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Photo: Aztec temple

affected you, changed you as a person?

Inga v/o: Yes, I think it probably has.

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Photo: Inga at Aztec site

I'm obviously impressed by warriors as people who can

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Photo: Inga at Aztec site

overcome fear. and when

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Inga

Inga sync: I became ill and I was left to my own resources, what I would find in my increasingly muddled head, and I was thinking hard about how I was going to handle all this, when I thought through the labyrinth of possibilities and memory and so on, I found at the very heart of the labyrinth a little Aztec warrior as the vision of how one ought to be in conditions of challenge. Stoical, self-possessed, consenting if it comes to death as the only way to sustain your autonomy and your dignity is to embrace the death,

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Photo: Inga and boys at Aztec site

Interviewer v/o: You've mentioned your illness. What was happening in your life at the time you fell ill?

Inga v/o: I had sabbatical leave coming up and

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Inga

Inga sync: I was going to go to Princeton again which was a great place to be, I loved it, and I was going to go to Guatemala and cut loose on the Quechuamaya [sp?] and a big literary source

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Photo: Inga with glass of wine

Inga v/o: and yeah, I was riding high. And then I got ill which was a very

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Inga

Inga sync: slow motion business because you can't, you don't believe you've got something seriously wrong with you when you've got a great range of fairly minor symptoms

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Archival: Hospital Entrance

Inga v/o: However, after messing around for about three or four months , I was finally diagnosed with

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Archival: Hospital Ward

an active auto immune hepatitis, acute liver disease, with a very bad prognosis and a necessity to go immediately onto very heavy drugs,

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Inga

Inga sync: and Aztecs still wasn't out. It nearly killed me to finish it actually. Was like two dogs locked with their teeth in each other's necks, you know, either I get the book finished or it would finish me, but I finished it, and then I was diagnosed as ill.

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Archival: Hospital ward

Inga v/o: It lent a quite different, lent a quite different feeling to reality, a very sort of slowed down, problematical sort of reality. In conversations you had to start faking it because in fact you were concentrating like mad and yet you were several moves behind. Your thoughts moved very sluggishly. I used to trundle out to see the people at the liver transplant unit who at this point were at least considering my case and I ran into an

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Inga

Inga sync: interesting problem. I have a desire to seem in control of situations and to seem fluent, so I'd in fact feel terrible and be wandery, but I'd go out and the man I had to see was a very challenging, very bright guy,

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Archival: Hands putting on rubber gloves

Inga v/o: and he had the unfortunate effect of putting me instantly on my mettle. So I would stiffen my spine and I would perform as well as I knew how. And he'd say, well I don't think you're in much trouble yet Inga, I think,

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Inga

Inga sync: and I would go off thinking, drat, I'm an idiot. But one day at long last I went in and I was really off with the fairies, you know, I couldn't put a sentence together, I couldn't listen to him, I'd just be drifting off [laughs] and that impressed him. I also wrote to him and explained the dynamics of our interactions because it was funny, I mean I knew what I was doing, I was showing off instead of letting it be clear I was in a lot of trouble.

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Archival: Ambulance at hospital

Inga v/o: but finally I was on the list, on the waiting list,

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Archival: Establishing shot of hospital, zoom into window

or activated as they call it, And I was absolutely exhilarated and joyful.

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Inga

Inga sync: Everyone commented on the irony of me specialising in Aztecs taking living organs out and then me getting a living organ installed and how puzzled the Aztecs would have been at this bizarre routine.

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Archival: Operating theatre

Interviewer v/o: And what do you think of it Inga, what do you think of the way our society went about it?

Inga v/o: the whole experience in fact

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Archival: Surgeons in operating theatre

seemed to me a demonstration of what civil society ought to be

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Archival: Surgeon in operating theatre

like. It's strictly democratic,

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Archival: Surgeon in operating theatre

strictly public hospital. You can't buy your way

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Archival: OTS Doctor at computer

into the queue, you can go to America, put your money down, your $500,000 and get yourself a liver transplant,

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Inga

Inga sync: all the corruptions which attend trade in human organs in other countries do not happen here and I'm profoundly impressed by that. It seems to me a demonstration of values which I hope and believe to be essential Australian values,

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Book cover "Tiger's Eye - A memoir - Inga Clendinnen"

Interviewer v/o: While you were ill you wrote a very unusual book, tiger's eye. Why did you

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Book cover "Tiger's eye"

write it?

Inga v/o: When I was clapped into hospital and began to feel beleaguered and shredded and got at,

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Inga

Inga sync: it seemed to me very important to analyse what was being done to me and why I was getting those responses. Why did I feel like a four year old again? What was going on? I would tame it by putting it into words and then I could examine it. You know, experience was turned into an examinable form.

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Book cover "Reading The Holocaust"

Interviewer v/o: When you wrote reading the holocaust you turned your mind to examining the motivation of the ordinary men and women who carried

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Book cover " Reading the Holocaust - Best book of the year"

out the extraordinary everyday acts associated with genocide. What did you discover?

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Inga

Inga sync: You see you have the brutal fact that most of, most Holocaust activities, because it was such a massive enterprise

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Archival: People loaded onto train during Holocaust

Inga v/o: had to be carried out by ordinary people. and because we're trying to

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Archival: Reverse angle: People loaded onto train during Holocaust

understand the dynamics that work on people to

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Archival: People loaded onto train during Holocaust

detach them from their ordinary concerns with other

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Archival: People by train tracks

people within their ordinary landscape, how is it possible

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Archival: Baby in carry bag

to treat these other people as other than human, your best

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Archival: People loaded onto train during Holocaust

hope is to trace the process these

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Archival: Carry bag being loaded on train

ordinary people when they go in go through until they come out as killers

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Archival: Woman being loaded onto train

on the other

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Archival: Woman being loaded onto train

side, We might still be left with a gap we might still say,

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Inga

Inga sync: I still wouldn't have done it. And that's a very difficult question and one you have to agonise over because you have to be quite sure that in fact you wouldn't have done it and if you wouldn't do it, why not? When would you have said no?

Interviewer v/o: You were asked to do the Boyer

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Print "True Stories"

lectures in 1999 and you chose to trace the recorded history of relations between Europeans and aboriginal Australians. Did the writing of these lectures

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Print "True Stories"

change your attitude to the question of race relations in this country?

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Inga

Inga sync: Yes, I got much angrier. I really had not known what had been done so consistently generation by generation.

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Footage: Aboriginal chain gang

Inga v/o: You know, like most ignorant liberals, I was aware

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Photo: Aboriginal chain gang

of initial violence and expropriation, but that was just about the end of my knowledge,

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Photo: Aboriginal in chains

and one of the things I tried to do in the lectures was to

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Inga

Inga sync: show the way that different endeavours to come to terms with this intruding dominant white culture: gallant, creative, inventive attempts had been obliterated by ignorance or malice

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Archival: Aboriginal children

Inga v/o: on the part of those who controlled

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Archival: Aboriginal children at settlement

the great structures of

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Archival: Aboriginal child with white man

society.

Interviewer v/o: History has fallen from favour as a subject for study hasn't it.

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Inga

What effect do you think that will have on us?

Inga sync: In the short term and the long term, it's going to make people narrow minded, ignorant, intolerant, bored and generally a danger to man and beast I'd have thought because once, once you've really come to understand that other people think differently from you, other individuals think differently and you learn that from reading biographies, you know, they construct the world differently. Other peoples, other cultures certainly think differently from you and they don't do that because they're wicked or because they haven't been converted to Christianity or because they're primitive, or for any of these old slogan reasons, they have a completely functional, viable vision of the world. It's not yours and it is a marvellous liberation to be able to explore it, that you're enriched by this fact of difference.

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Archival: Aboriginals at settlement

Inga v/o: Unless you're helped through that and your

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Archival: Aboriginal woman with baby at settlement

taste for the other and the

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Archival: Aboriginals at settlement

different is nurtured and your respect for people's right to be

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Archival: Aboriginal people around fire

different nurtured, what have you got?

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Archival: Aboriginal ceremony

You've got mass culture, you've got the commodification of the individual. You have the sorry state we seem to be heading

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Archival: Aboriginal ceremony

into, with beaming politicians and bureaucrats presiding over it.

Interviewer v/o: You've described

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Inga

finding the courage to act in the way you would like to from some kind of inviolate self at the core of you. Has your capacity to think so independently ever cut you off from a sense of connection with others?

Inga sync: I don't think it's a desire to live apart. I think it's a desire to recognise one's own autonomy

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Photo: Inga and mother

DISSOLVE TO:

Inga v/o: and of course autonomy would be a very wearisome thing if there were no

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Photo: Young Inga in school uniform

DISSOLVE TO:

other people in the world. So it seems to me much more a

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Photo: Inga

DISSOLVE TO:

recognition, you are on your own, you are the only

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Photo: Inga

person who can influence your own destiny. You have to take responsibility at least for yourself

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Photo: Inga

DISSOLVE TO:

and I've never seen any charm in

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Photo: Inga wearing glasses

DISSOLVE TO:

submitting my will to outside authorities.

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Photo: Inga

DISSOLVE TO:

And if you're in that situation, clearly you develop your own morality,

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Photo: Inga with child

DISSOLVE TO:

your own sense of priorities and I'm very

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Photo: Inga

DISSOLVE TO:

mistrustful of people who cheerfully accept

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Photo: Inga

DISSOLVE TO:

imposed structures without evaluating them.

Interviewer v/o: You use the word moral a lot when you're talking

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Inga

FREEZE FRAME

FADE TO BLACK.

about history, about the writing of history and the uses of history. What do you mean by that?

Inga sync: Having taken decisions about what conduct is appropriate for oneself and what conduct is tolerable in others and what is intolerable, I think it's man-made. I don't think it comes from anywhere else. I think it's a matter of personal decision where you draw those lines and I think it's the most important thing you've got to do through the course of your life.

[Music]

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FADE IN.

CREDITS ROLL OVER:
Small screen:
Book cover: "True Stories"

Interviewer
ROBIN HUGHES

Editor
KIM MOODIE

Director of Photography
JENNI MEANEY

Sound Recordist
MARK TARPEY

Production Manager
JO ROSE

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Sound Post Production
MICHAEL GISSING
DIGITAL CITY STUDIOS

Online Editor
ROEN DAVIS
VISUALEYES

Research
JO ROSE

Transcripts
CLEVERTYPES

Production Liaison
SALLY CREAGH
KAREN SKEA

Business Affairs Manager
SALLY REGAN

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With Thanks To
FILM AUSTRALIA FOOTAGE LIBRARY
ABC FOOTAGE SALES
FILM WORLD
SCREENSOUND AUSTRALIA
GEELONG HISTORICAL RECORDS CENTRE
LATROBE UNIVERSITY
JOYCE EVANS
NATIONAL LIBRARY OF AUSTRALIA
UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE PRESS
TEXT PUBLISHING
ABC BOOKS
DORITA THOMPSON

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Produced and Directed by
ROBIN HUGHES

Executive Producer
MARK HAMLYN

Made in association with SBS TV

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GRAPHIC.

A Film Australia National Interest Program
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